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Friday, September 30, 2005

In other news...

Randy Kelly says he is remaining a Democrat. I suspect this is much like how the Nazis were technically "National Socialists," or how East Germany was the "Democratic" German Republic.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Special session buffet

A special session "menu" is a pretty stupid idea. The more time passes, the less likely it will be that there will be a special session. There isn't a single legislative leader that wants this to happen.

Repeal minimum gas price law?

There is a renewed push to repeal the minimum gas price law. This law requires gas stations to sell gas for at least eight cents over the wholesale price. It is designed to protect small businesses from large chains like Wal-Mart that can sell gas at a loss; however, there is doubt as to whether this law actually helps.

While I do understand the concerns of small businesses and the risks of monopolies, I have to take the libertarian side of this and say that the law should be repealed. I tend not to like minimum-price laws. Let people sell things at a loss if they want.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Election watch

Word on the street is that House Minority Leader Matt Entenza is going to sometime soon enter the Attorney General's race for certain, thus turning what pretty much everybody expected to reality.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

So what?

Pull tab revenues are down, so say state gambling regulators. While this may be bad news for some of the organizations that rely on these revenues, I tend to agree with those legislators that say it's not bad news for the state; the money is being spent elsewhere and being taxes.

Again, I have a pretty libertarian view of gambling, and I don't like laws that say that only certain organizations can set up pull-tab operations in certain places. If some bar wants to raise revenue by having pull tabs, or a slot machine, go ahead. It shouldn't matter. Plus, I have heard enough scary stories about books being cooked with these pull-tab operations to really make me wonder if it is all worth it.

One comment that struck me as interesting was that "Smoking and gambling go together," according to the executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota. I guess that is the same as "Smoking and drinking go together." Personally, when I go out drinking, I feel neither the urge to smoke nor gamble. In fact, being able to go to bars and listen to music and not have to take a shower and wash my clothes because of the smell of cigarette smoke is simply great.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Intelligence on trial

Will American be a country where education and innovation will drive us to new pinnacles of creation and understanding? Or will we revert back to Neanderthal who bark at the moon? A court case may decide.

The sad thing is that just today there's a story about how decoding the chimpanzee genome (how did they get Bush to sit still for so long?) allows a prediction of the theory of evolution to be put to the test: the number of harmful genetic mutations expected. And guess what? The actual number seen is well within the range predicted by evolution. Now, this isn't an apple falling on somebody's head, but it's the biological equivalent.

Of course, this won't matter to the wackos.

Step on it

Today, speed limits increased on many state roads. That explains why I saw the signs today. Unfortunately, the speed limit on I-94 between the downtowns is still an artificially low 55 MPH.

A while back, I spoke with a MnDOT official about why this is. In reality, MnDOT would like to post a more realistic speed limit on that highway (it is safest to post a speed limit at which 85% of drivers drive at or less; posting a speed limit too low will not decrease speeds). However, when the federal law was amended to get rid of the 55 MPH speed limit, Governor Arne Carlson and the State Patrol argued against increasing the speed limit on I-94. And there it has stayed. Too bad.

Friday, September 23, 2005


WTF is up with this? Two A.M. is already ridiculously early, and people want to go back to one? Wow.

Liquor laws make absolutely no sense at all and should be abolished. Bars should be open 24 hours a day if that's what their owners want. Liquor stores should be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week too if that's what their owners want. You should be able to buy liquor in grocery stores. There is simply no reason for these prohibitions.

I know a lot of resistance to these kinds of ideas comes from cities that have municipal liquor stores. If there was ever an example of a place where government has no right to get into business, it is selling liquor. Again, why these exist, I have no idea. Time for it to go.


What is Senator Dayton's view on evolution and creationism in schools? Let's see:

Thank you for your letter regarding the teaching of evolution in schools.

I support the teaching of evolution in schools as a scientific theory explaining the history of life on the planet. However, I believe it is important that teachers explain both the supporting and detracting facts on the evolutionary theory. This is, however, a local issue, as it is the job of the local school board to set policies and curriculum which reflect the values and ideas of the community.

My best regards.

I guess there is nothing too wrong about this response, but it does rub me the wrong way. It is not as pro-evolution and one would hope, especially considering the fact that Dayton is not a fundamentalist. Sure, it doesn't outright say that there is anything wrong with evolution, but it leaves a lot of wiggle room. "The values and ideas of the community?" What if the values of the community where that blacks, women, or gays were subhuman? Is that okay?


