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Applying Moneyball to political campaigns

by Eric Ferguson on April 17, 2015 · 1 comment

baseball and cash in baseball gloveI recently read Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book that is ostensibly about baseball, but really is about politics. OK, it’s really about baseball, specifically about the Oakland Athletics during the 2002 season. Broadly speaking however, it’s about a contest where money is important, and the different parties in this contest have drastically different amounts to work with, forcing the side with much less money to either lose badly, or find the inefficiencies everyone else is missing. Oakland did the latter. If you’re uninterested in baseball, I still suggest reading the beginning, and in your head replace “baseball” with “politics”, “Oakland A’s” with “Democrats”, and “New York Yankees” with “Republicans”, and some questions should come up. In a matchup of unequal financial resources, where the other side can just throw money at things and we can’t, are we using our resources efficiently? Democrats actually tend to match Republicans in spending by party units, by candidates, and even by independent groups who have to report their spending and donations. The difference is in dark money, though we can’t know by how much, which is the point of dark money. We simply don’t have the Republicans’ ample supply of crank billionaires willing to spend unlimited funds on their favored candidates and ideological crusades. They throw money at campaigns. We can’t afford to.
 
Lewis said he started out looking into how a team that was consistently near the bottom in payroll was consistently contending. He coined the term “moneyball” to describe Oakland’s approach to competing by finding players they could afford who were still good enough, and doing that required finding what other teams were missing. After the 2001 season, they were pushed hard when three star players signed big contracts with other teams including, of course, the Yankees. The Athletics’ management did this by being willing to question what they believed, differentiate between knowledge and assumptions, trust data over experience, and ask if they were measuring and valuing the right things. If you think I’m leading up to a suggestion that our political campaigns are measuring and valuing the wrong things, yes. Though at least on Team Blue, it seems we value and use research more than baseball did. Just my impression, which is ironic since I’m suggesting less reliance on impressions. Anyway, we can do better, and it’s not like I, and probably most readers, are unable to cite instances of people in campaigns stubbornly refusing to reconsider conventional wisdom and change established habits.
 

So yes, I’m thinking of ways we campaign where I suspect we value and measure the wrong things, so sometimes we lack data and sometimes use less than optimal strategies.
 
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Philander T. Overman: The State of the State

by JeffStrate on April 14, 2015 · 0 comments

Shortly after the midterm election in November, Philander T. Overman shared his thoughts about where the State of Minnesota was headed with a divided legislature and DFLers holding down the constitutional positions of Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and State Auditor.  Mr. Overman did so on Democratic Visions, the no budget community access, cable TV show provided by lefty volunteers out of the SW ‘burbs.  Mr. Overman, dear possums, is not the kind of conjecture oozing pundit on the blandly safe Almanac, nor is he the kind of tart, informed blogger that propels Minnesota Progressive Project.  Philander T. Overman is a rank-and-file, average Minnesota citizen.  He’s the kind of guy that crowded into Menard’s yard and garden section this weekend to buy potted petunias for the patio and wishes he had purchased tickets for the Twins home opener.    You may find a reconsideration of his post-election thoughts to be of interest.  My link to Overman is through Jon Spayde, his St. Paul based agent and mentor.

 

 

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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?

 
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clowncarI never thought we’d get to use this again when Mitt Romney dropped out of the 2016 presidential race:

Turns out we can, as long as we solve the problem of which 2016 candidate deserves it more. Rand Paul and Scott Walker are in a tight competition for the Romney Prize for Bizarre Position Changing. I doubt either can match Romney’s ability to change positions on consecutive days, but they’re making a valiant effort.

To start with Paul, he was asked to explain some position changes in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, and Paul really thought this was a valid reason for saying something different in the past than he’s saying now: “I also wasn’t campaigning for myself, I was campaigning to help my father at the time.” Later on a similar question, “Once again, before I was involved in politics for myself.” I guess somehow that makes sense to Paul. Hannity let it slide.
 
That interview was obscured by the controversy over his interview on NBC’s The Today Show, where he was a jerk towards interviewer Savannah Guthrie. He’s been similarly boorish towards other female interviewers, but Paul excused himself on the grounds that he acts like that to male interviewers too. Um, I hate to you Mr. Sort-of-Doctor Sen Paul, but that’s not better. “Complete jerk” is different than “patronizing chauvinist”, but not actually better.
 
