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Nomination for Best Political Video

by Grace Kelly on December 11, 2013 · 0 comments

What did you see this year that really was the most persuasive? I nominate this video.

 

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johnklineRep. John Kline (R-MN) is the Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Kline is notorious for being unresponsive to his constituents. Unless you are a Republican, from the school loan industry or from the for-profit college industry. If you’re any of these, Kline has plenty of time for you.
 
So when the for-profit college held a conference in Minneapolis, Kline agreed to speak.
 

Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota, chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He also is a living symbol of the Republican Party’s shameful loyalty to big for-profit colleges that have added to the corruption of U.S. politics, systematically ripped off taxpayers, and ruined the futures of countless students.
 
On Friday, Rep. Kline will be the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Minnesota Career College Association, the trade group for the state’s for-profit colleges. Not all for-profit college programs are bad; some work hard to train students for careers. But the Minnesota organization includes schools owned by some of the industry’s worst predators — described below.
 
Kline, USA Today reported over the summer, “saw a dramatic upsurge in campaign contributions from for-profit colleges in recent months,” at the same time that he has advanced a bill that would shield for-profit colleges from greater accountability for waste, fraud, and abuse. Kline’s legislation has the ridiculous name the “Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act,” but it has nothing to do with actual academic freedom. Instead, Kline’s bill is about blocking the Obama administration from issuing a new “gainful employment” rule that would end taxpayer support for career training programs that consistently leave students with insurmountable loan debt. The bill is also about relaxing federal standards so for-profit college boiler room operations can more easily engage in coercive recruiting of students.

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I’m going to start posting on education reform issues, especially relating to Minneapolis, which is where I live and which has the worst academic gaps in the state.

 

And I’m going to be posting as an active, life-long progressive DFLer. Because at least in Minneapolis, nearly all the ed reformers I work with are progressive Dems. We support these changes, not despite being progressives but precisely because we’re progressives. 

 

I’m also a veteran Minneapolis Public School parent whose three kids went to MPS from K-12.  I didn’t start out on the reform side.  But like many of my fellow ed reformers, I ended up there, led by the core progressive values of justice, equal opportunity, racial equity, good governance, transparency, creating public systems that really serve the public and more. 

 

So despite all the talk about “corporate “ education reform, ALEC and the Koch Brothers, ed reform in Minnesota is increasingly not a fight between the left and the right, or between Republicans and Democrats. It’s a fight within the DFL.

 
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Giving advice to Republicans on student loans

by Eric Ferguson on June 5, 2013 · 3 comments

Rep. John Kline chair of the House education committee

Rep. John Kline, whose student loan bill addresses the debt problem by jacking up interest rates.

I rarely offer advice to the Republicans. I have better things to do than play concern-troll. I also believe in the old adage about never interrupting your opponents when they’re making a mistake. I’m interrupting a mistake now. At the same time they’re screwing themselves over with younger voters, they’re screwing over younger voters with their attempt to jack-up student loan interest rates. Their mistake is great for Democrats, but sucky for people burdened with student loan debt or hoping to advance their educations. Actually, it’s bad for all of us, because a less-educated population means a less robust economy overall in the long term, and in the short term, people burdened with large loan payments aren’t buying the sort of stuff that might actually generate jobs at a time of high unemployment. What, we should help debtors who aren’t us to help unemployed people who also aren’t us? Yes. In a wider sense, we’ll all be economically better off, even you, Republicans.

 

I’m fully aware Republicans don’t agree with the policy, nor do I expect them to agree that access to higher education is as much a right as elementary or secondary education, regardless of how it helps the individual student or the whole society. If Republicans want to go on thinking education is only for those who can pay for it, I can’t stop them, but I can point out something in purely electoral terms:

 

Republicans, you don’t have to agree with me on anything in the prior two paragraphs, but you better accept that a lot of the young voters do agree — and they’re not voting for you. Your first instinct seems to be proclaiming yourselves believers in personal responsibility, which Kline seems to think is defined as paying market interest rates on massive debt, but you’re missing something. Our kids grow up being told over and over to stay in school and advance their educations however they have to do it, so they go deep in debt because that’s the only way to pay for it. In other words, they’re in the situation they’re in because they were personally responsible, true in a way of both those who took on debt and those delaying school to avoid debt, and now you want to screw them over by jacking up interest rates. Any guesses why they don’t vote GOP?

