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Eric Ferguson

MNGOP transportation plan relies on magic money

by Eric Ferguson on March 25, 2015 · 1 comment

mncapitol2The State House GOP has released its transportation plan and apparently they’re a caucus full of people who clap for Tinkerbell, given that fairies wouldn’t be a much less plausible source of financing.
The MNGOP offers to spend another $7 billion dollars on roads and bridges, without raising taxes. Speaker Kurt Daudt cited polls showing majorities want more transportation funding, but don’t want taxes to pay for it. What a surprise that the most people want more money spent on them — without any taxes. So Republicans came up with the funny money to make a play for votes, begging the question of whether they get that being in the majority means you’re supposed to actually govern. Roads, bridges, and math, couldn’t care less about what looks good on a campaign mailer.
Their sources of funding:
— $228 million from the surplus. OK, that’s the reasonable sounding part.
— $3 billion dollars from auto-related sales taxes. Not unreasonable on its face, but dedicating these to transportation means cutting $3 billion somewhere else. They seem to have left that part out.
— $2.3 billion will be borrowed. Borrowing seems to be the Republican default when they’ve promised new spending with no new taxes: let’s just run up the debt. Problem solved! Bonding is perfectly normal and reasonable for infrastructure investment, but the bonds do have to be paid eventually. No, seriously, they do. You know, like how when Gov. Dayton wanted more bonding, he was also trying to raise upper income taxes. Instead, Republicans actually want a couple billion in tax cuts. While raising spending. And besides cutting taxes equal to the surplus, remember cash source one was part of the surplus. Can no one there do math?
— $1.2 billion from making the Department of Transportation more efficient. Really. There’s that much money being wasted and no one has spotted it? Basically, since the DOT handles roads, the Republicans propose to find money for roads by cutting funding for — roads. Why make it $1.2 billion? As long as we’re just making up some amount of money being wasted, why not $1.6 billion? An even $2? Or did they need some number to produce the magic number $7?
Whatever anyone thinks of Gov. Dayton’s proposal to pay for increased transportation spending through increased gas taxes, there’s no denying that at least he pays for his proposal. A gas tax will provide an ongoing funding source, compared to the GOP plan to have new spending with no new revenue.
Daudt is right that public polls show that the majority don’t want gas taxes raised. People want more spending on what benefits them, but without paying more taxes … surprise! This contradiction is great if you’re running for election as a Republican, since your core platform is “I’ll hold down your taxes, and cut other people’s spending,” but sucks for governing. I don’t doubt there will be a lot of public support for spending more on roads without raising any taxes, but at some point, when reality has again shown its disdain for phony math, Republicans will have to explain reality to their voters. If you want your road fixed, you’re going to have to pay for it. Good transportation infrastructure and low taxes are very much either/or.
Though given how GOP taxophobia has withstood even the collapse of bridges, buckle your seat belt, because we’re in for a bumpy ride.

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Facepalm 42Hann

In a recent interview on MPR, State Sen. David Hann was asked the begged-for question on the proposal he and Sen. Sean Nienow are making to break up Minneapolis into six separate school districts. Why didn’t he talk to any legislators who represent Minneapolis? His amazing answer wasn’t anything like, “Of course I talked to them”, or “I sought their input, but they didn’t respond”, or even “I did talk to other people connected to Minneapolis schools”. No, his reason for not talking to legislators from Minneapolis is that they’re DFL. Yes, they represent the area in question, but wrong party, so he’s willing to propose bills that affect their districts without talking to them.

[This comes 5:50 into the program.]
Tom Webber: Senators who represent the city of Minneapolis, who are all DFLers, say “you can’t possibly be serious about this because you never talked to us about this.” What are your thoughts on that? Why didn’t you consult them on this idea?
Hann: I don’t recall the governor consulting with Republicans about his tax proposals or the Democrat majority in the legislature coming over to talk to me about what they want to do.

