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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Happy Republican fun time

Yet another Republican is piling on to immigrants. Representative Brad Finstad, who is certainly not a person of any note at the Capitol, has decided to jump on the furriner-bashing bandwagon by suggesting that immigrants not get welfare unless they take English classes and seek citizenship.

It doesn't matter that immigrants pay taxes like the rest of people. It doesn't matter that some are already required to enroll in English classes. No, this must become mandatory for some odd reason.

Is it better for people to learn English to be successful here? Yes. But then again, lots of things are "better" for people to become successful. Why don't we require all welfare recipients who don't speak English very well to take classes, instead of just those who weren't born here? Why don't we require them to take classes in jobs that are lacking in workers? Why don't we require them to have no more than two kids? Why don't we control their lives completely?

People on welfare receive so little in actual benefits that it is not a refuge anymore for the lazy and unmotivated. It's for those who have absolutely no other choices. There should be work or educational requirements as a condition of receiving welfare, but dictating that people must learn English or become citizens when they don't want to is simply mean-spirited. Republicans lost big in the last election because of their obsession over issues like these. Apparently, they aren't learning anything.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Ed Burdick retiring

The Star Tribune has a very good article today about House Chief Clerk Ed Burdick's retirement. Ed is one of the foremost experts in parliamentary procedure in the country and has been a fixture at the House for far longer than I have been alive. Anybody who has watched House proceedings on public television or been to the Capitol in person will certainly remember Ed's voice saying "Journal of the House, fiftieth legislative day..." He will definitely be missed by legislators and the state.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Highway projects

Transportation is one area I am very interested in, which is why I find much to criticize in funding plans that don't have any funding. MnDOT has a lot of projects on the shelf that need to be sped up to help alleviate congestion. One project is the 35W/494 interchange in Bloomington, which is horribly designed for the amount of traffic it has to deal with. Here is a website that shows what should be done here. I'd like to see this construction end in my lifetime.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Republicans don't want to defend their records

State Representative Ray Cox is the only legislator I know of who has a blog. It's nice to see a legislator use technology in this way, even if it is a Republican. However, in a recent blog post, Rep. Cox also laments negative campaigning, agreeing with Lynne Osterman's claim that negative campaigning is akin to cheating.

Cox is another one of those more moderate Republicans. He is especially concerned about environmental issues, and has broken with Republican leadership on some bills in this area. Nevertheless, even he seems to think that making him defend his voting record is "cheating." Why are Republicans so afraid to defend their records? Why can't they proudly stand up and say, "Yes, I voted against the electronic recycling bill, for the concealed-carry bill, and for the anti-gay marriage amendment. I am proud of these votes."

For some reason, though, Republicans don't want to do that. Perhaps they realize that people aren't in favor of weakening environmental standards, or cutting taxes for the wealthy, or helping HMOs at the expense of the middle class. They can't win a debate on these issues, because they are on the wrong side of all of them.

21st Century Democrats fined

A "527" group called 21st Century Democrats was fined today for violating disclosure laws. These laws are very important for campaign finance law, and if this group violated them, they deserve the fine.

Wow! It's possible to find fault with groups that are ideologically similar to you. I hope people take note!


Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) is one of the most far-right groups out there. Even pro-life politicians sometimes get sick of their singular focus on one issue and their vengeance if people don't vote the correct way 100% of the time, even on the smallest matters. Normally, their legislative agenda consists of finding every possible way to criminalize abortion. Banning discussion of abortion, instituting waiting periods, these are all stops on the way to their goal of complete control of reproductive rights (and, by extension, sexuality).

So I must admit that I am surprised, along with a lot of other people, at their legislative agenda. They actually want to help children after they are born, a huge change for them. Depending on how it was done, such as whether or not these organizations would turn helping women into a religious thing, I would have no problem with organizations that encourage adoption and provide health care for women and children.

Their other ideas, however, continue to be nonsense. The fetal pain bill is particularly pathetic. It's nice to see that Steve Sviggum, who I am sure is not a doctor, is nevertheless sufficiently versed in neurological and fetal development to say that he understands fetuses feel pain. Being a Philosophy minor, I would be happy to debate Sviggum on the mind-body problem and questions of perception, but it would probably be a waste of time.

