Dear DFLers: This is Minnesota, Not MinneSweden

These are very heady times for Minnesota DFLers. Governor Mark Dayton and DFL legislators had the courage to raise taxes, increase long-term investments, and raise the minimum wage.  In the process, Minnesota Republicans were proven wrong, because the economic sky did not fall as they predicted it would.   In fact, liberally governed Minnesota, with an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent, has one of the stronger economies in the nation.

And the subsequent coverage from the liberal echo chamber has been positively intoxicating for DFLers:

“This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage — Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country” (Huffington Post)

“The Unnatural: How Mark Dayton Bested Scott Walker—and Became the Most Successful Governor in the Country”  (Mother Jones)

“What happens when you tax the rich and raise the minimum wage? Meet one of USA’s best economies” (Daily Kos)

Comparative_Economic_Systems__SwedenHigh as a kite from these clippings and the vindication they represent, DFLers run the risk of over-stepping, of pushing Minnesotans further than it they are comfortable going. As much as DFL politicians fantasize about bringing the social welfare model of a Scandinavian nation to a state populated with so many Scandinavian immigrants, a recent survey in the Star Tribune provides a harsh reminder that Minnesota, politically speaking, is not MinneSweden.

In the wake of a $2 billion budget surplus, only one out of five (19 percent) Minnesotans wants to “spend most to improve services.” Among the Independent voters that DFLers need to persuade in order to win elections and legislative power, only one out of four (24 percent) supports spending the entire surplus.

At the same time, two times as many Minnesotans support the predictable Republican proposal to “refund most to taxpayers” (38 percent support). Their refund proposal is also the most popular option among the Independent voters that Republicans need to win over in order to have electoral success in 2016.

The Star Tribune also reported that their survey found that Minnesotans are not too wild about the gas tax increase the DFLers propose.  A slim majority (52 percent) oppose “Governor Dayton’s proposal to raise the wholesale tax on gasoline to increase spending on road and bridge projects?”  A healthier majority (62 percent) of Minnesota’s’s Independents oppose the gas tax increase.

I happen to agree with the DFL on the merits.  Minnesota has a lot of hard work to do in order to remain competitive into the future, so I personally support investing almost all of the budget surplus, with a healthy amount for the rainy day fund, and a gas tax increase. However at the same time, I’m enough of a realist to recognize that sustainable progressive change won’t happen if Daily Kos-drunk DFLers overstep and lose the confidence of swing voters in the process.

DFLers who want to win back the trust of a majority of the Minnesota electorate would be wise to enact a mix of sensibly targeted investments, a resilient rainy day fund and targeted tax relief.  That kind of pragmatic, balanced approach won’t turn into St. Paul into Stockholm, but it might just put more DFLers in power, so that the DFL can ensure Republicans don’t turn Minnesota into South Dakota or Wisconsin.

Frat House Group-think, from Oklahoma to the U.S. Senate

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterNot being a big “joiner” — no bowling league will have me and the Elks Lodge want too much in dues — two nearly simultaneous events this past week reaffirmed my long-held belief that the truly wise man follows his own path.

First, those Oklahoma frat boys. When I was in college, during the height of the anti-Vietnam counter culture, nothing was less cool than a fraternity. Country club prep houses for kids too self-absorbed and weirdly rule-bound to notice or care that the times were a-changin’. A duller crowd you couldn’t invent, even if a lot of flashy girls turned out for their parties.

Mainly though it was the tribal mindset, the appalling group-think required to gain entry to … what? A band of brothers who might some day rule hedge funds that could single-handedly crush a Third World nation? Or, more likely, the possibility of exchanging a secret handshake with an insurance agent selling you your first homeowner policy? The thrill didn’t register. Worse, the thought of acquiescing to the herd mentality that required you to run naked through a girls’ dorm with a propeller on your head while singing “Wild Thing” didn’t strike me as particularly, well, dignified.

Clearly, I was an outlier. Post counter-culture, the Greek culture has come roaring back, or ranting back as was the case with the astonishing numbskulls on video from Oklahoma, who at least have the excuse that they are a bunch of liquored-up kids. (Over dinner last night my wife and I agreed that short of John Wayne Gacy does anything reflect worse on your parenting skills than a kid leading a “no n—–s” singalong? Jesus!)

Human history is littered with examples of the extreme downside of tribalism, the need to belong to a group that you believe gives you more power than yourself alone, the feeling of affirmation, the certainty that if so many others who look like you are doing it must be okay. It’s no great consolation that the young are most susceptible to the allure of malignant group-identity.

So, second example, what can you say about 47 Republican Senators who … sign their names … to a letter to the Great Satan-hating Ayatollahs of Iran urging them, tribe-to-tribe, to resist a deal impeding their nuclear ambitions? These aren’t stupid kids, and as far as I can tell none of them were drunk at the time they signed on, although there’s no guarantee a few of that crowd aren’t on high-powered dementia medication.

The letter of course was the inspiration of newby Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a 37 year-old Harvard man with deep Tea Party roots and ambitions far beyond Razorback-holler. (Over the years, local bloggers, the Powerline lawyers, have regularly soiled themselves promoting young Mr. Cotton as a “true conservative”, i.e. tribal warrior). It goes without saying that as a dragon-breathed Constitutionalist (or whatever) Cotton’s master plan is far more about himself than saving the free world from a bad deal on nuclear tubing.

Cotton is following the well-marked path of other archer-than-arch conservatives like Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, the entire House class of 2010 and every foghorn on talk radio. Go big. Go loud. Go half-insane. The people who will send you money and push you forward as their next savior will be delighted far beyond reason. They will give you license to go forth and smite the infidel libtard tribes until not so much as a lame dog walks among their burning huts.

There’s no downside whatsoever for Cotton. But what can you say about … John McCain, a guy already stamped by history as have demonstrated some of the worst judgment of any top-level politician of his era? (Sarah Palin.) How does he explain, I mean truly explain, attaching his name to something so nakedly self-serving as Cotton’s letter?

The suspicion is that like the muddled-head frat kid egged on by the house’s alpha-party animal McCain piped up and added his voice to, you know, prove he too is worthy of the tribe.

Making Standardized Tests A Less Evil Necessary Evil

standardized_testsFor a lot of years, whenever I thought about standardized tests, I only thought about how much I sucked at them. The difference between my strong grades and my weak standardized test scores was dramatic.  My low standardized test scores cost me early academic opportunities, scholarship money and self-confidence.

But now that I’ve been professionally successful for a few decades, I’ve been thinking about those tests in a different way.

The primary reason I was lousy at standardized tests was that I was always running out of time, and being forced to randomly fill in answers at the last moment. More to the point, I was running out of time was because I couldn’t stop thinking about things unrelated to standardized test problem-solving.

While reading through questions, I’d continually think about all kinds of extraneous things:

  • “Why did the test makers word it that way? Wouldn’t it have been more clear if they had said…(composing in head)?”
  • “What is it about me that makes me a crappy test taker?
  • “Why do test makers think that particular kind of question is a reasonable indicator of future success?  Are they right?”
  • “Why do they need to time tests?  Is life like Jeopardy where you have to buzz in the fastest?”
  • “Why a #2 pencil?  What do the numbers even mean?  Is there a good reason for that, or is it a control thing?  Would they really throw me out I snuck in a rebel pencil?”

Why? What? How? You don’t need to be Stanley Kaplan to understand how this kind of frivolous intellectual meandering hurts standardized test performance. Every moment I was diverting thoughts to those kinds of questions is obviously a moment I wasn’t solving problems.

But I couldn’t stop myself. Today they might say I had inattentive type Attention Deficit Disorder. In those days teachers said I was “dreamy” or “spacey,” and they were correct.  I was more successful in the classroom, where time was much less of an issue and different things were evaluated, but my off-topic musing was devastating when it came to tightly timed standardized tests.

Weakness Becomes Strength

But in later years, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts about all of this: It occured to me that the thought processes I was using when I should have been focused on the standardized test is precisely the kind of thought processes that has made me successful on a professional level.   I get hired because people say I’m analytical, creative, unconventional, curious about a wide variety of subjects, a persuasive writer, and can put myself into others’ heads.

In other words, if I had been better at the things that made me a poor standardized test taker, I might have stunk at my chosen career.

Ban Standardized Tests?

The realization that standardized tests weren’t entirely correct in their verdict about me doesn’t make me want to ban standard tests.  Many poor test takers seem to go there, but I don’t.

