Monday, February 28, 2011

"We tried our best not to be misleading"

The bigger the story, the more that is at stake, the less believable is the New York Times.  The latest example is the paper's coverage of the CIA/Blackwater spy Raymond Davis' arrest in Pakistan for gunning down two people in cold blood, shooting one of them five times, twice in the back.  It turns out that while the paper was reporting with credulity President Obama's characterization of Davis as "our diplomat in Pakistan," newspapers in the region had already identified him as a CIA agent, and the Times itself knew it as well.

The Times didn't report what they knew about Davis until after the Guardian of London reported it. The Times says they withheld the truth about Davis because the US government had asked them to because they feared for Davis' life in a Pakistani jail.  But as the Guardian's reader's rep wrote over the weekend, everyone in Pakistan already knew Davis was CIA, and the government was taking great pains to protect him in jail. So the only people the Times was withholding information from was its own readers.

Which brings us to the headline of this post. Believe it or not, it comes from the Time's Washington bureau chief, Dean Baquet, who said in the ombudsman's post: "we tried our best not to be misleading." That's quite a slogan for the newspaper of record, and a far cry from "All the news that's fit to print."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The hypocrisy of empire

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit at Moamer Kadhafi the other day for Libyan "violence against civilians." Ironically (or, not) it was the same day that the BBC reported that the US had killed 65 innocent civilians in Kunar province, Afghanistan, 50 of the victims being women and children. Time to revisit Marc Herold's 
The Value of a Dead Afghan: Revealed and Relative.  When it comes to dead civilians, to the US it all depends on who's doing the killing and who's doing the dying. No word from Clinton on what kind of sanctions the US would impose on NATO (and itself) for the killing of innocents in Afghanistan.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Save the American Dream - the slideshow

Here’s a little slideshow from the rally this afternoon. Nobody was a bit cold.

Save the American Dream rally in St. Paul

Rally to Save the American Dream Minnesota

Here are some photos if you weren't there, or if you just want to relive the moment!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dear Dylan Ratigan: Shanghai is not "China"

MSNBC has to be the worst traditional media when it comes to reporting on education. Yesterday on the Dylan Ratigan Show the host repeatedly said that  "China" was the number one country in education in the world, according to the PISA tests. Uh, no, only Shanghai was tested for PISA. And Shanghai is hardly representative of China as a whole. Shanghai has a population of 19 million. China has a population 1.3 billion. That makes Shanghai about 1.5 percent of the total Chinese population.

According to Wikipedia, "Shanghai has one of the most developed education systems in China. It is the first city where the 9-year compulsory education is implemented in the country...Shanghai is also a major centre of higher education teaching and research with over 30 universities and colleges." It is completely absurd to compare the educational attainment of selected students in Shanghai to the entire United States, and even crazier to believe Shanghai is typical of the entire country of China.

Your liberal media at work.

Apparently, you can run and you CAN hide!

Bradley Dean Smith, alias Bradlee Dean, scheduled to be on with John and Roger on their internet radio show tomorrow, has beat a strategic retreat.Bradlee_Chkin2

The event is memorialized in a graphic by Avidor.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

TFA teachers are worse than regularly certified teachers

Given time, they might catch up; but 80% leave by end of third year

Let's get something straight about Teach for America, or other "alternatively certified" teachers:
"...studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers."
That's from a meta-study "Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence" by two university researchers for the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. The study concludes "TFA is likely not a panacea that will reduce disparities in educational outcomes." That's an understatement. The report points out that 50 percent of TFA teachers leave the profession after two years, and 80 percent have left by the end of their third year. Other research shows that for all teachers the first two or three years of their careers are their least productive and most trying. School districts also bear significant educational and financial penalties for the short careers of TFA grads:
"Recruiting and training replacements for teachers who leave involves financial costs, and the higher  achievement gains associated with experienced teachers and lower turnover may be lost as well."
It's well past time to put to rest the canard that "many of the schools nationwide doing the best job closing the racial and economic achievement gap are staffed by instructors who were trained in effective, intensive strategies by groups like Teach for America and The New Teacher Project," as reported at Minnpost. More TFA means a worse education for our most needy children, and more expense for our school districts.

Pima County has had it

The folks in Pima County, Arizona have had it with their bat-shit crazy northern neighbors and are now threatening to create their own state:
Could Baja Arizona be 51st state in US?
Idea of Pima secession from state isn't new, but this time it's for real, new panel insists

Pima County the 51st state?

A political committee made up of attorneys, including the former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party, has been formed to try to get Southern Arizona to secede from the rest of the state...Paul Eckerstrom, co-chair of Save Our State, said it's not a ploy and not merely a political statement. He said the state Legislature has gone too far to the right.

... In particular, a round of legislative measures challenging federal supremacy "really does border on them saying they don't want to be part of the Union any longer," he said.
Of course this doesn't seem likely to succeed in creating a new state, but it might help people from places like Tucson express the idea that, really, they're not like those morons in Phoenix.

Drinking Liberally tonight!


And it will be a really good one, too. David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University and a professor of law at the University of Minnesota Law School, will be our guest. You will recognize David as a frequent guest on political panels on TPT’s Friday night Almanac show.

Professor Schultz had an op-ed piece at MinnPost yesterday about Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s real political motives in trying to destroy public employee unions – or some of them anyway. When you’ve got a moment, you should also check out the professor’s blog. I’ll bet you save the link.

We expect that David will start his remarks around seven; Drinking Liberally – Minneapolis meet from six to nine every Thursday evening at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Voting with their feet redux

During the 2010 campaign, I noted a recurring theme in Tom Emmer's campaign rhetoric: taxes = people leave. Or, as Rep. John Lesch pithily stated during this morning's House Taxes Committee hearing: "our beloved rich people would flee like rats from a sinking ship."

This argument is an article of faith among Republicans. They produced a witness this morning who began his testimony stating that he was deeply offended by those who would suggest that snowbirds were selfish people who strategically moved out of state to avoid taxes. Five minutes later he was led by Rep. Kiffmeyer to state emphatically that if taxes were raised he would move to his other house in Florida to avoid paying higher taxes.

This dizzying logic is par for the course on the debate about migration and taxes. Star Tribune editor Doug Tice joins in with another staple - the unattributed anecdote. Mr. Tice's ultra-talented, uber-mobile, and wealthy friend can choose to live anywhere he wants; why would he want to live in Minnesota if taxes were raised?

Answer: quality of life, good schools, family ties, and a million other things that have tied communities of people together since time immemorial.

What follows is a repost from July on this debate, with some really good links on migration and taxes.

Annette Meeks led the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota in February 2010 when they released a report repeating the claim that people were fleeing the state. While the report makes for edifying reading, it's not for the reasons they seem to think so. Their conclusion is that Minnesota is losing residents and tax revenue to lower-tax states (like Arizona and Florida) but they overstate the problem and then miss the reasons why that problem exists.

