Recent Posts

gregladen

State Auditor Rebecca Otto on her property in Marine on St. Croix on Friday, January 8, 2016.  (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

State Auditor Rebecca Otto on her property in Marine on St. Croix on Friday, January 8, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

Professor Michael Mann, the famous climate scientist who produced the Hockey Stick Graph demonstrating that recent anthropogenic global warming is a big deal when viewed in the context of deep time, has endorsed State Auditor Rebecca Otto for governor.

 
This is a national level figure noticing the importance of the Minnesota governor’s race and carefully choosing among the candidates, picking the one that has the best record on climate policy.
 
Here is Dr. Mann’s endorsement:
 

Rebecca Otto is a shining example of the kind of integrity and leadership we hope for in our elected leaders but too rarely see: someone who puts their money where their mouth is.
 
I’m proud to support Rebecca Otto for Governor of Minnesota, and urge everyone who is concerned about climate change and clean energy to join me in supporting her.
 

Michael E. Mann, director of Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, shared with his colleagues the honor of receiving the Nobel Prize awarded to the IPCC and its team for its work on climate science.  Mann and his colleagues Malcolm Hughes and Raymond Bradley produced the famous Hockey Stick Graph in 1998.

Michael E. Mann, director of Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, shared with his colleagues the honor of receiving the Nobel Prize awarded to the IPCC and its team for its work on climate science. Mann and his colleagues Malcolm Hughes and Raymond Bradley produced the famous Hockey Stick Graph in 1998.

After studying the evidence, Rebecca and her husband Shawn became national leaders in charting ways for governments to reduce fossil fuel energy use, and in combating industry propaganda campaigns that sow doubt about the billions of points of evidence that all point in the same direction. As the Minnesota State Auditor, Rebecca issued a nationally award-winning report on how local governments can reduce energy costs dramatically by switching to clean, carbon-free energy sources. Shawn has authored two books on the War on Science, on what the evidence says about climate change, and on how we can combat the disinformation and move forward; he also co-founded the US presidential science debate initiative and was involved in planning the March for Science. The couple built and live in a solar and wind-powered home and drive electric vehicles.

 

Rebecca wants to make Minnesota a national leader in tackling climate change and creating well-paying new jobs in the clean energy economy, and I’m confident she will achieve her goal with our support. We need her leadership to help move the ball forward globally on this pressing issue.

 
This is an appropriate endorsement given Otto’s long term commitment to doing something about global warming. Note that they first built the house decades ago, so this is not a recent short term commitment, but a long term passion.
 
I asked Professor Mann why a climate scientist working in Pennsylvania would worry about a governor’s race in Minnesota. “In climate change, we face a threat that knows no boundaries—continental boundaries, national boundaries, or state boundaries,” he told me. “We must support politicians everywhere who are willing to act on climate. Rebecca Otto has demonstrated that she places great priority on science-based policymaking on climate change and I am happy to support her candidacy.”
 

{ 0 comments }

State Auditor Rebecca Otto on her farm.  (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

State Auditor Rebecca Otto on her property in Marine on St. Croix on Friday, January 8, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

Here’s why: All the available data strongly indicates that Otto will beat all the other contenders across state in the upcoming Governor’s race.

 

Democrats have two major problems to face in 2018 and beyond. First, how do we win elections? Second, how do we remain true to our progressive and liberal roots?

 

For Democrats, 2018 is a must-win election, and Minnesotans have a lot at stake. Will the state remain the shining star of the North, or will it go the way of Wisconsin, and sink into a Republican dark age of union busting, environment polluting, professor bashing, service slashing, and economic activity destruction?

 

Of all the candidates running or suspected of running for Governor in 2018, Rebecca Otto is the only one who can most clearly win and at the same time preserve and advance core, human based, Democratic ideals, in my opinion.

