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Today’s economic theme: exploitation

by Dan Burns on May 29, 2015 · 2 comments

povertyI’ve long since learned to stop consciously believing that I’ve “seen it all,” when it comes to exploitation by the parasitic greedheads who “run” most big corporations. Nevertheless, I sometimes still am just a bit…taken aback, at least.
 

For example, the senior shelf stocker at Big Box store may be required to spend a few weeks a year training new hires. Then her boss “promotes” her by slapping on a new middle-manager name tag that automatically disqualifies her from time-and-a-half. Meanwhile her daily schedule and general duties at the store remain unchanged. So the “white collar” exemption, originally intended for affluent professionals, invites the dubious recasting of front-line workers as “managers” by essentially swapping uniforms without expanding authority or compensation.
 
“Because of that little bit of managerial and supervisory work they do, they lose out on that extra pay that they should have,” says NELP Federal Advocacy Coordinator Judith Conti. In turn, “they don’t have extra hours to spend with their family or in their own lives…. It’s really a big loophole and a way to game the system.”
(The Nation)

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

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

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

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

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Myths about schools and testing

by Dan Burns on May 27, 2015 · 0 comments

schoolSeveral items.
 

However, advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming “grade level” and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas.
 
This text, some claim, is a fifth-grade text, and thus children who can “read” that text independently are at the fifth-grade reading level.
 
While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.
(The Becoming Radical)

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kline2Coming off a holiday weekend things generally are not very active. But it so happens that I can, with remarkable ease, quite literally always find items to pass along, about how Rep. John Kline (R-MN) has done, and continues to do, a very bad job in Congress, and why he needs to be replaced in the next election.
 

(In May 2014) John Kline, Minnesota’s Most Reprehensible Congressman (TM), hosted a job fair at the Eagan Community Center “to assist Minnesotans with an uncertain job market.”
 
Among the Kline invitees looking to “assist” people trying to better their lot was a disproportionate number of for-profit colleges, including DeVry University, Crown College, and ITT Tech, the Carmel, Indiana-based company whose two executives were indicted on federal fraud charges earlier this week…
 
Kline hosts job fairs where for-profit schools land new students. Their tuition dollars from federal student loans and grants make the companies rich. These companies and their execs bankroll Kline’s campaign committee.
 
As the powerful chairman of the House Committee of Education and the Workforce, the congressman plays devout obstructionist to any meaningful reform that would turn off the spigot of taxpayer dollars amounting to $32 billion annually.
(City Pages)

The proposed budget does not provide any FY16 funding for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers nor for any vouchers to restore the remaining 67,000 vouchers lost due to the 2013 sequester cuts. The bill does not increase funding for voucher administrative fees, as HUD requested, but flat funds voucher administrative fees…
 
And it isn’t just ignoring the homeless veterans issue, voters need to be aware of some of the other cuts which are being pushed to satisfy John Kline’s “realistic balanced budget that reflects the needs of the American people.”
(MN Political Roundtable)

Of course spending levels on Kline’s own congressional operations are sacrosanct.
 
Comment below fold.
 
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Memorial Day ~ A True ‘Theft of Valor’

by Invenium Viam on May 24, 2015 · 0 comments

grief_arlington

For some, the grief is forever.

Call him drunken Ira Hayes,
He won’t answer any more.
Not the whiskey-drinking Indian,
Nor the Marine who went to war.

The Ballad of Ira Hayes — recorded by Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan
& others; written by Peter La Farge

 

Speaking as a veteran on Memorial Day, you might indulge me as I voice a couple of gripes about this day and the absurdity it has become.

 

First, I hate the commercialization. Everywhere you look, there’s a Memorial Day Sale. Every fast food joint is trying to cash-in on the long holiday weekend while insinuating some kind of quasi-patriotism by “free” offers to active military and veterans including free “Freedom” Fries at Wendy’s, free boneless chicken wings at Hooters, and a free “All American Burger” at Shoney’s.

 

I hate the fact that to take advantage of the free stuff on offer vets have to show a military ID or discharge papers, because others who never served a day in uniform have taken advantage. I hate the thought that a homeless vet who might actually need a square meal, but who doesn’t have his sh*t together enough to lay hands on his discharge papers, could be denied a hot dinner because the fraudulent among us have kept him from it.

 

Hooters Tribute

For others, it’s a way to turn a quick buck.

I hate the thought that the rank commercialism I see all around me is a means for businesses, from profit motives, to cynically exploit America’s honored dead. If the offers were really meant out of a sense of patriotic gratitude, as opposed to exploiting a commercial opportunity, why not simply provide meal coupons to the VA clinics and hospitals, and/or the veteran’s support and social services organizations, where they can be distributed to needy veterans whose needs are known to the staff, as opposed to putting the onus on the vet to prove that he’s a vet?