1) Minnesota is not a "departure zone"

Minnesota does lag behind a lot of states as a "magnet" state (percentage of state population that moved from elsewhere), but it is highly "sticky" (percentage of people who were born in a state and still live there.) In Minnesota, 2/3rds of the population that is born here continues to live here, and only 30% of the current population comes from other states.

Minnesota ranks in the middle of the pack nationally for state-to-state migration numbers. We gain domestic in-migrants at a slightly lower rate than we lose out-migrants (whether you measure number of taxpayers or number of exemptions) This is according to the single academic citation in the Freedom Foundation report, "The County-to-County Migration of Taxpayers and their Incomes 1995-2006" (page 3, Table 1a and page 4, Table 1b.)

This is consistent with national and regional trends - the Midwest and Northeast are losing population to the South and West. Shockingly, the two states where Minnesota out-migrants are going are balmy Florida and Arizona, accounting for 78.2% of the lost income from 1995-2007. However, Minnesota fares very well regionally, with nearly every state in the region sending in-migrants to Minnesota. Don't believe me? Here's the Freedom Foundation's own numbers:
Top 10 States Sending In-Migrants to Minnesota (Net # of Taxpayers 1995-2007, Table 3A)
1. Iowa 9,634
2. North Dakota 7,620
3. Illinois 6,311
4. Wisconsin 5,219
5. Michigan 4,490
6. Nebraska 1,833
7. Ohio 1,646
8. Indiana 1,576
9. South Dakota 1,322
10. New Jersey 1,140
2) Tax increases are not correlated with out-migration in Minnesota

This notion of people voting with their feet, pulling a Galt, and taking their businesses and jobs with them has gained a cultural currency simply through repetition. It's true that the relatively small net loss of state-to-state migrants is a recent problem. It's also worth quoting the Freedom Foundation's report at length on this question:
Out-migration represents a relatively recent development for Minnesota. Between 1991 and 2001, Minnesota gained 104,295 residents from other states, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau. In 2002, however, the trend abruptly reversed. Between 2002 and 2009, Minnesota lost 54,113 residents to other states. Clearly Minnesota now has a severe out-migration problem (p. 1).
Assigning causality to migration trends is incredibly difficult. Every relocation decision is made for highly individual reasons, including some that I will discuss in a moment. But as a question of correlation, it's important to note that Minnesota's "relatively recent problem" corresponds exactly to the term of Governor Pawlenty. And that over that same period 2002-2009, the tax burden on Minnesotans has remained flat, and is significantly lower than it was in the 1990's when Minnesota experienced population growth (See 2009 Minnesota Tax Incidence Study, Figure E-1, p. 3)

3) Minnesota's success at attracting migrants depends on education and environment

The Freedom Foundation "examines" five factors they think influence migration decisions, taxes, percent of union membership, population density, cost of housing, and weather. But this selection of factors excludes a number of relocation factors that favor Minnesota and includes factors that seem completely arbitrary (union membership.) Consider this 2006 study (cited by the "County-to-County Migration.." study used by the Freedom Foundation) from the
Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy.

In it, the authors analyze a number of factors that might influence state-to-state population migration and begins with the following caution: "omission of non-economic factors from an empirical migration analysis . . . generally compromises the integrity of that analysis." The authors then use data from 2000-2004 to examine a number of factors that I think reveal a recipe that explains how Minnesota has recently lost in-migrants and how we might regain them.
Factors that should increase Minnesota's net in-migration
Higher Per-Capita Spending on Public Education
Higher Median Family Income
Higher Employment Growth Rate
Lower Pollution, an environment of "clean air and water"

Factors that should decrease Minnesota's net in-migration
Higher State Income Tax
Higher Cost of Living
Minnesota has relatively high income tax rates, but one big factor in Minnesota's attractiveness to in-migrants has always been its investment in education. While relative tax burdens (measured by tax incidence) have been declining, we've also seen education funding fail to keep pace with inflation. Minnesota is at risk of losing the positive amenities that have attracted in-migrants and that have maintained Minnesota's unemployment rate well below the national average.

The reality of Minnesota's migration problem is multifaceted and complicated. The simplistic story of "high taxes = people are fleeing" may play well to the base, but it's bad for Minnesota. A thoughtful response to migration requires investment in the assets that attract migrants to our state. These investments are the opposite of Republican prescriptions for job growth in this state, which holds that government can only strangle job growth and never encourage it.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Listen up, everybody

To John Shannon and Roger Shaver interview Bradlee Dean on their internet radio show this Saturday at noon. You can get the details and a link to follow by going to The Shannon Files. John and Gordon are DLers, too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Well hello, Deputy

I thought I smelled bullshit!

The Republican leadership in the Minnesota Legislature held a “press availability” after Governor Dayton’s veto of the first piecemeal budget bill passed by the Republican-controlled body. In responding to a question about whether local government aid (LGA) cuts proposed in the vetoed bill would raise property taxes, Sen. Amy Koch, the Senate Majority Leader, says, heaven forfend; the cities have anticipated this. How – exactly – that translates into no property tax increases to cover, say police and firefighter salaries, Sen. Koch doesn’t say.

But the best part is when Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel, a state senator from Edina and prestigious West Bloomington, chimes in to support the Majority Leader, faithful retainer that he is, and says, yes, I just met with Bloomington city leaders this morning, and they confirm they are ready to shoulder their part of the LGA cut burden, and they expect that the cuts will be in the final budget.

Then, somebody asked Michel, “How much LGA does Bloomington get?”

Michel replies with his best hand caught in the cookie jar smile – an expression well known to residents of his district – and says, “Not much.”

I am pretty sure that Geoff Michel knows that Bloomington doesn’t get any local government aid. It hasn’t since 2003. It doesn’t need it; it has the Mall of America.

After fibbing about Bloomington’s preparations for LGA cuts, Michel can’t even be honest when the inevitable follow up-question is asked.

You can see the video here:

Geoff Michel talks about LGA cuts to Bloomington

Sen. Michel will tell you that the state has enough money, and that it can do everything it needs to do with the anticipated 32 billion dollars in revenue in the next biennium.

I think you need to take that will a large dose of salt – not merely a grain – when you realize what a serial dissembler the author of the statement is.

Monday, February 21, 2011

An “indecorous bagman”

A pretty good turn of a phrase from Chris Floyd:

These stirring scenes of mass dissent are not set in Egypt, Libya or Bahrain, but deep in the heart of the Homeland itself: Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker, one of more indecorous bagmen of the corporate elite, is using a "budget crisis" that he himself created with tax favors for the wealthy in a bid to destroy the collective bargaining rights of working people. The immediate target is the public sector unions, but the ultimate goal is the destruction of the very principle of collective bargaining in every sector, as Craig Unger makes clear at

(Wis.) Representative Gordon Hintz on the "Budget repair bill"

This video went up Saturday; it has 170,000 views so far.

