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Dan Burns

capitol2A couple of days ago.
 

Mary Lawrence, a Minneapolis doctor who had been a deputy executive director of the Vision Center of Excellence for veterans, has filed her paper work for jump into the race.
 
“After serving our nation’s Veterans and Service members as a physician at the VA for over 17 years, practicing and teaching medicine, I’ve seen first-hand the negative consequences a hyper-partisan government can have on the people it’s supposed to serve,” Lawrence said in a statement released to the Pioneer Press. “But there’s nothing wrong with Washington that can’t be cured with some Minnesota commonsense.”
(Pioneer Press)

Angela Craig has previously announced her run as a Democrat.

 
You can click on John Kline, on the topics bar above, for starters on why he needs to go. And you can go to MN Political Roundtable, the best source in the world for all that’s wrong with John Kline in elected office, and read all day.
 
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greedWith the releases of Republican budgets, full of attacks on earned benefits, I’m passing along a few relevant items that I’ve had sitting around.
 

Both (Bernie) Sanders and (Sherrod) Brown make the same accusation. The alleged problem with disability funding, Senator Sanders said, is a “manufactured crisis which is part of the long-term Republican agenda of trying to cut Social Security.” Senator Brown said, “Attacking disability insurance is only the first salvo in the Republicans’ plan to attack social insurance and make harmful cuts to Social Security.” The GOP created a false shortfall for disability benefits by blocking an accounting reallocation that is so routine it has been made eleven times in the past under presidents Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Clinton.
 
But here is my question for the Washington press corps. Why aren’t reporters writing about this? Why don’t they examine the Brown and Sanders analysis and determine if their accusations are correct? Instead of writing endless dope stories about a presidential campaign in 2016 and what might happen a year from now, shouldn’t the news media be alerting people to the fight over Social Security the GOP is starting in early 2015?
 
The dysfunction of Washington involves the failure of major media to examine the gritty politics of issues that truly matter to citizens. Political reporters typically find these subjects boring, and reporters who cover the candidates and campaign usually don’t know that much about how government really works. Both political parties work on warping the subjects by feeding pre-tested clichés and avoiding hot-button issues. The messaging thus reduces campaigns to empty slogans and opaque generalities.
(The Nation)

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mncapitol2There are strengthening indicators that, for all the beginning-of-session talk about finding “common ground,” not much beyond what is most needful will get done during Minnesota’s current legislative session. Which at least means that, in this context, the education deformers probably won’t be able to advance their contemptible agenda, for the time being. They will of course continue to try to do so in every other way they can. Lots of money and power at stake.
 

Explain to me what is the measure of an educated person. Winning a Nobel Prize? Few do. Making a Bill Gates/Warren Buffet fortune? Few do. Writing a Pynchon novel is something only Pynchon has done. Without having to take a multiple choice test about novel writing.
 
Scoring in the 99th percentile on the LSAT? Is that a measure of an educated person? It may help get you into a law school, but will you have the talent in pressing circumstances to fashion an acquittal on, “If the glove don’t fit, you’ve got to acquit?”
 
Of those legislators pushing for standardized testing, how many will publish their own SAT scores?
 
Financial genius Nienow? Suppose he did score highly. That proves what? That the SBA and taxpayers should mop up his personal fiscal bad-judgment mess?
 
These are bozos leading a bozo parade, union busting being the actual aim, and some should know better.
(Developers Are Crabgrass)

From my observations, “success” in corporate, and for that matter political, life is far more about tenacity and focus, than it is about intellect. That’s just a declarative statement; I’m not trying to pass judgment, here, on whether that’s always a good or bad thing.
 
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Don’t concern yourself with Strib polling

by Dan Burns on March 22, 2015 · 1 comment

schoolPerhaps you’ve seen this morning’s in the Star Tribune, purporting to show huge public support for “quality over seniority” in teacher layoffs. It’s a classic example of reducing a complex issue to a quick soundbite. Do you really think most parents would want to see their own kid’s beloved math teacher let go, because some newbie at a school with more privileged kids had those kids produce higher test scores?

 
Let’s be clear about what the education deformers want, here. “Quality” is to be “measured” by standardized test scores. This will force teachers to rote-drill students to the tests, rather than emphasize learning to think knowledgeably, rationally, creatively, and independently. Because if most kids grow up doing the latter, that spells longer-term doom for the plutocratic, warmongering status quo. Which is in fact what’s been going on for a while, and, obviously, said warmongering plutocrats are desperate to reverse that, no matter what vile, shameless means are employed.

