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MN Progressive Project — Page 2

Recent Posts

trump14I see a lot of clickbait stuff to the effect that focusing too much on Trump’s mental health (or Trump/Russia) is a bad scene, because then people aren’t paying attention to his policies. Come on. People can pay attention to more than one thing at a time.
 

It’s no secret by now that Trump is out of his depth, unable to comprehend the vast federal bureaucracy he’s supposed to command, incapable of absorbing the knowledge necessary to inform critical decisions about commanding it, and frankly, uninterested in anything that isn’t directly related to whichever immediate concern has hijacked his limited attention span at any given hour of the day.
 
But now we are seeing how that psyche is choking off the entire White House from the world, not just so Trump can maintain control over the government, but so no inconvenient truths can infiltrate his fortress and encroach on his reality.
(Daily Kos)

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Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania
(location of the three Yankee Pennamite Wars)
Crospey Francis Jasper, 1823-1900

As we celebrate the founding of our nation with the Declaration of Independence, in the more recent context of the challenges this nation faces in our modern era, it is worth reviewing a bit of history. The American Revolutionary War ended with the Peace of Paris, aka the Treaty of Versailles (there have been many other treaties of Versailles) in 1783.

 

We began and fought the War of Independence as a nation founded not by the US Constitution but by the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. That perpetual Union did not last all that long, ending in 1786, when it was replaced by the current, much modified United States Constitution which went into effect in 1789. From the official web site of the US Senate:
 

Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in operation since 1789, the United States Constitution is the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. Its first three words –– “We the People” –– affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens.

 

The Declaration of Independence wisely anticipated this possibility of the necessity of government changing so as to better serve the people, not plutocrats, not corporations-as-people, with these words, which follow the much better recognized words of the “We the People” preamble:
 

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Sadly few of my fellow Americans, and then mostly newly naturalized immigrant citizen, are knowledgeable about our history. When you look at the original foundation of this country, founded in bloody revolution, and then look again at what amounts to a second bloodless revolution with the replacement of the Articles with the Constitution, changing profoundly who we are today and how we became our modern nation.

 
There were middling better known events, like Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, that contributed to the need to create a better, stronger, and very different founding document. Less well known but perhaps more indicative of those stresses were the Yankee Pennamite Wars, aka the Pennamite Yankee Wars, of which there were three. The wars primarily involved Pennsylvania and Connecticut, but other states involved themselves as well. The final resolution came in 1799, when the disputed Wyoming Valley became part of Pennsylvania.

 
Because of the vagaries of early cartography, there was a part of what is now Pennsylvania that was awarded in colonial land grant days to more than one claimant colony, subsequently involving multiple states in this series of conflicts. In brief summary, the first Pennamite ‘war’ ran from 1769-70, the second in 1774, and the final conflict, which the more limited federal government of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was inadequate to address — and the distant government of the UK which had created the problem was inadequate and impotent to do so as well.
 

The two important elements to take away from this relatively obscure bit of our history are the need for a strong and adequately large federal government, in part to resolve conflicts between the states and between local jurisdictions as well, in order to have a strong and functional nation. Another element is that any such federal government must exist not to serve special interests, but must exist to serve the people of this country — and corporations are not people. But the most important lesson, one that had to be relearned only a little more than a half century after the resolution to the third Yankee Pennamite War, was that we CAN resolve the challenges to this nation peacefully, without bloody revolution, without shooting our fellow Americans.
 

I wish all of our readers and their friends and families a happy and safe celebration of our Independence Day, and I hope this humble post will contribute to any thought you give the topic today and going forward.
 

If this leads you to browse a little history, I hope you consider checking out the Yankee (Connecticut) and Pennamites (Pennsylvanians) conflict that shaped who we are today.

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bwcaTwo items.
 

An environmental group says the design for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota has changed in significant ways that require regulators to conduct a fresh environmental review of the revisions.
 
WaterLegacy says changes in the mine’s tailings basin and wastewater treatment facilities, and a new disclosure of how much water would be pumped from the mine, obligate federal and state agencies to take a closer look — a move that could cause further delays in an already long process. The group made the request in a letter (June 29) to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other agencies.
 