A world without standardized tests certainly would have been good for me, but I don’t think it would be good for society collectively.  Standardized tests are necessary for holding administrators, teachers and students accountable, and for helping administrators, teachers and students understand specific weaknesses and strengths, so they can use that knowledge to improve. These tests are far from perfect, but relying solely on random anecdotal evidence presented by people with self-interested agendas is much worse.

Last week, Governor Dayton announced that he was recommending a reduction in the number of standardized tests used in the k-12 system, from 21 to 14.   I haven’t studied the issue nearly enough to be qualified to judge the specifics of his recommendation.  But whatever the optimal number of tests, I am glad that most of the standardized tests that I detest will continue to be used.

We don’t need to do away with standardized tests.  What we need is for counselors, teachers and parents to be doing more to help kids understand what test results do and don’t mean. We need lower scorers to understand that, while the ACT, SAT and GRE will close some doors, research indicates that they still can be academically successful.

As scores are being shared, students should be told this broader truth:  Lots of people with great test scores struggle mightily in their careers, while lots of people with poor test scores excel. More importantly, students should study why both of those things happen.  They should study the role effort, creativity, and passion will play in making their post-standardized test lives.    We need to explain the ways in which adults routinely turn their disadvantages into advantages, and how the skills and knowledge evaluated on standardized tests aren’t necessarily the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in many fields.

The problem with standardized tests is not that they exist.  They problem is that we do too little to help dazed and confused test takers put their scores into proper perspective. If we were just a little more deliberate and thoughtful about helping students gain a deeper understanding of what their test scores do and don’t mean, we could make this necessary evil slightly less evil.

Note:  This post was also republished in MinnPost.

Dirty Job Dayton Dusts Himself Off

Dayton_dirty_2Governor Mark Dayton is Minnesota’s political version of Mike Rowe, the star of the Discovery Channel television show “Dirty Jobs.” Rowe’s show is all about him taking on difficult, disrespected and grotesque jobs that others avoid, such as being a sewer inspector, road kill scavenger, worm dung farmer, shark repellent tester, maggot farmer, and sea lamprey exterminator.  Who knew that worm dung needed farming?

Dirty Job Dayton

Governor Mark Dayton may not be farming worm dung, but consider just a few of the filthy tasks Dirty Job Dayton has already embraced in his five year’s in office.

Taxing Most Powerful Minnesotans.  Before Dayton, non-partisan analyses were showing that the wealthiest Minnesotans were not paying their fair share of taxes.  So Dayton ran for Governor unabashedly championing tax increases on the state’s most wealthy citizens, which earned him some very powerful enemies. At the time, progressive political consultants considered advocating almost any kind of tax increase political suicide for candidates. But Dayton ran on a platform of large tax increases, won a razar thin victory at the polls, and then promptly passed the tax increases into law as promised.

Implementing Unpopular Obamacare.  Dayton wasn’t done there. One of his very first acts of Governor was to champion Obamacare, which many politicians were extremely nervous about at the time. In contrast to his fellow Governors in neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota, Dayton embraced Obamacare’s Medicare expansion to cover 35,000 of the most vulnerable Minnesotans.   The Governor had Obamacare protesters shouting him down in his announcement news conference, but he let them have their say and stuck to his principles without looking back.  As a result of taking on a number of controversial Obamacare implementation tasks, Minnesota now has the second best rate of health insurance coverage of any state (95%).

Resolving Vikings Stadium Quagmire.  Then there was the Vikings Stadium debate that had been festering for almost a decade before Dayton came to office. Despite polls showing that subsidizing the stadium was unpopular, Dayton provided active backing for legislation to publicly subsidize the Vikings Stadium.  While noting that he is “not one to defend the economics of the NFL,” he plugged his nose and embraced a job he didn’t welcome, but felt was necessary to keep the Vikings in Minnesota and boost a then-suffering construction sector.

Cutting Coveted Social Safety Net.  Early in Dayton’s tenure as Governor, he even made significant cuts in state safety net programs, which is one of the very worst jobs any progressive can ever get.  Faced with a large budget shortfall, he proposed cutting $950 million in planned spending, told agencies to cut their budgets by up to 10 percent, and cut the state workforce by 6 percent.  That work had to leave even Dirty Job Dayton feeing grimy.

Love these positions or hate them — and Dayton himself didn’t relish many of them — no one can accuse Dayton of political timidity.

Dirtiest Job Yet

But this winter, Dirty Job Dayton finally met his Waterloo. With no political allies in sight, he attempted to push through salary increases for state agency commissioners, who are making less than their peers in many other states.   Dayton said he “knew there would be negative reaction,” but, as is his habit, he plugged his nose and pushed forward anyway.

How did that go for him?  Well, in the last few weeks Dayton learned that attempting to raise bureaucrats’ pay makes shark repellent testing look like a walk in the park.

Fresh off that experience, one might expect that Dayton would now stick to clean, safe, and easy jobs for the remainder of his time in office.  But if you believe that, you obviously don’t know Dirty Job Dayton very well.

Next Up:  Slinging Asphalt

After the salary increase shellacking Dayton endured, he has already found a new thankless task to champion – fixing Minnesota’s deteriorating roads and bridges.  While Republicans want a modest short-term fix funded out of the current budget surplus, that would be much too easy for Dirty Job Dayton. Dayton is attempting to put in place an ambitious decade-long $11 billion solution. Such a long-term fix necessitates a 16 cent per gallon (at current prices) increase in the gas tax. Not surprisingly, the polls are looking a little rough at the moment.

But Dirty Job Dayton doesn’t care. Like Mike Rowe, if the assignment stinks, scares, or stings, he’s in!

Ladies, It’s Time You Got Tough with Hillary

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterAre we having another deep doo-doo deja vu Clinton moment, or what? Suddenly it’s 1998 all over again. If only the economy was nearly as good.

So it seems Hillary Clinton, presumptive next president, played by her own rules and kept her State Department e-mails (more or less) hidden from official prying eyes. That is except for government types who received her e-mails. Those are still on the big server system, accessible to every EOH (Enemy of Hillary) who wants to root around and prove she personally armed the terrorists who killed the ambassador in Benghazi.

Now … obviously … this is a (big) deal because she’s Hillary goddam Clinton, with an empty six-lane freeway in front of her leading to the White House. If she wasn’t we’d still be obsessing over that stupid dress thing. Whether this outrage(!) actually has legs, which is to say if the conservative outrage machine can sustain it for 18 months, remains to be seen. Personally, I doubt it, since Es of H have a bad habit of picking the wrong horse to saddle up their righteous indignation. See: Whitewater, Benghazi.

But this email flap is another reminder that liberals might want to demand a hell of a lot more from Her Regency before the coronation. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable with the acclamation route to big power. I like candidates who have had a scare thrown into them, people who have been forced to explicitly defend and/or adjust their thinking and promises based on aggressive examination from E’s and F’s alike.

The current Hillary-Jeb match-up is so embarrassing. Clinton and Bush. Again. We look like a goddam banana republic, alternating between owners of the two biggest estancias every eight years. It’s bad enough we have to endure a system at both the national and state level where millionaires (of both parties) essentially buy themselves a job, usually guaranteeing that their previous stakeholders have primary access to their souls. It’s so damned unimaginative, if nothing else.

More to the point, as many have written before, the Hillary ascension, with no Plan B, strikes me as recklessly perilous. Even if the jowl-flapping buffoons of modern conservatism fail to make “Email-gate” stick, where are we if something truly grave happens to our one-and-only roadblock to Bush III, or President Scott Walker? Tomorrow is promised to no one. Hillary may not get hit by a bus, but not being the springiest of chickens, her health could fail, or we could discover that she really did plan the Benghazi attack. What then?

Given a choice between female candidates, I’d much prefer Elizabeth Warren. (Hell, I’d prefer Warren over any other Democrat, x or y chromosome, off the top of my head.) But a Warren candidacy would ignite the most godawful firestorm of coordinated, multi-front, big money attacks this back water oligarchy has ever seen. She’s despised and feared that much by Wall Street. And frankly, I doubt she’s prepared yet for that level of intensity of defamation. Hillary on the other hand seems quite cozy and well-triangulated among the Goldman Sachs and Citigroups of the world.