 

Or is the real purpose simply to put butts in seats over the long Memorial Day weekend that serves as a kind of Kick-off to Summer? I hope that’s not the case, because someone would have to be a real low-life — I mean like a low-life maggot child molester — to do something as inherently wicked and insensitive as that. And allow me to include the advertising agencies who take part.

 

I hate the fact that free stuff is offered to living veterans on Memorial Day at all. Veteran’s Day is different. On Veteran’s Day we honor living veterans. So honor the vets on Veteran’s Day with as much free stuff as you like. But on Memorial Day, we honor our dead. And dead veterans don’t need your free stuff. They don’t even need your gratitude. They just need your respect. It would be far better to give free stuff to the surviving spouses and children of dead veterans, who are no longer there to protect and support the families they once loved — because they gave their lives for the country they once loved.

 

It seems to me far more patriotic for a restaurant owner to offer a free meal on Memorial Day to 10 dead veteran’s families, as opposed to 100 living veterans, or to provide a $10,000 scholarship fund for a veteran’s children, as opposed to spending $10,000 in loss leaders and advertising to promote a business. It would be far more patriotic for a hotel owner to offer a surviving wife or husband with young children a 3-day vacation in a poolside room with free room service and cable movies. The surviving spouse probably needs a vacation with his or her spouse dead and gone. That, to me, would be honoring the dead veteran, by supporting his or her living kin. I doubt anything of the kind will ever happen, though. Because that would actually be charitable, as opposed to being exploitive of our service dead like some kind of shameless moral degenerate.

 

I hate the fact that veterans themselves have been suckered by all the quasi-patriotic media frenzy into ostentatious displays of having served. There was a time when veterans served their terms of enlistment and then went home to get on with their lives, to raise families, and to help build their communities with quiet dignity. There was a tradition of maintaining a reserved demeanor about having served. Nobody made a lot of noise about it. There was no such thing as the modern crime of ‘Theft of Valor’ (punishable under statute, as if such a thing were even possible), because no one would consider parading themselves around falsely as war heroes. On every block in my neighborhood growing up, there were a half-dozen war heroes. Most were untouched by combat. Some bore the scars of burned flesh, a disfigured face, missing fingers, or shattered limbs.

 

ih1

Lance-Cpl. Ira Hayes

Others bore scars unseen, whose suffering was less apparent, the men like Ira Hayes who live amongst us. They suffered the horrors of war in silence, unable to pour out of their heads the sights, sounds and smells of combat that had once poured in. Those veterans, whose sense-memories had been etched forever by the high-octane adrenalin of combat, could forget nothing and suffered a private inner hell replete with private demons. They tried to kill those demons with whiskey and pain pills. They might have wished they themselves had died in combat. Instead, they met less prosaic ends: frozen dead to their porch steps, impaled on the steering column of the family car in a head-on collision with a bridge abuttment, or with their brains hanging from a dank basement ceiling. We do not judge them because we cannot judge them. We can only include them among our honored dead.

 

I hate the fact that politicians have politicized military service, have attempted to colonize the political “moral highground” by showy and noisy displays of support for the military services and for veterans. I hate their loud, obnoxious, breast-beating condemnations over the sins of those less pretentious, less classless, and less overwrought than themselves in their supposed “gratitude” towards those who have served. I hate the fact that political leaders attempt to equate the sacrifice of our veterans, and in particular our honored dead, with support for their political ideology, religious values, world view, foreign policy, domestic policy, and racial or tribal identities. The typical condition of a combat infantry soldier is cold, tired, hungry, wet and scared. At other times, he’s hot, thirsty, hungry, tired and scared. Whatever his current condition, I can guarantee that the only thing on his mind is when he’ll next be dry, warm, rested, well-fed and safe. No one who stands a watch in the dark of night ever thinks about the merits of this or that political ideology. And it seems a safe bet to me that not one among our honored dead ever felt his sacrifice was only for white people, or only for black people, only for Christians or Jews, only for Republicans or Democrats, only for Protestants, or only for Catholics.

 

The sacrifice of those honored dead we Americans memorialize was a sacrifice for the rights, the freedoms and the dignity of all Americans. Flag-draping politicians who attempt to pervert the meaning of their sacrifice to the service of political expediency should be shouted down and vilified in the public arena as the low-life maggots they truly are. And while I think it’s fine to make money in business, to exploit the sacrifice of those we memorialize, to seek competitive advantage and gain by capitalizing on the day we’ve set aside in remembrance, that’s what I would call a true ‘Theft of Valor.’ Those who engage in such behavior need to be denounced.