Paula Maccabee, an attorney for WaterLegacy, said the plans changed between March 2016 when the DNR approved the final environmental impact statement and when PolyMet started submitting permit applications in recent months. She called it a “bait-and-switch” to cut up-front costs. She also said the changes increase the risks of a catastrophic dam failure, pollution spills and damage to wetlands.
(MPR)

(On June 9), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) appealed an order of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that removed public water protections from many miles of Minnesota streams and rivers. A DNR order in April used a one size fits all approach to delete over 640 miles of waterways from Minnesota’s public water inventory with no public notice, no chance for the public to comment and with no transparency. Because there was no public input, many public waters that should be protected would lose that protection if the DNR’s order is implemented. MCEA appealed to reverse DNR’s order and protect these public waters from being filled, drained, dammed or altered without a permit.
 
“As we investigated waterways that DNR deleted as public waters, we were shocked to discover many weren’t private ditches, but were clearly public waters,” said Leigh Currie, Staff Attorney at MCEA. “DNR’s order, supposedly to correct mistakes, only made issues with the public waters map worse. Dozens of public waters that are not private ditches were erased incorrectly.”
(Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy)

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US-Bank-Failures-2000-2013“I’m tired, Joey Boy, of the makings of men,
I would like to be cheerful again.”

                   I’m Tired Joey Boy, Van Morrison

 

There are a number of different takes on how much the Financial Crash of 2008 cost the average American. The New York Times ran a story on January 21, 2014, Recession’s True Cost Is Still Being Tallied, that pegs losses at a minimum of $20,000 per individual and as high as $120,000. The figure that I have the most confidence in, which I cited in a previous post, Hillary’s Albatross, and which falls pretty much in the middle of the NYT story’s range, is $58,000 per household (vs. per individual), which comports pretty well with my family’s own personal tally of loss.

 

But those estimates are based on the government’s official figures of the cost of the bail-out. The real cost to taxpayers exceeds $16.8 trillion dollars, according to the Special Inspector General for TARP, with $7.7 trillion of secret emergency lending only disclosed to the public after Congress forced a one-time audit of the Federal Reserve in November of 2011.

 

Regardless of how high the actual cost is to you and me, it’s far too high because it didn’t have to happen. It all came about as a result of the Big Banks playing Big Casino with their depositors’ money in the service of rampant greed. As the NYT article stated: “The portrait of loss, tentative as it is, suggests that even the most far-reaching measures might be justified to ensure it never happens again.”

 

But the Big Banks and the US Congress are taking precisely those actions necessary to ensure that it does happen again and that it will create an even worse financial disaster than the Crash of 2008. What’s more, it appears to be part of a plan.

 

A few weeks ago, on June 8, 2017, on a nearly party-line vote of 233-186 (with only one Republican opposed), the US Congress passed The Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 (HR 10), a bill that would roll back many of the protections of The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It was a very important event in the economic lives of nearly all Americans, but one which garnered very little coverage by the media or analysis by pundits, who were mesmerized by former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

 

The 2017 Choice Act strips the federal government of its power to regulate risky behavior by the Big Banks, while simultaneously blocking it from managing a bank failure to prevent systemic damage. In short, the 2017 Choice Act is a major enabler for the Big Banks to profit handsomely from another financial disaster already in the making. A few of the changes the 2017 Choice Act calls for include:

♦ Repeal of Volcker Rule restrictions on speculative investments by banks;

♦ Eliminating the Orderly Liquidation Authority of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and establishing new, self-directed provisions covering bankruptcy of large financial institutions with respect to winding-down failing banks; and

♦ Allowing certain banks self-exemption from regulatory standards if they maintain a certain ratio of capital to total assets and meet other requirements.

 

The Volker Rule is a federal regulation implemented in 2015 that prohibits a bank or any institution that owns a bank from engaging in proprietary trading, and from owning or investing in a hedge fund or private equity fund, and also limits the liabilities that the largest banks can hold. The Volker Rule prohibits banks from conducting investment activities using their depositors’ money. Its purpose is to prevent banks from engaging in the kind of risky investment strategies that were primary contributors to the financial meltdown. Among those speculative investments is derivatives trading, which earns nice profits for the bank but provides no direct benefit to depositors … investments that privatize profit and socialize risk in the event the bank should fail.

 

It’s important to understand that proprietary trading occurs when a bank invests money for its own direct gain. Banks engage in proprietary trading because it earns them profits far in excess of the small margins they make from processing trades on behalf of its customers and clients. Repeal of the Volker Rule would again allow the Big Banks to gamble on high-risk, high-reward investments and acquisitions using their depositors’ money without restriction.

 

It’s also important to understand that when a depositor puts money in a bank, they are legally transferring ownership of that money to the bank. What they get in return is essentially a promise of repayment (an IOU) with interest. Since repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated depositors’ money from money the bank could use for investments, both depositors’ funds and a banks’ funds go into a general pool that the banks can use for proprietary trading.