Liberal women in particular seem all but unanimously united in their support of Hillary, which is understandable to a point. After 240 years of alleged democracy, a woman president is waaay overdue and Hillary clearly has more experience and retail savvy than any plausible male on the scene. (Sorry, Joe Biden. Ain’t never going to happen.) That said, it may be that the women rushing to carry Hillary’s sedan chair up the White House steps are precisely the people to be grilling her most intensely on how exactly she intends to transform this country’s financial regulatory system, which is so tightly inter-locked with campaign finance, which is to blame for the obscene, truly Guatemala-like corruption and waste of DC?

There are a half dozen other good questions, but getting Her Highness on record, explicitly and in detail on that point alone would be a damned valuable start.

And if (not when) she answers, don’t put up with any of the usual Clinton-ish legalisms.




This Just In: Bill O’Reilly Full of [bleep]

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMaybe the strangest thing about the still unfolding “Bill O’Reilly is a bullshitter!” story is that anyone with their wits still about them ever thought he wasn’t.

It is ridiculously entertaining to read David Corn’s Mother Jones piece, and now yesterday’s howler about Bill knocking on the door of a key JFK assassination figure at the very moment the guy inside blows his head off with a shotgun. Gripping stuff if not for the recordings of O’Reilly on the phone … from 1200 miles away. I mean, there’s a hilarious Ron Burgundy aspect to O’Reilly’s uber-manly tale of dragging an injured colleague to safety amid a murderous police rampage in Buenos Aires when in fact the “riot” was barely more than a routine demonstration, no one was killed and no CBS employee reported so much as a twisted ankle or required any level of medical attention.

I’d add that this is the stuff of full-on parody if it weren’t for the fact that Stephen Colbert built a career doing exactly that. (Can you imagine the delirium Colbert’s writers would be in with this run of red meat?)

Comparisons to Brian Williams’ self-immolation miss the central difference here pretty badly. Williams was employed with the explicit understanding that he was credible, trading only in the facts as best as NBC could report them. Bill O’Reilly is the key mouthpiece in Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ enormously profitable political campaign masquerading as a news organization. Williams’ viewers were justifiably disappointed to learn of his bizarre embellishments. O’Reilly’s viewers, I strongly suspect, do not care in the least what he has embellished or flat-out invented, as long as he continues to attack Murdoch and Ailes’ and their designated enemies.

With that in mind it’ll be easier to understand why FoxNews not only isn’t going to “investigate” O’Reilly’s superhero imaginings, and is instead gleeful at a fresh opportunity to attack the “guttersnipe liberal media” and threaten straight news pinheads with bodily harm. It plays directly into the fascinating psychology wherein ardent zealots confronted with information that unambiguously contradicts their beliefs double down on their erroneous thinking rather than concede and align themselves with reality.

Prediction: O’Reilly’s ratings will spike over the next month.

This incident brings two things back to mind.

1: Liberals take FoxNews far too seriously, and I fully admit my complicity on that point. For years I’ve fulminated myself into apoplexy at Fox’s shameless absurdity and cynicism, convinced that the network was an aggressive form of cancer soon to terminate all higher brain function among the credulous masses. But somewhere after the 2012 elections, when all of Fox-think was revealed to be astonishingly incompetent at both campaigning and campaign analysis, I settled down. Their bona fides, such as they are, are all but completely limited to an old, embittered demographic of rapidly diminishing electoral significance.

Here’s Frank Rich not long ago on the topic.

I suspect the irrelevance of FoxNews to the 300 million Americans who are not lapping it up 24/7 has something to do with Jon Stewart bailing on “The Daily Show”. FoxNews as a punchline is a settled, cliched commodity.

2:  Blogging colleague Joe Loveland passed this on yesterday. It’s the annual Pew survey on America’s most and least-trusted broadcast news operations. In the realm of what we’ve come to expect the survey’s authors write:

“Fox News is both the most trusted and least trusted name in news. 35% of Americans say they trust Fox News more than any other TV news outlet, followed by 14% for PBS, 11% for ABC, 10% for CNN, 9% for CBS, 6% each for Comedy Central and MSNBC, and 3% for NBC. It leads the way because of its continuing near total support among Republicans as the place to go for news- 69% of Republicans say it’s their most trusted source with nothing else polling above 7%.”

Think of that. 69%. Pretty well proving Murdoch and Ailes’ show biz genius at giving their people the campaign message they want.

But in the context of Bill O’Reilly’s naked bogus-ness, it also explains why he’ll suffer no reputational damage. Fox’s world is designed as an “us v. them” battlefield. O’Reilly is the high profile field marshall under constant attack from common enemies. To support Bill without equivocation is to be a loyal soldier.

Contrast that, as Joe pointed out, with the dismal all-in loyalty liberals have to their alleged message-bearer, MSNBC.

“It’s interesting that while Fox News and MSNBC are often thought of as equivalent, Fox News is by far and away the most trusted source of GOP voters while MSNBC is only tied for 4th among Democrats.”

The underlying point here is that liberals and conservatives affiliate with and consume partisan messaging in vastly different ways. Other psychological studies note conservatives’ far higher levels of trust in authority, e.g. Bill O’Reilly, and liberals’ elevated levels of skepticism toward leadership/herd thinking. One group embraces the minister-to-parish relationship. The other tolerates it in small doses.

Second prediction:  Bill O’Reilly will soon reveal that it was he who shot Osama bin Laden and to thunderous applause will vilify any left-wing guttersnipe who says otherwise.

Americans Support An Actual “Government Takeover of Health Care,” And I Don’t Mean Obamacare

Government_takeover_of_health_careOn the heels of the closing of the second year of open enrollment for Obamacare coverage, expect to hear a lot of “government takeover of health care” ranting from conservatives.

That phrase is heavily used by anti-Obamacare zealots, and that is no accident.  In 2009, Republican political consultant and celebrated wordsmith Frank Luntz advised his conservative clients to portray the proposed Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as “a government takeover of health care.”

Conservatives did as they were told. If you Google those words, you’ll see that the usage of that phrase, and close variations, has been widespread among conservatives ever since.

In a 28-page strategy memo, Luntz explained why stressing a Washington “takeover” was so important:

“Takeovers are like coups.  They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.”

In other words, the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t be talked about as it were a legislative proposal in a representative democracy.  Instead, it should be talked about as if it were a Stalin-esque freedom grab.

There are two problems with conservatives parroting the Luntz-recommended phrase “government takeover of health care” to make Americans fearful about health care reform: First, It’s demonstrably false.  Second, It doesn’t scare most Americans.

False.  I’m not going to go into detail about why it is false, because it’s pretty self-evident.  But suffice it to say that ‘government takeover of health care” as a descriptor for the Affordable Care Act was named by the non-partisan editors of Politifact as their 2010 “Lie of the Year.”   In a lie-intensive election year, “government takeover of healthcare” was named by both editors and readers as the Pants on Fire of all Pants’s on Fire.  Politifact notes the obvious:

“It is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers.

It’s true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market.”

Not Scary.  But beyond being false, the more surprising thing to me is that “government takeover of health care” is not all that scary to a  majority of Americans.

While Obamacare is not remotely close to a government takeover of health care, putting Americans into the government-run Medicare program would be exactly that.  And you know what? Most Americans are just fine with even that level of government takeover of health care.


A January 2015 GBA Strategies survey asked Americans if they support enactment of “a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare.” By a 15-point margin, a majority of Americans (51% support, 36% oppose) supported that kind of government takeover of health care.

The same survey then asked Americans about giving people the option of having government take over their health care.   Specifically, the survey asked if respondents would support giving “all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurers, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.” An amazing 71% of Americans support having the option of a government takeover their health care, including 63% of Republican respondents.

So it turns out that, after six years of intensive Luntz-led vilification of “government takeover of health care,” backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of political advertising and public relations efforts, there are very few issues in America today with as much public support as there is for the federal government taking over American health care.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was republished on MinnPost.

Williams or Stewart? Pick the credible journalist.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThere’s at least one powerful irony in NBC slamming Brian Williams with a six-month, unpaid suspension and Jon Stewart announcing his retirement from “The Daily Show” on the same day. And it’s within this question: Which of the two has proven to be the more credible messenger of news? After that you can kick around, “Which is more the caricature of a modern TV news anchor?”

There’s almost nothing more than anyone can say about Williams’ death spiral other than it was whiplash fast and unambiguous. One day he was a celebrity god. The next he’s persona non grata among the chattering classes. But in the brief time it took him to dive from the stratosphere to the asphalt, precious few bloviators and pundits dared place his personal apocalypse in the context it thoroughly and fairly requires.

