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Eric Ferguson

I’ve been amazed at the speed with which support for official state sanction for a white supremacist symbol has collapsed. I applaud it, but I also had a look in the mirror. The former confederate states aren’t the only ones with racist imagery. I’m looking at us, Minnesota. We need a new state seal. Click the seal to the right to enlarge.
 
The seal is explained, sort of, on the state secretary of state web site. It shows a white settler plowing a field, facing East, while an Indian rides into the sunset. One guess who the settler’s gun is meant to be used against. I have a feeling Indians pick up on the imagery a bit faster than whites. More to the point, our state seal commemorates Indians being pushed out for white settlement. Not exactly inclusive of all races.
 
It perhaps isn’t on a par with the flag of a nation formed explicitly to protect slavery (if anyone doesn’t get what “explicitly” means, read the seceding states’ declarations of secession). It’s not like Minnesota was formed for the purpose of oppressing Indians. Nonetheless, the removal of Indians was required for Minnesota’s formation, and this tragedy for Indians is commemorated in our seal. Remember that removal didn’t just entail buying land. It entailed Indians facing the prospect of an unwinnable war if they didn’t move, and of promises of ongoing payment not kept. In the case of the Dakota, removal included a war provoked by failure to make payments that made subsistence impossible, a concentration camp, and a mass hanging.
 
Changing the seal might not be as important as when our current governor marked the 150th anniversary of the Dakota War by telling the truth, including the contemporary governor’s call for the Dakota to be exterminated if they didn’t leave the state. But it also seems like not much to ask that we have a seal that doesn’t tell some Minnesotans that they’re no longer part of this place. We should have a seal that represents everybody. I’m not saying the images can’t somehow include a white settler and an Indian — just don’t make it about pushing out the Indian. A new seal certainly could keep St. Anthony Falls, “1858”, and “l’étoile du nord”, which is French for “Star of the North”*. Surely “Star of the North” has to suggest some better images than an Indian leaving, something that represents all of us. It suggested good logos for sports teams so why not the whole state?
 
And while we’re at it, bad news on the flag. It’s just the state seal on a blue field. So, we need a new one of those too.
 
Does having our own problems mean we can’t tell anyone else they can’t fly a confederate flag? No, it just means we have to be willing to tell the truth about ourselves, and in Minnesota’s case, part of that truth is the imagery on the state seal. Being honest about our own history of race relations means admitting that while the state never officially approved slavery or the symbols thereof, we did have slavery here. Dred Scott, living in what was supposed to be free territory, was like most black residents of what would become Minnesota in that he was a slave to an army officer who used him as a domestic worker. When we became a state, our first constitution prohibited voting rights to blacks. Not exactly a plantation, but not something we’re proud of either. But let’s tell the truth while we ask others to do the same, and let’s get rid of our own racist symbols while we ask others to get rid of theirs. Time for a new seal.
 

*French was the language of the first whites in Minnesota, and appropriately to the point of this post, they traded with the Indians rather than removing them. Some stayed when the Indians were removed and the fur trade ended, so most whites were French Canadians when Minnesota became a territory. So having the state’s long standing nickname remain in French seems appropriate.

 
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Democratic donkey doorknockerYou may have heard that the Green and Lacour study on using canvassing to change opinions was retracted. If not, that’s actually kind of good, because that makes debunking a bit easier as you don’t have the wrong idea in your head already. I almost had to write my own retraction because I was pondering writing a post based on Green and Lacour’s findings when I learned that the data was manipulated to get a headline-making result. I find those “everything you think is wrong” stories to be irresistible click bait, so when I heard one of the reports on the study, in a recent This American Life, The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind, and being someone who does a lot of canvassing (by volunteer standards) and has run some doorknocks myself, this just screamed near future blog post. I don’t know which is worse, admitting that I procrastinated about writing, or admitting that procrastinating really helped. So I didn’t write up how amazing these findings were and how we might use them, but I did discuss it in some private conversations, and I’m really hoping those individuals are reading this.
 
The study came from a good impulse. Proposition 8 in California in 2008 put a ban on marriage equality in the state constitution after it had already been legalized. The “no” campaign expected to win between its lead in the polls, the large turnout the Obama campaign was generating, and California’s general liberal leaning, so defeat was a surprise. After its unexpected loss, the “no” campaign cooperated in the experiment to see if it could send canvassers into areas where they lost and sway opinion face to face.
 
FiveThirtyEight summarized the study in it’s article on the retraction:
 

The article, published last December in Science Magazine by UCLA graduate student Michael J. LaCour and Columbia University political scientist Donald P. Green, appeared to show that an in-person conversation with an openly gay person made voters feel much more positively about same-sex marriage, an effect that persisted and even spread to the people those voters lived with, who weren’t part of the conversation. The result of that purported effect was an affirmation of the power of human contact to overcome disagreement.
 
