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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Recent policy proposals

How about a wrapup of some policy proposals in the news of late?

Removing credit scores from auto insurance: I'm all for this, even if it means I lose a discount from my high score. Using credit scores to determine auto insurance premiums is unfair to those who have no score because they don't use credit and to those who are the victim of identity theft. Once credit bureaus are held liable for the use and misuse of the data they collect we can talk.

Limits on eminent domain: I'm all for this. Eminent domain should only be used for the public good, period. I don't even like this "blighted properties" nonsense. When the government uses eminent domain, there better be a road or a park at the end of it.

Police fees for college students: While I think that this idea in and of itself is poor, I do like the idea of charging people for police service using something other than, or in addition to, property values. I think this is the wrong way to go about doing it, though.

A bit of candor

There's not much new in this story about the recent special elections, but it is nice to see a Republican who is dealing with reality instead of spin. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day is honest enough to say that Ochsner's loss in Saint Cloud has nothing to do with the Sue Ek controversy, unlike some other spin doctors.

Of all the Republican leadership, I think I like Dick Day the most. He seems less willing to play spin games than anybody else, which is refreshing.

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Today's kolumn is about how a generous donor helped revitalize a small North Dakota town. Generosity, honesty, humility, love, they're all good. There's something strange about this kolumn, though, but it really isn't relevant so I guess I will leave it at that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Late special election commentary

This is a bit late, but as everybody knows, the DFL won both seats in Saint Cloud yesterday by pretty substantial margins. This comes as no surprise to anybody who was paying attention.

What will also probably come as no surprise is how Republicans are already trying to spin it. It's pretty impossible to put a positive spin on having your House candidate taken off the ballot for not living in the district, so they aren't really trying to do that, but when it comes to the Senate race, they have no shame. According to Mark Drake, who is some kind of Republican spokesman, the only reason Ochsner lost is because of the whole Ek issue. "It drowned out the message that Clark is a liberal who is out of touch with the district," he says. Well, boys, keep on thinking that if it gets you through the night. Better yet, base you next campaigns on that theme.

In reality, Clark won because voters connected with her, not because she is out of touch. She came within a hair's breadth of beating Dave Kleis in 2002, and against a pathetic opponent this year she cleaned house. The Republicans lost because they had horrible candidates, unlike the Democrats who have had some pretty good candidates of late. Ochsner is not charismatic, has no integrity, and insulted his voters. Ek....no need to rehash that. Even aside from that, though, all Republicans could do is scream "Liberal! Liberal!" which didn't stop after the election. Democrats talk about real issues, like education, property tax increases, and transportation.

If Republicans think that screaming "Liberal!" and beating the gong of abortion and gay marriage is going to win them elections next year, they are in for a rude shock. Voters are tired of this crap and want adults to have reasonable debates about how to improve our state and act responsibly. They don't want radio shock-jocks talking about how stupid people are.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Random drug testing of students

I can't say that I like this idea of random drug testing for students for several reasons. First, as the article says at the very end, there is no proof that they work. Considering how much these programs cost, I think the money could be better spent elsewhere. Then there is that huge infringement on people's rights. No, children and teens do not have the same privacy rights that adults do, nor should they. But I think it is counterproductive for the school to force kids to get drug tests when we want to make school an inviting place for kids.

This problem seems especially acute in Cass Lake. Sure, some kids who are involved in sports may decide that they want to continue with their extracurricular activities and will give up alcohol or drugs. But how many students will give up on school instead, ensuring that they will never escape their problems? It seems that what these kids really need is a positive alternative, not punitive measures. Unfortunately, I don't know how to bring more opportunity to that area. The only thing I like about the Cass Lake plan is that they might test staff too. Hey, it's just fair.

As for Forest Lake testing students, give me a break. Do they have too much money burning a hole in their pocket or something?

More immigration thoughts

There are a couple of comments in this immigration thread that I feel the need to talk about.

