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Dan Burns

Educating the whole child

by Dan Burns on August 30, 2016 · 0 comments

abandonedYes, that’s something of a buzz-phrase, but it’s a worthy one. This is not utopian fantasy, though it is true that in many ways a lot of supporters of the most effective and best education currently still have little choice but to be preoccupied with holding our own vs. the despicable onslaughts of the deform movement.

Traits and skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, persistence, and self-control — which are often collectively called noncognitive skills, or social and emotional skills — are vitally important to children’s full development. They are linked to academic achievement, productivity and collegiality at work, positive health indicators, and civic participation, and are nurtured through life and school experiences. Developing these skills should thus be an explicit goal of public education.
(Economic Policy Institute)

Another development with a lot of potential is community schools. (Though, as always, fraught, if the wrong people get in charge and f*ck it all up.) They’ll require a lot of resources, though. So for that potential to really start to be realized, we’ll need big changes in who is holding public office and what their priorities are.

Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. Partners work to achieve these results: Children are ready to enter school; students attend school consistently; students are actively involved in learning and their community; families are increasingly involved with their children’s education; schools are engaged with families and communities; students succeed academically; students are healthy – physically, socially, and emotionally; students live and learn in a safe, supportive, and stable environment, and communities are desirable places to live.
(Coalition for Community Schools)


hillaryContrary to what you might think (at least it’s what I thought, before I looked), the most one-sided popular vote margin under the two-party system is not from an election with a popular incumbent, but from an open-seat race. In 1920, a war- and postwar recession-weary populace elected Warren G. Harding by 26.17%. Is that something we can realistically shoot for, in about two months? I suppose that right now it doesn’t look like it.
Certainly to some extent it’s disturbing that any more than a fringe are planning to vote for a campaign – and candidate – so flagrantly grounded in misogyny, bigotry, and just general appeals to the most crass and ignorant stupidity as Donald Trump’s. But old, bad attitudes and habits die very hard. The reality is that probably somewhere in the range of 20-25% of adult Americans are, at least when it comes to their politics, so rigid, misinformed, authoritarian, and scared that they will vote for the “conservative” candidate no matter what. And unfortunately they are very much overrepresented among those who actually vote.
My gut says that if Hillary wins by less than 15% I will be bummed out. And it’s not unlikely that I will be.
The claim in the image is accurate.


Pentagon can’t account for $6.5 trillion

by Dan Burns on August 26, 2016 · 0 comments

DF-ST-87-06962 	The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense.  DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force.Earlier this year I did some blogging about military spending. It was from an uncomplimentary perspective, but that doesn’t mean that I foresaw this.

A Department of Defense inspector general’s report released (in July) offered a jaw-dropping insight into just how bad the military’s auditing system is.
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the behemoth Indianapolis-based agency that provides finance and accounting services for the Pentagon’s civilian and military members, could not provide adequate documentation for $6.5 trillion worth of year-end adjustments to Army general fund transactions and data.
The DFAS has the sole responsibility for paying all DOD military and personnel, retirees and annuitants, along with Pentagon contractors and vendors. The agency is also in charge of electronic government initiatives, including within the Executive Office of the President, the Department of Energy and the Departing of Veterans Affairs.
There’s nothing in the new IG’s report to suggest that anyone has misplaced or absconded with large sums of money. Rather, the agency has done an incompetent job of providing written authorization for every one of their transactions – so-called “journal vouchers” that provide serial numbers, transaction dates and the amount of the expenditure.
(Fiscal Times)

Here’s the report. I think it also well worth noting here that more than half of the Pentagon budget goes to for-profit contractors.


Citizen activism on PolyMet sulfide mining

by Dan Burns on August 25, 2016 · 0 comments

sulfideThis is a very good idea.

A group of Duluth citizens is asking for evidence-based hearings before state regulators decide whether to approve the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine.
The so-called “contested case hearing” would take place before an administrative law judge with evidence, testimony and cross-examination.
The judge would then issue a recommendation to the Department of Natural Resources, before the DNR commissioner decides whether to grant PolyMet its Permit to Mine.
“As Duluthians we have significant concerns about the PolyMet proposal and its likely impacts on our watershed,” said Duluth resident John Dobertstein, “And believe the DNR and citizens of this state should hear all evidence before making a decision.”

The article goes on to note that PolyMet has begun applying for permits. The most likely scenario at this time seems to be that they will get those and then sit on things until there is evidence of a sustained recovery in copper and nickel prices. Which are still down, down, down.


mn_capitol(Unlike in past cycles, at times I will be writing about more than one race in a single post. Because if things keep going as they are, and they probably will, there are so very many pickup opportunities for the DFL, this time. Heck, with Trump, and the state of the national GOP in general and the MN GOP in particular, arguably no, or at least almost no, Republican seat in this state is really safe.)
– In 15A, DFLer Kent Lestrud is a middle school teacher in Princeton. He’s emphasizing education issues, but is also very good across the board.

Tough race? At R+7, you bet. But DFLer Gail Kulick won in 2008, and Joe Walsh nearly did in 2012. And more people than ever in these parts (I live in 15A) think it’s time for a change. Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) is a Reagan-era conservative, cognitively rigid to an extreme, who it is widely acknowledged has done little for our district. Lestrud has been aggressively pointing that out.