Quite ironically, Stewart himself got there Monday night. Elsewhere, veteran reporter/writer John Hockenberry, squeezed it in at the end of his column on Williams’ meltdown. I was a bit disappointed that my old pal, David Carr, while eloquent, couldn’t find space to make the same salient point. (Off the radar, another old pal, Jim Leinfelder was on to this question — via e-mail –within hours of Williams’ meltdown.)

“The point” is of course this: If a guy who is basically a network entertainer — someone whose combination of good-looks, charm and polished demeanor reliably attracts an audience large enough to satisfy advertisers — is to suffer the 21st century of a public drawing-and-quartering for over-inflating his war experiences, specifically those in our Iraq invasion, how is it that both the architects of that invasion and Williams’ peers feel no heat? No widespread vilification? Much less legal recourse? Fundamentally no censure or punishment at all for leading us into a multi-trillion-dollar, reputation-blotting blunder and, in the context of the media, playing complicit lapdogs to the whole shameful affair?

Are Williams’ cocktail party-style exaggerations truly worse than the timidity of the vast majority of the national press? Worse than the professional skeptics who stood by, too intimidated by national hysteria to ask impertinent questions, as Dick Cheney and George W*. sold a war of choice based on stovepiped intelligence and fear? It certainly seems so, because Williams’ career is a cinder, while the rest, including the revered Tom Brokaw, are still welcome guests at think-y festivals, graduation ceremonies and Big League journalism award ceremony stroke-a-thons.

Watching Stewart walk us through this Monday night, the most sickening part for me, wasn’t Williams, it was the montage of people like former New York Times editor Bill Keller and his laurel-covered ilk uttering flagrantly false assurances of having done due diligence on the war at its outset. That is the sort of thing, a transparent falsehood, that ought to ruin a career, not something as minor on the grand scale of things as bragging about getting “shot out of the sky.”

Back to the question of credibility. If we truly mean “being trusted and believed in”, is Jon Stewart further down the ladder of trustworthiness than any of the correspondents who, dare I say, “questioned” George W* about the looming invasion on March 6, 2003? (Here’s video.) The record pretty clearly shows that only ABC’s Terry Moran came close to applying any heat to the veracity of the claims Cheney and Bush had been making. Everyone else was caught up in the fog of research-tested patriotism. You have to wonder how someone who hadn’t completely bought in to the group-think of corporate journalism might have approached Bush at that critical moment?

Stewart’s “fake anchor” shtick has made TV history by making “real journalists” squirm over their pettiness, ineptitude, bluster and lack of respect for the truth, all of which is course is baked into the notion of a commercially palatable news product.

So as both Williams and Stewart depart the stage, it is fair to ask, “Which of the two is more credible?” “Which is most respectful of the truth?”

What Happened To GOPers Looking To The Market To Set Prices?

price_is_based_on_what_the_market_will_bear_-_Google_SearchOne of the things that you can usually expect Republicans to be consistent about is faith in market forces. They’re continually reminding us that we should trust market forces to allocate resources, as opposed to having politicians arbitrarily setting prices and picking winners and losers.

In the personnel marketplace, this means that if salaries are set below what the rest of the marketplace is bearing, we can expect to attract a smaller pool of talent willing to work at the below-market price. In a market economy, the theory goes, you get what you pay for. If you offer less salary, you attract less talent. If you attract less talent, you get worse personnel.  If you get worse personnel, you get incompetent enterprises and poor outcomes.

For Republicans, this trust in markets is a not just any old belief. This really is their core, their bedrock. But it all goes out the window when there is a juicy demagogic opportunity in front of them.

For a politician, the most tempting political opportunity of them all is the chance to get self-righteous about a government pay increase.   For demagogues, a government pay increase is as delicious a target as there is. One doesn’t have to be a particularly skilled, bright or courageous politician to score political points this issue. Jihadi John probably could get a standing ovation from Americans if he proclaimed his support for lower government employee salaries.

But again, political opportunism aside, what happened to Republicans’ bedbrock belief in trusting the market price? The Star Tribune has reported on the market price for state government Commissioners and found:

Before smaller raises in 2013 and 2014, agency heads had seen no increase since 2000. A recent analysis by Minnesota Management and Budget showed that before the raises, 14 of 15 commissioners were paid at or below the 50th percentile compared to commissioners in other states; eight were below the 25th percentile. The raises push Minnesota salaries above the median.

Dayton noted in his letter that mid-level managers at many Minnesota companies earn more than his commissioners, who after the increases are earning between $140,000 and $155,000 a year. DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, for instance, manages a $17.7 billion budget and will now make about $155,000.

Dayton also pointed out that even after the raise, the state education commissioner is still earning about 80 percent of the yearly salary of superintendents at a number of larger Minnesota school districts. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius had been making $119,000 before the raise. By contrast, the head of Minneapolis schools earns about $190,000.

In other words, senior executives in Minnesota state government had been earning well below the market price being paid peers from other jurisdictions and states. Moreover, I would argue that Commissioners in Minnesota should be paid well above the 50th percentile, since Minnesota is a relatively high income state, ranking 11th highest in the nation.

What do Republicans – stalwart champions for trusting the market to determine prices – think about this market snapshot? The Star Tribune reports:

Republicans scoffed at the argument that Dayton would struggle to attract and retain talented commissioners without the pay increase. Plenty of talented people would serve as Dayton’s commissioners, “at the old price,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston.

In this case, Republicans effectively are insisting that we ignore the market prices, and instead let politicians set the price and pick winners and losers.

Why the inconsistency?  The marketplace argument gets pushed aside in this case for three primary reasons.

First, with legislators earning a ridiculously low salary of $31,140 per year, everything looks extravagant. As I’ve argued before, legislators need a large pay raise to attract a better talent pool, and until they get it, legislators are going to be tempted to pay government employees below what the market is bearing, simply out of jealousy and spite.  When they are being paid less than the average sewage worker, I can’t blame them for being bitter, but their own demagoguery is what prevents the problem from getting the problem fixed.  In any event, legislators’ low pay is an important undercurrent in this debate.

The second reason market arguments gets ignored by Republicans in this debate is that many honestly have no problem making government less competent. At their core, Repulbicans want government to become smaller. Lower paid commissioners lead to less talented commissioners, which leads to less competent government, which leads to less faith in government, which leads to more political support for shrinking government. Score!

The final reason market arguments get pushed aside by Republicans in this debate is the most obvious.  There are cheap political points to be scored. You can bank on the fact that the pay increase will be showing up in endless campaign ads during the 2016 elections.  And when you’re only making $31,000 per year, sometimes the adrenalin rush that comes from scoring cheap political points is the best pay available.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

No Vaccine Can Save Christie

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI should have included Chris Christie in my recent handicapping of the Republican presidential race. At first it was simply that I forgot him. Oops. But then when I remembered, I thought, “Oh, why bother? There’s no way the guy holds up under even a week’s worth of the full media barrage. Sarah Palin, because she’s wrapped in a completely delusional partisan bubble, would survive longer than him.”

The irony here is that there are actually a few things I like about Christie, among them precisely the quirks of personality that would keep him in permanent meltdown mode on the national campaign trail. By that I mean, the guy gets annoyed … easily.

On one level, the one where you and I live, getting annoyed with idiots and the bastards trying to saw your legs out from under you is natural and human. It feels good, cathartic actually, to blurt out things like, “Are you nuts?”, or “[Bleep] off, [bleep]hole.” It’s a healthy sign that you’re not some robot spinning in an orbit separate from all other life on the planet. And, quite frankly, I find it kind of refreshing when a cool, composed dude like Barack Obama let’s loose with a line like that one about Kanye West being “a jackass.”

I’d have a beer with guys like that. More reality. Less pretense.

But beyond that, Christie, despite the infatuation of conservative deep thinkers like the rarely right Ann Coulter, is three-plus bills of liability out in the open field. His very bad week in jolly old England has been instructive in that regard. It began with him giving what would ordinarily be an unremarkable answer to a question about childhood vaccines. He replied saying that he and his wife have had their kids vaccinated, but that parents should retain some measure of control over the decision.

Fair enough, to my way of thinking. Nothing about that gets me too worked up.