 
It won’t surprise me if the rest of the week is devoted to poll questions like “Do you favor or oppose a gas tax increase?” and “Should the state refund the budget surplus?” Remember that if poll results other than “Who would you vote for if the election were held today?” mattered politically, this country’s policies would overwhelmingly reflect the progressive agenda that the public massively supports. And the MN GOP is still probably going to get crushed in 2016, and there’s nothing Glen Taylor’s Strib can do about that. Though he’ll make sure it keeps trying.
 
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IVAW anniversary statement

by Dan Burns on March 20, 2015 · 0 comments

iraqI’m passing this along. Click and read the whole thing.
 

Today is a solemn day for us. Twelve years ago the Bush administration launched the illegal invasion of Iraq, forever altering millions of lives…
 
So much of what we see in our foreign policy and domestic political landscape can be connected to that fateful decision. It is reflected in everything from the climate of deep Islamophobia at home, to the high suicide rates of veterans, from the brutal rise of ISIS, to the militarization of police departments across the country. These are just a few examples of how widespread the effects have been…
 
After twelve years of warfare, there is more to mourn than could possibly be summed up in any statement. But we do find hope in the continuous acts of resistance by individuals and organizations in Iraq and communities here at home who have taken a stand against violence, militarism, and racism. There is much work yet to be done. Despite the long road ahead of us, we remain steadfastly committed to working towards justice and accountability for the crimes perpetrated against Iraq and encourage all people of conscience to join us in resisting the march to perpetual war.
(Iraq Veterans Against The War)

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Checking up on the odious TPP

by Dan Burns on March 19, 2015 · 0 comments

tppIt appears that negotiators still have some things to finish up with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was supposed to be ready any time now. Meanwhile, righteous opponents of this corporate-backed nightmare are getting ready for the showdown. I still can’t find anything reliable on whether it would have the votes to get through Congress, at this time. Incidentally, other countries, like Australia, aren’t necessarily slam-dunks to have their legislatures back this monstrosity, either.
 
One of the most awful measures in this deal is ISDS. Reps. Rick Nolan (D-MN) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) are among the original cosponsors of a bill that would prohibit that. And the following is from a reality check on it, from someone who knows.

 

One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.
 
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.
 
If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?
(Sen. Elizabeth Warren/Washington Post)

More below the fold.
 
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Who’s paying for a soccer stadium?

by Dan Burns on March 18, 2015 · 0 comments

Aerial_photo_of_downtown_MinneapolisIt never ends.
 

(Monday) the Vikings announced Major League Soccer told them “thanks but no thanks,” turning all of the attention toward whether or not former United Health CEO Bill McGuire and his partners can build a soccer-specific outdoor stadium in the North Loop…
 
As we reported yesterday, that could come with a hefty public subsidy. Legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle have repeatedly said the state wants no part in funding another stadium, and there isn’t any political will in Minneapolis to chip in either.
 
That leaves Hennepin County. Board Chair Mike Opat is on board with some sort of partnership to make a stadium happen, even going as far as traveling with McGuire to present to MLS brass in New York, but other county commissioners we talked to over the last few months are undecided.
(City Pages)

There could be more than just lack of “political will” for funding another stadium, in both Minneapolis and at the state capitol. Both seemed to take for granted that any soccer franchise would also use the “People’s Stadium.” It’s hard to believe they anticipated that there would be talk of yet another facility to provide competition for the Wilf Mahal. We could see efforts to actively undermine the apparent intentions of McGuire and his associates in this.
 

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Israel election semi-liveblog

by Dan Burns on March 17, 2015 · 5 comments

israel615AM Wednesday: Yeah. Pretty bad.
 

But by Wednesday morning official results had stretched to a decisive five-seat lead for Likud of 30 seats, making it almost certain that Netanyahu would serve a third consecutive term as prime minister.
 
But Netanyahu appears locked on a collision course with both Palestinians and the international community after disavowing his previous support for a two-state solution made in a speech in 2009.
 
Netanyahu’s return to power on the back of his unequivocal opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state – a key policy of Washington and the EU – seems certain to exacerbate his already difficult relationship with the US administration of Barack Obama during the president’s final two years in office.
(The Guardian)

930PM: This long, comprehensive article from The New York Times explores the possibilities. Bottom line, though: For those of us who really want to see real, lasting Mideast peace, and who understand that a peace-oriented Israel and a Palestinian state are necessary precursors to that, this has been a bad day.
 
730PM: Votes are being counted, but the actual totals are unlikely to matter much unless the exit polling turns out to be substantially wrong. Basically, the top two parties, Likud and Zionist Union, tied. Each will try to build enough of a coalition with other parties to form a government without the other. The odds of either being able to do that in such a way as to form a strong, stable, lasting governing coalition may not be great, to say the least. I’ll post more updates on Wednesday.
 