A thump of the tail to Blois Olson’s Morning Take, who, in turn, got it from Jake Spano.

Update: The video was removed; apparently it was a clip taken from a Wisconsin Public Televsion broadcast. Mild irony, that.

Anyway, it was about how the Democratic legislators in Wisconsin were kept in the dark about about hearings, votes, etc. on the governor’s bill. Hinz is a Hamline graduate and a former staffer for Paul Wellstone, and a little Wellstone rubbed off on Hintz. It was a passionate complaint about conducting government in the dark.

Anybody know where another copy might be found?

Further update: Dave posted a link in the comments where you can see the video.

Frauds of Michelle Rhee still uncorrected in media

I don't need to remind everyone about Michelle Rhee, the "hero" of the fraudulent film Waiting for Superman.  Rhee is looking worse and worse as reality catches up to her. First, her fraudulent version of her teaching career has been dismantled by recently revealed research from her school. Second, a court recently ruled that she  exceeded her authority as Chancellor of the DC public schools, and has ordered that the district, at great financial sacrifice, re-hire 75 teachers inappropriately fired. Also - does anyone even bother to report that Rhee told a reporter about getting so fed up with her students that she taped their mouths shut?

It seems DC voters were way ahead of the deform movement when they removed Rhee's protector, Adrian Fenty, last September (in a primary). When will credulous traditional media writers catch up?

UPDATE: The Daily Howler is out with another update on Rhees today, complaining about how "No one would fact-check her nonsense." Sounds like our local "liberal" education writers.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When even the Chamber of Commerce questions you...

From the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce:
The GMCC supports the work to address the state budget deficit and the efforts toward improving the state's economy. That support ends at the adversarial way elected officials are approaching it. Public policy issues of this magnitude should not be rushed through the legislative process. Given this state's long history of collective bargaining, policy changes of this magnitude should be thoroughly debated for an adequate period of time, in good faith by both sides, with all potential consequences considered. Currently, that is not happening.

The bill that is being debated in Madison make sweeping changes to many parts of what makes Wisconsin great. It upends the public unions. It peels off the UW-Madison from the rest of the UW system, presumably to decimate it. The Milwaukee public schools are in line to be destroyed. It was proposed on February 11, and a vote to send it out of committee was set for six days later.

Yes, the Republicans won the election in November. But if their plan to change the state so fundamentally is sanctioned by the voters - something they claim - then they have nothing to fear from a full airing and examination of what they plan to do.

Conflating the importance of teacher quality with the ability to measure it at the individual level

Education deform roundup for February 20

1) Conflating the importance of teacher quality with the ability to measure it at the individual level. Not long ago the LA Times reported on a RAND corporation study on variation of teacher effectiveness. The study was based on an analysis of teachers in Los Angeles and found a wide variation in teacher effectiveness; however, the study, and many others, observed that it was virtually impossible to take the research to an individual teacher level - there are just too many confounding variables. Nevertheless the Times released the [meaningless on an individual level] teacher data database on its website, creating confusion among its readers and anger among the named teachers. The AFT's Shankerblog attempts to clean up the mess in a post titlted  Value-Added: Theory Versus Practice:
This overall variation is a very important finding, but for policy purposes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can differentiate between the good, the bad, and the average at the level of individual teachers. How we should do so is an open question. Conflating the importance of teacher quality with the ability to measure it carries the risk of underemphasizing all the methodological and implementation details – such as random error, model selection, and data verification – that will determine whether value-added plays a productive role in education policy. These details are critical, and way too many states and districts, like the Los Angeles Times, actually seem to be missing the trees for the forest.
2) Dubious Standards for Charter Schools. A new report on six charter schools done by the New York City's Department of Education (DOE) shows, according to one writer, “most of the schools are neglecting basic elements of decent education, yet in no case were they punished for this, or pressured to change their ways,” and that “critical thinking was missing from several schools.” At one Bronx school, characterized by the report as “academically successful”
“Teachers' questions asked mainly for recall of information...Students' responses were generally one or two words...Students did not discuss or share ideas...There was no evidence of analysis, evaluation, or providing students with the opportunity to create a new product or defend a point of view.”
The report concluded that “Some of the key skills necessary for college success were not observed in classrooms.” Students at one charter high school studied reported that students were never required to read novels or book-length non-fiction. The longest reports they had written were three to four pages. Though parents complained about verbally abusive discipline and high rates of detention at one of the charter schools, nothing was done about it.

3) Education deform caused racial disparity, "two tier" system, and segregation in Chicago. A University of Illinois Chicago study on the school changes enacted by current Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Democratic mayor Daley found that Black and Latino students have “disproportionately experienced a string of punitive and destabilizing policies” including “'drilling'’’ for standardized tests, being forced to repeat a grade, school closures and high teacher turnover,” and that the "successful" schools cited by the deformers and traditional media are " three times whiter and three times less poor than the system as a whole and only serve a small slice of kids."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The “klobuchar” as a new unit of measure

Sen. Amy Klobuchar says, “Let the nuclear chain reactions begin!” She thinks that Minnesota should lift the moratorium on building new nuclear reactors for electricity generation.

Why, it’s perfectly safe. Even though we have no place to permanently store spent nuclear fuel – and you have to store it a long time – the current system of above-ground on-site storage is just fine. Well, at least according to Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy, who was touring a 3M plant recently, with Sen. Klobuchar in tow:

Minnesota's two nuclear power plants, operated by Xcel Energy in Monticello and near Red Wing, store their waste outdoors in a system of protective steel containers called "dry cask storage."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has declared that outdoor dry cask storage is not hazardous and should be safe [should be safe?; imagine my relief] for the next halfcentury [sic], Chu said.

"The nuclear waste problem is a solvable problem," he said. "We've got time to decide how to go forward."

Amazingly, some of the same people who don’t trust the federal gubmint on just about anything seem eager to accept Chu’s word on this one.

punctured klobucharThink about how old your kids, or your grandkids, will be in half a century. Then, think of a dry cask of spent nuclear fuel held to their temples and imagine what names they might call you.

Since we’re likely to be talking about storage of a lot more spent nuclear fuel, we’ll need a handy way to refer to quantities. Each dry cask holds 40 spent fuel rods. Henceforth in discussion, 40 rods – one dry cask – shall be known as one “klobuchar.”

The punctured klobuchar at right is by Avidor.

N.B. Please read the comments for a discussion about nuclear power company liability and financial responsibility in the case of a leak or meltdown.

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's not just Wisconsin

A committee of the Tennessee State Senate has voted to abolish collective bargaining with school teachers:
NASHVILLE — The Senate Education Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to abolish collective bargaining between teachers unions and school boards across the state.