But Christie’s a contender for the Throne of Dimwits, and the media is now twitching on a hair trigger for any Republican stepping anywhere, no matter how mundanely, outside the Circle of Fools. So that bland comment immediately became a test of whether Christie was sufficiently anti-science (i.e. anti-gummint vaccine) to remain viable in a world of Rick Santorums, Ted Cruzs, Rand Pauls and the 5000 gibberish-shouting radio ministers bleating into the brains of the party’s base.

Holy anti-virus.

At that point Team Christie began “the walk back”, re-tailoring his response for the fools … and making him look profoundly foolish in the process. Worse, Christie let it get to him. He let the world see him peeve and sweat.

He might have escaped if it weren’t for Bloomberg News resurrecting a story rooted in a year-old book on the 2012 presidential campaign, where Team Romney was pulling it’s well-moussed hair over Christie’s, shall we say, fat cat lifestyle demands, as in private jets and lots of fine dining.

With that coming at him simultaneous with the vaccination story, he melted, calling off press availability (which was kind of the point of him boulevardiering around London, chatting up the PM and what not).

Bottom line? Fiasco.

Then there’s the problem that improper vaxx-thinking and fat cat living aren’t his only skeletons. He likes to sell the story that that squirrely George Washington Bridge flap was decided in his favor. But that isn’t so. Ditto the pricier issue of what he’s been doing with Hurricane Sandy relief money. And then we move on to all the other stuff a heavy-handed governor of … New Jersey … has engaged in that no one outside the state has cared much about, until he sticks his head up to run for President.

So no. No Chris Christie. He’s blunt and prickly, which is okay as far as it goes and appealing up to a point. But his melting point is so low the press and opposition are primed for every word out of his mouth, knowing they have to make so little effort to piss him off to the point he flips over and can’t get up.

Speed for Better Roads: A Modest Proposal

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThere’s an interesting confluence — or collision — of ideas kicking around the Minnesota legislature these days. Topic “A” is how much to spend how fast to repair our (godawful) roads, bridges and whatever. If you’re following this you know that the Governor, and the DFL Senate want to go big and permanent, with a fairly hefty new set of taxes on a lot of different things in order to do an enormous amount of long overdue work throughout the next decade.

Their argument is sound. Construction work, unlike electronic gizmos, does not get cheaper with time. The “common good” factor in safe roads and bridges is about as obvious as you can get, with its attendant asset to economic activity. Moreover, as they have not argued so much, a hefty infusion of infrastructure appropriation means literally thousands of good-paying, non-exportable jobs for Minnesotans, not-so techy blue collar male-type jobs in particular … for a decade or more. (Maybe they should throw up some numbers about how that ripples through the state economy?)

As usual, the GOP, the self-acclaimed gurus of financial discipline and foresight, want to do much less now, then argue about it all over again every two years for the next decade, while, apparently to their minds, construction costs get cheaper, far fewer cars and trucks are hammering the asphalt, and a road fairy appears from the heavens and fixes everything at no expense to the GOP’s funding/voting base. This would prove again how much more fun it is in the “non-reality-based” world.

Simultaneous with this road funding talk, a report has emerged from the Department of Transportation that could/might result in rescinding the so-called Dimler Amendment, a law which keeps minor speeding violations (i.e. less than 10 miles over the limit) away from the prying eyes of the offenders’ insurance company. The report naturally asserts that there is a significant safety risk in allowing these chronic 74-in-a-65 speed junkies to stay on the highways. (Four tickets in a year and you’re gone, remember.)

To which I say, let’s get real.

Yeah, speed kills … if you’re drunk and/or distracted or pushing an ’87 Yugo beyond its structural limits, which is about 25 mph. But as every national study has shown, modern vehicles, with stability control and various other proven technologies are far, far safer than the crap Dad drove, and highway fatality numbers, even allowing for a five-fold increase in vehicles travelling on pot-holed roads, is as low as it was when Dinah Shore (look her up) shilled for Chevrolet.

So my modest proposal, which involves creating a fresh and voluntary revenue stream for state coffers is a new top tier for driver licenses. Let’s call it the Let’s See What This Baby Can Do, or the LeSeeWhaBaCanDo tier, where for, say $200 a year, which covers full vehicle inspection, you get a license that allows you 20 miles over the posted limit on non-metro freeways. I’m sure here’s some radiometric gizmo, a la the EZPass, you can attach to you vehicle hat that tips cops that you’re one of god’s chosen people and have the right to be pleasantly cruising at well-within-structural-limits up to Duluth or Moorhead, or across I-90.

Obviously, if you’re driving like a moron, weaving in and out of traffic, instead of maintaining a consistent speed, they can still pull you over. And if you’re stupid enough to add bombed-out-of-your-mind to such behavior, there could be a clause that immediately revokes the license, with a massive, “you’ve broken faith with the spirit of this deal” fine.

Critics will shriek that this is some sort of elitist “Corvette pass”, which it kind of is. But … anyone with $200 and the willingness to bring their existing vehicle fully up to required safety code (jobs, jobs, jobs for repair shops) can buy in, and something tells me there’d be quite a few other than hedge fund [bleep]holes in Maseratis who’d pop for that privilege.

More than enough, i say, to add detectable jing to state road repair coffers … on a strictly user-fee basis.

Place Your Bets: Handicapping 2016

Lambert_to_the_Slaughter[Updated]. From the number of pieces I’ve read recently, handicapping the 2016 presidential race has become a click-bait hobby for plenty of allegedly reputable people. So let’s see how it works with a disreputable, unabashed, socialize-all-medicine, raise the tax and fix the damn roads, free community college for all, screw the F-35 and legalize pot liberal.

With Hillary Clinton a given for the Democrats — although god help them if she’s hit by a bus or caught in a love nest with Vladimir Putin, because there is no “Plan B” — I’ll assign a percentage value to the Republican field poised against her. 0% being the most serious candidate, someone likely to beat her, and 100% being a laugher, the equivalent of another Michele Bachmann delusion.

Jeb Bush: 5%. The Republican ruling class actually did a very good job sweeping the worst of the nut cases off their candidate slate last year. (Yes, Joni Ernst won in Iowa.) But there were no witches, no “legitimate rapes” and very little open Tea Bag pandering, at least compared with 2010. This suggests authority –spreading money to local Tea Party captains — is capable of getting Jeb through the primaries without forcing him to wear a tri-corner hat, leggings and ‘rassle snakes at prayer breakfasts. If that’s true, he’s bona fide serious opposition. He certainly more serious and intellectually engaged than his feckless brother. (I seriously doubt we’d have gone to Iraq with Jeb instead of W*, if only because he wouldn’t have laid the “detail stuff” off on Dick Cheney). But I still don’t think he could beat Her Regency. The Democrats have a profound electoral map advantage, the horror of another Bush is just too much for millions of active voters and while Hillary Clinton is hardly anyone’s idea of a “transformational candidate”, the stage is set and lit, with roses in place for a woman.

Scott Walker: 15%. In most ways a textbook example of the ideal Movement Conservative. He’s got that Tim Pawlenty careerist talent of rarely sounding like the pathological narcissist/cynic he is. Despite a Pawlenty-like mismanagement of his state’s economy, laying on massive multi-billion dollar deficit while Minnesota tries to decide what top do with giant surplus, his “go-big” brawl with public unions is all it takes to be hero to … the rubes who aren’t in unions and his industrialist, union-hating benefactors, most notably the Koch brothers. He’s no serious threat top defeat Hillary in a general election, but there’s no question he has the duplicitous wiles to survive a GOP primary campaign.

Rand Paul: 25%. He’s sort of this year’s version of Newt Gingrich. “What dumb people think a smart guy sounds like.” There are college-age wonkers who love his contrarian poses and think tankers who see a guy who’d go out play with their most batshit Ayn Randian theories. But he’s also a little like Joe Biden, in that he’s not big on filters. Over the course of the grind he’ll say at least 20 nutty things that will serve to remind fence-sitters that Hillary at least is a predictable commodity.

Mitt Romney: 40%. Face it. He’s the only Republican with the exception of Jeb, who doesn’t have bury his face in the laps of the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson. He could pay for the race out of his mad money jar. Moreover, he might have learned something about pandering to the loonies in 2012. But, come on. Everywhere outside of a Palm Beach investment bankers luncheon Mitt is still the clueless rich guy, a cartoon who gives no indication that even he knows what he really believes.