 

But that’s not the part that should really scare you.

 

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Public Policy Polling is out with (what I think is) the final round of results from their May poll: Governor Dayton’s approval rating is still hovering near 50%, the DFL in the Legislature is, while unpopular, a whole lot better-looking than their GOP counterparts, and Minnesotans appear to be coming down on the DFL side on most issues.

 

Money quote:

 

“Mark Dayton’s approval numbers have declined over the course of this legislative session,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “But he still looks like a pretty clear favorite over any of the Republicans contemplating the race.”

 

Voters support the legalization of same-sex marriage by a 49%-45% margin. Only 46% approve of the job DFL legislators are doing to 49% who disapprove. Minnesotans dislike Republican legislators even more, at 23% positive to 59% negative. The DFL leads the Republicans on the general legislative ballot by 47% to 41%.

 

Minnesotans favor paying back the school shift as soon as possible by a margin of 50% to 13%. However, 44% think not raising taxes is more important than quickly paying back the school shift. 50% of Minnesota voters oppose allowing in-home child care providers to unionize, to only 31% who support letting them do so. A majority, 54%, support raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour, compared to 37% who are against that proposal.

 

The care provider unionization vote effort has always been a touchy issue, with lots of cross-cutting concerns. It’s doubtful that it’s going to be a major campaign issue come October 2014, though. More important are going to be the DFL’s efforts on education (all-day kindergarten funding), economic opportunity (raising the minimum wage — ARE YOU LISTENING, SENATE LEADERSHIP?), and marriage equality, all of which are supported by fairly huge majorities of voters in this poll.

 

Interestingly, check out those numbers on the school shift — 50-13 in favor of paying it back, but 44% say not raising taxes is more important than paying it back. On the original question, 47% of 2012 Romney voters said they weren’t sure, but on the second, that number dropped to just 12% while the “low taxes > school payback” number jumped to 71%.

 

…Meaning that this group of voters don’t know what the school shift is all about, but they just know that it can’t be more important than keeping taxes on the very richest Minnesotans low.

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clownsIt’s pretty simple, really; if you’re not a dogmatic idiot like them, the conservatives call it “liberal bias.”

 

Minnesota schools are free to implement new standards for teaching social studies after a judge ruled against critiques that the curriculum reflected a liberal and “anti-American” bias.

 

Administrative Law Judge Barbara Neilson’s decision in the ideological battle over competing views of how to teach the American story called the new standards “needed and reasonable.” She ruled that they can be adopted as planned for the 2013-2014 school year.

 

Neilson was asked to mediate a dispute between the Department of Education and a group of mostly conservative critics, led by Education Liberty Watch and a number of Republican legislators.

 

Star Tribune

 

Many states are in fact “teaching” the sort of agenda that the plaintiffs wanted to see here: America is by and for white men, and never wrong in going to war, and so forth. Oh, I know that the right-wingers don’t see it that way. The “liberal agenda,” as far as they’re concerned, is what’s really wrong with this country, despite 30+ years of conclusive evidence to the contrary. (More here.) Hard-line conservatism is what happens when people refuse to reason from fact, and wallow in ignorant dogmatism and hysterical emotionalism instead.

 

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Minnesota education and tax cheats

by Dan Burns on February 11, 2013 · 1 comment

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s proposal for education spending is in many respects a thing of beauty.  The dissembling corporate weasels at places like StudentsWorstNightmare may not like it much – where’s all the money for more testing? – but, tough.

The main issue is paying for it.  Governor Dayton has produced strong proposals to fix Minnesota’s budget issues for the long term. The rich man and the corporatists are squealing like swine. mnpACT! takes them down.