The vote was 6-3, with all Republicans on the panel voting for the bill and all Democrats against.
 As the Perdido Street School blog says:
"And the assault on teachers - championed by Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama and the "education reform movement" that has demonized teachers and teachers unions these past few years - proceeds toward its end game..."
This debacle is firmly on President Obama and the Democrats' hands:
Make no mistake - this is the corporate friendly Republican Party pushing these union abolishment policies and laws across the country, but it has been "liberals" like Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, George Miller, et al. who have laid the ground work for this assault by their relentless demonization of teachers and teachers unions.

The ground is now fertile for public education to be privatized and teachers unions to be destroyed.

The union leadership - either clueless or in cahoots with the deformers - is powerless to stop this stuff now.

They have allowed the public education issue to be framed by the deformers and the corporatists as: "Public aschools are failures and it is the because of the unions."

And you thought that Luca Brasi slept with the fishes

No, he just got a new name and a new job. Now he calls himself “Mike Hickey” and he’s the state director for the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses). Mike McIntee of The Uptake asked Hickey what he thought of Governor Dayton’s proposal to raise the marginal rate on top earners to increase tax fairness.

“Tax fairness really doesn’t matter,” replied Hickey.

You can watch it here:

Tax fairness really doesn’t matter

Seriously, you have to wonder where this guy worked as an enforcer before he got his NFIB gig. Hickey is doubtlessly an avatar for NFIB’s members and the qualities they embody.

“Entrepreneurs just look at the rate,” according to the Avatar. You can imagine, I’m sure, the Avatar criss-crossing the country with his carpet bag in hand and asking at every places he stops:

Whatcher rate?

And then, having found a suitable pesthole, he sets down roots! Transportation infrastructure, a market for his product or services, access to raw materials and professional services for his business, and a quality educated workforce, why, these things are meaningless! If this is what the Avatar truly believes, he is too dim to produce many employment opportunities, anyway.

The Avatar is looking for the same things that have made the entrepreneurial class in Somalia – the pirates – so successful.

But the Avatar is not alone in arguing that fairness is not a legitimate objective; here’s the opening graf from a recent editorial in the Strib, a piece that has Doug Tice’s fingerprints all over it:

If Minnesota were [I think I would have written was, Doug] an economic island, the call for tax fairness across income lines that Gov. Mark Dayton made with his budget-balancing proposal Tuesday would have considerable appeal in this traditionally egalitarian state.

We’ll lay aside for today the notion that the top marginal tax rate, standing in splendid isolation, is the sole marker of a state’s ability to attract new business.

We simply cannot afford to be fair, say Doug and the Avatar.

But when society discards fairness as an objective, it is no longer a civilization. Oh, I take that back. It’s a civilization; it’s just called feudalism. That’s what Doug and the Avatar want: the implementation of neo-feudalism, a Social Darwinist paradise.

But in a Social Darwinist paradise where might makes right, why should anybody care to protect Doug or the Avatar from the mob? That’s a serious question. One that’s being asked all over the Middle East today. Different in degree to the debate here, obviously, but it’s the same kind of question: how far will we let one group go in taking all the goodies before everyone else rises up and takes to the streets?

The new Republican governor in Wisconsin is finding his own personalized answer to that question this week.

More like this, please

Mark Dayton stands up for students, teachers and schools: 
Dayton criticizes new teacher licensing bill
February 17, 2011
St. Paul, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton is criticizing a plan for an alternative way to license new teachers that is now moving through the Legislature....Dayton says the bill doesn't do enough to guarantee that teachers licensed under the proposal would have enough grounding in the subjects they will teach.

He says it is also essential that nonprofit groups that would be allowed to train new teachers partner with existing colleges of education. The bill currently has no such requirement.
And my new favorite David Schultz sums up 30 years of Republican politics:
The basic GOP message on the economy, taxes, and the budget has been smoke and mirrors for 30 years. It has been about cost shifting, fund raiding, program bleeding, living on past spending approaches. It has been about blaming government waste, immigrants, and lazy welfare cheats as the cause of the financial problems we face. It has been about ignoring how the demand for tax cuts to benefit the wealthy have forced a hemorrhaging of the deficit at the national level. It has been about Pawlenty pushing through a law counting inflation for revenue purposes but not for the purposes of state expenditures.

It has been about simply being dishonest about the reality of the budget crisis we are facing. It is about constantly postponing to the future the problems with the present budget and spending scenario. It is about them saying that we do not have a revenue problem but a spending problem. It is about them clinging to a faulty supply theory of economics that is no more than a gloss for tax the poor and give the rich a free lunch.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What this blog needs is some Wisconsin content

To quote Congressman Paul Ryan, "It's like Cairo has moved to Madison."

Photo courtesy of Brent Gohde

Cowboy Hat Night at Drinking Liberally

cowboy hatTo observe the Republican’s empty, unserious “all hat no cattle” response to Governor Dayton’s budget, tonight (February 17th) will be Cowboy Hat Night at Drinking Liberally. The first three DLers in the door wearing a cowboy hat (and whether it qualifies as a cowboy hat is entirely within the judgment of the DL management) will earn a beer. If you’re a winner, and you can sing a Marty Robbins song beginning to end, you earn two beers.

To any question that might be asked, a Republican has but one answer: “Cut.” Should we fix potholes? Cut. Should we let people die on the street for want of health care? Cut. It’s a beautiful afternoon, isn’t it? Cut.

We’ll be at the 331 Club from six to nine. See ya there, pardner.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Political belief lightly gripped

It’s not hypocrisy if you need the money

I read a Hot Dish politics post yesterday noting that Tom Emmer hired on as a lobbyist to, um, lobby for a measure that he adamantly opposed when it came up in the Legislature two years ago. MNO mentioned it earlier today, too.

The issue is the expansion of free-standing, i.e., separate from hospitals, cancer centers. Emmer was for it before he was agin’ it.

Emmer then:

In a spirited debate, the Republican from Delano called the ban “patently unfair” and “micromanaging in its worst form.” He pleaded with lawmakers to let “market forces return.”

Here’s Emmer’s new money shot:

“I am in favor of the free market, absolutely,” Emmer said Monday. “But on this issue, you need to be more considerate.”

Really, that’s what he said.

Emmer continued:

He said if the state were to rip open the marketplace now, “it could be very dangerous … I don’t want to destroy what we have.”

Emmer now believes that market forces can sometimes be destructive, and the destruction isn’t always creative, as some conservatives like to call it. If this is an epiphany for Tom Emmer, I applaud it. But somehow, I doubt it.