Ted Cruz: 60%. Now this guy can do some damage. Not to Hillary. It’d be a landslide in her favor if he ever went mano a mano. But he’s the sort of wholly self-absorbed, unapologetic douche bag who’ll blow off any notion of collegiality and force the Jebs and Mitts to explain why they’re not sending in the Marines to block Obamacare. Frankly, I’m amazed that someone hasn’t dug up a juicy scandal on the Tedster. If ever someone looked like they’re hiding a closet full of perversions, its Cruz.

Marco Rubio: 75%. By now his reputation is locked in concrete. An empty suit. A cutey-pie shill for old money interests without the Clintonesque imagination to make a serviceable case for either pole of the same argument.

Rick Perry: 80%. An even emptier suit than Rubio, even with his new “I must read something because I’m now wearing glasses” look. Worse, for him, Jeb, though associated lately with Florida, is closer to the big, safe-bet Texas money. Still, in terms of pure entertainment, Perry was good stuff on the campaign trail, we’d all love to see him back

Rick Santorum. 90%. Say what you will, Santorum was the hardest working guy in a sweater vest Iowa and the Deep South primaries have ever seen. Lacking Bush and Romney-style money, he has no choice but to pander to the most medieval of the crazies, while reminding everyone else of the guy in high school who no other guy wanted to hang out with. He’s the Republicans’ Harold Stassen, unless Romney wants to fight him for it.

Mike Huckabee: 95%. He’s one of those sweaty, grasping characters who just refuses to go away, clinging to the belief, like Jim Carrey in “Dumber and Dumber”, that “there’s still a chance”. There isn’t. There never has been. Besides there’s more money in slinging stale meat to rubes from FoxNews.

Sarah Palin: 1000%. There’s nothing, short of a long weekend with Sofia Vergara, (sorry, dear), that would delight me more than a Hillary v. Sarah face-off. Michele Bachmann was an opportunistic nut-case sucking up $20 checks from embittered revivalists living on Social Security checks, but Palin is the gold standard for naked pandering, startling stupidity, rank incompetence and non-stop public buffoonery. We are already looking back on her as an icon of the age of celebrity worship. “Does she look good in a form fitting suit? Well then she can be president.” I think John McCain said that.

“American Sniper”: Giving Ticket Buyers a War They Can Enjoy

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI finally got around to seeing “American Sniper”. It was last Friday night in Phoenix, which I mention only because if you’re familiar with Arizona’s largest city, you know there’s rarely a day that goes by without some unholy gathering of big-bellied white guys with weird facial hair milling around a “Gun Expo”, a “Gun Swap Meet” or a “Bullet Circus”, or whatever. Arizona loves guns and all the debate about “American Sniper” aside, what it is selling on the most fundamental level is the thrill of righteous gun vengeance. Take away the smoking hardware and the film’s box-office would drop 90%.

That said, the movie, directed by good ol’ Clint Eastwood, is as slick a piece of big time Hollywood filmmaking as you’ll ever see. Terrific editing, great sound work, top notch art direction, a decent script and solid performances from Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Warner Brothers, seeing the near perfect box office fusion of Eastwood, hot young star Cooper and a memoir/”true story” of a goddam bona fide American hero who happened to be the deadliest, baddest mutha of our adventure in Iraq, popped for an enormous budget, which Eastwood got up on the screen. (Warners’ investment has paid off handsomely. The film has done astonishing business for a January general release.)

The theater in Phoenix, an enormous 2000-plus seat “UltraStar” auditorium, was packed to capacity, and while there was no yahoo cheering at the moment when our hero picks off his rival sniper … at a preposterous 2100 meters through a shimmering heat haze … the crowd did sit in rapt attention during the end credits, as real world footage ran of sniper Chris Kyle’s actual funeral in Dallas two years ago. (The whacking of “Mustafa”, a character barely mentioned in the book and never listed among Kyle’s 160-plus “confirmed kills”, is almost entirely a Hollywood invention. For that matter, the US Military has a pretty loose system for “confirming” sniper shootings.)

I confess, I have not read “American Sniper”, despite the attention it got here in Minnesota during Jesse Ventura’s successful defamation case against Kyle last summer. I have as much interest in military memoirs as I do bodice-ripping romance novels, although the latter might actually hew closer to reality. (Kyle clearly had a problem with details. His own sense of his “legend” may well have overwhelmed him.)

Anyway, the point here is to simply to say that while the movie is not some patently ridiculous piece of gun-crazed jingoism, it suffers by copping out on elephant-in-the-room realities that are, unlike so much of Kyle’s story, completely and lamentably verifiable.

No doubt Eastwood, a shrewd judge of mainstream American tastes, loved the thought of packaging an exciting contemporary combat film around, “one man’s story.” No need to muss with broader history and politics. Just tell this guy’s story. (In fact, it appears that it was Bradley Cooper who bought the rights to Kyle’s book and then got it to Eastwood.) By dialing out the rather enormous and fundamental question of, “What in the hell were we and this guy doing in Iraq?”, audiences are allowed to remain comfortably unchallenged, which is to say entertained by the action and splatter and moved by the effect it has on unassuming, easy-going, unfailingly polite Kyle’s mental stability and marriage.

I’m sorry. The far, far braver (and commercially problematic) thing for Warner Brothers and Eastwood to have done would be to work in a deeper assessment of Kyle’s good ‘ol Texas boy blind faith in his country’s war-making decisions and at least some reflection, like say after the Weapons of Mass Destruction canard was fully understood, on why (at the very least) they’re not over in Afghanistan hunting Osama bin Laden.

Personally, I found it very interesting that there is no reference to either Dick Cheney or George W. anywhere in “American Sniper”. In the film, Kyle watches the World Trade Center collapse and the next thing you know, as though it was ordained by national acclamation, he and his pals are kicking ass in … Iraq. I.e. direct linkage.

Constructed as it is, Eastwood cannily evokes an audience response that is more somber than flat-out celebratory. War is hell Who does not agree? But a braver filmmaker and lesser businessman would have felt a responsibility to take Kyle’s story (more or less as he told it to his ghostwriters) and stir in the context of what we now recognize was one of the most misguided foreign policy disasters and most poorly-planned military campaigns in American history.

Those are details you can verify.

MN GOP: Bribe Seniors To Stop Them From Fleeing Best State In America

crabby_old_manMinnesota has the best quality of life of in the nation, and we must bribe seniors to stop them from escaping it, say two stories from today’s news coverage.

First, we have Politico doing a comprehensive meta-analysis of a variety of quality-of-life analyses. The St. Paul Pioneer Press summarizes Politico’s sunny assessment of our little Minne:

Politico ranked Minnesota as the best state of the union.  Among Minnesota’s neighbors, Wisconsin ranked No. 17. Iowa was No. 7 while North Dakota was 15th and South Dakota was 21st.

The rankings are based on 14 criteria: Per capita income: Minnesota is seventh, at $30,913. Lowest unemployment: eighth, at 3.7 percent. Percent above poverty level: ninth, at 89.5 percent. Homeownership: second, at 72.5 percent. Percent of high school graduates: second, at 92.1 percent. Life expectancy: second, at 81.1 years. (Fewest) infant deaths per 1000 births: fifth, at 4.49. Percent of obese residents: fifth, at 22 percent. Average eighth-grade math score: fourth, at 295. Average eighth-grade reading score: 10th, at 271. GINI index (income inequality): 11th, at 0. Lowest violent crime rate per 100,000: ninth, at 223.2. Percent employed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs: 13th, at 6.1 percent. “Wellbeing” score: fourth, at 69.7.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the same edition of the Pioneer Press, we learn that Minnesota Republicans have announced a new tax code bribe for seniors who agree to stay in the best state in the nation:

(Senator David Henjem’s) “Retire in Minnesota Act” would phase out Minnesota’s Social Security tax over 10 years, at a cost of $127 million for the first two years.

Republicans said the tax could help Minnesota by encouraging retirees to stay here instead of relocating to one of 38 states that don’t tax Social Security income.

The Retire in Minnesota Act aims to stem the flood of Best State residents escaping to sunbelt states, such as Arizona, South Carolina, New Mexico, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, all of which have a low tax/low service approach to governance that leaves them ranked in the bottom 15 in the quality-of-life rankings.