I don’t claim to know who the governor consulted about his tax proposal, but I feel on safe ground in assuming he talked to people from Minnesota. Maybe if the governor had ignored Minnesotans and just talked to people from Iowa and Wisconsin, Hann might have a point. Likewise, I feel pretty sure that if DFL legislators decided to make a law for one specific area of the state, and decided against talking to legislators from that area because they were all MNGOP, it would have been a quite commonly and unfavorably remarked upon. Hann, however, not only won’t talk to the legislators from Minneapolis just because they’re DFL, but I haven’t been able to tell that he talked to anyone from Minneapolis, and presumably he would have said who he talked to instead of coming up with such a partisan excuse, “Talk to Democrats? Do people really do that?” Rather arrogant behavior for someone making law for Minneapolis, and so concerned Minneapolis will react poorly, that though he’ll let Minneapolis draw the districts, he won’t make the redrawing optional. “So Minneapolis, you are required to implement my lousy idea I’m inflicting on you an no one else, but I’m letting you implement how you like. I’m such a nice guy!”
Minneapolis legislators I’ve checked with said he still hasn’t talked to any DFLers since that interview.
Maybe we can’t blame Hann for refusing to talk to DFLers. After all, he’s already pointed out the DFL is rife with corruption, such as daring to hold policy positions he disagrees with.
In my happy Minneapolitan fantasy, the bill passes, but Hann forgets to provide any guidelines on how districts should be drawn. So we pick a lake, divide it into five districts, and all the land makes up the sixth district.
The House version is being carries by Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who represents a district even further from Minneapolis than Hann’s Eden Prairie. So far, I can’t tell that either of them has talked to anyone at all from Minneapolis. If Hann and Erickson really want to help our schools, they could change state law so charter schools no longer get to suck up our money while being unaccountable to our elected representatives on the school board. They could fund Minneapolis schools enough to offer the same sort of programs they can afford in the suburban schools that get our students and our funding through open enrollment.


Congress has its own email problem

by Eric Ferguson on March 18, 2015 · 0 comments

An AP reporter did some digging and found out Congress doesn’t have any rules for saving official email.

Members of Congress who are demanding Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails are largely exempt from such scrutiny themselves.
Congress makes its own rules. It never has subjected itself to open records laws that force agencies such as the State Department to maintain records and turn them over to the public when asked.
There’s also no requirement for members of Congress to use official email accounts, or to retain, archive or store their emails, while in office or after.
That’s in contrast to the White House and the rest of the executive branch. Official emails there are supposed to be retained, though the controversy over Clinton’s use of a personal email account while secretary of state has exposed vague and inconsistent requirements from one agency to another.
But if the rules at federal agencies are unclear, at least there are rules. On Capitol Hill, there are almost none.
So the same House Republicans who are subpoenaing Clinton’s emails as part of their inquiry into the Benghazi, Libya, attacks are not required to retain emails of their own for future inspection by anyone.



This guy wants to be president #47Traitors edition

by Eric Ferguson on March 12, 2015 · 1 comment

clowncarIf you don’t know what #47traitors refers to, it was a top trending hashtag in Twitter recently, refering to the 47 Republican senators who signed a letter to the Iranian government telling them not to work with Obama, because the next Republican president is going to undo the agreement, and executive agreements don’t mean anything anyway. The newly minted senator leading Republican senators by the nose when they should know better, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, responded to the ensuing controversy by asking the Republican presidential candidates to sign on. Four responded positively, so far. With a quadruple hat tip to TPM, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal said they would sign. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush did a bit of fudging, not signing themselves, but offering excuses for those who did. Looks like those two want it both ways, being able to tell conservatives that sabotaging a president’s negotiations with a foreign government is OK, but being able to deny to swing voters that they signed.
That’s on top of the senators who signed and look inclined to run for president: Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. There are no senators who appear to be running who had the sense to not sign.

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Hillary mishandling email controversy

by Eric Ferguson on March 11, 2015 · 1 comment

When the news broke of Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email for her official email when she was secretary of state, my first thought was a recollection of the Bush White House staffers getting caught doing government business through personal email. That by and large disappeared into the large milieu of Bush scandals, particularly the loss of the official White House email that came out at the same time. The Bush administration admitted to losing about five million emails, so I do get the difference in scale between Bush and what Hillary is suspected of. It’s mountain to molehill in terms of quantity, and it’s likely nothing government related was even lost in Hillary’s case. But it’s similar in quality, and the fact the comparison to the Bush email scandal was the first thing to come to mind of even a staunch Democrat indicates how bad this is.
However, assuming it turns out Hillary indeed did nothing in violation of document retention rules, she still handled the controversy badly. Aside from the specifics of email rules, this feeds into my concern about Hillary as our 2016 candidate. She’s a bad campaigner. I personally find her acceptable in terms of policy. Not saying she’s perfect, but I don’t expect any candidate to agree with me perfectly. She also looks like she could handle the job of running the executive branch. So I’m not worried about her as president. I’m worried about getting her there.
Before getting into specifics about her handling of this particular controversy, something about why it plays into my concerns about her. When Hillary ran for reelection in 2006, she built up a huge campaign fund for such a safe seat, so it sure looked like she was prepping for a presidential run in 2008, yet she spent all of it despite a huge lead in the polls the whole campaign. Don’t worry, I’m not going to rehash 2008. I’m also not going to pretend I opposed her because she was a bad campaigner, because I didn’t know for sure that 2006 was a sign. I opposed her because of her refusal to admit voting to invade Iraq was a mistake until late in the campaign, by which time she seemed to have a clunky campaign. I personally didn’t hear the full story (or as full as I came to know anyway) until after the primaries were done, at which point I thought Democrats were fortunate she wasn’t the candidate just in terms of who had the best chance to win. Hillary seemed primed to blow a winnable election.