 

The smart move for the DFL in 2018 is to turn to a candidate that has won several times statewide and has strong name recognition, positive feeling among the voters engendered by her commitment to widely held values, and a strong base of support. State Auditor Rebecca Otto is the only candidate with that resumé. Otto has racked up several historic victories, including the largest upset of an incumbent in 112 years, and is positioned to do it again in 2018. Her statewide electoral prowess far outstrips her nearest competitor, Tim Walz, who is largely unknown outside of his first district, and is untested statewide. Beyond that, Otto stands for strong for Democratic values, while Walz has shown himself to be a DINO-style Democrat. Walz enjoys a very high rating from the NRA, for example, and in February of 2013 was one of only six Democrats in Congress to vote to expand gun sales to the severely mentally ill, over the objections of senior generals including David Petraeus, Michael Hayden and Stanley McChrystal.

…READ MORE

{ 1 comment }

inside-baseballEnough time has gone by since the 2016 Democratic Primary that we can now, I think, separate the unreachable from the merely burned Democrats. Hillary supporters are finally admitting that their candidate may have lost (even though she actually did win the popular vote) and Bernie supporters have stopped calling foul on the entire election process.
 
Right?
 
First, from me, full disclosure: I liked both candidates a lot. I decided, as I generally do, to pick the one that I thought would win the nomination, if possible, to support as soon as I was pretty certain of that.
 
Pursuant to this, as many of you who read my blog know, I developed a model for predicting primary and caucus outcomes. My model out performed everyone else’s, including the famous FiveThirthEight. I got a few “wrong” but actually got them more right by predicting the percentage of vote split between Hillary and Bernie very closely, but since the vote was essentially 50-50, which one won was a tossup, and in a couple of races, my toss went the wrong way. Still, my numbers were closer than everyone else’s.
 
Realizing this was happening I felt comfortable supporting Hillary Clinton at one point, though given the vitriol building around the primary, within the party, I kept my mouth shut for about an extra 10 days.
 
But, even as an eventual Hillary Supporter, I still liked Bernie, and also, I understood how some of the Bernie supporters felt about the process.

 

Some of them were the outsiders, and many didn’t know very much about how it all works. There was a lot of negativity that was really based on not understanding the system, and from believing some really stupid lies. For example, the whole coin toss thing from Iowa.

 
In Minnesota, I witnessed Sanders supporters finish a caucus with one or two fewer delegates than they could have had because they simply did not understand how delegates were counted (in a walking caucus). They had piles of time, they kept calling for “democracy” and stuff, Hillary supporters were telling them, “reorganize that group, and that group, you’ll get more delegates” but they didn’t listen.

 
So yes, Bernie lost fair and square, but at the same time, many Bernie supporters left the process with significant butt-hurt, and in my expert opinion (yes, I’m an expert on political butt-hurt) some of those bad feelings were self inflicted or simply not legit, while some of those bad feelings were very valid.
 
One of the complaints that was valid was in the area of endorsements. You may remember that Clinton got way more of the usual endorsements than Sanders. Do you also remember that these endorsements came way early in the process? Not all, but at least a few of them, were given to Clinton weeks before they were given to any candidate during the 2008 primary.
 
Sanders supporters were justifiably upset at that. There should be a respectful amount of time before deciding which candidate should get an endorsement. The accusation made by Bernie supporters was that the Democratic Party was playing inside politics.
 
As a Democrat and a Hillary supporter, I have to agree with that. And, as a Democrat and a person who wants to turn our state Blue, I am concerned that the party is doing the same thing again.
 
Collin Peterson, RT Rybak, and David Wellstone have already endorsed their candidate for Minnesota Governor, just now, so early in the process that we are not even fully sure who is running. They Waltzed into the race and endorsed Congressman Walz way too early. As far as I know, these are the only endorsements of anybody in this race. There is no way that this isn’t some sort of inside politics.
 
Look, Walz would be a great governor (but see below) and I like these three guys. But we had a race with several women being mentioned, some dude comes along, and three dudes jump on his bandwagon. OK, maybe this wasn’t a sexist-jerk act, but it certainly was a knee-jerk act.
 
These endorsements won’t mean anything. Endorsements are only marginally important, somewhere just below lawn signs in their campaign related oomph. But, the early insider endorsements do have an effect. They make people feel like they are being left out of the process.
 
In other words, the total negative impact of early insider baseball endorsements on the process will cause more DFL votes to go away than the total positive impact of having particular endorsements would have on a given candidate’s standing. In behavioral biology and game theory, we call this a spiteful act.
 