Scott Walker has been making flip-flops that seem like the old-fashioned practice of changing your politics to please the audience in front of you, which worked more often before the internet. Hat tip to Laura Clawson, who picked up on this Politico article from JR Ross of WisPolitics.com. Ross showed Walker switching positions on sales taxes, immigration, abortion access, and he suddenly sounded friendly to ethanol subsidies in Iowa in contradiction to his prior opposition. He likewise changed positions on the need for stronger gun laws, being fine with them when representing a suburban district in the state legislature, but now that he want the votes of the gun nuts in the GOP base, not so much.
 
If you don’t like Walker’s position on something, just wait until you’re in the audience, and he’ll change it.
 
So which gets the Mittster? I decided “Romney Prize for Bizarre Position Changing” is a bit long to write over and over again.
 
Twitter users, remember the hashtag #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident

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MPR Poligraph needs a fact check

by Eric Ferguson on April 9, 2015 · 3 comments

In the latest “This guy wants to be president“, I railed a bit at fact checkers and the twisting they use to get weird results. MPR’s Poligraph is doing the same thing. The Poligraph writer, Catharine Richert, used to work for Politifact, which is so frequently terrible at fact checking that I don’t link to it, even when I agree with their conclusion. I fear they taught her their methods.
 

In this case, Poligraph said a statement of Gov. Dayton’s was accurate, but judged it misleading for lacking some context. Generally, complaining about a lack of context is something done when the context would change the meaning, whereas in this case, the context leaves the statement still accurate — unless “misleading” and “leaving out detail” have come to mean the same thing.
 

“The Legislature and the Governor did that 15 years ago: they returned the expected surpluses to the taxpayers,” Dayton said. “Within two years, those surpluses disappeared. It’s taken us over a decade to recover from those mistakes.”
 
It’s time for a history lesson.

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clowncarJust so we’re clear, the “troubles with the truth” in the headline aren’t necessarily lies. There can be more subtle forms of obfuscation, denialism, and even inadvertent honesty.
 
Or just plain old refusing to check facts that are just too convenient to not use. I’m referring here to Marco Rubio, who claimed Obama refused to comment on the fraudulent election in Iran 2009 that ignited street protests in Tehran. Obama did comment. Rubio is just flat out wrong. My guess is he wasn’t lying, but just repeating a talking point that was so good, it was best to not fact check it. Rubio is hardly the first. The Washington Post’s fact checker has Rubio’s statement and tracked the statements Obama made at the time, though he also did that thing that drives me nuts about fact-checking columns and sites, some of them anyway. They have to do their own twisting to find some way a false statement isn’t completely false, or a true statement isn’t completely true. In this case, Glenn Kessler gave Rubio just three Pinocchios instead of four (and why do fact checkers need the cutesy rating systems?) because Obama could have been stronger sooner, and Rubio would have had a point if he’d said something else. Fact checkers keep doing this. “The president didn’t say that but looking only at part of what he said, the misquoting would have been close to what he was accused of saying, and the person making it up would have been close if he had said X instead of what he actually said, so it’s therefore not completely false.” Why is this so hard for not just Kessler, but other fact checkers too? Rubio said Obama said X. Obama didn’t say X, so Rubio’s statement is false. Rubio’s staff tried to support their boss’s claim by referring to something Obama said that was related to the topic but not what they claimed he said. They should get extra cutesy icons for bogusity.
 
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Even privately funded soccer stadium problematic

by Eric Ferguson on April 2, 2015 · 2 comments

It’s looking like there will be a push for public financing of a new soccer-specific stadium for the move of Minnesota United, colloquially referred to as the Loons, from the NASL (North American Soccer League) to the MLS (Major League Soccer). Even if Loons’ owner Bill McGuire decides to fund the stadium himself, there still might be a problem. I’m questioning whether there’s enough stadium business to go around for what would be four similar facilities. The other three stadiums — TCF Bank Stadium, Target Field, and the stadium currently being built for the Vikings (henceforth to be called Stadium To Be Named Later (STBNL)) — are publicly owned, and a fourth stadium, even privately financed, could be bad for our publicly owned facilities.
 
If we were talking about typical businesses, I wouldn’t care. If four widget factories supply only three factories’ worth of widget buyers, then the weakest goes under, so be it. If there are four restaurants sharing three restaurants’ worth of diners, then one goes out of business. That’s just how it works. However, stadiums aren’t like factories or restaurants. They’re publicly owned. None will go under. If there’s too little business to go around, we’ll have the same sort of dynamic we have with Xcel Energy Center and Target Center undercutting each other for the arena business so that neither publicly owned facility makes money.
 
