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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Surprise, surprise

Today there is yet another story about how the elections in Minnesota may be FUBAR-ed by the secretary of state. Local voting supervisors are complaining that the new voting database has all sorts of problems. At a Senate Elections Committee hearing, Mary Kiffmeyer "was put on the defensive."

This is becoming absurd. Elections in Minnesota used to be consistently great. There were no problems, there was no fraud, there were no stories like this. You could safely forget about the secretary of state and local election supervisors because they did such a good job and voting went flawlessly. But ever since Kiffmeyer was elected and started using her office as a stepping stone to further her political career, people have had to start monitoring elections again. "What happened in Florida could never happen here" was heard in this state, but that is probably no longer true. We need a secretary of state (of any party) that will focus on running our elections, not running for higher office.

Don't vote?

Billboards that say "Don't Vote" are popping up around the Twin Cities. According to Clear Channel, who owns the billboards, the signs are simply a client's way of generating buzz, and will be explained shortly. Kinda like the "Ugly kids become DJs" billboards from a few years ago. But maybe the purchasers of these billboards are have a more nefarious reason for doing so. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Will voting problems stop?

The City Pages today has a couple of articles on more voting problems in this state (see here and here). This is getting ridiculous, especially the fact that people who registered to vote were not on the rolls. That happened to me, and there is more and more evidence that this is widespread.

In one of the articles, the SOS's office said that they want to collect information from people who have had problems. I will be contacting them, and you should too, at this address: elections.dept@state.mn.us.

Drinking Liberally

Tonight is the first night for Drinking Liberally in Minneapolis. People will be meeting from 7 to 10 at Williams in Uptown. Stop by if you have the chance. I will!

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Local leaders are touting a plan for Bus Rapid Transit down I-35W, from Minneapolis to Burnsville and points south. These dedicated bus lanes would be in the median of the freeway, allowing for high-speed access between downtown and the Burnsville Transit Center, with the possibility of an extension to Lakeville.

The Twin Cities is one of the most sprawled metropolitan areas in the country, if not the world. While some people see this as a good thing, by nearly every metric that comes to mind it is not (yet more proof of this is a study that shows that sprawl is linked to health problems). One reason we have so much sprawl is a lack of public transit, so anything that improves public transit is great in my book.

BRT along this corridor is something that I would like to see go forward. If it is built, however, I hope they build it with LRT in mind. Should this transit route become popular and overwhelm the buses, then a conversion to LRT may be a good idea in the future. Way back more than ten years ago, the reconstruction of I-35W contained plans for LRT in the median. That project was shelved, but there's no reason not to have a comeback.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Independence Party back on ballot

The state supreme court has ruled that the law keeping the party off the ballot can't be constitutionally applied, so they are back on.

Now only if the court could give them some wins so they don't fade into oblivion! Ah, but handing out election wins is a job for the U.S. Supreme Court, not the state supreme court.

Ethanol subsidies

Governor Pawlenty is pushing a plan to double the amount of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 20 percent by 2010. Ethanol producers and farmers like this, as probably do environmentalists. The auto industry does not.

Honestly, neither do I. The benefits of ethanol are debatable. It helps in some ways and hurts in others. Clearly, ethanol is a better oxygenate for gasoline than something like MTBE; MTBE is polluting water supplies, while you can drink straight ethanol and feel pretty good about it afterwards (which is why ethanol is denatured to prevent people from running both their cars and their minds on it). Critics do point out that you get less energy from ethanol than you put into making it. I don't know enough to say whether this is true or not.

I don't like corporate welfare, and that includes welfare for farmers. I'm a "freedom to farm" person. The elaborate system of price supports and guaranteed payments really annoys me. If ethanol is commercially feasible and valuable, it should be able to exist without subsidies and without pointless government mandates for use. This new program that the governor is pushing doesn't appear to have any environmental benefit at all; it simply looks like an attempt to create an artificial market for ethanol. If so, why is a conservative free-market governor doing this? Mainly to get votes, I imagine.