Dismissing illegal immigrants as "criminals" and making light of giving other criminals a "free pass" or talking about being adults and getting medical treatment elsewhere is not really conducive to this debate. I realize that I may be in the minority on this. That is because I have intimate knowledge of the immigration process. I know how arbitrary, capricious, and downright racist it can be. If we had a functioning immigration system, where people were treated on their merits, it would be one thing. But we don't. Furthermore, although these people are criminals in the eyes of the law, I am going to have a very hard time condemning somebody who simply wants to come here and work to better the lives of themselves and their families.

It's easy to demagogue this issue and never talk about the real issues, and that's as far as most politicians, especially Republicans, go. I am all for a thoughtful debate on our immigration policy; it's long overdue. But that's going to require taking a hard critical look at exactly what immigrants are doing when they come to this country. They aren't slacking off or collecting welfare as some people think. They are working, working in agriculture, traveling around as migrant workers, working construction. They are getting these jobs because they are willing to work longer and for less than other people. A big sector of our economy is predicated on that fact.

So if we could wave a magic wand and deport all illegal immigrants tomorrow, what then? Would those jobs previously held by illegal immigrants go unfilled? Would employers drastically raise their wages and raise prices for consumers? What would people be okay with?

Illegal immigrants are a pretty easy group to bully. They have no power. They can't vote. Many literally have no voice. But that doesn't make it okay to do so, or to ignore the very real things they do for our economy. They are still people, and although I may not know a thing about Catholicism (as one commenter put it) after 18 years in the church, I do seem to remember that some guy said something important about how you treat the "least of these" people.

Special Election today

Today is the special election in Saint Cloud. Look here for the results. I'm predicting DFL wins in both races for the record.


The Pioneer Press has an article today about Minnesota bloggers. I'm not quoted in the article. Presumably, this is the article that a reporter was doing research for some time ago, as I was contacted by one about an interview. I said that I wasn't willing to give up my anonymity, he said no interview, and that's that. I really don't care that the anonymous part was a hangup; the Pioneer Press can set whatever standards they want.

The article in general talks about how blogs may or may not influence the 2006 elections. I'm not delusional: I know that blogs will have little impact, if any. I also know that blogs certainly aren't going to become a replacement for traditional media like the Pioneer Press. Blogs will be a place for debate. They will also be a place where the occasional scoop is made; this blog, though, probably is not the place to look for that. I'm not "plugged in" as you might say, nor do people feed me hot tips. I blog because I'm a policy wonk and I like to write. Not to influence elections.

Even though I wasn't in the story, I did rate a description in the blogger profiles section: "This blog doesn't focus on just one candidate or party. Author writes on a breadth of Minnesota issues, such as unemployment and taxes. Creator tends to rant at times about random topics." Yeah, I guess I can rant from time to time. I don't know if that is a good thing or not.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Today's Kersten kolumn is about how wonderful a movie The Chronicles of Narnia is and how it is the kind of movie that kids should be seeing today. I don't know about the movie, since I haven't seen it yet, and I'm not going to see it until it makes its way to the cheap theater: No movie is worth paying eight or nine bucks in the first-run theaters. But like almost all kids, I did read the book when I was younger, and I enjoyed it. I have forgotten much of it, but it wasn't for the subliminal Christianity that I liked it, nor is that view particularly necessary.

Kersten cites a social science study that shows how kids today have a large number of emotional and behavioural problems because kids aren't taught how to lead a good life. Maybe that's true, I don't know. I wonder how much the increase in the number of reported emotional and behavioural problems is due to better diagnoses and more medical intervention: in the old days, kids who acted out probably would not have been taken to see a psychologist. But in any case, you can't argue that there are many kids who have problems with ethics and morals.

What does this mean? Considering that the U.S. remains a largely Christian nation and one that makes religion a central part of life, it's odd that this isn't somehow wearing off on kids. Perhaps it is the variation of Christianity out there: I know of many so-called "Christian" families where the kids are a holy terror, as well as several non-religious families where the kids are just fine. So I don't think the answer is more Christianity, which is very clearly the unwritten subtext in Kersten's kolumn.