By describing personal contact as a powerful political tool, the paper influenced many campaigns and activists to shift their approach to emphasize the power of the personal story. The study was featured by Bloomberg, on “This American Life” and in activists’ playbooks, including those used by backers of an Irish constitutional referendum up for a vote Friday that would legalize same-sex marriage.

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photo clowns.jpgI get it. Donald Trump declared for president and he’s endlessly entertaining. Anyone who says “I don’t have to brag” when that’s all he does is satirizing himself. No wonder Jon Stewart is so happy. Trump is a diverting entertainment, with emphasis on the “diverting” part, as in he’ll divert us from paying attention to the candidates who might actually win, and might have a political future when their presidential campaign is over. I suppose, if someone absolutely must pay attention, then try to pin down other candidates on what they think of the nuttiness that Trump will no doubt engage in since that’s his whole reason for running and the reason anyone pays attention. Make other candidates try to find the middle ground between denouncing what Trump says so as not to appear likewise crazy, while staying close enough to avoid annoying the conservative base that thinks Trump makes some sense. Try to appeal to both sanity and the base, go!
 
Otherwise though, Trump isn’t worth our time. He’s not going to win the nomination because of how unpopular he is among likely Republican primary voters, and he has no political future beyond this campaign. Maybe he’ll run for president perennially, but it’s not like he’s going to try to make a serious run for Congress, let alone try to work his way up from state legislature or city council. The “unpopular” part is confirmed in a new Public Policy Polling poll, which finds the same results as their last poll, at least among Republicans. Four of the candidates they asked about have negative favorable ratings, and they happen to be the same four candidates as the last PPP poll, which is why I crossed them off the list of candidates to be followed. Yes, Trump is one of those, for the reasons just stated, fun as he might be to kick around. George Pataki is also a “look at me please” candidate I’m not bothering to look at further since he’s unlikely to run for anything else. Chris Christie will be entertaining in the bully-gets-comeuppance way, but Republicans dislike him too much to nominate him, he’s term limited as governor, and he’s grown too unpopular in New Jersey to run anyway. Lindsey Graham will presumably run for his Senate seat again, but given the difficulties South Carolina Democrats have just getting a name on a ballot makes his seat safe, watching him run for president seems like a waste of time.
 
So yes, beating the GOP candidates in some future election is a point of this exercise, though to be sure it’s pretty much about this presidential race. The reason for doing #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident is that this stuff from 2015 will be useful once the nomination is settled, but it will also have gone down the memory hole. However, it can at least be made searchable. The reason for seeking to narrow is, can’t speak for anyone else, but I can’t do this full time, and I can’t track however many Rachel Maddow counted up merely as a hobby. So I’m trying to cut down the list, and trying to be objective in case my judgment is wrong.
 
So in brief, on the Republican side, with another thorough poll, nothing changed. To step away from the clown car (clown bus? There’s a reason I started using the clown graphic with more clowns) however, there is a little something interesting on the Democratic side.
 

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photo clowns.jpgBen Carson is seeking election for the first time so we can’t wonder what voters were thinking, but really Florida, you elected Jeb Bush as governor twice? Today we learn (or get reminded) that Ben Carson is nuts and George W. Bush is the smarter brother.
 
Put an asterisk on “smarter”, just in case Jeb is smart enough to say he was an insensitive twit 20 years ago and now he knows better. What I hope he no longer thinks is the way to reduce pregnancies by unmarried girls and young women is to deliberately shame them.
 

In his book Profiles in Character, Jeb Bush dedicated an entire chapter to the need for more shame, titled “The Restoration of Shame.”
 
In it, he writes:

One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. The parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus to be careful.

Bush is simultaneously advocating for the use of societal shame against some of our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens while ignoring the history and reality of teen and unwed pregnancy. He waxes poetic about the days when unwed pregnant girls and women were neither seen nor heard after either being quietly whisked away for nine months or subject to a dangerous back-alley abortion. He pines for a time when shame was enough to deter young women from becoming pregnant.

I hear Republicans do poorly among single women voters. Gee, can’t fathom why.
 
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Step away from the clown car

by Eric Ferguson on June 8, 2015 · 7 comments

Step away from the clown car, just for a moment. Maybe it’s more of a clown bus this time. Anyway, yes I know, the Republican accidental comedy show is endlessly entertaining. I’ve been indulging in it myself and will again. But we have Democrats running too; four declared candidates in fact. And here they are in embeddable video form.