On the other hand, the part of the plan to get the state to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as hybrids, is a great idea no matter how you look at it. With gas pushing $2 a gallon, the state should be looking to cut fuel consumption.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

More Kiffmeyer

The Star Tribune has a long article today about the secretary of state. Not a whole lot is new; it reiterates the fact that many people, including some Republicans, see her as too partisan (her notion that she is "fighting bullies" is laughable). One story that was particularly interesting, one that I did not know, was that she fired her Republican elections director because he invited Democrats as well as Republicans to a presentation on new voting machines (at least that's his claim). Shocking? Unfortunately, no.

Once upon a time, Republicans were interested in actually governing the state. Although they were certainly partisan, and they had specific ideological goals, they were fair. They understood that democracy was a back-and-forth, that they would try their ideas and Democrats would try theirs and voters would decide who they like best. Those were good Republicans. Nowadays, however, Republicans don't govern, they want to rule. Not only do they want to implement their ideas, they want to make it impossible for Democrats to try theirs, or even for voters to get a glimpse of what that may mean. In short, they want to change the rules to ensure that Republicans will be in power forever, no matter what the results of their policies.

DeLay's gerrymandering in Texas is an example of that. So is refusing to allow Democrats on conference committees. So is focusing on hot-button social issues instead of real problems. And Republicans wonder why people are so polarized? I'm sorry, we are just trying to secure the future of our democracy, so that one party doesn't have a monopoly. So get used to is, because Democrats aren't going to play the doormat any more.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Indian gambling

The Governor reiterated today that he wants to get a share of the profits from Indian casinos. The state doesn't have accurate numbers, but it is estimated that the gaming industry in Minnesota takes in between $1 and $2 billion a year.

This is another thing I don't really care about. I am generally against a government monopoly or restriction on gambling (if you're going to allow it in one place, you should allow it everywhere), but the current compacts were accepted by both sides, so they stand. But if we do get new compacts that share revenue with the state, could we get a deal that allows Las Vegas-style gambling here? I want to play me some craps, and I am sick of driving to Wisconsin to do it.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Voting twice?

The Minnesota Daily has a story today about how people can vote twice by voting absentee at their old address and then registering and voting at the U. What I don't get is the tone of this article. You have always been able to do this, but the article makes it sound like this is a new flaw recently discovered.

I don't think this happens a lot, and this isn't new, so I wonder why this story was written and placed as it was. The story on Brother Jed is much better. That crazy ass. He once told a Jewish friend of mine that Jews deserved the Holocaust. He's a real nice guy, that Brother Jed.

Rep. Kahn pleads guilty

Rep. Phyllis Kahn has pleaded guilty to stealing campaign literature. She will have to pay $200 in prosecution costs.

Hopefully, this will not happen again this campaign system. Stealing lit is wrong, and Rep. Kahn was right to plead guilty.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Kerry Hate Mail?

According to DFL Chair Mike Erlandson, Kerry supporters in Golden Valley have been receiving hate mail disguised as Rosh Hashanah cards. That is a disgusting thing to do. It is one thing to debate a Kerry supporter or try to convince them to vote for somebody else, but sending hate mail disguised as a religious greeting is despicable. Republicans, some of whom call themselves the "party of God," seem to do this when they don't have any other options or hope. Instead of running on issues, they resort to personal attacks.

Independence party and ballot access II

The Independence Party is asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to rule on whether they will be allowed on the ballot. As you may remember, they were removed after they failed to adhere to an ancient, little-known law relating to primary election results.

No matter what happens, the Independence Party is done in this state. Like almost all third parties, their history was short. Third parties just can't survive in this electoral system.

No one to vote for

In an article today, Jesse Ventura says that no one to vote for. This is a pretty sad thing to say. Even if Jesse doesn't think that he can vote for anybody for president, there is still local races to vote for. He could write in his fellow Independence Party candidates. He could voter Libertarian, if that is what his beliefs are. There is no need to give up so easily.

I hope that people don't follow his lead, and instead vote on November 2nd. It's too important to forget.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Airport expansion

The governor today also endorsed an idea put forward by Northwest Airlines to completely reserve the Lindbergh (Main) terminal for Northwest and partner airlines. Other airlines would be relegated to an expanded Humphrey terminal.

Assuming that public money will be spent on this (and I'm sure it will), can we get a promise from Northwest that they will stop losing luggage? Or some equivalent customer service promise? I'm sick of having NorthWorst as our only option, so if we are going to be doing any favors for them, they should reciprocate.

Toll lanes?