 

The Volker Rule currently allows banks to engage in market-making, underwriting, hedging, securities trading, and selling hedge funds and private equity funds unless the service or products offered create material conflicts of interest between the bank and depositors or creditors, or expose the bank to high-risk settlements, or may generate instability within the bank or within the overall U.S. financial system [emphasis mine]. Eliminating the Volker Rule would eliminate restrictions on high-risk trading and speculative investments, which would again allow the Big Banks to play Big Casino with your money. But it includes not just the money from private depositors: it also includes money from pension funds, bond-holders, and the general funds of local and state governments.

 

All this becomes really important in light of how much exposure the Big Banks currently have in derivatives obligations.

 

Derivatives are financial contracts with values derived from the behavior of something else – interest rates, mortgages, precious metals and other commodities, etc. In the same way as home-buyers take on mortgage debt with a fractional down payment and a contractual promise of repayment, derivatives traders only need to put up a small amount of cash to take on a large amount of debt. Unlike a mortgage loan, however, for which the property itself serves as collateral, and can be repossessed in the event of default, one derivative contract can serve as collateral for another derivative contract, which can serve as collateral for yet another derivative contract, in an unending interconnected web of inter-collateralized debt obligation, or what financial writer Ellen Hodgson Brown calls a “Web of Debt“. The result is the creation of a massive structure of derivative contracts supported by a relatively small amount of real money. The worldwide nominal value – also known as the “face value” – of derivative contracts tripled in the five years leading up to the Crash of 2008, at which time it was around $600-700 trillion according to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). Since then, the total value of the derivatives market has actually grown quite a bit larger. Estimates in 2015 put the notional value of all derivative investments at $1.2 quadrillion, or more than 10 times the total GDP of all the nations on earth that year.

More Scare Below the Fold

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hero_image_main_2There is a daily roundup of immigration news on this blog, well worth checking out regularly:
 

The very limited travel ban reinstated by the Supreme Court will go into effect Thursday morning — but exactly who is banned remains unclear. Under a very narrow reading of the decision, only tourists with no other connection to the United States would be barred. Most visa applicants from the six targeted, mostly-Muslim countries will have the “bona-fide connection” to a person or entity within the United States that would exempt them from the travel ban.
 
Refugees, all of whom have undergone years of vetting before approval for visas, can arguably claim connection to the resettlement agencies working with them. However, it seems likely that the Trump administration will continue to resist admission of refugees.
(Immigration News)

Actually, anyone who eats food is likely to be adversely affected by what’s going on with immigration. Making America Great Again!

 

Research by the Farm Bureau suggests that the federal immigration policy Trump is promoting could result in a massive farm labor shortage across the country, causing domestic fruit output to plunge anywhere from 30 to 61 percent and vegetable production to fall by 15 to 31 percent. Industrial-scale livestock operations and slaughterhouses also rely heavily on immigrants, so meat production could tumble by as much as 27 percent. As a result, the group concludes, US eaters are looking at food price hikes of 5 to 6 percent. That might not sound like much, but it’s sure to squeeze families on a tight budget. So Trump’s efforts to save us from “bad hombres” is bad news for farms—and for Americans who are just trying to put dinner on the table.
(Mother Jones)

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trump17The cold, hard reality on the ground.
 

In a move that appears to negate President Donald Trump’s numerous vows to fight for American workers at risk of losing their jobs due to corporate outsourcing and layoffs, Boeing told CNN on Thursday that around 200 workers based in South Carolina would be fired in an effort to cut costs.
 
The layoffs, according to reports, will come from several factories throughout the state, including one Trump visited just a few months ago.
 
“The South Carolina plant was Trump’s first company visit outside the Beltway after he became president,” the Washington Post noted…
 
The news comes just as Carrier, another company Trump has frequently criticized for outsourcing, is set to send 600 of its Indianapolis factory jobs to Mexico, a move many view as a direct refutation to Trump’s boasts and a betrayal of his promises.
(Common Dreams)

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Vouchers, DeVos, and unions

by Dan Burns on June 26, 2017 · 0 comments

school3Three items.
 

More than 34,000 students are enrolled in Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program. That’s 3 percent of students statewide. In a recent investigation of the program, NPR found some private schools turning away children with disabilities and LGBTQ students, but it was impossible to say, at the time, whether those students who are using vouchers are any better off academically.
 