This put me in mind of one of the other jersey changers since the election: Pat Anderson, who ran a dismal campaign for State Auditor, despite being backed by the rhetorical firepower of Craig Westover. Here’s Anderson, within weeks of the election, again from Hot Dish Politics:

"During the campaign I was asked by a group of lobbyists what I thought of lobbyists.  I replied somewhat factiously "The problem with lobbyists is they exist."  I still believe that. [if you still believe it, Pat, you didn’t say it facetiously]  But the problem isn't with lobbyists themselves; the problem is that our current "big-government" system creates the need for them," she wrote.

But what is really impressive here is the word salad that Emmer and Anderson each create to claim that their new gig isn’t inconsistent with previously held, and fervently avowed, public positions.

Where is T.S. Eliot now that we need him? Extra credit for the first person who explains why and provides a link.

Not the Onion

Today, in political news so strange you have to wonder if it really might be from The Onion:

The South Dakota House of Representatives recently passed out of committee a law making the murder of abortion providers justifiable homicide.

In Iowa, Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren compared preschool to Nazi indoctrination.

Congressional Republicans (and a few Democrats) seek to decrease the number of abortions by eliminating funding the largest supplier of birth control in the country, based almost entirely on a short video everyone knows is doctored.

Defeated Candidate for Governor Tom Emmer is back at the capitol as a paid lobbyist to push for the adoption of a proposal he once called "patently unfair" and "micromanaging in its worst form."

It must be difficult to write comedy these days.

Update: Oops -- missed one. That same South Dakota legislative brain trust also recently reaffirmed their strong stance against "spouse stealing."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dead on Arrival

Mark Dayton’s budget, to be announced on Tuesday, is dead on arrival at the Legislature. At least that will be the message at the GOP press conference responding to his proposal.

Here’s a message you won’t hear but is also true: the all-cuts budget the GOP would like to propose is similarly DOA if it lands on the Governor’s desk. The real question is how much each side will bend to create a budget compromise, and how public opinion will shape an eventual compromise. Tuesday’s posturing will eventually give way to hard reality: Dayton and Legislature need to work with each other.

Dayton’s budget will include cuts and new revenue. While the drafting of this budget has occurred in pretty remarkable secrecy, there have been a few hints. It will include a temporary increase on the wealthiest Minnesotans. It will include a small increase in education spending, but will probably not repay the $1.9 billion shift in one biennium. It will include cuts that will go well beyond the $900 million GOP proposal he vetoed last week. And it will include a few surprises, perhaps one of the reform proposals offered by MAPE, the Association of Minnesota Counties, or health care providers.

How the GOP will respond is equally shrouded in mystery, but again we know a few things. Republicans will not propose a budget that exceeds projected revenues of $32 billion. The Republican leadership has put themselves into a tighter rhetorical straightjacket than a “no new taxes” pledge. While Pawlenty wriggled out of a tight corner by declaring increased tobacco taxes a “health impact fee,” there’s no rhetorical flexibility in the GOP position.

The Republicans might choose to respond to Dayton’s budget with a fully formed proposal of their own, then move their budget through the committee process with those targets. They aren’t required to do so. In 2008 the DFL-led legislature never proposed an alternative budget. The GOP leadership could continue their piecemeal budgeting approach by taking cuts proposed by Dayton and sending him a bill with only his cuts but not his revenue increases.

That seems to be their most likely path. Of course, this is the same failed approach of the DFL legislative leadership in 2008, criticized and defeated by Governor Tim Pawlenty. The conclusion of Governor Dayton’s Thursday letter vetoing HF130 pointedly quoted a Pawlenty veto letter from last year:

“As the state struggles to resolve a $1.2 billion deficit [for the current biennium], the passage of this legislation is at best premature. Legislation that appropriates significant funds simply cannot be passed in a piecemeal fashion.”

Expect several attempts to maneuver piecemeal cut packages through the legislature followed by inevitable vetoes. The rhetorical fireworks will ratchet up a few notches each time, but the longer the legislature goes without presenting a full budget solution, the longer it will take to start the real work of resolving the impasse.

And it will be an intractable budget impasse, more reminiscent of Al Quie’s tenure than Tim Pawlenty’s. Nearly every avenue for compromise seems to be closed down already. Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Geoff Michel (R - Edina) threw cold water on those who thought that reform of tax expenditures might result in new revenues without a tax “increase,” declaring the GOP wouldn’t vote for any budget that exceeds current revenues. Subsequently, Senate Tax Committee Chair Julianne Ortman (R - Chanhassen) who seemed to welcome consideration of tax expenditures, now makes a distinction between long-term reform and short-term changes.

Dayton’s State of the State address and first veto drew only a few lines in the sand on the shape of a budget resolution that he could sign. First, no cuts to education. Second, it has to make the tax structure more progressive and limit property tax increases.

The collision between “no new revenue” and “make taxes more progressive and limit property tax increases” is where the real action will take place. There’s no apparent flexibility in the positions of the negotiators, nor in the negotiators themselves. The GOP has become accustomed to winning with stubborn insistence and inevitable DFL concessions. However, part of the success of this negotiating approach was due to the structural aspects of power between the Governor and Legislature, and that structure has flipped. At the same time, Governor Dayton and the DFL minority have no power to impose their preferred budget solutions.

It will be the public that decides. Expect the budget battle to spill out of the Capitol into the public sphere, whether by choice or necessity. The choice may be to take the arguments directly to the people in an extension of a 2010 campaign that never seems to end. And if all efforts fail, the looming deadline of the end of the biennium on June 30th may involve the public in the form of a government shutdown.

It’s impossible to predict the outcome, but I predict we’ll still be talking about this in late June in the context of a looming government shutdown. While Dayton's budget may be dead on arrival on Tuesday, it's a starting point for the discussion. Don't forget that he also gets the final word.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tony Cornish: yird swine

A ghoul, an eater of the dead. From the Strib:

Should a 10-year-old be considered an adult?

Minnesota children that young who have been charged with violent crimes could be certified as adults, under a bill that is moving through the House. Under current law, children have to be at least 14 before they can be charged as adults.

And, a few grafs later:

Members of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee took no action on Thursday, but Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, its chairman, made it clear he plans to push for the bill's passage.

"My intention is to move forward and not let it die again," Cornish said, admonishing members to "keep in mind little Emily" instead of a young offender he dubbed "little Johnny."

The bill would allow a judge to certify children as young as 10 if they are accused of murder, manslaughter, assault, aggravated robbery or sexual conduct.

As the article recounts, Emily, a two year old, was killed by Johnny, a thirteen year old. The bill, actually sponsored by Rep. Torrey Westrom, was heard in Cornish’s committee and featured the parents of Emily.

tony cornish with cuffsCornish, pictured here, apparently wants to be ready if he ever has to cuff a baby. Up against the wall, little Billy! And spread ‘em! Cornish is the chief of police in Lake Crystal; he packs heat at the Capitol, and he’s an avatar for the pompous small town cop.