Republicans love to energize their fundie base by pandering to right-wing issues like abortion. Some of the more cynical of people think that many Republicans aren't actually concerned with doing anything about the issue, preferring to keep it out there to motivate people to vote. After all, Republicans have been in charge of Congress for ten years, and the White House for four, and abortion is still around. Sviggum says that finding money for these programs may be a tough thing, meaning that once again the legislature may just pay lip service to the wishes of MCCL. We'll just have to see what happens.

Whip out the credit cards!

Governor Pawlenty unveiled his transportation funding plan today. But if you were hoping for more money to tackle our transportation and transit woes, you won't find it in his plan. He calls for the same old same old: whipping out the state's credit card so we can build now, and pay later. Given the fact that he remains shackled to his "no new taxes" pledge, I guess this is hardly surprising.

His ten-year plan, which wouldn't kick in until 2007, would involve issuing $4.5 billion in bonds, to be paid back by revenue raised by the current gas tax. Of course, that means that if this future revenue is used to pay interest on today's bonds, it can't be used for anything else. Thus, the boom in construction will be followed by a bust as the state pays back the debt.

He also proposes a constitutional amendment to dedicate the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax (MVST) to transportation and transit. This isn't a bad proposal, but it must be remembered that this money is currently going to the state's General Fund. Pawlenty proposes no new revenue to fill the budget gap that would be created by moving this money from the GF to the transportation fund. Maybe in his world you can dig one hole to fill another and claim to come out ahead, but not in reality.

Bonds are fine for funding transportation projects, as is dedicating the MVST. But if you do these things, you have to increase taxes to pay off the debt incurred by the state, as well as to fill in the hole in the General Fund. A responsible transportation funding plan has to address these issues.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Punish the legislators

It's nice to see that the Pioneer Press says the same things about testing legislators for bad habits as I do.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Negative campaigning

The Star Tribune had a story today about negative campaigning. Reports so far indicate that the House DFL Caucus spent far more than the Republicans on these independent campaign pieces, many of which were "negative." Predictably, the losers decried this tactic. Rep. Lynne Osterman, one of the Republicans who lost, said "In my book, I consider negative campaigning cheating. If you cannot stand up and tell me why you should have the job without mentioning why the other team shouldn't, why should I get your vote?"

Osterman isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier. As I have said before, there is nothing wrong with negative campaigning. The actions of the person currently in office are certainly fair game in campaigns, and only those people who are ashamed of their voting records seem to feel the need to call them off-limits. The votes Osterman and other Republicans took in supporting a far-right agenda are extremely relevant. And while people like Jim Rhodes aren't fundies, they did make the votes when Sviggum and other leadership called on them to do so. If these Republicans weren't ready to stand up and defend their voting records, maybe they should have voted differently.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Testing recipients of government money

I had another thought about Rep. Seifert's idea to fine welfare recipients who smoke. If the idea is to prevent recipients of government money from engaging in bad habits, I have another idea as to who should be tested for drugs: legislators. After all they get lots of government money, not only in the form of salary and per diems, but in staffing, postage, and so on. So, let's subject legislators to random drug tests in order to receive their salaries. Why not?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Fine welfare smokers?

Rep. Marty Seifert, one of the more outspoken conservative Republicans in the House, has proposed that people on welfare be fined if they smoke. The state shouldn't be subsidizing bad behaviour for these people, he argues.

Seifert has had some wacky ideas in the past. He has put forward bills to ban dessert in prisons (dessert has to be included to give prisoners the minimum nutrition stipulated by law, so that one didn't go anywhere), divest the state from French companies (remember Freedom Fries? I unfortunately do), and so on. But perhaps his most well-known goofy bill was his proposal last year to give driver's tests in English only. I don't know if he thought that would be a cakewalk when he proposed that amendment to the Transportation bill, but he was pounded so relentlessly by questions from all sides that at times he looked like a deer caught in the headlights. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

This idea is probably going to go the way of those previous defeats, and with good reason. Although, I have to admit that the idea strikes me as good on a certain level. If we fined people whose suburban housing developments, roads, and sewer systems were subsidized by the government, I think that would be very amusing. But it's best to probably leave that one on the back burner too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Save Christmas!

Is there anything that the foot soldiers of the right won't whine about? Wingers control the White House, Congress, many statehouses, and much of the media. But still, as Tom Tomorrow points out, they still have to pretend that liberals are out to get them.