A report in the Star Tribune today says that according to a study done by Cambridge Systematics, toll lanes in the Twin Cities would be attractive to drivers, but would not make enough money to completely cover their costs. That means that if Governor Pawlenty wants to go forward with this idea, it is going to take state money.

I'm not necessarily opposed to toll lanes on principle, but what I am opposed to is this myth held by Republicans that we can make up for funding shortfalls in state government by getting the private sector involved. While this may work in a few cases, it usually does not. I am not surprised that this study shows that toll lanes will not be self-sustaining. Traffic is bad here, yes, but it's not that bad.

Pawlenty and House Republicans refuse to consider raising the gas tax (which hasn't gone up in over 15 years), raising license tab fees, or doing anything else to actually put more money into our transportation system. As a result, our highways are falling apart, and projects to increase capacity are repeatedly delayed. We need real dollars, not pie-in-the-sky promises that the "free market" will answer all of our problems. It won't.

Progressive blogs

The American Street has a list of progressive blogs by state. This blog happens to be on it. If you haven't checked out the list, go ahead and do so. If you are visiting from that site, take a look around here and enjoy.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Independence party and ballot access

By now, most people have heard that the Independence Party may not be on the ballot anywhere in the state due to a little-known and seldom-used law regarding primary election results. It appears that no Independence Party candidate got the required number of votes in the primary. The secretary of state Mary Kiffmeyer used this law to justify her actions. I really can't fault her for applying this law, since it is a law that is on the books (fortunately, she doesn't yet have the power to create new laws and implement them, even though she has tried).

What does this mean for the Independence Party? Frankly, the "Jesse Ventura" party's days were always numbered. In our first-past-the-post electoral system where the person with the most votes wins, the default is to have two parties, no more. Third parties are usually celebrity affairs. Unless we move towards a proportional representation system (which I would consider for local races, up to the state level), this isn't going to change.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Economic inequality

Another piece in the Star Tribune today (hey, it's what I read on Sunday mornings) talks about rising economic inequality in our country. Why Republican's aren't as concerned about this as Democrats puzzles me. As the piece points out, high inequality and democracy do not mix. The U.S. already has much more inequality than most other industrialized democratic nations. If this trend continues, we are looking at a Brazilination of our country, with dire consequences.

Nobody thinks that the government should have policies that create rigid economic equality. That is not good for democracy either. However, there is a need to correct this before it gets out of control. If I can admit that inequality, entrepreneurship, and the possibility to climb up the economic ladder are necessary for a free market economy, then surely conservatives should be able to admit that limiting inequality is necessary for democracy.

Red versus Blue?

The Star Tribune has a story today on the Red versus Blue divide in this state and across the country. They correctly point out that the population is not sharply divided into two diametrically opposed camps with unified beliefs, but that it appears that way because a small number of politics-obsessed people (like me) get all the attention. It's an interesting read, if not exactly earth-shaking.

I am not beholden to any one political party either; I do split my ballots from time to time in order to vote for the most able candidate for office. Yes, it is true that I usually agree with Democrats, but like most people my beliefs can stray from the party line.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Mary Kiffmeyer still crazy

Defending the idiotic terrorist alert she put our recently, Mary Kiffmeyer wrote (or somebody wrote for her) an op-ed in today's Star Tribune. In it, she says that her warning was eminently justified.

In the piece, she uses what is obviously becoming the latest Republican talking-point: naysayers are "9/10 people." "9/11 people" like herself realize that EVERYTHING changed that day, so no matter what you do, no matter how crazy it is, it is all right as long as you can justify it by saying "terrorists are trying to kill us!"

I agree that Kiffmeyer and many Republicans are "9/11 people," because they never seem to be able to move off that day. I'll call myself a "9/12 person": while 9/11 was horrific, the laws of reason and security were not magically repealed that day. Crying wolf still harms our security more than not putting up posters a polling places. Doing stupid things in the name of protecting our families from terrorism still costs far more than any benefits we get from it. Color-coded terror alerts that jump around for no reason, warnings about fruity-smelling bald guys, exhortations to buy plastic sheeting and duct tape, these all reduce security, not enhance them.

9/11 did not give people carte blanche to act like idiots and justify themselves by invoking the memories of thousands of our dead neighbors. Unfortunately, lots of people, mainly Republicans, still haven't learned this lesson.