Losing a child is an unimaginable horror; losing one at the hands of another human being, regardless of age, is even worse. I don’t blame Emily’s parents for being champions of this bill; I blame the grand-standing yird swine like Tony Cornish and Torrey Westrom for waving the parents’ grief in front of us as part of an odious, cynical political stunt. I hope – and expect – that there is a special circle of hell for moral cretins like Cornish and Westrom.

If a ten year old has the moral capacity to be charged with murder as an adult – and receive a life sentence – shouldn’t he be able to vote, drive a car, or drink alcoholic beverages? Get married? Serve in the armed forces? Be a cop? How about be a member of the Minnesota House? What do you think, Tony?

If you read the linked article, you’ll see that opponents of the bill made several policy arguments against it. But the best argument  is the moral one: children – that’s what they are – lack the capacity to think or function as adults. And after all, the punishment is supposed to fit the crime. We do have a juvenile justice system.

Here’s Dr. Laurence Steinberg on the adolescent brain:

When it comes to crime, [adolescents] are less responsible for their behavior than adults. And typically, in the law, we don’t punish people as much who are less responsible. We know from our lab that adolescents are more impulsive, thrill-seeking, [and] drawn to the rewards of a risky decision than adults. They tend to not focus very much on costs. They are more easily coerced to do things they know are wrong. These factors, under the law, make people less responsible for criminal acts.

Here’s Dr. Steinberg on brain research that backs up what we, most of us anyway, know about kids:

In the last five years, as neuroscience has moved forward with functional magnetic resonance imaging and with research on animals, there have been dozens of new studies of adolescent brain development. These show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence. Neuroscientists have shown that the part of the brain that improves most during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in complicated decision-making, thinking ahead, planning, comparing risks and rewards. And the neuroscientific research is showing that over the course of adolescence and into the 20s, there is this continued maturation of this part of the brain. So now, we have brain evidence that supports behavioral studies.

Consider the moral depravity of a legislator – a committee chair – who thinks a fifth or sixth grader should do hard time when in every other realm of his life we treat him as, well, a child. Apparently, Cornish thinks that the state is merely the agent of private revenge. But if that’s all it is, think of how much easier and cheaper it would be to cut out the middle man, and just let the families have at each other.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Don’t forget: Wy Spano at DL tonight

Wy Spano is our guest at the 331 Club tonight. We meet from six to nine P.M., and Mr. Spano will begin his remarks around seven thirty. There will be some Q&A, too.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"Who's Kidding Who?"

Excellent question, Mr. Knaak.

Wednesday evening, the Senate Ethics subcommittee heard a complaint about the conduct of Sen. Scott Newman (R - Hutchinson.) Kim Kelley, Sen. Newman's legislative assistant, sent an email to a constituent that declared:
Unfortunately, Senator Newman will not see any organizations that donated to/supported his opponent Hal Kimball. After some careful checking, I discovered that [Minnesota Nurses Association] had donated to Kimball's campaign. Your association will be unable to schedule an appointment with Senator Newman.
Everybody in the room deplored this email. They regarded it as "uncomfortable," an act that would exact a "political price" of Sen. Newman, who has "already paid the price." Newman, for his part, seemed contrite. So much so his lawyer, Fritz Knaak, stated that he was "surprised he's not blue in the face" from apologizing. In the end, the committee regarded his testimony that he had no knowledge of the email or policy against meeting with political opponents as "truthful and credible" and decided that there was no probable cause that he had violated Senate rules.

So that's that! And no harm done!

But on the path to that verdict, Newman (and former Coleman) lawyer Knaak held forth on the nature of the Minnesota Legislature. And boy, it's not a pretty picture. It's a world where everybody knows that access to legislators is for sale, and we should stop kidding ourselves. In his view, there's simply no rule that prohibits lawmakers from refusing to meet with political opponents. As Knaak put it, "while what happened is unfortunate, it is not a violation of the Senate rules." "If you look at past practice, and you look at history, something that is suggested in that particular email certainly was the case once upon at time if it isn't anymore."

Or, as he succinctly put it; "who's kidding who?"

Here's his closing argument to the committee:

Senators represent all the people of their district, not just those who supported their election campaign. That belief may be naive, but it is a cornerstone of our democracy. Senator Newman's declaration that he had no policy against meeting with opponents was welcome, and ultimately was the fact that cleared him in the mind of the committee.

Knaak suggested that if the committee doesn't like the kind of conduct implied by this email, the Senate should create rules that clarify what the "accepted norms of the Senate" are. I agree. It should start by clarifying that it is a violation of ethics rules to refuse to meet with constituents who supported your opponent.

Knaak believes that there would not be a consensus among the 67 Senators that a pay-to-play policy is unethical. I think he's wrong. The Senators who brought the complaint against Newman should find out by proposing that the ethics rules be clarified to specifically prohibit legislators from adopting a pay-for-play policy.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

“Creative financing”

That is what we need to bring the the stadium debate, says Chamber of Commerce President David Olson, NOT any tax increase. Besides, says Olson, we’ve (meaning the Chamber, apparently) been working on this “reasonably hard.”

Perhaps Minneapolis could do what Chicago did: sell the parking meter revenue stream until all the oil is gone for a fixed sum. Or, maybe we could sell off the Capitol to private investors, like Arizona!

If selling off a piece or two of Minnesota’s patrimony doesn’t raise enough money, well then, maybe we can get an advance from the Tooth Fairy on all the teeth that will fall out of childrens’ heads in Minnesota for the next twenty years. There has to be a way of getting something for nothing.

Clearly, what we need – and we need it RIGHT NOW – is the flim flam artistry of David Olson and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Teach for America first person testimony

Ed Dispatch: A Former TFA Teacher:

This is the "alternative licensure" system the Minnesota legislature is about to inflict on the state.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Today in tone deafness

Shorter Tony Sutton: "I am personally outraged that anyone would think we meant anything about shooting anyone by this mailer. Simply outraged, I tell you."

Hat tip: The Big E.

The irony of gun store robberies

more guns equals more violence

L.K. Hanson cartoon

Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan’s op-ed on the insanity of thinking that more guns is the answer to gun violence has been on the Stool’s recommended reading list since it was published a few days ago. Here’s just one little nugget from the piece:

Epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that those without guns are four times safer than those with guns when confronted by an armed assailant.

Well, here’s one more:

Gun death rates are highest in the states with the highest ratios of gun ownership.

This second item is not exactly a bolt out of the blue.

I read a news report somewhere recently about a gun store that got robbed. I tried to find it, and I discovered that gun store robberies are fairly, um, common:


Not all of the Google hits are gun store robberies, but a lot of them are. (There are multiple videos of some robberies, too.)

Here’s a typical offering from the search. In this case, our man from North Carolina was affirmatively less safe by having guns around. But the principle we can abstract from these robberies is, that if somebody with a gun get the drop on you, having one around isn’t going to help.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

F is for Fun

For 2012, Democrats need to recapture fun from the right.