So I’m asking how much stadium business there is, and if a fourth similar facility means they undercut each other on fees charged to event organizers, so that none can cover costs. I’m not asking for big profits, or even small profits, but the closer to covering costs, the better. This isn’t the private market. More competition is not necessarily good. I’d rather these facilities that, as a resident of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and Minnesota, I helped pay for and partly own, be able to charge higher fees for usage.
 
I’m about to sound like the opponents of the new Vikings stadium who prefaced objections with something like “I like football just fine and root for the Vikings, but…”: I like soccer just fine and I root for the Loons. So does my wife. Honest. We’ve been to Loons matches, bought the t-shirts and scarves. She has one of the home jerseys, the gray ones with the loon wing. Soccer jerseys normally suck, either looking like a generic polo shirt or just being the name of a sponsor, but the home gray with the wing is neat. Back on topic, soccer is admittedly not my favorite spectator sport, (nothing beats hockey IMHO, though my current reading of Moneyball has me enthused for the coming baseball season), but still, my opposition is not based on disliking soccer. It’s based on the money we’ve already spent on other facilities, and the potential financial drain of having yet another facility for the same number of events. Though I will admit I don’t care if the Loons move up to MLS. They can stay in the NASL. Minor league sports are just fine by me.
 
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Author Lorna Landvik & Senator John Marty

by JeffStrate on March 29, 2015 · 0 comments

Minnesota's leading progressive legislator and formost humorist appear on the current edition of Democratic Visions.

Sen. John Marty, Minnesota’s leading progressive legislator,  and Lorna Landvik, its gifted author/humorist appear on the current edition of Democratic Visions.

Author Lorna Landvik reveals that her recent novel best to Best to Laugh borrows some from her own life in Hollywood.  Minnesota’s most gifted humorist, like the Korean-American protagonist of her book, had been a stand-up comedy hopeful in L.A. who supported herself with a series of eclectic temp jobs and a residential complex injected with LaLa Land characters and urban legend.  Landvik also tells of her real-life adventures on the 3,700 miles long Peace March for Nuclear Disarmament from L.A. to D.C. in 1986.  Landvik’s quick, sharp and easy wit is a delight that is rarely seen on home flatscreens. I consider her Dem Vis appearance a satisfying stew of sly insight on being Minnesotan.  And, Dear Possums, she still shows up for an occasional demonstration.

 

State Senator John Marty, Minnesota’s leading progressive law maker, here makes a solid case to Democratic Visions host Tim O’Brien for SF 890 the “Worker Dignity Bill.”  Marty (DFL, Roseville) and co-author Senator Chris Eaton (DFL, Brooklyn Center) proposed legislation would extend the phased-in minimum wage increase; increase the working family credit to exceed the federal earned income tax; provide increased child care assistance to all low-income workers and, among other actions, would reform MinnCare.  SF 890 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing on February 16 where it awaits further action.

 

The full version of the current Democratic Visions also includes a short segment on the St. Olaf College dedication of its memorial to civil rights martyr James Reeb.  Rev. Reeb, a 1950 graduate of the Northfield school, was murdered in Selma, Alabama fifty years ago.  He and two other activist clergy had been beaten on the evening of the “Turnaround Tuesday”  march that was led by Dr. Martin Luther King.  This demonstration had concluded with prayer on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the highway to Montgomery, the Alabama State Capitol.

 

Lorna Landvik on Dem Vis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv7-quYbWXg

 

John Marty on Dem Vis –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CG_Gp8M90U0

 

Full Democratic Visions program

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAgWRNasNKo

 

CABLE TV SCHEDULE

Eden Prairie, Richfield, Minnetonka, Edina and Hopkins Comcast Channel 15 – Saturdays 2:00 p.m.. Sundays 9 p.m., Mondays 10 p.m., Wednesdays 5:30 p.m.,

Bloomington – BCAT Channel 16 — Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.

Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 — Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.  Program is streamed at the MTN website during cablecasts.

Champlin, Anoka,Ramsey, Andover – QCTV Channel 15Click here for schedule.

 

Democratic Visions is produced by Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Edina volunteers at the Bloomington Community Access TV studio. Democratic Visions is not funded, endorsed or supported by any political party or political action committee.

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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.

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