Take James Lileks (off the opinion page, at least). Like many righties, this week he is complaining about how everybody is out to get Christmas. Yes, we ungodly liberals are somehow trying to eliminate this holiday by making people say "Happy Holidays" or something.

Call me crazy, but Christmas seems to be alive and well. Christmas is everywhere. I have a Christmas tree in my place, and I'm sure people like Lileks would think I'm a damn Commie. Almost every business has decorations. Christmas is in no way disappearing, but hey, conservatives have got to complain about something.

If so-called religious conservatives were actually honest and consistent (if, if...), then I could see why they would lead the charge to take Christmas out of the public business sphere and put it back in homes and church. After all, the commercialization of Christmas, the selfishness of the season, does get in the way of the true religious meaning of the holiday. Thirteen years of Catholic school has taught me that much. But no. These people are mad because businesses aren't doing enough for Christmas. For Christmas to have any meaning at all according to them, every single locale in the country has to have signs and employees that wish everybody Merry Christmas. If Lileks ever had the guts to wander down Lake Street (and I doubt he would), I guess he would expect the halaal grocery stores to have these signs too.

The culture of victimhood. Republicans love it.

Number one Republican priority

House Republicans got it handed to them in the recent elections. They were seen by voters as not caring about important issues, things like education, health care, and transportation. Voters made their disgust with the do-nothing legislature known at the polls.

However, it doesn't seem like Steve Sviggum paid much attention. Today, he said that there is all but a guarantee that the legislature will enact stadium legislation this year. What a priority! No reassurance that Republicans will finally deal with the transportation funding shortfall in a mature way, no reassurance that more teachers won't be let go from schools. No, the only guarantee is that the state will spend money on corporate welfare for billionaires in light of a budget deficit that is at least $1.4 million in reality (none of this $700 million "inflation doesn't exist" nonsense).

Obviously, Sviggum hasn't learned a thing from the past elections. If he doesn't study quickly, he won't be speaker for too much longer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Electoral college

So a Minnesota elector accidentally voted for John Edwards instead of John Kerry. It was supposedly an "oops" instead of a protest (it doesn't help that most of the electors are over 60). No matter what you think of the electoral college, electors need to go. They provide no benefit.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Resentment over immigrants

Here's an interesting story about the rising tide of resentment against immigrants in the suburbs. I have to admit that I have heard relatives talking in a similar way, in places where I did not expect it. I think a lot of the resentment stems from ignorance, not malice, and a lot of the ignorance comes from right-wing bloviators like Rush Limbaugh who disseminate lies (you wouldn't believe how many times I have heard the "immigrants don't pay taxes for seven years" myth).

As with any bigotry, education is the best antidote. Immigrants represent economic growth, not drain. An immigrant represents another person to sell groceries to, another person to build a house for, another person to repair cars for. The amount of government help most immigrants get is slim to none, despite what people believe. Immigrants should be welcomed, not shunned.

Canada and schools

While we're talking about Canada, here's another relevant story: Governor Pawlenty went to Edmonton to take a look at the schools there. Here are a couple of stories about what is going on there.

I see some good and bad things in Edmonton schools. Good things: local control over budgeting and teacher placement. Bad things: funding of religious schools. The second article also takes a look at a couple of Pawlenty's ideas, namely merit pay for teachers and reducing hurdles for people interested in becoming teachers. Apparently, these have been tried in Edmonton and don't work. Let's hope that Pawlenty learns from this.

I think changes need to be made in public schools, and that teachers are going to have to compromise on issues like seniority and the steps-and-lanes pay method. But it's not a good idea to try things at random in the name of politics, especially things that have already failed.

O Canada!

This happened yesterday, but I didn't have a chance to comment. You probably already know that Canada legalized gay marriage. Churches can't be forced to perform marriages they don't agree with. That sounds perfectly right to me.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The working class

This article over at City Pages is pretty good in explaining what his happening with the white working class, and why they are voting Republican. I don't have a whole lot to add, other than that I largely agree. This didn't happen overnight; Republicans in the wake of Goldwater spent a lot of time and money creating a mechanism for shifting the debate to their side, and they are now reaping the benefits. Democrats are going to have to do the same thing, and that will take time.