Minnesota loses nearly $2 billion a year in tax revenue due to some of the state’s major corporations and wealthy individuals moving their earnings to tax havens, a new report found…

Minnesota loses nearly as much as Pennsylvania and Illinois. States with much larger populations.

There is a touch of irony in that Dayton’s proposal would increase revenues by about $2 billion and our corporate brethren are sticking it to the rest of us for about that same amount.

And then they complain about how “unfair” it is to them.


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NRA stooges oppose this kind of arming

by The Big E on February 5, 2013 · 2 comments

Here’s the kind of “arming” that I’m sure the NRA stooges oppose:


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Another fine mess the GOP has gotten us into

by Eric Ferguson on January 21, 2013 · 3 comments

That title refers to the messes the MNGOP majorities left behind for DFL legislators, though I don’t mean to compare the MNGOP to Laurel and Hardy by paraphrasing Hardy’s favorite expression. That would be unfair. Laurel and Hardy were funny on purpose.

There is something of a meta-mess going on, unfortunately. Some skittish DFL legislators are listening to the framing of the Republicans and the press and adopting a word they should just get out of their vocabularies, “overreach”. Looking at a mess and working on a way to fix it is not “overreach” — especially when you ran your campaign on fixing it and the voters agreed.
Overreach is when you do what the Republicans did. They ran in 2010 telling voters angry about high unemployment and their underwater mortgages that they would fix it, and then they worked on anything but. Well, not anything, some specific things, but not what they ran on. They were sent to address the mortgage crisis and lack of jobs, and instead they tried to restrict voting rights, put marriage discrimination in the constitution, and for good measure imposed a government shutdown to force the governor to sign off on a bunch of lousy legislation. Now that’s overreach.

Fixing the budget mess — that’s what you ran on, not overreach. DFL legislators, you rightly campaigned on what a sham it was for the Republicans to claim they balanced the budget when they cashed in the tobacco endowment, shifted school financing to make the public schools into involuntary lenders, and drove up such taxes as they could blame on local governments. Caution will not fix these things.

I wouldn’t suggest that mere tweaks and tepidity would accomplish nothing, for indeed they will. They will give you the chance to start on non-political careers after the next election. Right before embarking on your new careers, you’ll have the pleasure of running a campaign on a slogan like, “Re-elect me because I went to the legislature and thought about doing what I said I would do, and I might even have done it as long as there was no political risk involved.”

Actually, the skittish caucus is talking about taking a huge risk, though they may not have realized that’s what they’re saying.
Care to take a risk of throwing away the governor’s office after just one term? Then by all means, ignore that Gov. Dayton said, “Tax the rich” at every stump speech and debate and managed to win. It was a narrow win to be sure, but keeping in mind that the IP candidate also called for tax increases, that’s a big majority that voted for a candidate promising to raise taxes. This should tell you two things. One, voting to raise taxes is not risky and two, your refusal to raise taxes means Gov. Dayton will have to run for reelection next — next year — looking weak from being unable to get a DFL legislature to support what got him elected. If the governor looks weak and gets taken down, what will that do to your own prospects? What will you do in 2015 after losing the governor’s mansion and a bunch of seats? I don’t know either, but I’m pretty sure it won’t have much to do with legislating.

Yet this pointless risk of defying a DFL governor seems to be what the skittish caucus is thinking about:

Dayton’s proposal to tax high earners has run up against some political and practical realities. First, President Obama recently pushed Congress to raise the federal income tax rate for high earners, potentially limiting how much more Dayton could raise and not overburden the wealthy. Some DFLers have cooled to steep income tax increases on high earners, saying they don’t want to make it harder for the state’s leading companies to recruit top talent.

Legislative leaders now say it would be difficult to get $1 billion in new income tax money from high earners, about half of what Dayton sought two years ago.

“There’s some room, but there are some limitations,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “We need to be careful with it. It is not an unlimited pool of [m]oney.”