Rybak, Wellstone, and Peterson can’t take back their endorsements, but it would sure be nice if everyone else could show some restraint.

 
Below: I’ll add this thought. A seated Democratic member of Congress who leaves his seat to run for something else, and thus gives that seat to the Republicans, in a year like this, is a bone head. Sorry, it is true. If Walz gives his sea to the Republicans next election, and the US House is Republican by one vote, then he will have to … I don’t know what. But something.
 
Comment below fold.
 
…READ MORE

{ 2 comments }

How to fix the Minnesota Presidential Caucus

by gregladen on March 3, 2016 · 4 comments

Minnesota_Caucus_SystemThere are two kinds of people in this world. Those who want to eliminate the DFL Caucus system because they don’t know how it really works and fail to recognize its value, and those who want to eliminate the DFL Caucus system because they’ve been doing it to long and have been driven insane.

 

OK, three kinds of people, because there are those who like the system. OK, four kinds because there are those who don’t dare. But think you get my point.

 

There is an ongoing discussion about the failings of the caucus system with respect to the national presidential primary race. I have been fairly disappointed with what seems to be a lack of imagination in this discussion, until I realized why. Fetish.

 

You may be thinking of a fetish as having to do with feet, or vinyl, or hot tubs full of fruit Jello, but in anthropology the concept is actually more interesting. (Well, maybe not more interesting than a hot tub full of fruit Jello …. but I digress.) We anthropologists see a fetish as a thing one does or thinks automatically, though perhaps with apparent conviction, or something hard to not do because of a strong habit or personal expectation, that in fact has no justifiable logical underpinning. Often, this is about how we define things, or about our expectations for behavior, or definition of norms. I’ll give you an example from the caucus since that is what we are talking about here. No matter how bone-headed you think a resolution read at your precinct caucus is, when it comes time to say “nay” you keep your mouth shut. This is a local cultural fetish. Make no sense, is actually very undemocratic, but you do it and regard it as proper, and anyone who does say “nay” gets a stern look.

 

The fetish that stands in our way of fixing the presidential preference ballot at the caucus is that we only accept two ways of doing this sort of thing, a primary and a caucus, and our DFL primary is set for mid summer, after the national convention. We have fetishized this system in a way that we can not change it effectively. I’m not talking about change as in we move the primary, because we can’t move the primary for a number of reasons. I’m talking about our inability to look at the system, parse it, pick it apart, figure out what is really wrong with it, acknowledge what we really want, and then do something. We are frozen like deer in the headlights, we DFLers with our fetishized caucus system.

 
…READ MORE

{ 4 comments }

Columbia Heights School Board: Hala Asamarai

by gregladen on November 24, 2015 · 0 comments

2355690Full disclosure. I don’t know Dr. Hala Asamarai, but my wife knows her very well. They taught together at Columbia Heights when Hala was just starting out as a student teacher. They worked together for quite some time and have remained friends and colleagues since. Amanda has a very high opinion of Hala, and that’s a very good starting point.
 
Hala Asamarai is running for the Columbia Heights School Board in a special election that will be held on December 1st, and I’m asking you to support her.
 
You will recall that a while back a Columbia Heights school board member made inappropriate remarks about Muslims. The board voted on his removal, but that vote has to be unanimous. One of the offending member’s buddies did not vote in favor of his removal, so the board continued with status quo. Later, under increasing pressure, both of these members resigned.
 
Let me tell you a little story that I should probably not relate publicly, but screw it. Years ago I was at an event in Columbia Heights. The event happened to be attended by a very large proportion of people who were not, shall we say, the typical white resident that Columbia Heights, as a city, formerly consisted primarily of. There were people who had immigrated from countries all around the world to find their way, eventually, to Columbia Heights.
 
A man at the gathering was talking to another guy, and I happened to overhear. He made mention of the presence of all these people from outside, and noted that, “I suppose we have to get used to this.”
 
That was actually a fairly positive remark. It was better than, say, white supremacists showing up in North Minneapolis and shooting a bunch of Blacks Lives Matters protestors and supporters. It was better than making a straight on anti-Muslim remark. Could have been worse. On the other hand, the remark, in context, indicated resignation over something undesirable. It was not welcoming. At best, it was less than unwelcoming as it could have been.
 