Suffice to say, however, that the Democrats are natural allies of the working class. When it comes to economic issues, there is no question. Democrats are for raising wages, extending health care, and doing things that help people who are in the middle. Republicans talk about families, but in the end, their tax cuts are tilted severely towards the wealthy, and the little that the middle class gets is quickly spent on credit card interest, rising tuitions, and health care premiums.

Democrats are also allies of the working class on social issues too, no question about it. Again, Republicans talk tough, but abortion is legal and will remain so, homosexuals aren't going to be massacred, and TV and the media won't be put in the hands of Puritans anytime soon. Crime, abortions, teen pregnancy, they are all lower with Democratic policies. It's going to take some time and work to show people that this is the case, and that Republicans only invoke socially conservative rhetoric to win votes. At the end of the day, it is Democrats who are more concerned about giving families the ability to succeed.

Democrats are finally starting to realize that being right on the issues isn't enough, that they need to fight fire with fire and not back down from Republicans bent on abusing discourse. This bodes well for the future of this country.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Political activism in schools

Cheri Pierson Yecke couldn't put her partisanship away long enough to head Minnesota's schools, so she went over to the Center of the American Experiment, where conservativism is welcome regardless of the logic behind it. Today, she issued a report that says Minnesota needs tougher laws to prevent school employees from engaging in campaign activities.

Is this really necessary? There is no question that employees paid directly by the state should not use state time or equipment to campaign. But teachers aren't state employees. Furthermore, there isn't much evidence that this is a widespread problem. The oft-quoted (by Republicans) incident where a teacher sent kids home with a DFL flier was an accident. And using e-mail accounts to debate isn't necessarily crossing the line. Yecke also said that she would prefer to ban campaign events in schools, a terrible idea.

If we ban teachers from these activities, how about contractors that get state money? What's the difference? It doesn't appear that teachers have crossed any lines, so let's leave things be.


The latest non-scandal is in today's Star Tribune: ethics concerns regarding news anchor Cyndy Brucato. To quote the STrib, since I really don't have a handle on this nonsense, "Some candidates had been supported by political groups that were clients of a media relations and communications company Brucato owns with her husband."

Now, that may be an ethical concern if Brucato were a journalist, but she is not. She is a TV news anchor, a face that gets paid to sit in a chair and read the Daily Bummer, a.k.a. what KSTP likes to dish out to people to scare them. I have never met a news anchor who was a journalist, or vice-versa. She's a talking head, and not the good kind.

Seriously, let's not pretend that television news is anything more than entertainment. To believe otherwise is to insult the handful of journalists that still exist.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Worst senator in Washington?

Atrios picks up on Norm Coleman's attempt to blame Kofi Annan for everything bad in Iraq while letting the entire Republican administration off the hook. It's still up in the air whether he will get away with this.

Come on, media. I've seen several stories on this, but so far I haven't seen anybody ask Nahm if he plans on holding Rumsfeld, Rice, Dubya, and everybody else in this administration to the same "if you were in charge you are culpable" standard he is applying to Annan. Like I said before, if Annan was at fault, he needs to go, but we know that lots of people in the Executive Branch screwed up and haven't been held accountable at all.

Teen pregnancy rates

Via Daily Kos, we have this cool graphic of teen pregnancy rates by state. For easy digestion, it is coded by red state and blue state. And surprise, surprise, red states lead the country in getting teens knocked up.

Why bring this up? A couple reasons. First, I like it. Second, House Republicans have spent a lot of time in recent years trying to dumb-down sex ed in this state. Abstinence-only programs, super-gag rules...Republicans just love keeping people uneducated. A lot of times, these proposed laws come straight from other red states. So next time Rep. Mary Liz Holberg is talking about the latest keep-'em-stupid law modeled after Kansas, it would be nice if people would take the time to ask why we want to have Kansas' teen pregnancy rates?

Republicans are obsessed with sex ed like they are obsessed with all things sexual, and this chart shows how dangerous this is. Giving kids the facts about sex leads to lower rates of pregnancy and STD transmission. It's a proven fact. Preventing frank discussions about sex by arguing that talking with teens about sex encouraging sexual activity is like not teaching kids about calories because they might want to go out and buy a Big Mac.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


One thing I noticed during my Thanksgiving trip was that Republicans obviously used billboards to directly attack Democrats in the area. One billboard I noticed said "Who introduced bills to reinstate the draft? Democrats." This is true, and I am sure that this billboard had some effect on people's perceptions and their vote.

