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Dan Burns

Cooper-Union-We-are-Students-Not-Customers-e1373664073701Political battle lines have been drawn on the issue of appropriate regulation/accountability for for-profit colleges for some time now. It seems unlikely that Minnesota’s AG would be jumping in if she wasn’t pretty sure of herself in this matter.
 

Minnesota’s Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota School of Business and Globe University—two for-profit schools that operate under the Globe Education Network umbrella—alleging that they misled some students, leaving them burdened with debt but without the means to repay it.
 
The schools counter that the allegations “could not be further from the truth.”
 
The schools operate campuses in Blaine, Brooklyn Center, Elk River, Lakeville, Minneapolis, Moorhead, Plymouth, Richfield, Rochester, Shakopee, and Woodbury, which is also home to their headquarters. Globe also has several locations in Wisconsin and one in South Dakota.
 
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said Tuesday that her lawsuit, which was filed in Hennepin County District Court, seeks injunctive relief, civil penalties, and restitution. It describes a sales-focused culture among the schools’ admissions representatives, and Swanson likened the practices to “sales boiler rooms.”
(Twin Cities Business)

The primary champion of for-profits in Congress has been House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair Rep. John Kline (R-MN). (The linked article is titled “The John Kline For-Profit College Donor List Hall of Shame,” and it’s from mnpACT!, and it’s great.) From what I’ve seen, he’s been mum on Swanson’s lawsuit, and I’m sure he’ll stay that way.
 
Image: popularresistance.org

 

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fireworksI missed this, a few weeks ago. It’s particularly significant with school board elections coming up, especially in Minneapolis, which will be ground zero for deformer efforts to take control.
 

StudentsFirst, a controversial nationwide school reform group that has frequently clashed with teachers’ unions, is shutting down its Minnesota office.
 
Kathy Saltzman, state director of StudentsFirst Minnesota, confirmed (July 9) that the group has decided not to maintain a paid staff in Minnesota, where it has about 29,000 members. She is currently the group’s only Minnesota-based employee.
 
The national group, headed by former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, has been part of a movement aimed at improving education in ways that many teachers think unfairly target them. It has pushed for greater accountability among teachers, fought to overturn laws that protect teacher tenure and supported standardized testing. It has frequently aligned itself with Republican lawmakers who support charter schools and school vouchers.
 
“The decision was made based on the continually changing legislative climate,” Saltzman said of the move to close Minnesota’s branch. “We will, however, continue to have a presence here through our members.”
(Star Tribune)

The vast majority of StudentsWorstNightmare’s “29,000 members” in Minnesota are likely people that did nothing more than casually sign an innocent-looking online petition. In fact, I believe I did that myself, at Change.org, but then asked to have my name removed when Rhee’s emails started showing up in my inbox. This was several years ago, I think. Who knows if they really dropped my name from their “member” roll.
 

This great article from Salon has the goods on what’s currently happening at the “top” of the deformer movement. Short version: So long Michelle, hello Campbell.

 

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MN-08: Stewart III can dish it out, but…

by Dan Burns on July 28, 2014 · 1 comment

Oh boo-hoo. That he should get to run negative ads, but not anyone else, is exactly what you’d expect from a spoiled rotten rich kid like Stewart Mills, after a lifetime spent in the embrace of unearned privilege.
 

Republican Stewart Mills is calling on TV stations and cable networks to stop running a new attack ad directed at him because it contains “false information” and asserts “blatant lies” about his position on several issues. Mills is challenging DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in the 8th District.
 
The ad from the AFSCME labor union and House Majority PAC uses a clip of Mills appearing to say that being asked to pay more in taxes is personally offensive. The Mills camp has produced the full video from the event and says the clip was deceptively edited from longer quotes taken out of context…
 
“House Majority PAC stands behind the facts presented in the ad,” said Matt Thornton, the group’s communications director.
(MPR)

The context of his remarks has in fact been available for some time, and you can decide for yourself how much unfairness is really present.
 

 
What a whiner. The Mills campaign recently made a notable addition, which is a likely indication that internal polling isn’t showing what they’d like to see. As is Rep. Rick Nolan’s own I’ve-got-more-important-things-to-do-right-now-like-govern confidence.
 

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P1070311Another great example of why we need many, many more like Keith Ellison, in political office, and elsewhere in power.
 

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison plans to unveil legislation that would make unionization into a legally protected civil right, the congressman said on Saturday.
 
The bill, which he plans to formally introduce on July 30, would make it easier for workers to take legal action against companies that violate their right to organize.
 
It is already illegal to fire workers in retaliation for union activities, but enforcing workers’ right to organize can be a tricky process under current law. Currently, wrongfully terminated employees must file an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which will then determine whether to represent the worker in a legal fight against the employer.
 
But workers are not able to directly sue their employers for anti-union retaliation, and the process of bringing forward a successful unfair labor practice claim can take years.
(MSNBC)

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Time for a “bad business fee”

by Dan Burns on July 24, 2014 · 2 comments

Lazarus_at_rich_man's_house_C-922This is a seriously excellent concept.
 