…READ MORE

{ 0 comments }

What YOU can do about gun violence

by gregladen on October 9, 2015 · 0 comments

Why you have to do something about guns

 

This message is primarily for those living in the United States. In the US, we have an outdated Constitutional amendment that has been interpreted by many, including the courts, in a way that hampers effective legislation to address what is clearly a major problem with the proliferation and use of firearms in inappropriate ways. We are frequently reminded of this by the regular occurrence of mass killings such as the recent event in Oregon. But really, that is a small part of the problem, numerically. I lay out some of the numbers below, and address some of the arguments that regulation of guns should be absent or minimal. We have another problem as well, one that is paralleled in many other areas of policy. Special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, through pressure and campaign financing, control much of the Congress.

 

Other countries have addressed their gun violence problem effectively. We can too. But in order for that to happen, this has to happen:

 

1) The specious arguments against gun regulation have to be called out for what they are, and ultimately, ignored.

 

2) Citizen pressure on our elected representatives has to be increased significantly.

 

3) Organized efforts against the gun industry and the gun lobby have to be supported.

 

Your role as a citizen is critical. There are three steps you can take. Here, I’m asking you to take one of them, the one that requires the least effort and would likely have the largest impact. First, the other two. You can learn more about the gun problem, by reading this post to the end, and reading other material. After that, don’t let the gun supporters off easy when they pull out their arguments. Tell them they are wrong, and why. I understand and respect the fact that most of you are not going to do this, but some of you may be inclined to do so, and I thank you for that. Another idea is to check your investments (like your 401k) to see if you are supporting the gun industry. If so, see if you can fix that. You can find information about that here.

 

The easy step you can take, and likely the most effective, is to send a note right now to your representative in Congress. I’m told (see this) that a written letter delivered by the US Post Office has a significantly larger impact when it arrives on the desk of your Congressperson than an email (or tweet or a signature on a petition), so do please spend the stamp and do that if you can. But an email is good too, and if that is all you have time for, please do it.

 

Write your own note, but here are a few suggestions.

 
…READ MORE

{ 0 comments }

FrankenTrump

by gregladen on August 29, 2015 · 1 comment

FrankenTrump-590x369The Republican Party and its handlers, including the right wing talk radio jocks such as Rush Limbaugh, and the bought-and-paid-for media such as FOX news, did not create the Tea Party. Michele Bachmann and a few others did that.* But once the Tea Party got going, mainstream conservative Republicans, including and especially leaders in Congress, went right to bed with it. The Tea Party gave Republican strategists an easy way to garner votes and support. This was especially easy to do because America decided to elect an African American president. Make no mistake. The Tea Party is pro-white, anti-everybody-else, and having an African American Democrat as president made defining issues and shaping rhetoric trivially easy.
 
It is a mistake to think that the Tea Party comes with a set of positions on various issues. It does not. Yes, the Tea Party tends to be libertarian, conservative, and so on and so forth, but really, it is philosophically inconstant and mostly reactionary. This has been demonstrated over and over again, as President Obama embraced various issues that were previously held by prominent Republicans, and those policies were immediately opposed. Because they were the policies of the Black President. The merit of a policy had nothing to do with opposition against it. They were President Obama’s issues, therefore the Tea Party was against them. And since the Republican Party was so rapt with the Tea Party, the GOP was against them.
 
This worked well. It gave the Republicans massive victories in a gerrymandered Congress. It meant that absurd excuses for leaders won elections, or if they did not, lost by only a few percentage points, when they should have been largely ignored by the populace.
 
…READ MORE

{ 1 comment }

Osama bin Laden 1; Railroads 0

by gregladen on August 25, 2015 · 0 comments

train-derailment-bakken-west-virginia-aerial-view_us-coast-guardThe terrorists have defeated the railroads, and by extension, the people. Well, not totally defeated, but they won a small but important battle.
 
We have a problem with the wholesale removal of petroleum from the Bakken oil fields, and the shipping of that relatively dangerous liquid mainly to the east coast on trains, with hundreds of tanker cars rolling down a small selection of tracks every day. I see them all the time as they go through my neighborhood. These trains derail now and then, and sometimes those derailments are pretty messy, life threatening, and even fatal.
 