– SD 15 is an open seat. Our candidate is Chilah Brown. There’s positive precedent here, too, as Lisa Fobbe won in 2008.


desertThis article is about a month old, but certainly nothing has changed. Plenty can change, though, if the DFL controls the legislature by comfortable margins, beginning next year. If you know what I’m saying.

Officials in Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration say Minnesota should look at strengthening its renewable energy law. The state is on track to meet a requirement of 25 percent renewable electricity generation by 2025. But that has not been enough to help reach another state goal: a major reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.
Republicans and Democrats came together in 2007 to act on climate change. The Minnesota Legislature passed goals that — at the time — were among the most ambitious in the country, and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed them into law.
The Next Generation Energy Act set goals of a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
But the state missed its 2015 target and is not on track to meet the other goals. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said that has to change.
“We not only want to be making progress on this, I think Minnesota wants to be leading on this issue again, and we have lost that leadership,” she said.

July 2016 was the hottest month on record. Here’s a lot more about all that.


Back to all-too-often underfunded public school

by Dan Burns on August 18, 2016 · 0 comments

abandoned2Though I was good at school I didn’t like it much, and always got bummed out at this time of year. Decades later I still experience a residual echo of that, now and then. Anyway:

Indeed, back to school supply lists are likely longer than ever before due to the simple reason that schools increasingly don’t have the funds to pay for items on the list. And because of persistently inadequate budgets that continue to dog our schools, you can be sure the longer your shopping list, the worse the funding situation is throughout your child’s school system.
Not only are school stockrooms increasingly bare of supplies, but teachers aren’t being adequately paid, class sizes are ballooning, programs are being cut and school buildings increasingly forego required maintenance.
(Campaign for America’s Future)

Two more relevant items:


Taking on predatory lenders in Minnesota

by Dan Burns on August 17, 2016 · 0 comments

predatory-lending-practices-how-to-avoid-them-12-638This article is well worth reading in full. There are ways to make things better, even when corporatists in both parties are being unhelpful, to say the least.

Even as guidelines against payday lending services stall out in the labyrinth of bureaucracy, local changemakers continue to provide relief for families caught up in debt traps–and fight to keep wealth within our communities and out of the hands of financial predators…
Payday loan services have been a staple on the public financial landscape since the 1980s. By definition, a payday loan is a small dollar loan, usually between $200 to $1,000, with an extraordinarily high interest rate that requires the borrower to pay back in full with their next paycheck, or risk even further financial penalties. The average annual percentage rate (APR) on payday loans is about 273 percent.
Shockingly, payday loans are still legal and in many states operate without regulation. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence as to the predatory and unjust nature of such loans, multiple efforts to impose national guidelines on payday loans since the 2008 recession have failed. Payday lenders even have both Minnesota DFL and Republican parties eating out of their hands.
(Twin Cities Daily Planet)


imagesqtbnANd9GcSZspAVD2tLmnO6nfzr8GRRrcxptdR9GGJhQgVDlYnCtVzbgJ5ykQIt wasn’t all bad news. From last Thursday:

Today, the DEA announced that it was not rescheduling marijuana, in effect refusing to recognize marijuana’s medicinal benefits. But in what is viewed as a victory for the marijuana reform movement, the DEA said that it was ending its monopoly on marijuana research.
“Keeping marijuana in Schedule I shows that the DEA continues to ignore research, and places politics above science,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “In reality, marijuana should be descheduled and states should be allowed to set their own policies.”
One move that was positive was eliminating obstacles to research. “Ending the DEA-enforced NIDA monopoly is a very welcome move that will enable more research,” said Collins.
(Drug Policy Alliance)

This seems inexplicable, unless you consider that there are those in power, still, who nurse irrational fear and hate for marijuana and it users. But they’re swimming – flailing, is more like it – against the tide of history:


ellisontppBut nothing’s over. Not even close.

There are lots of stories in the media claiming that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is dead for now.
And why wouldn’t TPP be dead? Both presidential candidates say they are opposed to TPP. Various Congressional leaders have said that it is unlikely to come up. Nancy Pelosi has spoken out against it. Harry Reid says he opposes it. All labor and environmental organizations along with most consumer, health, human rights and other progressive-aligned groups oppose TPP. Six Republican members of Congress who voted for the “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) have sent a letter opposing TPP. Even the Tea Party opposes TPP, calling it “Obamatrade.” Under these circumstances, the very idea that it could come up for a vote at all, never mind that it might even pass, is an insult to democracy.
But here’s the thing: Wall Street wants TPP and the giant multinational corporations want TPP. And what Wall Street and giant multinational corporations want from Congress, Wall Street and giant multinational corporations usually get from Congress. It’s not like insulting democracy is a big no-no to that crowd. So did you really think TPP would just go away?
(Campaign for America’s Future)

It’s telling that TPP ratification is expected to be no problem in more overtly authoritarian places like Malaysia and Vietnam (maybe it’s already been ratified in those, for all I know), but is facing serious issues in the U.S., Japan, Canada, and Australia. Based on my searches this morning, Japan’s legislature is still holding off, waiting to see what the U.S. does. (It was introduced in the legislature there, then tabled.) An important Australian commission came out against the deal. Here’s an example of what the opposition is presenting in Canada, and I wish them well.
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