Can you name the worst job you’ve ever had? For Cliff Martin, that’s not an easy question. All three of his current jobs—delivering newspapers, delivering magazines and working as a janitor—are strong contenders. Taken together, they pay so poorly that the 20-year-old Northfield, Minnesota, native relies on MNsure, the state Medicaid plan, for healthcare and lives at home with his father to save money. But what if Martin’s bosses had to fork over a fee to the state for paying him so badly? That money, in turn, could be used to help support Martin and his fellow low-wage workers in a variety of ways, from direct subsidies for food and housing to social programs such as Medicaid or public transportation.
 
TakeAction Minnesota, a network that promotes economic and racial justice in the state, wants to make that fee a reality. It’s developing the framework for a bill that it hopes will be introduced in 2015 by state legislators who have worked with the network in the past. As conceived, the “bad business fee” legislation would require companies to disclose how many of their employees are receiving public assistance from the state or federal government. Companies would then pay a fine based on the de facto subsidies they receive by externalizing labor costs onto taxpayers.
(In These Times)

Of course we can all hear the wailing and whimpering from plutocrats, amplified by their legions of servile propagandists, already. Tough. The time is now, to get going on ideas like these.
 
Image from the Ultimate Bible Picture Collection. Cf. Luke 16:19-31.
 

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consuladoSPI haven’t been able to find a photo of the one person, and that’s probably for the best. Rubbing it in any further would just be mean.
 

To make their case that Americans are really upset about an increase in unaccompanied children at the border, anti-immigrant groups staged what was supposed to have been a massive number of protests around the country. They staged a “National Day of Protesting Against Immigration Reform, Amnesty & Border Surge” which for some reason was actually two days, this past Friday and Saturday. This effort was led by three anti-immigrant groups, ALIPAC, Make Them Listen, and Overpasses for America…
 
Minnesota’s Advocates for Human Rights reported that they only found one person at any of the scheduled protests in that state. The gentleman held a sign outside the Mexican Consulate in Saint Paul, but got an earful from people who lived nearby, and chose to depart.
(Think Progress)

That’s an ordinary photo of the Mexican Consulate in St. Paul, from its website. Not that the inclusion of one true-believing, if befuddled, nutcase out on the sidewalk would make much difference.

 

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A chastening look from the left

by Dan Burns on July 22, 2014 · 0 comments

imagesCAY7OL8CI’ve been quite critical of President Obama now and then, myself, and I stand by those criticisms. But I acknowledge many of the points made in the best reality check from the left that I’ve seen in a while.
 

Look: Obama made some mistakes. He should have done more about housing. He shouldn’t have pivoted to deficit-mongering so quickly. Maybe he could have kept a public option in Obamacare if he’d fought harder for it. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But probably not. Like it or not, America was not poised for a huge liberal wave in 2008. It just wasn’t. It was poised for a fairly routine cycle of throwing out the old bums and electing new bums, who would, as usual, be given a very short and very limited honeymoon. Democrats actually accomplished a fair amount during that honeymoon, but no, they didn’t turn American into a lefty paradise. That was never in the cards.
 
All of us who do what Thomas Frank does — what I do — have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn’t happen. In the end, we didn’t persuade much of anyone. It’s natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That’s human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That’s what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.
 
But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn’t lie.
(Mother Jones)

The public is progressive, even very progressive, on most issues. But we’ve been unable to translate that to electoral change. In the longer term (i.e. looking out to the early 2020s), I think there’s ample cause for optimism (due to a more thoughtful and knowledgeable, less gullible, populace), in that regard. But it’s an agonizingly slow, tortuous, and frustrating road. Historically, the path to positive change always has been that, though that doesn’t mean it always has to be.
 
One sees a constant online stream of claims that we’re on the verge of (if not already in) a plutocratic/surveillance state/theocratic dictatorship, on the brink of world economic collapse, etc., etc. Those screeds have their place, and maybe more people should be paying more attention. But they’re not, because none of it has anything to do with their daily experience. There would perhaps be a better chance of effectively reaching more people, if that was borne in mind.
 

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abanschoolAnd it should start with this.
 

Whether President Obama realizes it or not, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is now “damaged goods,” a leader whose credibility has been sharply diminished on both sides of the aisle and is widely despised by teachers and parents around the nation. As a result, any initiative he launches will generate skepticism and opposition and will go exactly nowhere. Whether the President can cut loose his long time friend and basketball buddy is an open question, but the die is cast. Arne Duncan is now a liability more than an asset and someone whose presence may cost Democrats votes in the 2014 elections.
(Mark Naison – Dump Duncan Facebook, 7/17/14)

What all has precipitated commentary like the above, which is spot-on if you ask me, is that Duncan is essentially pimping a conservative Republican approach to American education. Full corporatization (“Walmartization,” if you prefer) of schools is the odious goal.
 