To me, the simplest and most effective way to lead a moral life is summed up perfectly in the Golden Rule: treat others like you would want to be treated. Since most religions use this as a central tenet of some kind, it's isn't necessary to ram Christianity down anybody's throat. In fact, C.S. Lewis understood this very well, which is why Narnia seems to be a good film. It's not self-righteous for it's own sake, but it sounds like it teaches by showing a good example. That's not hard for anybody to do, is it?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Goodwill towards men all

I try to be optimistic about life and human nature, despite continual evidence to the contrary. If you are full of good cheer right now and you are looking for appalling behaviour to balance it out, check out the comments on this thread. The sexism is incredible.


According to this Star Tribune story, Governor Pawlenty's immigration report stems from some concerns shared with him by residents of the city of Worthington in southwest Minnesota. Worthington, which has a large immigrant population due to its meatpacking plants, is one of the state's most diverse cities, and many of its problems are shared with other cities like Marshall and Willmar, which have burgeoning immigrant populations for the same reason.

There are some real issues with undocumented workers, such as the problems that fake IDs cause for law enforcement, schools, and medical personnel. However, there is even more ignorance. The story quotes Marlene Nelson who is a founder of an anti-immigration group called Steele County Coalition for Immigration Reduction, saying "They're not coming for the cold climate. It's the welfare." I'm so sick and tired of people claiming that illegal immigrants come here for the welfare. News flash, people: they don't get welfare. Illegal immigrants are ineligible for almost all public benefits. They come here because they can work.

Immigrant come here because both employees and employers benefit. Employees get a far higher wage here than they would be getting in Mexico or wherever they are from. Employers get workers for a lower wage than they would have to pay for non-immigrant labor. It's simple, and as long as those dynamics don't change, immigrants will continue to come here legally.

So Republican plans like building a huge wall or allowing local police to arrest people they "suspect" of violating immigration laws, like Rep. Gil Gutknecht supports, are going to work about as well as the War on Drugs (an aside to Rep. Gutknecht, I'll support such a law the moment you know the entire federal immigration code inside and out). There are really only two solutions to the problem of illegal immigration. First, you can require companies to strictly adhere to all labor laws, such as not paying cash for work, verifying the status of workers, paying a high minimum wage so non-immigrants will actually work these jobs, and so forth. Since Republicans aren't terribly interested in regulating their friends and political donors in business, I don't see this happening. Second, you could increase wages in the home countries of immigrants so they have no reason to come here. Something tells me that Republicans are even less concerned about wages in Mexico than they are in regulating business.

What will happen with idiotic ideas like building a huge wall, however, is that immigrants themselves will be exploited even more. If the U.S. builds a wall, for example, that won't change the economic dynamics one bit, so people will still come to this country. However, the "coyotes" who actually smuggle immigrants across the border will charge more for their services, indebting immigrants to them for longer periods of time and leading to further exploitation. Not to mention all the people who will die as a result of trying to make it across the border (and yes, even people with dark skin have lives that are worth as much as anybody else). These kinds of plans remind me a lot of those who want to make abortion illegal: abortions would not disappear, but a whole lot more people would wind up dead.

Non-immigrant Americans want to have their cake and eat it too: they are addicted to the low prices offered by places like Wal-Mart, but they don't want to face the fact that low prices mean that foreigners or immigrants are going to be doing the work. It is because of illegal immigrants that you can get your lettuce and chicken and turkey for so cheap, but is there any appreciation of this fact? If you want to change illegal immigration, change the economic factors that drive it.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

And Happy Hannukah!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Republicans desperate in Saint Cloud

Republicans are so desperate in Saint Cloud, they have resorted to having groups do illegal push polling against Tarryl Clark to try to give the race to right-wing blowhard Dan Ochsner. Although I haven't heard the phone calls myself, I'm guessing they are along the lines of "Would it make you less likely or more likely to vote for Clark if you knew she aborted babies and made breakfast omelets out of them?" and "Would it make you less likely or more likely to vote for Clark if you knew she and her lesbian lover want to have a double "marriage" with her so-called husband and his gay lover?" Nice.