Well, mathematically, that’s true, since no pool of money is unlimited, but overburden the wealthy — are the Senate Majority Leader and the writer of the article kidding? Is that a bad attempt to feign innumeracy? The federal rates just went back up to where they were in the 1990’s for the richest people, and they made bags and bags of money then. We had tax cuts in Minnesota too, remember? You know, those stupid things that kicked off over a decade of perpetual budget crises? Not only did the wealthiest get most of the income gains during that time, but since the financial crisis of 2008, they’ve gotten almost every gain. So Majority Leader, if you can’t be bold, then be mathematical: this pool of money that’s not unlimited is nonetheless massive. We simply refuse to use it. Moreover, there is simply no way to end the annual budget crisis in our state without raising taxes at the top. That’s not even about fixing the unfairness of our state and local tax burdens being heaviest at the bottom. It’s just math.

So if some skittish legislators can’t get motivated by opportunity knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell, tossing pebbles at your window and threatening to trample your flower bed if you don’t open the door, then be motivated by the fear of what happens when you toss away the only means of fixing the budget because some rich person somewhere who would never vote for you anyway might get mildly ticked. Speaking as one of those grassroots DFLers who is going to have to try to drag you over the finish line next year, that’s a bad risk to take.

So far we’re just thinking about the budget in general. If you really want to fix education funding, you’re not going to do it with some technical fixes to funding formulas. There isn’t enough money. Period. Making tweaks to the distribution of inadequate funding is going to leave our schools pretty where they are, hard up for funds. If the schools on Labor Day 2014 are in the same position as the schools on Labor Day 2012, the Republicans will spend the campaign season at the voters’ doors making sure they know bupkis got fixed. You can’t take that chance, which means you need to act boldly. You could run for reelection explaining how you resolved the Republicans’ chronic underfunding of schools to put them on a sound financial footing, or you could leave taxes right where they are, and have fun explaining next election why you did pretty much nothing.

And that just the fiscal messes. Let’s think about some other messes they left, and the accompanying opportunities. Yes, we’re thinking about marriage equality (though not only marriage equality — more on that later). Non-metro legislators are mostly representing districts where the marriage ban won. This has legislators worried about bringing up the issue for fear of losing heir seats. Not only me, but others in the liberal blogosphere and DFL grassroots have been trying to explain to DFL legislators not just the opportunity in front of them to get the ban repealed while our opponents are back on heir heels, and when there is a lot of time for voters to move on to other issues before the 2014 elections, but that failing to act will entail a huge price in the loss of support and enthusiasm from people who worked hard to beat the amendment and put the DFL in the majority. A lot of these are people who hadn’t volunteered for a campaign for a long time if ever, and young voters who are still developing their voting habits. Failing to move, and we’re far enough into the session that there is no excuse for further delay, risks harming DFL electoral prospects for a long time. Young voters, and people of all ages who come out infrequently but did this time, will learn that even with a clear win, their candidates won’t move.

But I ask legislators to think about this in terms other than relative risks (though to be clear, it’s still the case that inaction is much riskier than action). Think very long term. Yes, people in more conservative districts aren’t ready for gays to get married, or really, equality in general. Yet think back a bit — they weren’t ready for black people to vote either. They weren’t ready for women to be paid the same as men. They weren’t ready for Jews to buy what houses they want despite restrictive covenants. They didn’t get ready until after equality under the law became real. There were, at the time these laws were passed, legislators who opposed these laws because their constituents just weren’t ready for other people to have rights.

So I ask current legislators, when you think back on the legislators who voted against civil rights in their time, what do you think of them now? Does the claim that their constituents weren’t ready ring hollow? So when it comes time to vote on the civil rights issues of today, what do you think future legislators will think of you for refusing to do the right thing? Is a slightly improved chance of winning one more election really worth how you’ll be thought of in decades to come?

Now the “more on that later” part, because circumstances have handed the DFL other opportunities. The photo ID debate revealed that not only is voter fraud remarkably rare, but what there is is almost all former felons voting or registered before their rights are restored. Few cases can be prosecuted because the former felons involved were unaware their rights weren’t restored yet. There’s a chance to end all real voter fraud, to reenfranchise every former felon whose rights haven’t yet been restored, and maybe above all, reenfranchise those who rights have been restored, but from mistaken assumption or uncertainty, refuse to vote just to avoid going back to jail for it. Set a clear standard that works for other states: when you’re out of jail, you can vote. Simple.