Despite the grim nature of the extended "jobless recovery," reverberating declarations of the need for cuts and sacrifice, and the depression-inducing depths of gray February, America is primed for a return to fun. The natural condition of a recession is individual restraint and caution. But as the third law of political motion holds, an equal and opposite reaction is rising. As the economy recovers, the natural desire of people will be to emerge from the gloom, looking for enjoyment and feeling a bit rambunctious. The political party that best reflects this desire will be rewarded in 2012.

Since their banner victories in 2008, Democrats have lost touch with these themes. Obama and Democrats swept to victory in a movement that was admittedly vague, but undeniably optimistic and fun. Taking the reins of government during a recession quickly buried the poetic language of the 2008 campaign in the plodding prose of bureaucratic reform. In short, in 2008 Obama fought against "the man," by 2010 he was "the man." Enter the tea party, admittedly vague and contradictory, but undeniably rebellious and fun. I mean, what's more fun than packing heat at an anti-Obama rally, carrying a sign depicting Obama as the Joker with a misspelled caption equating him with Hitler, while dressed in a Paul Revere costume?

Tapping into the anger and fear of folks hitting the bottom of long recession, Republicans capitalized for a sweeping midterm reversal. But these victories haven't salved the raw feelings of Americans. One measure of the low mood of the country is the fact that more Americans believe that our best days are behind us, rather than ahead of us. Another is the incredibly low 27% who believe "America on the right track." The mood of the American body politic at the end of a long recession is a paradox. We want better, but don't know how to get it. We don't trust "the man." We believe that government and Wall Street are conspiring to maximize profits at our expense. And despite all this, two of three among us believe America is a fair and decent place.

In the wake of their midterm victory, the policy prescriptions of Republicans are deep cuts to programs that are the centerpieces of American economic mobility and security. The State of the Union address was depressing enough, but the Republican response from Rep. Galt, er, Rep. Munster, uh, Rep. Ryan was enough to drive most into a deep state of despondency.

Austerity is not fun. Americans are willing to defer gratification, but not indefinitely. Once it's apparent that the sacrifices that Republicans are calling for will be borne by the same middle class that's been slammed by the recession, the game will shift. If there are two times in American life that are supposed to be fun, they are college and retirement. Both are squarely in the sights of budget hawks, who think we can no longer afford to provide health care and a minimum of retirement security to anyone under the age of 55. Higher education has been one of the first targets of machete-wielding Minnesota Republican leaders.

The Republican narrative is of an America waking up from a wild spending bender with a big hangover. In other words, we've just been having too much fun, and now's the time for the sour task of cutting back. For middle-class Americans this is the opposite of their lived experience. Over a decade of static or shrinking paychecks despite more hours worked, a collapse in confidence in homeownership and retirement savings, rising energy costs - these are the underlying causes of middle-class melancholy.

So far, the middle class has internalized the calls for sacrifice, but it can't go on indefinitely. It never does. Americans have never truly embraced austerity, whether it's in the form of President Carter's sweaters or Rep. Ryan's Roadmap. This is not a call for profligate spending, but for Democrats to lighten the mood and let Republicans obsess over doom and gloom. It's a call for reasonable solutions to the long-term stability of the Social Security system as opposed to gutting it. Above all, it means articulating a vision of a better America, a better Minnesota, against a sad narrative of inevitable decline.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Value-added madness, return of school vouchers, investing in young children, and a teaching parable from the football world

Education deform roundup for February 6

1) Value-added madness. More on the Gates' foundation's $45 million study into evaluating teachers by their students' scores. From the summary of  Review of Learning About Teaching by Jesse Rothstein:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” (MET) Project seeks to validate the use of a teacher’s estimated “value-added”—computed from the year-on-year test score gains of her students—as a measure of teaching effectiveness...

...value-added for state assessments is correlated 0.5 or less with that for the alternative assessments, meaning that many teachers whose value-added for one test is low are in fact quite effective when judged by the other. As there is every reason to think that the problems with value-added measures apparent in the MET data would be worse in a high-stakes environment, the MET results are sobering about the value of student achievement data as a significant component of teacher evaluations.
The report concludes, albeit in more restrained language, that the MET study is full of more crap than a christmas goose:
"the report’s key conclusions prejudge the results of the unfinished components of the MET study. This limits the report’s value and undermines the MET Project’s credibility."
An earlier EPI briefing paper concluded that "value-added measures" were extremely unstable with relation to invidivual teachers over two or more years:
One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%. Another found that teachers' effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in the following year. Thus, a teacher who appears to be very ineffective in one year might have a dramatically different result the following year. The same dramatic fluctuations were found for teachers ranked at the bottom in the first year of analysis. This runs counter to most people's notions that the true quality of a teacher is likely to change very little over time and raises questions about whether what is measured is largely a "teacher effect" or the effect of a wide variety of other factors.
2)  Dana Goldstein reports on the The Revival of the Private School Voucher Movement. As Republicans and Tea Party types take over state legislatures and governorships across the country, "... vouchers are back, and in a very big way."

3) Meanwhile, USA Today reports on a National Institutes of Health study led by a University of Minnesota researcher into "Early childhood education" that finds that for every dollar invested  $4 - $11 is returned. I put "Early childhood education" into quotes because we're really not talking about education, but social interventions into childrens lives beginning at age three, including "meals, health services and home visiting" :
"... children finished high school or college, earning more than their peers, and also because participants were less likely to be held back, arrested, depressed, involved with drugs or sick, the study says."
 The one caveat is that parents had to choose to become involved in the program, so the participants are in some degree self-selected. Since the study doesn't bash teachers or schools, don't look for Star Tribune coverage, even though it was led by a researcher from our own University of Minnesota.

4) From Alabama, a county executive compares the methods of the national champion Auburn football coach's approach to developing talent to that of Teach for America:
In just two years, coach Gene Chizik took Auburn from a losing record to being the best team in the country—not so much by bringing in new players—but by changing how the players he inherited were coached...

...when the new coaching staff assembled at Auburn two years ago, they didn’t throw up their hands and say, “We don’t have talent.” Instead, they determined they needed to roll up their sleeves and make the players they had better.

...have Birmingham’s education leaders looked at a study by Stanford University, conducted over six years and including more than 4,400 teachers and 132,000 students, that concluded that “TFA recruits do not educate students as well as teachers who have received rigorous methodological instruction and practice?"
My description and quotes from this story don't really do it justice - so read the whole thing.

5) Make plans now to attend the Save Our Schools: March and National Call to Action, July 28-31 in Washington DC.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Today, on what would have been Ronald Reagan's 101st birthday, we again take this opportunity to remember what sort of a president he was.