It's official: Dick Day steps down as Senate Minority Leader

Senator Dick Day officially stepped down as minority leader today. There wasn't any move to oust him; he just had enough.

Despite being from Owatonna, Day was obsessed with transportation in the metro, railing against ramp meters and light rail (he was the impetus behind the study that shut down the ramp meters several years ago). He also loved the idea of putting slots at Canterbury Park. Today, though, he apparently talked more about NASCAR than anything else.

Now the question is who will take his place. May I nominate Senator Michelle Bachmann? Her unique brand of conservativism will really go far in putting a moderate face on the Republican party. Plus, she can bring her "God hates gays" fan club wherever she goes!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Polls, polls, polls

The Star Tribune says that Kerry has a good-sized lead. The Pioneer Press says that Bush is barely ahead. What'll it be? Who cares. Polls are worthless. And they certainly aren't something to throw a fit over, although the Republican party apparently needs to be told that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Primary results

Yesterday's primary elections had an all-time low turnout. There weren't many contested races (only a handful of state representative races had a primary), and there were no statewide races. Hopefully, this low turnout won't foreshadow similar antipathy for the general election.

The only surprising outcome was the primary for district 55A state representative. The current rep, Scott Wasiluk, was the subject of an exposé by Fox 9 news about drinking at the capitol. Although he is hardly the only elected official to drink at the capitol, he was the one caught on camera. As a result, he lost a close primary election.

Sometimes, politics isn't very fair. But as it goes with speeding, just because everybody else around you is doing it doesn't mean you are to blame too. Anybody could have been caught on that camera, Scott happened to be the one, and he paid the price.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Primary elections

Obviously, it's too late for me to tell you to get out and vote today in the primary elections. Between work, running errands, voting myself, and going to this month's DFL meetup, I didn't have the time. It wasn't terribly interesting anyway, since there are not many races that have contested primaries. But I still voted.

One thing that bothered me was the fact that I was not already registered to vote. I moved to my present address within the last year, and when I changed my driver's license I did the whole motor-voter thing. Apparently, that didn't accomplish anything. I had no problems registering today at the polls, but the fact that I wasn't already registered really pissed me off. Considering our Secretary of State, however, it's not surprising.

Teacher pay

The state is going to institute a test program that will provide teachers in certain schools with pay based on performance. The Star Tribune has the details here.

I don't have a lot to add to this. I'm not a huge fan of public schooling. We don't need to crank out mindless consumers, we need thinkers. Not all of today's public schools are oriented towards this goal. What can be done about that, I don't know. Maybe you can give me some help.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Representative puts out call for harassment

This is hardly big news, but it's all we have today. Republican Representative Bill Kuisle called on Republicans to go "harass" a Minnesota Women for Kerry event. DFL leaders called him on it.

It's no big deal when counter-demonstrators show up at political events. So this really isn't a big deal. A state representative should have better sense than to put out a call for "harassment," though. Leave that to the fun-loving College Republicans.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Republicans pout about polls

Here's a weird story coming out of the state Republican party. Apparently, they are mad at the Star Tribune because Republicans think it is biased against them. They are demanding that the Star Tribune fire its longtime pollster Rob Daves.

I admit that I really don't understand the point of this. Polls are polls. They are snapshots in time. They don't necessary reflect reality (that's why they have margins of error). Good candidates don't pay any attention to them; they campaign like their down five points until it's all over.

I don't understand why Republicans are focusing on this nonsense instead of actually getting out the vote and other things that real campaigns do. I guess it just might be some knee-jerk accusations of "liberal media bias." You gotta learn to control those, Ron.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Scary people don't want you to vote

The Secretary of State's office is telling election workers to be on the lookout for scary people that might be terrorists. Things to look for are shaved heads, short hair, whispering, or a "flower smell." In other words, anybody likely to be voting in Uptown, it seems.

This despite a lack of any evidence whatsoever that terrorists are planning on blowing up polling places in this state, or any evidence that this is what terrorists might be like. It's classic FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

Is this a concerted effort to intimidate people into not voting, or is it just incompetence? In any case, this is just more proof that SOS Mary Kiffmeyer should be retired by the voters. Her job should be to encourage voter turnout, make sure the vote counts are accurate, and make it easy to vote. She is failing miserably on all counts, instead preferring to be a partisan hack. She scares voters, she tries to stop voter registration drives, and she says things like there shouldn't be a separation of church and state. Are these things appropriate for a person in her office? I don't think so.