Progressives Should Be Proud To Protect Outstanding Young Teachers

young_teacherAnybody who has followed my lunatic rantings knows that I’m an unabashed wealth redistributin’, Wall Street regulatin’, minority rightsin’, carbon tradin’, Keynesian spendin’, Medicare-for-Allin’, tree-huggin’, consumer protectin’, Pentagon cuttin’, infrastructure rebuildin’, union supportin’, monopoly bustin’, education investin’ liberal.

But the moment I support allowing younger teachers to have their classroom achievements considered as one factor in firing decisions – the same position supported by more than 90% of Minnesotans, the liberal Obama Administration and two-thirds of younger Minnesota teachers with less than 20 years experience — you’d think I’m the second incarnation of Michele Bachmann.   “Teacher basher!!!”

LIFO_teacher_seniority_firing_mapA talented young teacher who is successfully improving kids’ learning automatically should be mandated to be the first to be fired? That’s putting kids first? That’s pro-teacher? That’s pro-education? That’s respecting the teaching profession?  That’s helping struggling low-income school districts, who have a disproportionate share of younger teachers?  That’s liberal?

I’ve listened. I really have. But on this issue, the teacher’s union, for all the good it does, is simply wrong.  Any progressive should be proud to fight for the rights of outstanding young teachers and the kids benefiting from them.

When Discussing New Legislative Office Space, Why Not Desegregate Partisan Ghettos?

This week state leaders are discussing office space arrangements in a new legislative office building and a soon-to-be renovated State Capitol building. So maybe now is the time to desegregate their longstanding partisan ghettos.

In a recent interview, I asked Duane Benson, a former Senate Minority Leader (R-Lanesboro), how to reduce partisan polarization in the Legislature. One suggestion the legislative veteran made was to stop segregating legislative office space according to party affiliation:

duane_benson_headshot_2It sounds simplistic, but I think it would help a lot if legislators had their offices together, so that every other office was a different political party. They’d come out and talk to each other. In the House it’s a floor separating them.

The whole place is run on communications, but I guarantee I can go over there and find people who haven’t met all their colleagues yet.   I think officeing near each other is a kind of a simple fundamental thing that could happen to help people get to know each other. Then I think you start to respect each other…

Policymakers in both major parties agree that it is destructive when citizens are institutionally segregated based on race or ethnicity. They have seen that such ghettoization causes people to dehumanize, misunderstand and discriminate, which erodes the health of our communities and democracy. No contemporary Minnesota politician publicly advocates for mandatory segregation.

But when it comes to Legislative office space, segregation has long been accepted with no questions asked. Republicans get this partisan ghetto. DFLers get that partisan ghetto. They argue over the respective size of the ghetto, but there is bipartisan agreement about the need to segregate.

bipartisan_segregation_water_coolerWould having Democrats and Republicans in every other office automatically lead to a grand new era of bipartisan peace, love and understanding? Nope.  But it would almost certainly lead to more hallway conversations: “What are you doing this weekend?” “How’s your family?” “Can we borrow a chair for an hour?” “Cold enough for ya?  “How about them Twins?”

Over time, maybe initially awkward conversations build a little commonality, commonality builds a little trust, and trust makes bipartisan cooperation a tiny bit more likely.  Maybe?

Partisan desegregation of state legislative office buildings is no panacea. It may even be a total waste of time.  But there really is no reason we shouldn’t give it a try, unless fostering partisan polarization is the intent.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also republished by MinnPost.

A New Sin Tax For Our Times

“Sin taxes” focus on activities that are considered by polite society to be undesirable and/or harmful. They’re imposed to discourage the activity, and consequently limit the harm caused by the activity. When citizens are forced to pay sin taxes, they, as a group, typically engage in the targeted behavior less often.  For this reason, we have long imposed sin taxes on alcohol, gambling and tobacco.

In the age of the Interwebs, I hereby nominate a newer activity that is highly undesirable and causes great human suffering. I speak, of course, of warm weather Facebook photos and posts.

Tropical_Facebook_tauntingYou know what I’m talking about. Those gorgeous families perpetually promoting their endless vacations to balmy locations. Those bronzed boasters photographing their grotesque toes wiggling contentedly in the foreground of an idyllic beach. Those smug snowbirds constantly reminding you that they have ample time and money to spend the winter months engaged in poolside bingo marathons. Worst of all, those Minnesota expatriates who provide constant updates about the temperature differential between their old and new home states.  Traitors!

I don’t mind telling you, it hurts man.  It hurts a lot.  From the moment Minnesota winters begin in September until they end in July, most Minnesotans are the target of this adult brand of cyber bullying several times per day.  Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down.

light_therapy_vintageThink I’m over-reacting? Well, I’ll have you know that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) plagues millions of citizens in northern states, causing us to stare catatonically into  full-spectrum lights, binge on Vitamin D supplements, huff ionized air, and go bankrupt buying  crap from garden, golf and fishing catalogs that we can only use a few weeks out of the year.  You think that’s fun?

And the worst part?  None of it even remotely makes us feel any better.  Meanwhile, oh look, here is another half dozen adorable little Facebook photos of your so-called “friends” on Gilligan’s effing Island to remind you of the charms of the latest polar vortex. Isn’t that PRECIOUS?

So I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, tax ‘em. Athletes get penalized for taunting. School kids get penalized for bullying. Employees get penalized for harassment. So citizens should have to pay a tax penalty of, say, $1,000 for every Facebook tropical taunt, to offset the serious pain and suffering they are causing.

Will the Tropical Taunting Tax stop the abuse? Nope.  You can’t legislate morality, and these immoral bastards will stop at nothing to promote their tans.

But maybe the Tropical Taunting Tax will slightly limit the damage done by serial taunters.  Maybe the revenue raised can be used to subsidize SAD therapies for victims.

If nothing else, the new tax will give frozen Facebookers something snarky to say in comment threats.  And goodness knows, that would improve my mental health more than any full-spectrum light ever could.

Note:  The wind chill is minus 35 degrees in the SAD author’s hometown today.

2014 Reconsidered: The Glass Half Full Edition

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterIn the last hours of the recent mass holiday madness, with my hamster-on-the-wheel index spiking past “lethal”, a man came on the radio.

I didn’t need to glance at the dashboard to know it was NPR. The guy had that non-threatening, neutered, self-consciously deferential tone that listener-supported radio prefers in its on-air males. (Think: The antithesis of your average play-by-play football baritone.) But he was making perfect sense about how our alleged brains operate.

Boiled to its essence his message was this: More hippocampus, less amygdala. If I followed it correctly, the amygdala is the part of our limp grey blob that processes fear and ignites us into action at the first sign of threat. It’s as old as we are. See lion. Get stick. Run for tree.

The hippocampus is a bit later-evolved organ and is believed to sort out emotions, using memory to remind us that we survived this or that “threat” before, probably will again and so … chill out. Moreover, by checking the amygdala’s constant firing over threats, perceived insults, slights, disses, yadda yadda it is possible to weaken its constant calls to rage and combat. Conversely, by running rank emotion through the filter of the hippocampus we can strengthen it and, you know, behave a bit more rationally, saving us the wear and tear of constantly spiking blood pressure, not to mention the social ostracization reserved for the world’s pissers and moaners, self-dramatizing stress queens, douchy Steve Jobs-wannabe middle managers and just about everyone on FoxNews.

So, despite the radio voice’s court eunuch inflection, I veered around the latest a-wipe texter blocking my shot down the fast lane and hammered my fist on the wheel, “Damn straight, dude! Let’s all calm the [bleep] down.”

With that in mind I reviewed 2014 with a fresher eye and convinced myself that  despite the insanity of psychopathic ISIS rebels, doped-up Boko Haram militias, Vladimir Putin and the House GOP caucus, things weren’t so bad.

For example:

Barack Obama finally figured out that the country is actually OK with him playing “emperor”, which means ignoring the fools elected by amygdala-driven rural America and getting stuff done. Immigration, a minor climate change deal, Cuba, etc. Not cure-for-cancer or Jamie Dimon perp walk quality stuff necessarily, but something, for chrissake. Those moves set Mitch McConnell’s jowls flapping like they were caught out in a 100-mph derecho, but the clear consensus was … “What the hell took you so long?”

The last Congress was an obscene joke, with an approval rating a quarter of Obama’s. It was so indifferent to actual work it produced a fifth of the legislation of Harry Truman’s “Do-Nothing Congress”, while devoting countless hours to threatening to sue Obama for … doing something.