This is pretty poor timing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

New Vikings stadium? No.

So here's the plan for the new Vikings stadium. Public money? Ya, sure, you betcha.

First, there is the $280 million from an Anoka County sales tax. But without asking voters for permission, which is state law. I'm not sure how I feel about referenda for local sales taxes, but since this is almost like a bond issue, and since a lot of bond issues are voted on by the general public (like school bond issues), I don't see a compelling reason to go against state law here.

Then, there's TIF. Tax-increment financing is abused in my opinion. It should only be used for blighted properties that have no other chance of redevelopment. What is the current site in Blaine right now? An open field? Doesn't sound too blighted to me.

Finally, the plan involves $115 million in infrastructure upgrades. We have a pretty significant transportation funding shortfall in this state, and that means that a lot of pressing needs are going unfulfilled. Expanding a fairly rural portion of I-35W is not a high priority. Here are some good priorities. The 494/35W interchange in Bloomington is another good priority. How about we get these things done first?

Nice try, but I think that I will pass on this plan.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Kersten's Komments

Katherine Kersten's column appeared in the Star Tribune today, so that means that there is stupidity to follow. True to form, she doesn't disappoint.

Today's column is about how bold a leader Randy Kelly is because he's a Republican who used to call himself a Democrat. Kelly's bold leadership became apparent when he endorsed George Bush for president last year. He is also a bold leader because he is pro-life. It's funny how much of a bold leader you can become when you are a Republican, isn't it?

First off, let's deal with a bald-faced lie, one that I hope readers will be willing to contact reader representative Kate Parry about: her claim that Bob Casey wasn't allowed to speak at the Democratic National Convention in 1992 because he's pro-life. This is a lie that lots of right wingers like to parrot, but it is in fact a lie: Casey wasn't allowed to speak because he didn't support Clinton, not because of his pro-life views. Ask a winger whether it would be acceptable to let somebody speak at the Republican National Convention who did not endorse George Bush for president, and watch their heads explode.

But on to the main point of the story, which is that Kelly is being unfairly targeted by the extreme elements in the Democratic party (she mentions the tried-and-true bogeymen of pro-choicers, teachers, and public employees) and that Democrats just aren't tolerant anymore. Why Democrats should be tolerant of Republicans she leaves unanswered, but it is clear that Kersten believes that Democrats need to worship those people who do not share their beliefs. It's as if Kersten cynically wants to co-opt the Democratic message by painting any message other than Republican-lite as "out of touch." Who could imagine that she would do such a thing!

But when you get right down to it, it's the Republicans who are not tolerant. Sure, Kersten pays some lip service to the notion that Republicans are less tolerant these days too, but that's an afterthought and she does not see the reality of today's Republican party. I challenge her to poll legislators in the Minnesota House of Representatives and see where they stand on the issues. I will wager any amount she names that there are more pro-life Democrats that pro-choice Republicans, for example. It's Republicans that tolerate absolutely no dissent on major issues like taxation that gay rights, as countless examples can show. Kersten also points out such "mavericks" as Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee to show that there are "liberal" Republicans out there, but to the extent that either of them are liberal the only thing I can see is that they are pro-choice. If you want a pro-life Democrat, look no further than Minority Leader Harry Reid. Other than abortion, Chafee and Specter aren't liberal; no liberal would have the judicial voting record that these two people have when it comes to voting in lockstep with the craziest conservative Republicans.

Finally, there's good old Norm. See, Coleman switched from Democrat to Republican about ten years ago, and that bold leadership has resulted in him being (gag) one of the "rising stars" in the Republican party. So bold Randy leadership Kelly is just doing the same thing.

The big problem with this is that Kelly is not Coleman. Coleman has to be one of the slimiest spineless shysters in all of politics today, who doesn't even know what he believes in, but he had several things that Kelly does not. He switched when it was suddenly cool to be Republican, when we had new Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America and the grand sweep of the 1994 elections. All of a sudden, it was hip to be a Republican, now that they were coming in from the wilderness. The economy of the 90s also meant that it really didn't matter what Coleman was; as long as everybody was reaping the benefits and property taxes weren't going up, Coleman could have been a Communist for all it mattered. Lastly, Coleman actually has charisma, to the extent where his aw-shucks grin could make people forget that he was born in Brooklyn and not in some Minnesota corn field. People actually liked Coleman.