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David Hann says DFL is corrupt

by Eric Ferguson on March 9, 2015 · 1 comment

Facepalm 42Hann

Sen. David Hann wants you to believe the DFL is riddled with corruption. Hann said, “Every week there is a new story showing DFL politicians’ self-interest triumphing over the concerns of the people they represent:”. What a scary colon to end that clause. Every week! Well, he must then have a whole slough of examples while digging back just a couple months. A few examples anyway. And Hann had to back over several years to find them. But those few are real doozies of corruption. Some are. Well, one. But David Hann says that amounts to a culture of corruption, and he’s such an honest fellow!
So what did Hann actually cite as an example of corruption? He gave the most column-inches to the size of the last budget. He thought it was too much. That’s his main example. I suppose if anyone is wondering why it has become so hard for the two parties to talk to each other, there’s a good place to start: the leader of the Republicans in the State Senate thinks disagreeing with Republicans, in and of itself, constitutes corruption. Well, David Hann says the DFL has a culture of corruption, so it must be so.
Hann reaches back to 2012 after saying there’s a new story every week, and brings up that the Senate DFL caucus was fines for coordinating with its candidates by taking their pictures for campaign literature. I admit I’m still lost as to how it’s illegal for candidates to coordinate with their own campaign arm, but they did it, and only DFLers get in trouble with the campaign finance board. Well, except for when the miscreants are Republicans. You might think that’s a big deal, creating a non-existent party entity to let the state Republican Party run up debts and then pretend they weren’t theirs, and try to pass off falsified treasurer reports as real, creating so much debt the Republicans are still being sued by creditors who didn’t get paid. That might seem like a big mess, but surely it’s nothing compared to taking some photographs for campaign lit! And oh yeah, Hann had his own campaign finance problem a little while back. But David Hann says the DFL is the corrupt party, so it surely must be so.

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This Guy Wants to be President — Exxon edition

by Eric Ferguson on March 4, 2015 · 0 comments

clowncarI might as well own up right away that the headline is a bit misleading, as only one of these stories involves Exxon. Well, someone has to be in Exxon’s pocket. The Koch brothers surely can’t squeeze in everybody. Then again, the Kochs and Exxon are part of the same oil oligopoly and between them do much to keep global warming denying funded, and the subject of the second story is infamous for Koch-pocket inhabiting, so please undulge some stretching in an effort at cleverness. Anyway, New Jersey governor Chris Christie let Exxon pay $250 milion after suing for $8.9 billion in damages.

I can appreciate why, when it comes to the Christie administration, the assorted controversies can be tough to keep track of, but this story is raising questions that deserve answers.
A judge was poised to rule on damages, and New Jersey was seeking $8.9 billion – $2.6 billion to help restore the damaged areas and $6.3 billion in compensatory damages. The fact that Exxon was responsible was not even at issue anymore.
And then the Christie administration decides it’ll settle for $250 million, most of which the governor can now apply to his state budget shortfall – rather than, say, environmental recovery.

Essentially, with the lawsuit successfully fought to the point where culpability was established and they were down to the money, Christie suddenly decided his state could give up billions to the benefit of Exxon, which made roughly $32 billion in net profit last year, while his state government, like pretty much all states run by Republicans, is short of cash. I guess if the Kochs have given their affections elsewhere, Christie needs to find a sugar daddy where he can.