 
The first video is Hillary Clinton speaking on voting rights, which readers likely heard about in terms of highlights, at least the universal registration and alluding to 2000 being stolen, but here’s the whole speech from C-SPAN. It’s roughly a half hour long in the middle of the video. Second is Bernie Sanders speaking recently in Minneapolis. He spoke mostly about economic inequality and attracted a crowd of a few thousand. Third is Lincoln Chafee’s announcement speech. He spoke mostly about foreign policy, including voting against invading Iraq. Fourth is Martin O’Malley’s announcement speech. He stated positions on a bunch of current issues.
 

 
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Republicans fine with economic inequalityThese three things seem like they might go together. First, Mother Jones has the scorecard of which crank billionaire cranks back which Republican presidential candidates. No billionaire? Then no GOP nomination for you! Second, there’s some seemingly contradictory research showing that the white working class gets how big money and its pet politicians are screwing up the government, and that’s part of why the white working class votes how big money wants them to. Irony hurts.
 
Not that I think anyone is consciously thinking the way to punish the people who haven’t been able to stop the corruption is to vote for the crooks. That’s just how I read the effect. Stanley Greenburg writes in Washington Monthly about research on white working class voters which finds that they get that money has corrupted politics and they think those in government don’t care about regular people. Though Democrats are losing the white working class, they are more open to a Democratic agenda. They just don’t trust the government to carry it out. They want reform of the process first, before they’re open to a more activist government agenda. Sadly, this means sabotage has worked nicely for Republicans. The whole article deserves a read, but to whet your wonkish appetite:
 

These voters, as we shall see, are open to an expansive Democratic economic agenda—to more benefits for child care and higher education, to tax hikes on the wealthy, to investment in infrastructure spending, and to economic policies that lead employers to boost salaries for middle- and working-class Americans, especially women. Yet they are only ready to listen when they think that Democrats understand their deeply held belief that politics has been corrupted and government has failed. Championing reform of government and the political process is the price of admission with these voters. These white working-class and downscale voters are acutely conscious of the growing role of big money in politics and of a government that works for the 1 percent, not them.

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After reading Star Tribune columnist D.J. Tice’s column on the collapse of the 35W bridge it’s apparent he gets the concept of motivated reasoning, but not to the point of recognizing when he’s engaging in it. He takes one fact, that the gusset plates were built too thin, and weaves a whole narrative of an unavoidable accident that absolves the Pawlenty administration, were it true. His convenient cherrypicking of facts ignores the inconvenient fact that bridge inspectors had warned of potential failure of fracture critical components, and recommended structural work to include the gussets.
 
From the MPR link:
 

The recommendation made in the November 2006 report was rejected, but one expert in the sound-based monitoring technology said even the suggestion that so-called “fracture critical” sections of the bridge were susceptible for cracking should have sent up a warning flare.
 
“For somebody to be looking for cracks to initiate in a fracture critical member begs the question, why?” said John Duke, a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech who’s researched acoustic emission monitoring.
 

“When a fracture critical member is discovered to have a crack, that bridge should have been shut down yesterday,” he said.

It may not have been certain that such work would have found and fixed the gusset issue, but it was at least likely, and doing the work definitely would have made it impossible to blame the collapse on lack of maintenance. However, the decision was to go cheap and just resurface. After all, proper repairs would have cost more money, and nothing was more important than avoiding the tax increase that would be unavoidable if we were to really fix our infrastructure.
 
Even after Minnesotans looked at our roads and bridges and realized deferred maintenance had resulted in a deteriorated condition, Tim Pawlenty was so determined to please the taxophobic poobahs of the Republican Party that he vetoed a small and insufficient gas tax increase. It was passed over his veto by legislative supermajorities that included some brave Republican legislators who paid a high price for defying the anti-tax crowd that thinks infrastructure is free.
 
I wonder if Tice is warming up to argue that a thin gusset on the 35W bridge proves we don’t really need to raise the gas tax to fix our roads and bridges. Would we rather pay a little more for gas, or always wonder if the “fracture critical” parts were found and fixed? Or maybe it’s just normal that a Republican wants to help politicians of his party who are still dodging responsibility for the bridge. I’m willing to grant that 100% avoidance of all screw-ups is impossible, or at least so close to impossible as to be unreasonable. The real question then is the willingness to figure out how you screwed up, and Republicans, apparently, are nowhere near such willingness. Maybe that’s why they want to repeat the mistake, deferring infrastructure repairs to avoid a tax increase. Call it the fingers-crossed approach to maintaining old infrastructure.
 
Sure, we don’t have to raise taxes, because we have another option. We can just let our roads and bridges keep rotting; not a great option, but yes, an option.

