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Jeff BackerJeff Backer, the Republican candidate challenging incumbent State Rep. Jay McNamar in HD12A, has an issues section on his web site that appears to have been written by the candidate himself, or at least not by a consultant. The statements of his positions come across as sincere but, disappointingly for someone who has already held public office, also shallow. What he says seems heartfelt — just not thought through. The recurring reaction when reading his take on issues is, “Are you sure that’s what you wanted to say?”
 
Let’s just dive into maybe the most egregious error. In his guns section, in just the second paragraph, Backer smacked hard into Godwin’s Law*, “For instance, Hitler enacted gun control laws that disarmed the populace before he went on his WWII rampage.” I’ll accept that Backer sincerely believes Hitler put strict gun controls in place and that this was a necessity for enforcing Nazi control. The sincerity of a belief doesn’t correspond to its factual accuracy, and Backer seems to have preferred the zombie myths** of the gun lobby over actual history. Hitler actually loosened gun laws and wanted Germans better armed than they were. Finding out wasn’t hard.
 
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DSCN6270In the Hennepin County Sheriff’s race, the most telling endorsement is that the deputies DO NOT want the current Sheriff Stanek. Given the risk on that endorsement, I am glad that a labor union, AFSCME Council 5,  has stepped up to also back Eddie Frizell for Sheriff. Sheriff Stanek’s impressive list of endorsements dwindle to no importance when most of them were collected when there was only a single candidate in the race. Research on my part found little excitement from current Stanek endorsements.

 

What is really strange is that Republican blogs like True North are complaining about the DFL endorsement. They say things about the Hennepin DFL central committee not being large enough, so I wonder just how large and well attended the GOP meetings are. I say that tongue-in-cheek because I know they are not well attended. For years, GOP has done an endorsement of Stanek in a non-partisan race. Now finally the DFL has stepped up to endorse in the Sheriff’s race.

 

I am so glad the GOP is claiming Staneck because they can now also claim his spendthrift overspending ways. No other Sheriff spends so much for so little.

 

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McFadden benefits from allegedly involuntary donations

by Eric Ferguson on September 26, 2014 · 0 comments

Meet the New Boss ... Same as the Old Boss

Receiving involuntary donations: something else Romney and McFadden appear to have in common

Some of the more control-freakish and ideological employers push their employees to donate to the employer’s preferred candidates. They may stay on a legal line in terms of requiring employees to make donation as a condition of employment, but when the employer pushes for those donations to go through the employer, the message is pretty clear. One such employer is Murray Energy Corp., which is being sued by a former employee on the grounds she was fired for failing to donate to the specified candidates, including Mike McFadden.
 
Before going into details, just to be clear, I’m not accusing McFadden of knowing about this. The allegation is Murray’s CEO, Robert Murray, directed involuntary donations to his specified candidates, one of which is McFadden.
 
Specifically,
 

The allegation from Jean Cochenour, detailed in her suit and well-summarized by the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr., is as follows: Cochenour worked at a mine in Marion County as a foreperson. While in that position, which is supervisorial, she received letters from Murray detailing candidates to which she should make donations. One letter, which she received after she’d already been fired, is included in the lawsuit. It ends like this [click the image to enlarge]:
 
Murray letter to employees

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Jeffco-Students-protest“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”  George Orwell

 

In what has become the newest front-line in America’s on-going Culture War, students in Jefferson County, Colorado, walked out of five different schools in the last week in protest over their school board’s recent heavy-handed actions. Teachers have been angered about a new ‘performance-based’ system for awarding raises to educators, while students are angry about a proposed Curriculum Committee that calls for promoting only ‘positive aspects’ of U.S. history and American heritage while de-emphasizing or avoiding historical material that encourages or condones “civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law.”

 

In particular, students are horrified by an attempt by the Jefferson County School Board to use the proposed Curriculum Committee to ‘whitewash’ American history, including Colorado history, by expurgating or bowdlerizing certain historical events such as cover-ups of environmental crimes at Rocky Flats, Colorado, and the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of striking coal miners and their families.

 

In what has become the largest and longest protest of its kind, nearly 1000 students have joined in a fourth day of continuing protests that are being organized via Facebook and other social media.

 

The protests culminate a long period of mounting tensions in the school district after a majority of three conservative candidates were elected as a slate to the five-member Jefferson County School Board last November. Among other announced changes, including expanded support for charter schools, conservative members stated the board would implement a new ‘pay-for-performance’ compensation model for teachers that more closely adheres to a ‘market-based’ compensation model. That model would pay teachers based on performance evaluations and the market-value of their job, rather than on acquired skills, tenure and seniority.

 

The former Superintendent of Schools, 12-year veteran Cindy Stevenson, resigned from her post mere days after the Nov. 5 election that saw the conservative sweep, stating that her work was being impeded by the new board. A little more than two weeks ago, on September 9, in a unanimous vote of 180 union and non-union representatives, Jefferson County teachers issued a vote of ‘no-confidence’ in newly-elected School Board President Ken Witt. The no-confidence vote was taken after the board’s conservative majority in late August moved independently to restrict pay raises for 89 teachers deemed ‘partially effective’ or ‘ineffective’ in their jobs after rejecting an independent review that found the district’s teacher evaluation system too flawed to set salaries fairly.