Contrast this with Randy Kelly and today's climate. The economy has not been doing as well as a decade before. Republicans are no longer the saviours of this country, but the root of its problems, especially for big cities; St. Paul isn't getting any favours from Bush or people like Delay. It's not so cool to be associated with Republicans these days. Finally, Kelly is a jerk. He is not a "people person." You don't leave a meeting or a rally with Kelly and feel like you have made a connection with him on some emotional level.

So far-left liberals aren't punishing Kelly because they aren't tolerant of him. They are punishing a guy who has jumped on the side that is hurting the city, and they know it. It doesn't make him a "bold leader" to try to curry favour with a party that is directly against the interests of his constituency. I don't know what it make him, but I have a feeling that one thing it will make him is a loser at the polls in November.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

John Kline's priorities

John Kline wants to put Ronald Reagan on the $50 bill.

Let's see. Massive deficits that are only going to increase with the reconstruction of New Orleans and Bush's insistence that once again, an emergency is no time to raise taxes, FEMA's problems, the ever-present threat of terrorism, high gas prices...and this is what you are working on?

As if we needed more reason to get rid of him next year.

Friday, September 16, 2005


If the responsibility to decide whether pharmacists can refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives lies with the legislature, as the Board of Pharmacy says, then it's time for the legislature to pass a law saying that no, it's not okay for pharmacists to do that.

This issue shows that so-called pro-lifers don't give a tinker's damn about saving lives; they just want to control everybody's sex lives. If the lack of contraception leads to an abortion, then it sounds like that's all right with them.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Google marches on

Google has a new feature called Blog Search. If you use it and search for Minnesota Politics, this blog is first. I can live with that.

Garrison Keillor threatens blogger

This is pretty pathetic.

Keillor is obviously a good writer and a good entertainer if he can sell so many books and host a successful radio show. But his columns for the Star Tribune seem to show a certain kind of arrogance, and threatening somebody for selling parody t-shirts seems to confirm this. I'm not impressed by him.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Legislator salaries

My post on per diems generated some comments, so I would like to share a few more thoughts on legislative pay. In my mind, per diems and base salaries are separate. There is no question that legislators are underpaid when it comes to base salaries, and I would have no problem with seeing them increased. At the same time, I want per diems to go down.

Right now, legislator salaries are a bit like pro sports contracts with incentives. In the case of legislators, though, the goal they have to reach to get the extra money is basically to show up. Pretty silly if you ask me. Better to just raise the base salaries and cut per diems so the public knows what legislators are making without having to delve into per diem payout records.

State budget: slight good news and a lottery win

There's some slightly good news about the state's budget situation: since July first, all tax categories have brought in a bit more than expected. Nothing major, but mo' money is good money.

Oh, that $140 million estate tax payment? Doesn't matter. Unless somebody has found a way to resurrect the dead so the can pay the estate tax multiple times, one-time payments don't matter. If the legislature is smart, it will do what you should always do with found money: stick it away for a rainy day.

No no no no NO!

Just a few days after saying that Hurricane Katrina makes it less likely that a special session will be called, Senator Dean Johnson says a special session right before Thanksgiving may be a good idea after all.

Dean, Dean, Dean. What are you thinking? The thought of another special session fills my soul with dread. What would be on the agenda? Stadiums: not important. Energy prices: not important (our country has to reap what it sows). Minneapolis teacher pension fund: kind of important but not warranting a special session (it won't get much worse in a few months). A new hospital for Maple Grove: just like the pension issue. Funding for transportation and transit: not going to happen unless Governor Pawlenty has his brain transreversed by aliens.

So, we have a bunch of unimportant things, and not one thing warranting a special session. Let it go, everybody. Unless all the incumbents want to lose their re-election campaigns next year, just let it go.

500th post

W00t W00t! Number 500!

The end of Northwest Airlines?

A lot of people said that when AMFA mechanics went on strike, it was the end of their jobs and probably the union. Time has shown that these people are probably right. Now, it looks like Northwest itself may be no more if they declare bankruptcy.