"Breaking News"

Head on over to the Pioneer Press website right now and you will see that the "Top Story" is this: Bumper sticker causes political flap. It is about how a bumper stick that says "Bush/Cheney — Most hated world leaders since Hitler" was passed out to a few people by a DFL clerk and then stopped.

The story says that the bumper sticker "
compares President Bush to Adolf Hitler," but I must be missing that. It says Bush and Cheney are the most hated people since Hitler. It is objectively true that most of the world despises Bush and Cheney. Whether they have lower approval ratings around the world than Hitler did, who knows? I don't see a direct comparison to Hitler, though. This bumper sticker is not terribly interesting and I wouldn't have one on my car, but I don't think it is as over the line as, say, Cheney suggesting that if people vote for Kerry, terrorists will attack.

But come on, is this the top story this afternoon? Is this the most important thing out there, Pioneer Press?


Are you sure?

Okay, whatever!

Pawlenty and drivers licenses

Governor Pawlenty is pushing a plan to require students who want to get drivers licenses to have a good attendance record, or else no driving for them. A similar plan was considered by the legislature earlier this year but failed; now the governor wants to use the rulemaking process to implement this plan.

I have no real problems with this. In fact, I think that there are compelling reasons to push the age at which people can drive a year or two. But it is kinda strange to see a Republican governor put forward a plan where the government takes over parenting, isn't it? After all, isn't it the parents' job to keep their kids in school?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Free Trade

The Star Tribune has a series on free trade this week. I'm a supporter of free trade, and there is no question that in the long run free trade benefits everybody. In the short term, of course, there can be great dislocation of workers and the associated problems. The question is not whether we want free trade, but how to mitigate the negatives. This could be a good series.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Minneapolis votes for BRT

The Minneapolis City Council voted 13-0 to deny municipal consent for the I-35W/Crosstown reconstruction as long as it doesn't include Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). I think this is an appropriate step for the city to take. I-35W needs to be widened, but transit should definitely be a part of that. I hope that MnDOT, the city, and the Legislature will be able to come to an agreement that includes BRT.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Mark Kennedy lies and lies...

Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy talking about John Kerry:"when you hear john kerry saying we have submit our foreign policy to France...

John Kerry has said that we have to submit our foreign policy to France? Bullshit, Mark. Complete bullshit.

There's politicking, and then there's out-and-out lying. Republicans are turning more and more to the latter, without any apparent concern. Somebody who is supposedly talking about the importance "values" probably shouldn't be blatantly lying.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Pawlenty Shuffle

Governor Pawlenty was getting too moderate lately, so it was time to prance back towards the conservative end of things. He did this by demanding that police be able to act like INS agents by asking people about their immigrant status. This despite the fact that most law enforcement agents do not want this.

Unless you are familiar with the INS, it may not be clear why. People who have not dealt with the INS or known somebody who has have absolutely no idea how arbitrary, illogical, and bureaucratic the INS can be (actually, it's not even called the INS anymore). It is probably as close to living in the former Soviet Union as Americans can get. Field directors hold complete power over their little fiefdoms. Applications sit in boxes in warehouses for years. Service is unavailable to all but those with money. It's probably the worse governmental agency out there, even worse than the IRS.

It's therefore not very easy for many people who are non-citizens and in the clutches of the INS to be able to give a short answer to questions about whether they are legal. Sometimes, in order to become a legal immigrant, you have to be illegal for a while. Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do. People hire lawyers to figure these things out, and the rules and regulations change so quickly that even lawyers and the INS agents themselves don't know what is going on. Injecting police officers into this mix, who will be completely unable to follow any of this, is a bad idea.

This has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. If a criminal is arrested for committing a crime, their immigration status will come out soon enough. However, it sounds like the Governor wants police officers to be able to go up to any dark-skinned person asking suspicious and ask for their green card. That's not law enforcement, that's intimidation.

It's also read meat for his conservative base, the kind of people who rant about "furriners" and are only too happy to shut the doors to this country. Don't count me in as a supporter of that mindset.