 

We need to recover our sense of national identity and national purpose. The more that demagogues use military service and veterans in attempting to claim a distinctive class of patriotism, and to meanwhile drive divisions between us, the more loudly we should object. We need to call attention to those who exploit the sacrifice of America’s honored dead for political gain, or for profit. The sacrifice of those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” should be regarded, as Lincoln declared at Gettysburg, as a sacred secular act — one consecrated “far above our poor power to add or detract” and one that should be protected by law from exploitation for commercial purposes.

 

We could begin by reminding the nation that our honored dead represent all of America: all colors, all religions, all regions, all economic backgrounds, all ethnic backgrounds, every state and every territory. Just once, I’d like to see a President in office issue a call to the American Indian first nations to send their representatives to Washington in a great Memorial Day convocation, to bring with them their service banners bearing the symbols of their nations and the names of their honored dead, our American honored dead among the Indian peoples. It would be an object lesson in the truth of our motto E Pluribus Unum for those who think their skin color or heritage accords them a special place in American life.

 

Some might call that a special consideration shown a minority group at the expense of the white majority. But I would call it an overdue recognition of the service and sacrifice of some of our fellow Americans, whose contribution in the nation’s defense over many generations — in fact, from the very foundations of this Republic — isn’t well known and for some Americans isn’t known at all. It would also serve as a move toward reconciliation of past grievances and injury among brothers at arms and a recognition of our shared history and shared love for the nation.

 

I have but little hope that anything of the kind will ever happen. Instead, I have real fear that this day will continue to devolve into an orgy of commercialism and politics and it’s true meaning and purpose will be smothered by unending greed and ambition.

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Dayton vetoes multiple right-wing bills

by Dan Burns on May 23, 2015 · 3 comments

capitolsculptureGood deal. The link has video of his news conference. Actually, as these bills contain way too much from the ALEC wish-list, none should have made it through the DFL-controlled Minnesota Senate to begin with.
 

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton made an expected special session of the legislature even more complicated by vetoing two more bills on Saturday. He has vetoed the omnibus agricultural, environment and natural resources bill and the omnibus jobs and energy bill.
 
Dayton said the first bill undermined decades of environmental protections and the second one fell short in funding several critical areas.
 
The governor did say he signed the omnibus state government finance bill despite a section that outsources some duties of the State Auditor to private auditors. Dayton said he would make fixing that section a part of any special session he calls.
(The Uptake)

 
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TPP fast-track moves in Senate

by Dan Burns on May 22, 2015 · 0 comments

tppYesterday.
 

A free trade initiative that is pitting President Barack Obama against his own party cleared a major procedural hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday.
 
The 62-38 vote to end debate on the bill, moving it toward a final vote, was a victory for Obama, who had linked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to push the bill despite opposition from Senate Democratic leaders…
 
The Senate is now set to vote on changes to the bill, including one that would force the Obama administration to use trade deals to crack down on countries that manipulate the value of their currencies to give their exports a price advantage in the United States — an amendment the White House opposes because it would add a huge new complication into trade negotiations.
(CNN)

We’ve seen this before during the Obama presidency, especially early on. The obsession with getting a deal causes him to give away far too much. Perhaps there’s such a thing as “conciliatory personality disorder.“ Maybe the following will change during the amendment process. But, with the way things have been going, I wouldn’t count on it.
 
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Celebrating budget shortfalls

by Eric Ferguson on May 21, 2015 · 1 comment

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

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

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mncapitol2Disgraceful.
 

Iron mines, electric utilities and the biofuel industry came out winners in energy-related measures passed at the close of the Legislature.
 
But people with rooftop solar panels now face fees from municipal and cooperative electric companies, which convinced lawmakers that homegrown generators don’t pay their fair share of the power grid.
 
The energy measures, contained in agriculture and energy-jobs bills, are now before Gov. Mark Dayton, who said Tuesday he was still studying them.
(Star Tribune)

From Bluestem Prairie, here’s information on how this was railroaded at the very end. Also, regarding the energy/environment legislation from this session, there is a Keep Minnesota Clean event planned for Thursday at the governor’s mansion.

 

A few related notes:
 
– Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated that he may use line-item vetoes in budget bills. I’m generally against the line-item veto in principal. I think it gives governors too much power, and for evidence of that I can certainly cite the atrociously partisan ways in which it was abused by Dayton’s predecessor, the worst governor in the state’s history, Tim Pawlenty. But, all things considered, I support Dayton doing what he’s gotta do, here and now, with the tools he has to hand.
 
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clowncarIs this a ten-year-old acting tough on the playground, or an actual US senator seeking a major party nomination for president? The latter, sad to say. Marco Rubio thinks quoting movie lines is the way to scare terrorists. h/t Salon:
 

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

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

 
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