Now, let's get one thing straight: Northwest Airlines may well survive bankruptcy proceedings and live again. However, for the thousands of current and former workers who will lose pensions and other benefits, the new Northwest won't be much good to them, and it's hard to argue that whatever happens after bankruptcy will be Northwest, even if it keeps the same name.

If this happens, it will be a very bad thing for the state of Minnesota.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Schneier on Security

Security is one of my favorite interests. Whether it is the security of data stored on a computer server, or the security of our airports, maintaining security is one of the most pressing issues of our time. And few people know more about security than Bruce Schneier. He has a must-read column in yesterday's paper, and if you want to hear more of his wisdom, definitely check out his blog.

Court rules against gun law

I'm pretty surprised by this ruling. A Hennepin County district judge has granted a temporary injunction to two churches, the first victory for the religious groups in their quest to find that the concealed carry law is unconstitutional and a violation of religious freedom.

I'm surprised because I thought that the churches didn't have much of a leg to stand on. Sure, the law requires churches to put up a specific sign banning guns, but I didn't think that was a huge inconvenience on the part of the churches. The judge, however, disagreed. Opponents to the gun law are sure to celebrate this ruling.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Gas tax again

Another good article about how we need to raise the gas tax, and about how a Republican is trying to do the right thing by investing in our future.

Sex ed and abstinence

The Star Tribune has an interesting article today in which four teens are interviewed about the comprehensive sex ed versus abstinence debate. Two teens are all for comprehensive sex ed, the other two are for "Just say No!" messages in school. Predictably, at least in my eyes, the abstinence-only people come off as having the weaker of the two messages, instead using humor to try and get other teens to agree.

Abstinence is great, but abstinence-only education is, in my opinion, evil. I am sick and tired of hearing opponents to sex ed say that it "encourages the very behaviours it seeks to diminish" because it is just untrue. No sex ed class I have ever seen is structured in that way. Second, there is a very big flaw in the "wait until marriage" message that nobody I have ever talked to has been able to answer: what happens when you do get married? Where is the information about having a safe, controlled sexual lifestyle with your spouse going to come from? Of course, for some people who believe in abstinence only, at that point you are still to remain ignorant about sex and pump out babies until you die in childbirth or reach old age. Then there is the issue that one of the other teens in the article touches upon, the fact that there are many people who won't or can't get married. What about them?

One of the scariest things in that article to me was reading that one of the abstinence teens went to a "Together Encountering Christ" (TEC) retreat. I was educated in Catholic schools, and many of my classmates went on TEC retreats, where they did certain things that I was not privy to. The fact that these retreats still exist, and are still apparently sharing messages of ignorance, is pretty frightening to me.

Hopefully, schools teach nutrition to students, and nobody argues that learning about fat encourages people to go out and eat lots of Big Macs. So why don't we teach sexual health too? The other abstinence teen in the article says that sex ed doesn't give teens enough credit. Hmm. Giving teens the facts on sex ed and birth control, and pointing out that abstinence is the only 100% effective method, seems to give teens credit. The education that I had in my Catholic schools, where a teacher told us that "Abstinence is an adventure!", seems to be just a wee bit more insulting to the intellects of 16-year olds.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Special session per diems

The Pioneer Press says that so far, lawmakers have received $136,000 in per diem money for the special session. 39 out of 67 senators had put in their papers for the money, as well as 63 out of 134 House members, although the latter number may increase, since House members have more time to file. Two thirds of the money has been claimed by DFLers, which I find to be disappointing.

Per diems for leadership was not really a surprise. The only leader who got per diems was House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who has a history of never passing up an opportunity to get a per diem. None of the other leaders (Dean Johnson, Dick Day, or Matt Entenza) got the money. Now, I understand that Sviggum is a farmer and the crops have to be put in and lost revenue and all that, but that doesn't seem to bother anybody else. Dean Johnson is a sower of seeds for the Lord and tries to reap a crop of righteous men and women, and he doesn't seem to need a per diem.

Another person who seems to need the money is Republican Tom Emmer, whom I like less and less. I wouldn't shed a tear if he decided that the financial sacrifices of being a legislator caused him to retire next year.

All in all, I think there needs to be some changes to the per diem system. Metro legislators shouldn't get anything, or should be limited to a small ($10 a session day) meal stipend. Hey, there's a McDonald's just around the corner. Outstate legislators already get a housing allowance in addition to their per diems, but the per diem itself should be based on actual mileage and a higher food stipend to take into account that they have to stock their temporary living quarters with something to live on. Legislators have to get there and eat, but aside from that, not many workers in this state get extra money from their employers just for showing up.