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Celebrating budget shortfalls

by Eric Ferguson on May 21, 2015 · 1 comment

UPDATE: Four governors with presidential ambitions and self-inflicted budget shortfalls
 
There’s some schadenfreude to be sure in the self-inflicted problems some Republican state governments are having with budget shortfalls, but there’s also a need to think and fact-check before speaking it aloud. Why start an “we told you so” sort of post with a “maybe not” sort of warning? Because as true as it is that Republicans caused some shortfalls with ill-advised but ideologically correct tax cuts, this is partly fallout from the precipitous decline in oil prices.
 
Plus it’s not fun to think about the problem getting even worse and Republicans taking the opportunity to inflict even more dysfunction on government than they have already. From an AP review of state budgets:
 

Alaska relies heavily on oil revenue and projects a $3.2 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. A special legislative session has been called after lawmakers failed to agree on a way to fund the budget, even though the state has plenty of money in reserves to cover the gap.
 
That’s not the case in Illinois, where lawmakers are trying to figure out how to close a $6 billion projected shortfall for the next fiscal year, due largely to the expiration of a temporary tax increase.
 
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who campaigned against the tax plan, has suggested cuts to health care, local governments and other areas. But lawmakers in the Democratic-led General Assembly say spending cuts alone will not close the gap.
 
In Kansas, the Republican governor and GOP-dominated Legislature now confront budget deficits after aggressive tax cutting that prompted them to reduce school funding this spring.
 
Districts across the state have cut staff and programs such as summer school, and at least eight are ending the current school year early to save money.

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clowncarIs this a ten-year-old acting tough on the playground, or an actual US senator seeking a major party nomination for president? The latter, sad to say. Marco Rubio thinks quoting movie lines is the way to scare terrorists. h/t Salon:
 

 
Not that this necessarily hurts his chances of winning the Republican nomination. As the Salon writer put it:
 

This is precisely the sort of dick-swinging swagger that conservatives loved (and still love) about George W. Bush. (When W. landed on the aircraft carrier to declare “Mission Accomplished,” G. Gordon Liddy was awestruck over how he could see Bush’s penis through his parachute harness.) The fact said swagger resulted in a decade-long foreign policy disaster that we’ll be struggling to clean up for many long years to come is secondary to the fact that the world knew that Bush was tough and would hit people really hard if they looked at America cross-wise. “Bring ‘em on,” Bush famously declared, channeling his inner action hero and taunting the enemies of America to just try and test our resolve.

 
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Artist's conception. Not actually  a Republican primary voter

Artist’s conception. Not actually a Republican primary voter

So this is a bit scary. From a poll of likely Republican primary voters, and consider these are the people picking a major party candidate:

 

q23 Do you think that the Government is trying to
take over Texas or not?
The Government is trying to take over Texas 32%
The Government is not trying to take over Texas 40%
Not sure 28%

How nice that a plurality could recognize stupidity. However, add the believers and the undecided, and 60% of Republicans believe it’s somewhere between plausible and true that Jade Helm 15 is a cover for martial law or locking up the “patriots” in empty Walmarts. The only patriots locked up in Walmart are the workers locked in when their shifts are over but their managers want some free labor.

 
The PPP poll asked about presidential candidates and the results will affect #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident, but first, a slight tangent related to Jade Helm 15. A different poll had an unexpected result:
 

The Rasmussen survey found that particular concern was partisan: 50 percent of conservatives believed military training exercises would lead to greater federal control of some states. By contrast, 67 percent of liberals and 58 percent of those who identified as moderates said they weren’t concerned, according to the survey.

That’s right, you’re not seeing things. Liberals trust the armed forces more than conservatives do. This is foolish when there were troops in the streets of Minneapolis just today. I saw them! Are they seizing my guns? Are they planning to lock us up? Are they … having lunch in the same restaurant I am … oh. Right, Fort Snelling is close by. Never mind.
 
OK, enough laughing at the loonies and back to how the PPP poll affects #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident. The beginning idea is that by the time we know who the Republican candidate will be, the foibles of early 2015 will have gone down the memory hole no matter how relevant. So the hashtag can be searched on Twitter (and maybe Facebook to some degree) and the hashtag or the title can be searched here. Since the candidate could be anyone being talked about in national media, the idea was to just track them all. That seemed more plausible when there were fewer of them, but Rachel Maddow the other night counted 20 that are either officially running, unofficially running, or making “look at me!” noises and are too plausible as candidates to be blown off. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I give in. I can’t follow that many. Time to cull the sprouts, much earlier than planned, but I still don’t want to rely on my own sense that “no way this guy is going to win”. I want some data, and that linked PPP poll is rich in it.
 
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