350PM: This could be unfortunate, from the perspective of those of us who want to see Israel’s hard right (Likud) to at least have its power diminished. It’s from the Haaretz liveblog linked below.
 

After the ballot boxes were closed at 10 P.M. Tuesday, exit polls showed the two main contenders, Likud and Zionist Union, were neck and neck with 27 Knesset seats each, with a slight lead for Likud.
 
President Reuven Rivlin said he would work for a national unity government.

930AM: Overall turnout is now roughly in line with the last election. There are anecdotal reports of higher turnout among Israeli-Arab voters.
 
630AM: Haaretz has a liveblog, which indicates that at mid-morning turnout was 20% higher than in previous elections. Also, Election Day is apparently a national day off from work in Israel, which is something the U.S. should also do.
 

I haven’t tried to do this with an election in another country before, and I don’t know when good data might be available, what with the time zone difference and all. Maybe in the U.S. we’ll have some initial idea by mid-to-late afternoon. But it could be days, even weeks, before everything shakes out. Israel has a parliamentary system, where a government is formed based on seats won. I don’t think that anybody anticipates Netanyahu & Co. going gently, no matter how the seat count turns out.
 

The Palestinian-Israeli bloc, made up of what the Israelis call “Arab Israeli” parties and the Communist Party, now looks as though it could be the third biggest party. If the Palestinian-Israelis, who are 20% of the population, are able to do that well, they could well decide to back the Zionist Union of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, bringing the latter in striking distance of the 61 seats they need…
 
But such a government might well be willing to settle the Palestine issue with Secretary of State John Kerry and the Palestine Authority, pulling Israel back from the brink of declining into full Apartheid and international isolation. Livni has said she’d be willing to use police to remove some Israeli squatters from the Palestinian West Bank. Of course, that is a thorny and intractable problem and the hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters are a powerful lobby against peace, so there is no guarantee a new government can have more success than the old.
 
While Livni is no liberal (she would rotate the prime ministership with Herzog if they won), and will watch the negotiations with Iran like a hawk, she is in the end a pragmatist, and Obama would probably see an end to Israeli direct interference in his negotiations with Iran.
 
On the other hand, if Netanyahu wins, likely he will continue policies that make it unlikely for Israel to survive another half century in the region. Israel’s economy is fragile and a third of its trade is with Europe, with which Israel also has extensive technology transfer. Growing European boycotts over the Israeli scuttling of the peace process and determined colonization of the West Bank will begin to bite.
(Juan Cole)

(I saw a note yesterday to the effect that Livni said she would yield the prime-minister’s office to Herzog, full-time. Apparently that has since been reneged upon.)
 
Israel doesn’t have compulsory voting, or anything like that. As with the U.S., only hard-line reactionaries can be counted on to turn out in force in every election. Also as with the U.S., this often (including right now) means “leadership” that is far more conservative than the public at large, with awful results.
 
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Cooper-Union-We-are-Students-Not-Customers-e1373664073701Last Tuesday, President Obama released a Student Aid Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, it’s just a baby step. The following discusses the sort of thing that would be a lot more helpful, and in fact needs to happen.
 

Now (Sen. Elizabeth) Warren (D-MA) is turning to the Department of Education, which, she argues, already has the power to address the problem. The department, which Congress has empowered to administer student loan programs, has broad authority to collect unpaid loans. But in many cases, it also have the authority to reduce or wipe away debts…
 
In their letter, the senators explain that under the Higher Education Act, the Department of Education has the authority to cancel federal student loan debts if colleges lied to the borrower or undermined the quality of students’ educations or finances. Many borrowers who attended a for-profit colleges, lured in by misleading job-placement rates, for example, could qualify for loan cancellations under this authority.
(Mother Jones)

More items of interest, below the fold.
 
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Oil stocks, land taxes, and HR excess

by Dan Burns on March 13, 2015 · 0 comments

Oil-Fields-19a-Belridge-California-USA-2003I know that you don’t come here for financial planning advice, but:
 

But the confidence is misplaced. If you are still fairly young and you or your pension fund bought a lot of petroleum or gas or coal stocks in hopes of retiring on them, think again. You will lose your shirt….
 
The Bank of England is doing a big study of this problem, which economists call that of “stranded assets.” That is a fancy phrase for when you invest in something that suddenly loses its value…
 
So there isn’t any doubt about it. Buying stocks in coal, gas and oil companies is like buying stocks in zeppelins. They are outmoded and prone to crashing and burning, a Hindenburg waiting to happen. (Zeppelins were good investments once, too; they carried tens of thousands of people across the Atlantic and the top of the Empire State Building was designed to anchor them; but they became a stranded asset.)
(Juan Cole)

This idea has been around for some time. It’s a good one:
 
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