There has been some effort in Minnesota to get the train companies to upgrade their disaster plans, which is important because about 300,000 Minnesotans live in the larger (one half mile) disaster zone that flanks these track. A smaller number, but not insignificant, live in the blast zone, the place where if a couple of train cars actually exploded you would be within the blast area. For the last couple of years, my son was at a daycare right in that blast zone. I quickly add that the chance of being blasted by an oil train is very small, because the tracks are in total thousands of miles long, derailments are rare(ish), and the affected areas can be measured in city blocks. So a blast from a Bakken oil train may be thought of as roughly like a large air liner crash, or may be two or three times larger than that, in terms of damage on the ground.
 
But yes, the trains derail at a seemingly large rate.
 
Now, here is where the terrorists come in. And by terrorists I specifically mean Osama bin (no relation) Laden, or his ghost, and that gang of crazies that took down the world trade center in New York. When that happened, we became afraid of terrorism, and everyone who could use that fear for personal gain has since exploited it. I’m pretty sure that the rise of the police state in America has been because of, facilitated by, and hastened due to this event. For years the American people let the security forces and related government agencies do pretty much whatever they wanted. The Patriot Act, you may or may not know, is a version of a law that conservatives have been pushing in the US for decades, a draconian law that gives great power to investigative and police agencies. That law never got very far in Congress until 9/11. Then, thanks to Osama bin Laden, it seemed like everyone wanted it. Only now, years later, are we seriously considering rolling it back (and to some extent acting on that consideration).
 
So now, the railroads have been forced to come up with a disaster plan related to the oil shipments. And they did. But for the most part they won’t let anyone see it. Why? Because, according to one railroad official, “… to put it out in the public domain is like giving terrorists a road map on how to do something bad.”
 
What does he mean exactly? As far as I can tell, the disaster plan pinpoints specific scenarios that would be especially bad. These scenarios, if they fell into the hands of terrorists, would allow said terrorists to terrorize more effectively.
 
I’m sure this is true. But I’m also sure this is not a reason to keep the plans secret. There are three reasons, in my view, that the plans should be totally available for public review.
 
1) If you want to know what the worst case scenarios for a rail tanker disaster are, don’t read this report. It is easier to get out a map, maybe use some GIS software if you have it, and correlate localities where the train tracks cross over bridges, cross major water sources, and go through dense population areas. A high bridge through an urban area over an important river, for instance. This is not hard. Indeed, I call on all social studies teachers with an attitude (and most of the good ones have an attitude) to make this a regular project in one of your classes. Have the students try to think like terrorists and identify the best way to terrorize using oil trains. The reason to do this is to point out how dumb the railroads are being.
 
2) Secret plans are plans that can be exploited or misused by those who make them. We will see security measures taken that, for example, limit public access to information unrelated to oil trains, with the terroristic threat used as an excuse. I’m sure this has already happened. It will continue to happen. It is how the police state works.
 
3) The plans can be better. How do I know this? Because all plans can be better. That’s how plans work. How can you make the plans better? Scrutiny. How do you get scrutiny? Don’t make the plans secret.
 
MPR news has a pretty good writeup on this situation here. MPR is fairly annoyed at the secrecy, as they should be, but frankly I’d like to see this and other news agencies, as well as the state legislators involved, and everyone else, more fired up. We should all be working harder against the police state.
 
I want to end with this: I like trains, and you should too. Trains are among the most efficient ways to move stuff across the landscape. Those of us concerned with things like climate change should be all for trains. Ultimately, I think we can increase the use of trains to move goods and people, and at the same time take the trains off fossil carbon. They are already mostly electric, using liquid fuel to run generators. That liquid fuel could be made, largely, from renewable biodiesel and a bit of grown biodiesel, and more of the trains can probably go all electric. But this secrecy thing is not OK.