Researchers Mark Berends of the University of Notre Dame and R. Joseph Waddington of the University of Kentucky have spent years studying this question, and they’ve given NPR an early look at their findings…
 
When comparing these students’ achievement after the switch to their test scores the previous year, the researchers found:
 
Voucher students experienced “modest annual achievement losses” in math, especially in the first two years after leaving public school.
 
In English/language arts, voucher students showed no benefits.
(MPR)

…READ MORE

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trump13This is profoundly concerning.
 

Here’s the score so far: Trump has been suckered by China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. He has pissed off Mexico, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Australia, and most of our other traditional allies. Nobody knows what his policy toward Israel is. Or his policy in Afghanistan. Or his policy in Syria. Or his trade policy toward anyone. Or whether he ever bothers talking with his Secretary of State.
 
Welcome to our new foreign policy, ladies and gentlemen. Isn’t it great that we finally have a firm leader at the helm once again?
(Mother Jones)

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MN-03: Will Paulsen hang around?

by Dan Burns on June 22, 2017 · 0 comments

paulsenI certainly haven’t seen any indication that Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) could be thinking of leaving Congress at the end of this term. But conventional wisdom is that 2018 will be his toughest electoral challenge (as will be the case with a lot of GOP incumbents), and he’s certainly paid his dues to the rich man to the point that he will have his pick of lucrative lobbying gigs whenever he wants them.
 
On the other hand, he doesn’t have to beg for money; Big Device in particular will see to it that his campaign has plenty. And if I’m not mistaken he has always easily outperformed GOP presidential candidates, in the district. It’s certainly possible that he has little to fear unless Democrats can score an A+ list candidate to run against him, and I don’t know who that would be.
 
Anyway, this new practice of his at least borders on the pitiful. At the very least.
 

Erik Paulsen regularly issues a video Correspondence Corner in which he responds to constituent questions.
 
It is a great ploy — Congressman Paulsen determines what question is to be answered … thus, providing him an opportunity to portray himself as effectively responding to issues that he wishes to address as if they are the most critical issues that voters want addressed…
 
Later in the session, the House approved Amendment 90 offered by Congressman Don Young (R-AK) to H.R. 5538 to prevent use of funds to implement the Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which recommended that Congress designate the Coastal Plain as wilderness. That vote was approved 237-191, Congressman Paulsen was one of twelve Republicans to vote NO. OK … that supports his stance but the Republican majority prevailed.
 
However, that amendment was just an amendment … would Congressman Paulsen retain that same opposition on the final vote ? No … while 15 Republicans voted NO on the bill, it was approved 231-196, with Congressman Paulsen voting YES.
 
Being able to cast a protest vote on amendments does little when you vote inline with Republican leadership orders on the final bill.
 
In summary, while Congressman Paulsen’s Correspondence Corner response to April of Edina may give some hope that he will reject Trump’s calls for more oil and gas drilling, his votes say that in the end, he will side with “the Boss” and his Big Oil donors.
(MN Political Roundtable)

There are more critiques of Rep. Paulsen’s “Correspondence Corner,” at the same blog.
 

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trump22As has so often been noted, a lot of this would fall hardest on many who voted for him. It may be unlikely that, for example, big Social Security cuts will get through the Senate. But it’s far from impossible.
 

The administration’s promise not to cut taxes had thus been reduced to meaninglessness. It was a mere preference, or at least a putative preference. But Trump has deferred all agency to Congress, which is free to pass a bill opposite his stated position, and Trump would sign it. Congress is apparently a gigantic loophole in every Trump campaign stance. Trump has neither an affirmative role nor a negative role in shaping laws passed by Congress. Congress can write a law as it wishes, and Trump may sign it into law even if it violates his “principles.”
 
By that standard, Mnuchin’s concession on Social Security is significant indeed. He has acknowledged Congress has the “prerogative” to write and pass a bill cutting Social Security. His opposition is essentially technical.
 
This is not the only populist economic stance Trump has abandoned. In his speech announcing his candidacy, Trump said he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” He has already endorsed plans to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid. (The fact that Trump supports ending the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare means that his promise not to cut Medicaid from levels that existed before Obamacare is also moot, his budget director recently explained.) The administration has proposed deep cuts to SSDI, explaining that the disability-insurance portion of Social Security doesn’t count. His plan for a trillion dollars in federal infrastructure spending became a plan to cut federal spending on infrastructure while spreading around some tax breaks for builders. His promise for generous universal health insurance has gone by the wayside. In almost every respect, Trump has conformed to orthodox right-wing domestic policy.
(New York Magazine)

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