The American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution July 13 calling on President Barack Obama to put U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on an “improvement plan,” and demand his resignation if he doesn’t change positions the union deems harmful.
 
This is a very interesting development, notably because it’s arguable whether this resolution is stronger than the National Education Association’s similarly themed resolution, or weaker.
 
On the one hand, unlike the NEA resolution, it stops short of calling for Duncan’s immediate resignation. But on the other hand, the AFT makes it explicit that the buck for the education secretary ultimately stops with the person who appointed him — President Obama.
 
Delegates noted Duncan’s support for the Race to the Top competition, which gave incentives to states to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores; for the recent Vergara v. California equity-lawsuit ruling, which declared certain teacher protections unconstitutional in California; and for supporting planned teacher firings in Central Falls, R.I., as well as for saying that Hurricane Katrina’s reshaping of New Orleans’ school system was beneficial.
(Education Week)

Every indication is that President Obama is with the deformer crowd, and I wish I knew why. This is easily my biggest disappointment with his presidency. According to a big long survey (PDF), a largely uninformed public both strongly supports public schools (as it should), and more charters (as it most certainly shouldn‘t). Grounds for some measure of optimism, or at least determination in the face of difficult odds, is that the President has shown himself open to learned, rational persuasion in the past, on gay marriage for example.
 

Duncan is one of those professional suck-ups that infest DC like mold spores. And he displays a smug arrogance that is truly obnoxious and repellent. Some of his recent, combative comments are likely subconsciously grounded in fear that he’ll be exposed before all for the wretched fake that he is. Just…he needs to go (preferably replaced by Diane Ravitch, though that would seem too-good-to-be-true unlikely).
 

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safe_imagephpdAQA0Ubd1yNoWTNbvw90h90urlhttp3A2F2Fwwwhumanbannersfcom2Fwp-content2Fuploads2F20112F102Ftax-the-1-percent-d-150x150Yet conservatives continue to pimp the same whimpering, groveling welfare-for-the-wealthy crap. David Cay Johnston is among my favorite political writers.
 

According to an analysis by Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston, formerly of the New York Times, the Bush tax cuts, touted as a harbinger of prosperity by the Republican Party, actually robbed each American taxpayer of $48,000 in pre-tax personal income during the twelve years of their existence, for a total of approximately 6.6 trillion dollars.
 
This is more than enough to pay for every student loan, car loan, and credit card debt in the U.S, while still leaving 2.4 trillion dollars in the pockets of Americans. It is the equivalent of an extra 11 dollars a day lost to each American taxpayer over the last twelve years.
(Daily Kos)

This has a long, involved explanation of the above, for the truly wonky among us.
 
(Update: Here is Johnston’s original column, which is kind of hard to get to via the links posted above.)
 
And, also on the theme of right-wing claims about the economy inevitably being complete and utter BS:
 

We see that while (as per usual) there is considerable variation in unemployment rates across groups, the unemployment rate is substantially higher now than it was before the recession started for all groups. The unemployment rate is between 1.2 and 1.7 times as high now as it was seven years ago for all age, education, occupation, industry, gender, and racial and ethnic groups. Elevated unemployment across the board, like we see today, means that the weak labor market is due to employers not seeing demand for their goods and services pick up in a way that would require them to significantly ramp up hiring, not workers lacking the right skills or education for the occupations or industries where jobs are available.
(Economic Policy Institute)

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The RFRA is backfiring and needs to go

by Dan Burns on July 16, 2014 · 1 comment

REPEAL RFRA2I was raised Roman Catholic, and took it fairly seriously, but not super-seriously, as a youth. At least as an altar boy (it was only boys doing that, then) I had something to do during Mass, to cut the boredom, a little. Then I got to college and got sunk in philosophy and became an atheist, as I am now. At the time I thought pretty highly of myself and my “intellectual courage,” but I recognize now that “courage” was not a factor. My temperament is scientific/skeptical, much more so than religious, and that’s that.
 
Certainly I continue to be critical of religious efforts to foist dogma on others, via politics, but I have long since stopped “bashing” religion in and of itself. I see said bashing as pointless and often counterproductive. Moreover, if you consider the bloodiest, most violent and destructive century in human history so far – the twentieth – the primary problem wasn’t religion. It was totalitarian socio-political doctrines like Stalinism, Nazism, and Maoism. Not that the U.S. and other somewhat more democratic nations reacted all that well, especially post-WWII.
 
I recognize why many continue to choose religion. I can relate to the desire for guidance, solace, and (far and away the most important, imo, even if believers don’t get all hung up in what really motivates them, and why should they?) participation in a community of shared belief and values.
 
Finally, I think that plenty of coverage, in the left-progressive blogosphere, of the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision has been apocalyptic overkill. Full-blown religious right Pentecostal/fundamentalist theocracy is here, because of this? Come on.
 
All that being said, it is one awful decision. And we can’t really just blame it entirely on the excesses of five reactionaries on the Court. More below the fold.
 
…READ MORE

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