The fools have a majority for the next couple years, which means, as usual nothing will get done on anything big, unless you’re one of those who believe another pipeline full of filthy Canadian oil is the only way to “jump start the economy” and “provide quality jobs” … oh wait, that’s already happening. But I’m believing Obama has at long last found a way to function in face of the GOP’s constant 12 year-old girls-on-a-rollercoaster, full-amygdala freak out.


With the Michael Brown-Eric Garner-Tamir Rice (and on and on) cases filling headlines, it was a pretty bad year for unqualified cops. Now New York’s finest are making fools of themselves (when they should be accruing sympathy), by pretending that Bill DeBlasio is the first Mayor to treat them like, you know, public employees being held to a higher standard than street thugs. The hippocampus factor here is that a broader mass of the public has processed a clear pattern of what is really professional incompetence as much as anything else. Lacking knee-jerk public support for every episode of amygdala-panicked gunslinging, the actual adults among the nation’s cops may apply overdue pressure on the fools in their ranks.


In the media … KSTP-TV and Jay Kolls’ astonishingly overplayed “Pointergate” story was the obvious low-point for another year glutted with content-free, over-coverage of airline disasters, ditsy celebrity buffoonery, horse-race political “reporting”, a general lack of oversight of corporate tax manipulations (Medtronic being the exception that proves the rule) and fawning “access reporting” on government, business and cultural issues. But the KSTP-Kolls fiasco was such a blatant, cringe-inducing example of a reporter and organization being played for chumps by an agenda-driving source it has to have a chilling, which is to say spine-stiffening effect on every reporter who watched. Sources may not like it, but skepticism does protect your professional credibility.

Speaking of … . Kudos to crusty old Pat Reusse of the Strib for his recent column acknowledging the abundance of “sweetness” in local sports coverage. While I’m far more concerned about the PR work so-called business reporters do for local “job creators”, Reusse’s point is well taken and long overdue from someone of his stature. The sports beat is the classic example of “access reporting”. Watch every locker room stop talking to you the minute you tell the public what’s really going on. But come on, is any intelligent fan supposed to believe the pep rally prattle that comes out of every training camp? Fortunately, as the internet matures the options are both plentiful and credible. Over the past few years I’ve become a fan of Minnesota native Drew Magary, writing on  Were daily writers allowed Magary’s license for entirely appropriate vulgarity when describing the NFL ownership group and management Minnesota taxpayers may have saved themselves a quarter billion or more in stadium construction costs. Point being … the countdown to extinction of the stenographer sports writer has accelerated.

Likewise … as an unapologetic car guy, I’m forever dismayed at the shiv car dealer associations drive into the amygdala of every media outlet’s advertising sales manager at the first hint of unflattering coverage of some company’s latest over-teched hangar queen. So here’s a salute to writers like Doug DeMuro at Jalopnik (a sister site of Deadspin). Because they’re not feeding from the hind teat of GM, Mercedes, etc. they provide actual objective consumer information, like DeMuro’s classic series on trying to keep up with repairs on a used Range Rover or “The Myth of German Reliability”.  It goes without saying that both Magary and DeMuro also regularly provide a quality in dismaying short supply in the mainstream press … a good, righteous laugh.

Finally, (for now), as someone who believes few art forms thicken the old hippocampus better than good music, rock in particular, I was heartened by the favor millennial hipsters showered on The War on Drugs latest CD, “Lost in the Dream”. Amid a pop landscape glutted with cheesy, cookie cutter (faux) country acts, all contractually obligated to wear the same hat, and the uninterrupted parade of auto-tuned starlet diva/trainwrecks it was pure delight to hear a band kick it out and rock.  The lead singer’s mom force fed him a steady diet of Bob Dylan from his “Jokerman” era and it shows, to an effect appreciated on “Best of the Year” lists from Britain to West Hollywood.

Likewise, Spoon, another favorite had a good year, (with two stops in Minneapolis). And while neither dampened the panties of the uber hipsters, I much enjoyed the latest from The Kings of Leon and The Black Keys. Ditto, Pearl Jam’s October show at the Xcel … a Springsteen like tribal celebration that walled off the amygdala for days afterwards …

… until election night.





If Vikings Pick Punters “Strictly Based On Performance,” They Should Bring Back Kluwe

kluwe_censoredIn the wake of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s advocacy of gay marriage, Vikings Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer publicly said he was tired of Kluwe-related distractions, privately told Kluwe that the gays should be rounded up and nuked, and fired Kluwe and replaced him with an untested rookie.

Despite the timing of all these events, the Vikings vehemently denied that Kluwe was fired due to his activism. The Vikings released a statement assuring Minnesotans:

“Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.”

There you have it.  Not salary. Not age (he was 31, relatively young for punters). Not activism. “Strictly based his football performance.” The Vikings assured us that they run a pure meritocracy, and Kluwe’s performance just wasn’t up to snuff.

But that was always a head-scratcher. After all, the statistics show that Kluwe was the best punter in Vikings history. For instance, Kluwe is at the top of the heap in Vikings history in career punt average, at 44.4 yards per punt. Of course, punting is also about placement, but Kluwe is also number one in Vikings history in punts placed inside the 20-yard line.

Despite Kluwe’s impressive performace-based records, Kluwe was fired and replaced by Jeff Locke, a rookie who was completely untested in the NFL. Priefer assured Vikings fans that Locke had bested Kluwe during a brief closed-door punt-off at the Vikings’ practice facility. So, while Kluwe was statistically the best punter in Vikings history, Locke was, Coach Priefer assured us, going to be even better. Kluwe wasn’t even get a chance to compete for his job at training camp.  One closed-door punt-off supervised by Priefer, and the most accomplished punter in Vikings history was shown the door.

How is that working out for Priefer and the Vikings? Kluwe’s replacement Jeff Locke was named by the wonky analysts at Pro Football Focus as the single worst punter in the NFL. Bleacher Report elaborates:

While Kluwe may have been outspoken and a hassle at times, he certainly was able to get the job done from a punting perspective, something Locke has not been able to do through nearly two seasons.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Locke has received a combined rating of negative-20.8 since he entered the league in 2013, which is far and away the worst rating of any punter during this time fame. His negative-10.2 rating this season ranks dead last among 33 analyzed punters.

If it’s really true that Kluwe was replaced by Locke “strictly based on his football performance,” maybe Coach Priefer, or Priefer’s replacement, should be bringing back Kluwe for the 2015 season.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also published by MinnPost.

Daytonomics Drags MN to Disastrous 3.7% Unemployment Rate

DaytonomicsOver the last several years, Minnesota business leaders and conservatives like Tom Emmer and Jeff Johnson have predicted that Governor Dayton’s combination of 1) asking the wealthiest citizens to pay their fair share of taxes, 2) increasing the minimum wage and 3) refusing to enact Pawlenty-style government spending cuts would lead to disaster for the state’s economy.  This has been their war cry for years.

Minnesota business leaders are now here to tell us that their prediction has proven correct.

Following Dayton’s implementation of those three pillars of Datyonomics, Minnesota currently has a 3.7 percent unemployment rate.  Meanwhile, the Twin Cities metropolitan area has a 3.2 percent unemployment rate.

Minnesota’s 3.7 percent unemployment rate compares very favorably to the nation’s 5.8 percent rate.  It also looks strong next to the 6.0 percent unemployment rate corporate darling Mitt Romney boasted he could achieve by the end of 2016 if Romnomics polcies were enacted.  Conservative Romnomics –tax cuts for the wealthy, no mininum wage increase and massive government spending cuts — essentially would have been the polar opposite of Daytonomics.

While a 3.7 percent unemployment rate in the wake off Daytonomics may look like proof that conservatives and business leaders were incorrect about the destructive impacts of progressive policies, Twin Cities Business reports that Minnesota business leaders disagree. While they acknowledge that high unemployment under Daytonomics would have been bad news for the economy, they now stress that low unemployment under Daytonomics is also bad news for the economy.

“…some business leaders around the state had previously expressed worries about a cooling economy this winter, citing a potential labor shortage as the unemployment rate drops.”

To summarize, if the unemployement rate under the DFL Governor’s progressive policies would have remained at Pawlenty-era peaks (8.3 percent), that would have been proof that Daytonomics was hurting the state economy.  But now that unemployment under Dayton policies is low (3.7 percent), that is also evidence that Daytonomics is hurting the economy.

In other words, progressive Daytonomics simply cannot be considered a success. Just ask Minnesota business leaders and conservatives.

– Loveland