 

{ 0 comments }

Can GMOs solve the coming food crisis?

by gregladen on April 13, 2015 · 1 comment

Our own local expert on this topic, Emily Cassidy (she’s now in DC but hails from the Twin Cities and UMN) has written an important report on this topic for the Environmental Working Group. I wrote it up on my blog but I thought MPP readers would like to see it, so here it is:
 
 

According to the best available research, we are going to have to double the production of food, globally, by 2050. Think about that for a moment. Children born today will be in their 40s at a time that we need to have already doubled food production, yet during the last 20 years we have seen only a 20 percent increase in food supply. Assuming a steady rate of increase in production (which might be optimistic) we should expect to fall far short of demand over the next few decades. This is a problem. The problem is expected to most severely affect poorer people, people in less developed nations, and poor farmers, but if the entire world is double digit percentage points short of food, almost no one is going to get by unscathed. And, at some point, when nearly everyone is seeing some sort of food shortage or extraordinarily high prices, the totally unscathed are going to start looking pretty tasty to the rest of us.

 
eat-the-rich_11-26-11

Also, agricultural production, whether for food or biofuel, has a fairly large Carbon footprint, both by reducing natural Carbon sinks and by using fossil fuels at a fairly high rate. Doubling production of food would presumably involve increasing these effects, unless alternative approaches are developed. So even if we solve the problem of production, we might exacerbate the problem of human caused climate change. Let us not even speak of sea level rise; Over the coming century we expect sea levels to rise sufficiently to flood, either regularly or permanently, some of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, which would seriously dampen efforts to increase productivity.

 

And water. This will all require more water, when we are facing increasing shortages of water.

 

How do we address this problem? Will Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) save the day? Are there other approaches to quickly increase agricultural output? Can we eat different foods that are less difficult or costly to produce?

 
…READ MORE

{ 1 comment }

Harry Potter and the 2014 Election

by gregladen on November 5, 2014 · 2 comments

Separated at birth? Maybe not. But still ...

Separated at birth? Maybe not. But still …

Harry Potter and the 2014 Election

The Potter Metaphor

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone is the first in a series of books that are metaphorical of the central theme of politics and society in the Western world. Voldemort represents purity of race and racism, the good Witches and Wizards of Hogwarts represent the struggle of self aware consensus around the idea of fairness. The key protagonists — Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, together with a few others — succeed because of the diversity in ability they collectively represent.

 

One of the key moments in J. K. Rowling’s book is the solution of the potions challenge on the way to the hidden room containing the Sorcerer’s stone. There are several challenges and problems, and each one is met by a different protagonist. Harry has the ability to make Hagrid reveal his poorly kept secrets, so among other things the three students find out how to control Fuffy, the giant three-headed hound. He is also a skilled Seeker, and can thus grab the flying key. Hermione is the one that notices the trap door. Ron for all his failings is a master at Wizard Chess. The theme here is obvious. The three students often fail to understand each other and often do not see eye to eye, but by combining their different strengths and working together, they accomplish what no individual Witch or Wizard could do. The part about the potions challenge is a notably extreme case of this.

 

Voldemort and his death eaters, and the Slytherin such as Draco Malfoy and his father, as well as Snape, resent the half breeds and muggle-born. They wish to see those who are not pure removed from their society, by any means. The historical fact that Voldemort himself is a halfbreed, a thinly veiled reference to Hitler’s Jewish connections, is beside the point. But it is the muggle-born Hermione who solves the potions puzzle using a Muggle capacity rarely found in Wizards. Wizards, we are told by Rowling, have magical minds, not logical minds. Among the Muggles we find those like Hermione, who probably spent hours with brain teaser books as an eight year old, who are capable of solving complex logical problems, problems that seem impossible but in fact have only one solution. When Hermione and Harry reach the potions challenge, where drinking all of the liquids but one will cause a horrible outcome, but that one potion will open the next door, her Muggle mind comes into play. Harry does not understand how Hermione has solved the problem, but he trusts her with his life.

 

It is very unfortunate that this scene was left out of the movie version of the story, even though it is alluded to after the fact. As far as I can tell, the scene was never shot (correct me if I am wrong). To me, this is a key message in Rowling’s book. The fact that it was not transferred into the movie version, and that commentary on the book vs. movie differences tend note it but do not lament it, is a bit disappointing.

 
…READ MORE

{ 2 comments }