I have long thought that Democrats need to do the same thing. If you are going to sell anything, whether it be a soda or a political party, you need to craft an identity for it. I don't see much of a Democratic identity anywhere, and this needs to change. Putting up billboards, especially in rural areas where rates are cheaper, is a good way to keep the party alive in between elections and put volunteers to good use. I have heard more of this kind of talk lately, and I hope we get something going on this.

Democrats do have the advantage on issues, but just having a better argument is not going to win elections, just like having the best-tasting pizza in town is no guarantee you will attract people to your restaurant. It takes selling, marketing, creating hype. Some purists will decry this as cheapening the political process, but this is reality, and if Democrats want to win elections, you have to take advantage of reality instead of fighting it.

Hiawatha line fully open

The Hiawatha Light Rail line is finally open today. Unlike the first opening, I did not choose to ride today during the festivities. Standing around for hours is fine during the summer, but not in December. I did drive by the Bloomington Central station on my way home from Christmas shopping, however, and it was packed.

Although I don't live within walking distance of the line, I live close enough by bus. With the extension open, I don't see any reason to drive to the Mall of America ever again. Nor do I see much need to drive to the airport. This transit option is great for the area, and I hope to see more lines soon.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Republican hypocrites? No way!

House Republicans are all up in arms about donations House Minority Leader Matt Entenza made to various groups before the election. They are threatening to refuse to seat the newly-elected members of the legislature next month.

Can they do this? I checked the state constitution, and Article IV, section six, and it says "Senators and representatives shall be qualified voters of the state, and shall have resided one year in the state and six months immediately preceding the election in the district from which elected. Each house shall be the judge of the election returns and eligibility of its own members. The legislature shall prescribe by law the manner for taking evidence in cases of contested seats in either house." I'm no lawyer, but to me that looks like elected representatives can only be contested on the grounds of whether they are qualified or not. They can't be denied simply because Republicans are in a snit.

So what if Rep. Entenza made those donations? I'm not thrilled with campaign finance rules in this country, but these donations appear to be legal. Both Democrats and Republicans take every advantage of the laws afforded them. This is no different. The real crime in this case appears to be the face that Republicans didn't think of this first.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Budget deficits

The November state budget forecast was released today, showing a $700 million deficit. Actually, it's a $1.4 billion deficit, if you count inflation, which I'm gonna do after looking outside at gas prices and shopping at the grocery store earlier this week. This deficit is lower than the really bad one of a couple years ago, but since the Republicans have already used up every accounting trick and gimmick to reduce those deficits, there are only two ways out this time around: cut services like education and nursing homes even more, or raise taxes. That's it.

Governor Pawlenty is going to be up a creek without a paddle on this one. He has reiterated his "no new taxes" pledge, setting his feet in concrete. He has also quietly pulled his plan to expand gambling, sensing that his anti-Indian stance wasn't really resonating with the voters (did those huge Republican losses a few weeks ago have anything to do with that?). Thus, his budget will have to cut schools and Grandma's care, again something that the voters didn't respond too well to previously.

We're not going to grow our way out of this deficit, and it isn't going to disappear between now and the next forecast in February. If Pawlenty puts forward a budget that only cuts, and he has all but said that he would, people are going to howl.

Coleman demands accountability...for some

I don't think I point out what a cheap, contemptible hack Norm Coleman is nearly often enough. He, along with people like Mark Kennedy, are the newest generation of inflatable Republicans, ready to be filled with the political ideology appropriate for the times. People like Coleman have completely short-circuited the irony and bullshit detectors in their brains, allowing them to sleep soundly at night after letting loose idiotic screeds like this during the day.

If there was improper goings-on at the U.N. regarding the Food for Oil program in Iraq, then something obviously has to be done. People must be held accountable. But Normy, since you are so eager to call for Kofi Annan's head, why have you been so silent about the other Iraq scandals going on, right here on our own soil, perpetrated by none other than Republicans? What about the fraudulent intelligence? What about Halliburton? What about this video, which I caught over at Eschaton showing the results of the use of depleted Uranium (DU) in Iraq (warning: incredibly graphic photos)? Where's the outrage about this?

Coleman's hypocrisy is so blatant that it was even picked up by Josh Marshall. We need some letters to go to our great senator over this.