I know I’ve written essentially those same words before, more than once I’m pretty sure, but another opportunity has presented itself since the election. The fact is the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary has changed many people’s attitudes towards gun regulation. Maybe having some gun laws isn’t so terrible after all. I’m aware that unlike raising upper income taxes, fixing school financing, marriage equality, and voting rights, gun regulation wasn’t an election. Quite true. However, the public has finally become ready to think about the carnage we inflict on ourselves with crazy gun laws. States can do much on their own to prohibit large capacity magazines. They can develop better record keeping on people suffering dangerous mental illnesses, people seeking to buy guns and ammunition, and above all put those records together. We could put taxes on guns and ammunition to deter impulse purchases (plus every time a Democrat gets elected, the revenue will just flow in!). Even if federal agencies are prohibited by the gun lobby’s laws from keeping records, developing databases, or doing research, the same does not apply to the state. Something we know for sure: people too dangerous to own guns are having little trouble getting them legally. We also learned after seeing the last election’s results that the dreaded NRA isn’t nearly so powerful as politicians have been scared into believing. So the opportunity is here to stop letting fools like Tony Cornish set gun policy.

Just remember: lukewarm water doesn’t clean many messes. Ignoring opportunity is the biggest risk of all.

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DFL legislators do indeed have a mandate

by Eric Ferguson on January 8, 2013 · 5 comments

The first session of the new legislature with DFL majorities opens tomorrow. Anyone following the coverage and commentary sees the media and DFL legislators fretting about being accused of overreach if they do what they were elected to do. My choice of the word “fretting” might imply I don’t take those concerns seriously, and, well, that’s mostly right. Too many have it in their heads that the reason the GOP majorities were so short-lived was that they overreached. “Overreached” implies that the voters liked the GOP agenda, but just wanted a bit less of it. However, the GOP agenda was pretty thoroughly rejected — there’s no other way to read it when it lasts just two years and the voters could have blamed the DFL governor, but chose instead to give him a friendly legislature. That message wasn’t, “You overreached.” It was, “Please go away.”

Yes DFL legislators, you have a mandate to do certain things, and failure to do what you were elected to do is far riskier to your majority than success.

What exactly is in your mandate?
Let’s think back to 2010. Gov. Dayton became governor in defiance of the red wave while running on the most non-Republican theme possible, taxing rich people. He repeated this in every debate and stump speech. I have difficulty believing anybody voted for him without knowing this was what he planned. He can’t be blamed for being unable to get a tax increase through the Republican legislature, but now there’s no excuse. Remember legislators that the governor is up for reelection next year, and he’ll look ineffective if he can’t get an upper income tax increase when his party has both houses. Do you really want to put the governorship at such risk? Do you want to take the chance that the gravity of a governor going down might pull legislators down too?

Try to remember the old saying, “good policy is good politics”. The state’s tax burden is heaviest at the bottom and lightest at the top. The school shift has to be repaid even if nothing is accomplished more broadly in fixing school funding. Turning the tobacco endowment into tobacco bonds was not only foolish, but one time only. There will be no avoiding massive budget cuts targeting the state’s vulnerable people without raising taxes at the top. So doing what the governor got elected saying he would do good policy isn’t merely good politics and good policy, it’s math.

Speaking of school funding, if there is one issue lots of legislators ran on, it’s the damage the MNGOP did to the finances of our public schools. It’s a big project, and probably can’t get done just this session, but will need next session too. That’s fine. This is a popular issue. Getting it finished next year is conveniently closer to election day. Again, good policy is good politics.

Of course, if the base has to push DFL legislators to get school financing fixed, we have huge problems. It looks like the one thing where we won’t have to persuade DFL legislators they have a mandate. It’s not like what looks like the scariest issue, marriage equality. At least it seems this is what legislators find scariest.