More Reagan nostalgia can be found by following the Twitter feed of John Fugelsang.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Upcoming Drinking Liberally guests


It’s a quiet Friday afternoon, so I’ll take a moment to mention some upcoming Drinking Liberally guests you won’t want to miss.

Next week, on Thursday, February 10th, long time political figure Wy Spano will be our guest. We expect Wy around 7:30 PM, a little later than our usual guest start. Wy Spano is the Director of the Master of Advocacy and Public Leadership program at the University of Minnesota – Duluth. A frequent guest on Almanac on public television, Wy has been a lobbyist for government and non-profit organizations for many years; he’s also one of the founders of Politics in Minnesota, which started out as a weekly newsletter.

Wy will tell some stories and talk a little about the state of the legislature and the session underway; he’ll also engage in a some dialog with Aaron Klemz, one of his students and a DL regular (and a blogger here).

On Thursday, February 24th, Hamline University political science professor David Schultz will be our guest for some remarks about the political scene and some to take some Q&A. David teaches election law at the University of Minnesota, too. You have undoubtedly seen David on the Almanac couch, as well. Perhaps the professor will recount how he was vaulted to fame as a political prognosticator by Jesse Ventura.

Rounding out the Almanac brain drain, Mayors Chris Coleman and R.T.Rybak will make a joint appearance at DL on Thursday, March 10th. They will discuss the legislative session and the budget, and the effects it may have on our core cities. I am also hoping to persuade our mayors to each bring along a few trivia questions about the political history of their cities, so that they can host a round of trivia (with prizes) before their talk.

We meet from six to nine every Thursday at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Inside MinnCAN: Political intent, dissembling, and big payments to 50CAN

Hats off to the education deformers at MinnCAN. They're clever, well-funded and well-connected. With a staff of only three people in Minnesota they threaten to do more harm to public education than any of their older and bigger-staffed education deform peers. That and much more is evident in the new organization's original fund-raising prospectus from July of last year, which has been leaked to this website.

Clear political intent

For a non-profit, IRS 501(c)(3) organization MinnCAN's prospectus reveals a highly political organization. In fact, it seems the organization is really nothing but a political organization. It admits as much in the prospectus, where it says "MinnCAN doesn't build schools or train teachers," instead it is involved in creating "political will" and "the right political climate" to "reform education by changing state policy" "through both legislative and administrative action."

The first page of the prospectus says the group aims "to be in a position to secure significant policy victories starting in the 2011 legislative session."  MinnCAN may argue that it is operating within the letter of how tax laws regulating non-profits are enforced, but with its clear political intent it violates the spirit of those laws. Unsurprisingly, MinnCAN kicked off its Minnesota campaign at the state capitol.

Don't be fooled by how the first MinnCAN proposals don't seem as radical as its underlying agenda. The prospectus makes clear that for each legislative session they "set a precise education reform agenda, calibrated to the strength of our movement and the opportunities for change." In the Policy priorities section of the prospectus the underlying goals are articulated:
  • 1) Greater flexibility: i.e. Loosened teacher standards to allow Teach for America, and the elimination of teacher tenure.
  • 2) Greater accountability: i.e. Evaluate teachers based on students' performance.
  • 3) Choice; according to the prospectus, "School choice is one of 50CAN's core principles," i.e. they support "high-performing" charter schools. No word about the low performing ones.
The structure of MinnCAN reflects its twin goals of building "political will" and desire for "legislative and administrative action."  The organization's three employees are its executive director, government relations manager and a community relations manager.  The executive director is charged with "...leveraging the rich network of existing Minnesota education reform leaders and organizations to forge a united font..."

That "leveraging" is actually easier than you might think, given the list of organizations the prospectus lists as allies which includes the Center for School Change, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership.

Conflating political success with policy success

Throughout the prospectus MinnCAN conflates political success - particularly that of ConnCAN - with policy success. Given MinnCAN's touting of its own rhetorical abilities this cannot be an accident.  This dissembling is de rigor for ConnCAN, MinnCAN and their supporters. For example, the Minneapolis Foundation ran a blurb touting ConnCAN's "Success in reducing the achievement gap in Connecticut," on its website advertising the Minnesota Meeting where the notion of MinnCAN was first introduced, even though the claim is obviously false.


Likewise MinnCAN is quick to distort facts and tell outright lies in its prospectus. For example, it states that "Minnesota's African-American and Hispanic children...have made zero progress over the past 10 years."  This is clearly false as demonstrated by the most respected national tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In math Black children in Minnesota in grade four scores have increased from 193 in 1992 to 222 in 2007.  In 2000 the scores averaged 208.  By grade eight Black scores increased from 236 in 1990 to 260 in 2007, showing steady gains over the period. While it's true there has been little gain in Black reading scores from 1992 to 2007, where scores increased from 189 to 198, there was a similar stagnation in white scores which grew to 231 from 223 for the period.  Black reading scores show more gains at grade eight - growing from 231 in 1998 to 245 in 2007.  That same period showed only a four point gain for white students.

So while Black reading scores showed only small gains (not "zero progress") in the NAEP tests, they matched white gains for the period. And in math tests Blacks made healthy, steady gains over the studied period. Even if the statistics cited by MinnCAN were true, which they are not, it in no way follows that the prescriptions offered would do anything to alleviate poor educational performance. It is much more likely, in fact, that MinnCAN's ideas will actually make things worse.

Forty percent of MinnCAN budget to be paid to 50CAN

One of the more interesting parts of the MinnCAN prospectus is its three year budget, which projects spending of over $4 million from September 2010 through September 2013. Of that total, roughly 40 % - $1.5 million would be paid to 50CAN, the umbrella deform organization spun out of ConnCAN. The prospectus describes how 50CAN will supply a "boot camp" for the new MinnCAN president, supply research for the new organization, and help setup the tools of a modern advocacy campaign such as social networking and policy advocacy software tools,  including "micro-targeting" and "e-advocacy" tools used to generate mass communications to legislators masked as individually generated.

In the prospectus MinnCAN talks about how ConnCAN employed "...a Wealth Engine-driven prospecting strategy" that facilitated "growing ties to national funders," including support from the Walton foundation for its Rhode Island project and positive comments from the educational program officer from the Gates foundation. The *CAN's role in the education deform movement, as made clear throughout the MinnCAN prospectus, is one of "professional advocacy," sporting the "savvy use of cutting edge communications vehicles" to "change state policy" around education.

In that sense the CANs represent the culmination of the education deformers' vertically integrated movement, which provides concentrated funding for research, schools, school management, alternative teacher training and advocacy,  media, and now government policy. It is an extraordinary feat seeing as how the deformers spend maybe one percent of all outlays for primary and secondary education, yet are managing to control policy over the spending of massive amounts of government money. The one percent is wagging the 99 percent. The fact that they are obviously politicking with tax-exempt money is emblematic of the movement's fundamental dishonesty and lack of ethics.