 

Last Friday, September 19, two Jefferson County schools were forced to close due to more than 50 teachers calling in sick or taking a day of vacation. The following Monday, 100 students at Evergreen High School left their classes abruptly to protest the board’s actions at the school’s administration building, prompting similar protests at other county schools in the following days.

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Torrey Westrom does double denial

by Eric Ferguson on September 24, 2014 · 1 comment

clowncarTorrey Westrom is a state senator in the reddish-purple SD12. He’s the GOP nominee challenging US Rep. Colin Peterson in CD7, and presumably he’ll be seeking reelection to his senate seat in 2016 (so yes, sticking to my prediction Peterson wins reelection). He recently gave an interview to the St. Cloud Times where he engaged in double denying, hitting both climate change and the debt ceiling.
 
Maybe “denial” isn’t quite the right word for the debt ceiling since he plainly knows the debt ceiling is real. He does seem to be in denial about the catastrophe that would be unleashed should the government smack into the debt ceiling and be unable to borrow enough money to pay its bills. If you need a reminder of how we nearly had a financial crisis on the scale of 2008, only this time with a Congress looking to commit sabotage rather than defuse the crisis, read “Why the debt ceiling clash happened”. Sen. Westrom seems to be among those who need the reminder, judging from what he told the Times, “Westrom told the Times that he wouldn’t vote to increase the federal debt ceiling unless Congress strikes a deal with President Barack Obama to balance the federal budget.”
 
Does he understand that if the government runs out of borrowing authority, bills go unpaid, including bond payments, Social Security, vendors’ bills, payroll, the whole thing? Does he get the long term implications of the government failing to pay its bills not because it can’t, but because it can but won’t? Republicans talked in 2010 about using the debt ceiling to force Democrats to agree to massive spending cuts when they realized they would definitely take the US House, and made good on their threat in 2011. When dreaming of the leverage they would get, they did so realizing how serious the impact would be.

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McFadden Plans to Burn Workers Under Age 55

by Invenium Viam on September 23, 2014 · 1 comment

money-burningSo far, GOP Senate candidate Mike “Nutshot” McFadden has managed to keep his policy positions on Social Security and Medicare well under wraps. To my knowledge, the only definitive statement he has made about either is to support raising the age of Medicare eligibility.

 

Eric Black at MinnPost managed to wrestle that small admission out of McFadden in an interview published way back in July, but that’s about all he got.  McFadden’s dodging and twisting to avoid directly answering Black’s questions approached the comical, almost to the level of a ‘Who’s on first?’ exchange, as Black pointed out in his article and generously posted the full exchange on-line for all to enjoy.  McFadden has had very little more to offer the press since then.

 

That in itself is telling. The simple truth is that McFadden doesn’t want Minnesota voters to know what his policy positions are on Social Security and Medicare because he knows they’ll be unpopular. He prefers to lie by omission rather than risk creating tomorrow’s film-at-10 soundbite or self-damning black’n'white advert snippet.

 

There stands a paragon of moral courage.

 

This is where a little reading between the lines and connecting the dots becomes useful. In normal circumstances, I’d avoid both as a weak foundation for offering criticism. But you can’t divide by zero, and you can’t prove a negative, and you can’t criticize a policy position not taken, so reading between the lines and connecting the dots is about all we’ve got to go on.

 

We’ll start with McFadden’s published position on Social Security, which may yet turn out to be a stinking, maggot-infested political albatross around his neck.

 protecting-seniors

Parsing the language here is important to a clear understanding of where McFadden truly stands on the issue. Disregarding for now the fact that Social Security and Medicare are promises made to all workers, not just “today’s seniors,” McFadden is only offering “… to fight to keep the promise …” of preserving social safety nets in their present form for “… today’s seniors …”  and “… our parents and grandparents …”.  In other words, he’s only willing to support continuing benefits under the current program for those workers at or near retirement.

 

He doubled-down on that position in his MinnPost interview with Eric Black. “What I wouldn’t support is anything that would change the benefits for people that are nearing retirement,” he told Black. “And by that I mean 10, 12 years from retirement.”

 

Current law provides full benefits at age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. Backing up 12 years means that McFadden only supports continuing Social Security benefits per the plan’s current embodiment for those persons who are now 55 or older. By inference, then, McFadden must support a different plan for those workers younger than 55.

 

The question then becomes: What kind of different plan?