Yet there is clear mandate and opportunity here. Don’t conflate the marriage and photo ID amendments. The photo ID amendment was about putting the policy into the constitution, but the marriage debate was about the core issue itself. And we won. Yes I know, the vast majority of counties voted for the amendment, but we don’t count counties. We count people. Now it’s time to make more people count equally under the law. If you’re scared of blowback, repeal the marriage ban early. There are almost two years before election day. If you’re worried about being attacked for working on this instead of the budget, then repeal it right away before you get deep into the budget. We all know there’s only so much you can do on the budget until February at the earliest.

I make a request too of supporters of marriage equality. Tell nervous legislators that you will make a commitment to show up for their phonebanks and doorknocks during the next campaign if they will do the right thing. The anti-amendment group, Minnesotans United for All Families, hasn’t folded up. Tell them you’ll help them help legislators who vote to repeal the ban. Tell your own legislators. Tell the caucus leaders. Tell the skittish-sounding legislators. If, however, your plan is to vote, and … well, that’s all, then you’re not helping.

Regarding the other amendment victory, the voters’ opposition to photo ID for voting is less clear. Though most of the debate was about how lousy an idea photo ID is in policy terms, there’s no question some voters objected to putting it in the constitution, but might have been open to a statute. Now that there’s a DFL majority, there’s a chance to put the issue to bed. During the debate in the legislature last session, Sec. of State Mark Ritchie offered the Republicans support for electronic poll books, which avoid the disenfranchisement problem by putting the burden of supplying a photo on the state instead of the voter. Obviously for Republicans, disenfranchisement is a feature rather than a bug, but nonetheless, the electronic poll books could work politically by not only avoiding disenfranchisement, but by assuaging the concerns of people who think photos are foolproof security. Everyone but the tiny minority at Minnesota Majority will be happy. In terms of cost, some local election officials endorsed the electronic poll books on the grounds they would save money in terms of clerical work.

That’s just photo ID. There was a broader discussion of voting rights and election procedures that opened up an opportunity to deal with the only thing resembling real election fraud, illegal voting and registering by former felons whose rights weren’t yet restored. These are an infinitesimal percentage of all votes, but almost 100% of the illegal votes. So clear it up with a straightforward standard used by some other states: if you’re out of jail, you can vote. Simple to understand, simple to enforce. Moreover, though the number of illegal votes is tiny, we have no idea how many legitimate voters stay away because they think a felony record means they can never vote again — a common misunderstanding most canvassers have likely run into — or they just aren’t clear on when they can vote and don’t want to risk going back to jail. Simplifying the standard would not only end all known voter fraud, but would expand voting rights.

When should they vote? How about voting early, and letting us non-felons vote early too? It works in other states. The only substantive argument I’ve heard against it is the difficult situation caused when Paul Wellstone died right before the election, after a lot of absentee voters had already voted. We should have found something better than an ad hoc fix to it anyway, and maybe making early voting work will force us to find a solution. It’s probably not the last time a candidate will die after absentee or early ballots have already come in. Might was well just figure it out. Absentee voting has been increasing as voters use it like early voting, so early voting doesn’t actually create a problem.

strike while the iron is hotNow think about how long you get to keep this DFL legislature with a DFL governor. Two years. Yes, fear of losing that is what’s driving some of you besides concern for your own seats, but really, the governorship and House could be lost in the next election. You know for sure you can do what you were elected to do only for the next two years. That’s regardless of which risks you choose to take. You know how angry some Republicans are about the things they didn’t get done when they had the chance? Don’t let that happen to you. Strike while the iron is hot.

So DFL legislators, imagine that you and the governor can run for reelection in 2014 by saying:
We balanced the budget by making the richest pay their fair share instead of creating more hardship for the most vulnerable;
We fixed school funding to avoid accounting shifts and making the schools involuntary lenders to the state, let the schools predict their funding, and keep the burden on the state so all our children get an equal chance at a good education;
We stopped the state from deciding when two consenting adults can get married, and made all married people equal under the law;
We ended the only real fraud in our elections, expanded voting rights, and improved election procedures.

Sounds like a winner to me.

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