Gun nuttiness at the Mall of America

by Eric Ferguson on March 2, 2015 · 0 comments

Artist's conception. Not actually Tony Cornish

Artist’s conception. Not actually Tony Cornish

State Rep. Tony “Yee-haw Bang” Cornish, lover of all things bullet-throwing, had his own take on the recent call by Al Shabab for attacks on western shopping malls, specifically the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. Faced with a threat someone might bring in guns and start shooting, Cornish thinks the solution is for the mall to let anyone at all walk around with guns.
Yes, he’s serious. Right now, law enforcement might figure that if anyone is walking around with a gun where guns are prohibited, that might be a good clue as to the identity of the terrorists. But no, Cornish wants his fellow ammosexuals walking around showing their guns and looking for trouble. Great, because that would solve the terrorists’ problem of needing to blend in.
Would the mall be safe with lots of armed, untrained, and paranoid people wandering around? I’m sure these responsible gun owners won’t pull out their guns and start shooting until after the terrorists reveal themselves — or they get a good suspicion of who is a terrorist — or they feel vaguely threatened — or they hear a sudden noise.
Cornish is doing what must always be done when logic refuses to give way to love of guns: use the law to require acts of stupidity. He wants to force the mall to change its no-guns policy. So when the mall wants to keep out protesters, it’s all about property rights. When it wants to keep out guns, what are these “property rights” of which you speak?
If we can rein in the paranoia a moment, can we take notice that Al Shabab called for an attack rather than attacking? Would they do that if they were actually planning an attack, give us this nice warning first? What would they do if they wanted to scare us but didn’t actually have the means to attack? One guess is they might call for an attack, by some undefined someone else — like they did. Or maybe they’re actually being just a bit more clever than that. An effect they might get, even if they didn’t actually think of it, is to get the non-Muslims suspicious of any Muslims walking around the mall. Maybe they want us to treat Muslims as suspects, make them feel unwanted, or, with a bunch of armed paranoiacs wandering around, out and out threatened. Making Muslims feel alienated is presumably helpful for recruiting if you’re some sort of jihadi. So sure, let’s strap on our holsters, menace some Muslims who just wanted to visit Legoland, and give the terrorists what they want.


This guy wants to be president first repeat champion

by Eric Ferguson on February 23, 2015 · 0 comments

clowncarBobby Jindal is our first repeat champion. Here’s a long read on how Jindal screwed up Louisiana, albeit with a complicit GOP legislature. Even conservatives with a last dreg of pragmatism are recognizing what a disaster he’s been.

If Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign goes anywhere, it will not be because of his record governing Louisiana, but in spite of it. He was first elected as a conservative, clean-government technocrat, and brought a lot of hope to many Louisianians. One of them wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed column about it right after Jindal’s win. Excerpt:

[T]his election makes me proud and hopeful… . Yes, I’m fully aware that Louisiana is bound to break your heart. … [But] I think [Jindal’s] going to write the next great Louisiana story. Maybe just this once, it’s not going to be a farce.

That columnist was me, the fool.


Next up, Scott Walker can’t tell if President Obama is a Christian. He wants to blame the press, naturally, for asking gotcha questions. He wants to pretend he’s not part of a party where questions like whether Obama is a Christian or whether he loves America are serious topics. Instead, Walker chooses to dodge like a birther pretending he hasn’t seen the birth certificate or like, well, himself avoiding answering questions at a forum in London. I guess no one told him this isn’t like dodging the state press when you’re governor. If a presidential candidate keeps dodging questions, the dodging becomes a story.


This guy wants to be president 3

by Eric Ferguson on February 10, 2015 · 0 comments

clowncarRemember back when even some Republicans wanted to be known as environmentalists? Granted, remembering Ronald “trees pollute” Reagan, it looks like George Bush Sr. was already an anomaly. In case there was any doubt though, there’s Scott Walker, pursuing a blatantly anti-environmental agenda. He seems to be covering the gamut, from stripping citizen boards of decision making authority, to selling public lands, to firing the scientists.
Oh yes, those Wisconsin tourism ads are full of lakes and trees. Just look and don’t get wet I guess, or you might get too sick to hear when Walker starts selling himself to swing voters as some sort of moderate.
Remember when Mike Huckabee was the nice conservative? I remember his line in one of the 2008 debates, “I’m conservative, but I’m not angry about it.” He was this amusing guy who made repeat appearances on such lefty media as Colbert Nation and The Thom Hartmann Program. He could disagree with liberals yet be civil about it. For 2016, he decided that crazy sells better than polite. Feeling left out of the conservative angerfest after President Obama’s bit of historical accuracy at the national prayer breakfast (on a tangent, why does Obama show up at that thing anyway?), Huckabee said Obama doesn’t like anyone but Muslims. “This President has a high horse himself. It’s his TelePrompTer,” Huckabee said, apparently still thinking teleprompter references are hilarious. Even on his now defunct Fox News program, at least early one when I watched it once in a while, Huckabee used to come across with a sort of “I don’t dislike you, but I just don’t agree with you” attitude. I also recall some Arkansans saying in 2008 that we shouldn’t be fooled, because we weren’t seeing Huckabee’s other side. I think I see it now.