 

More Below the Fold

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Rebecca Otto’s opponent implodes

by Eric Ferguson on September 18, 2014 · 2 comments

sad elephantState Auditor Rebecca Otto might as well be allowed to pick her opponents. Wouldn’t get much of a different result. Her primary opponent ran a well-funded lousy campaign, but I thought she might have been the one statewide DFLer to draw a serious opponent. Randy Gilbert is a professional auditor and a small town mayor, so he actually has a relevant resume for the job. The other Republicans are pretty much running just on “vote for me because I’m extremely rich” or “vote for me because I’m extremely conservative”, maybe spiced with shouts of “Obamacare!” and “voter fraud!”. So I wondered, after he was nominated, if Gilbert might be the Republican with the best chance. Then a week ago, Dan.Burns posted:

Whatever this turns out to be, this isn’t the highest-profile race on the ballot. But veteran politics-watchers know what kind of spillover effect, fair or not, these kinds of episodes can have, not long before Election Day.

It’s now less vague, maybe as bad as feared. KSTP reported they have suggestive emails, and sources speaking of turmoil inside the MNGOP. Since I’ve criticized KSTP before and I’m about to do so again, I’ll give credit where due: KSTP did go after a story that’s bad for their owner’s preferred party. The emails are substantive. They seem to show not just that Gilbert carried on an affair with a local realtor, but that their assignations happened in the houses she was selling. Well, that’s a unique form of trespassing.
 
Maybe not unique, but certainly bad for a candidate, is Gilbert’s decision to avoid the press and not answer questions. KSTP said he wouldn’t respond to them. I looked on his campaign web site, and as of this moment, there’s nothing about it. There’s “news” from last June about DFLers being divided, and something from 9/11 attacking Otto for being anti-mining. Nothing in between or since.
 
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isil-300x162‘There are roads which must not be followed,
armies which must not be attacked,
towns which must not be besieged,
positions which must not be contested,
commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.’
Sun Tzu ~ On the Art of War

 

‘Don’t do anything stupid.’
President Barack Obama

 

War hysteria is a fascinating and horrifying thing to watch. I’ve seen it several times now in my life and it is always beyond ugly, like watching scorpions mate.

 

Aside from the verminous lies that tumble over each other like a swarm of filthy rats to electrify public opinion with fear and frenzy, our national leaders — grown men and women whose strength of character and deliberative judgment we rely on — daily prove susceptible themselves to the most transparent mendacity and appear spineless in the face of true moral challenge.

 

Until a few short months ago, the American public had never heard of ISIL and didn’t know a thing about them, even though ISIL has been fighting an insurgency in Syria against the Assad regime for years, and for years it has committed unspeakable atrocities against the Syrian people. The brutal murders of two American journalists notwithstanding, why now the sudden sense of urgency and demand for action in the public discourse and among our leadership?

 

The answer lies in war hysteria.

 

As the New York Times put it:

 

“… as President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a years-long military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.”

 

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Bill Maher, John Kline, Mike Obermueller and student debt

by Eric Ferguson on September 16, 2014 · 2 comments

As interesting as it is that Bill Maher picked one of our congressmen, Rep. John Kline, CD2, for his #FlipADistrict contest, the reasoning is interesting. He explained it on his Sept. 12 Real Time with Bill Maher. The bit I refer to starts around 2:40, where Maher said the issue of student debt inspired most of the votes for Kline, and then he tore into Kline’s record:
 

 
Student debt is a huge issue for young adults. If Democrats want young adults to vote, something they’re less inclined to do than older age groups in any sort of election, then we can only help our cause by addressing their biggest issue. Judging from Holly’s post yesterday, Kline’s opponent, Mike Obermueller, has already taken that advice. However, this doesn’t apply just to Democrats running specifically against the representative sometimes described as “Rep. John Kline, (R – for-profit education industry)” (and with pretty good reason). It applies to all Democrats, obviously more so those with more more young adults, but are there any Democrats with no young adults whose likelihood of turning out is concerning? GOP outreach has been a joke, if it’s been there, even though I gave the GOP some friendly advice. I don’t normally care to help the opposition, preferring to let them continue when making mistakes, but I told them to reach young voters on student debt in hopes of making some progress on the issue. Partisan opportunity is just the consolation prize. For now, looks like a consolation prize will have to be enough. However, that consolation prize is just an opportunity, not a win.
 
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klinewinsRep. John Kline (R-MN) has rated low in his district, and now he rates low in the national eye. HBO Real Timers’ Bill Maher picked Kline as the worst of the worst.  Maher said, as he announced Kline’s win on the #flipadistrict chart, “He’s one of those silent threats you never see coming…Ebola…ISIS…John Kline…He embodies the sellouts that keep this town running.”  I agree, Maher. And yes, let’s win one for the Flipper (if you don’t know what that references, look up win one for the Gipper).
 
Kline penned the bill to increase student loan interest rates resulting in the government profiting billions off of students and some of his biggest donors are for-profit schools with questionable records.  Kline and his opponent Mike Obermueller were recently invited by the national organization Student Debt Crisis to participate in a virtual town hall on the student debt crisis.  Kline neglected to answer the organization, but Obermueller responded to the questions. Here’s Mike Obermueller on  refinancing, government making money off of student loans, and for-profit schools with questionable records.
 

 
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