A lost opportunity

Bus cuts are on the way, and they are going to affect those with limited mobility options, as well as those in the suburbs who are taking another look at buses due to the high cost of fuel. These cuts are on top of a fare increase earlier this summer.

The story notes that the transportation bill vetoed by the governor would have made these cuts unnecessary, which once again represents a missed opportunity to improve the transportation infrastructure in this area. It also quotes Republican Phil Krinkie for some strange reason, because he is certainly no friend to transit.

I honestly don't get people who think that it is better for the dozens of people riding a bus to and from work to each get in their cars and drive. One bus, or another thirty cars to share the road with? You decide.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Evacuees coming to MN

It's less than they originally thought, but about 300 evacuees from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina will be coming to Minnesota. I am sure that everybody in this state will do whatever can be done to make them feel welcome. Maybe some of them will decide that the other end of the Mississippi isn't such a bad place after all and will end up staying.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

State Fair poll

I knew there was something I was supposed to be blogging about yesterday, and I was reminded by this story in the Strib about the State Fair politics poll. Go to the article to see what this (unrepresentative) cross-section of Minnesota thinks, but the highlight in my opinion is the special session numbers: the vast majority of people don't want a special session for discussing things like stadiums.

Which isn't too surprising, and from the sounds of things legislative leaders are backing off on the need for one. Given the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, it seems to be a bit crass to be talking about giving millions of dollars to Carl Pohlad to build a stadium, which almost certainly would not be used to house refugees from a hurricane like the Superdome and Astrodome, thus taking away the possibility of arguing that there is some public benefit for the giveaway.

But the cigarette tax and a proposed gas tax did get support, meaning that the governor is batting .500 on these issues (and the legislature is a perfect two for two, only to be stymied by Pawlenty). Again, this is an unscientific poll, but it does bear thinking about .

Sunday, September 04, 2005


During the past week, one thing that has come to mind repeatedly is the question, "What if something happened here?" What if a dirty bomb was exploded in Minneapolis or Saint Paul or the Mall of America? Are there any plans? Would there be just as much chaos as the government fumbled about, trying to figure out what to do? Would there be as many unnecessary deaths?

I don't think it is terribly likely that there would be a terrorist attack in this state, but there still has to be planning. We have spent billions of dollars on the Department of Homeland Security, a department that I thought we needed after 9/11. It just makes sense to plan for internal disasters, and the military doesn't really deal with the internal stuff. But now, it looks like it has hardly been a good investment of money. Where has all the money gone? Why haven't they spent money on coming up with plans to evacuate every large metropolitan area in the country, to deal with the refugees, to have caches of food and water nearby in case of emergencies? These things seem to be basic catastrophe planning, the exact thing that DHS was supposed to take care of. But it didn't happen, and thousands are dead because of it.

What we need is for politicians with a sense of right and wrong to stand up, investigate what happened, and say that there will be no more of this. No more patronage, no more outsourcing one of the core functions of government. No more CYA. We need real plans to deal with disasters in this country, be they natural or human-inflicted.

It's now almost four years after 9/11, and even though lots of politicians like to say that it changed everything, it hasn't. The priority is still taking control and making money, not protecting everybody.

I think I fear worst for San Francisco. The top three disasters in this country were determined long ago to be a terrorist attack on New York, a devastating earthquake in San Francisco, and an major hurricane in New Orleans. Two out of the three have happened, and I'm not too sure about the ability to save people in the event of a major earthquake in San Francisco, especially because it, unlike the hurricane, would not be forecast days ahead of time.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cigarette lawsuit

It appears that tobacco companies are suing the state over the new tobacco "fee." The storyline sounds like a comedy to me. They are suing because under the terms of the tobacco settlement, the state can't charge a "fee" to recover the cost of tobacco use. So Pawlenty insisting that this is a fee, not a tax, prompted this mess. But wait! It's not a fee, it's a tax, some say, and besides, everybody knows the money isn't going to help cover the costs of tobacco use, they are going to fund education. So it's not a violation of the settlement after all!

Once again, this is a reminder that "words mean things." Pawlenty and supporters trying to be all cutesy calling the tax a fee has real consequences.