Flappity Floopity

I almost forgot! Not only did Norm vote against everything that is good and just about Minnesota, but he also found more ways to flip-flip on ANWR yet again. He voted against the filibuster to get ANWR out of the Defense Appropriations bill, even though he says he is against drilling in ANWR. Oh sure, he justified this later by saying that he is against filibusters in general, but Norm just likes sitting on the fence in my opinion. He even said on MPR today that he might have to vote for it in the future. Strong convictions there, Norm.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


MN Publius reminds us that our august senator Norm Coleman voted for a budget bill that screws children, the poor, the elderly, students, farmers, and the environment. But if you are a child support scofflaw, good news for you, since enforcement funding is being cut!

Priorities. Gotta love those priorities. And that picture.

Circular firing squad

And this time, it's the Republicans. In response to this story in the City Pages about a staffer for the State Auditor who also brings in a paycheck from the Republican Party, Republican blogs are going at it.

About the substance of the article, I'm not sure this is such a big deal. Although Democrats don't control much of anything right now, it's hard for me to believe that there haven't been examples of when a person was paid by the state and the Democratic party. It probably didn't involve such high positions with both the state and the party, though. I don't see an obvious conflict of interest. It's not like Sutton's state job is auditing casinos and he is moonlighting at one.

But anything that makes Republicans fight each other is okay by me. I expect to see a lot more of this.

Cigarette fee appeal

So the governor is going to appeal the decision. I guess that's a good thing.

I'm not sure what good it will do. An earlier story quoted the governor as saying that the legislature should not be required to adhere to court agreements made by a previous attorney general, that it violates the separation of powers. I'm no lawyer, but that sounds like pretty faulty reasoning. Just because there has been an intervening election doesn't mean that all agreements are null and void. If that were the case, talk about a moral hazard, not to mention a complete breakdown of the legal process.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Science beats stupidity

It's pathetic that it had to reach court, but at least the judge wasn't a moron: science won over magic wands and big invisible sky buddies. People can talk about creationism all they want. It's just not for science class.


Via xoverboard and Balloon Juice, we have this awesome skit from SNL. I agree with both of them: funniest thing since Will Ferrell left.

Every silver lining has a touch of grey...

I've got good news and bad news for you, Governor Pawlenty.

First, the good news: your cigarette "fee" isn't a tax at all, but really is a fee. Congratulations! You haven't broken your "No New Taxes" pledge, at least on this issue (we'll talk about property taxes later...)

The bad news: since the fee is a fee, it is illegal. Oopsie. That kind of destroys the state budget, doesn't it?

I am disappointed in this ruling, not because I don't like seeing the Pawlenty administration get a hard kick in the groin, but because I think this fee is a good thing. However, unless this ruling is overturned on appeal (and an appeal is probably sure to take place), we are stuck with it. What happens next? Will there be a special session to fix this? Will another tax be passed? Will the surplus be used for this, ensuring that schools don't get the money they deserve? The ball's in Pawlenty's court.

Ek II: The aborted sequel

Since Sue Ek can't be on the ballot, Saint Cloud GOPers decided to go with another Ek candidate: Sue's mother, Kay Ek. Kay's qualifications seem to be no different than her daughter's: she hates abortion and icky gays and likes to think that using a condom during sex will get you banished to Hell. Unfortunately for her, she can't be on the ballot. So she is going to run as a "write-in" candidate.

Now, a part of me thinks it is too bad that there is now only one person on the ballot; voters do deserve a choice. On the other hand, Republicans brought this on themselves. And although some people will think it's unfair that Sue can't be replaced on the ballot, the law clearly says that replacements are only allowed when the candidate withdraws or dies. It says nothing about allowing a replacement for a candidate who is kicked off the ballot for lying about his or her residency. I suggest that any Saint Cloud Republicans who are mad about not having a candidate to vote for should talk to their party officials and get them to, you know, maybe vet their candidate next time.

MN Publius is worried that this may boomerang against the Democrats, motivating Republicans to come out and vote and making Democrats complacent. While I don't think this will happen, as Kay Ek is as unattractive a candidate as Sue and even Republicans don't seem to like her all that much, it is important that everybody still keep working until the votes are counted.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Veteran initiatives

Lots of initiatives unveiled today for veterans and members of the military. How do they stack up?

• "Support Our Troops" license plates

Generally, I don't like our license plates turned into anything other than a way to identify cars, but I guess this isn't too terrible.

• State tax exemptions for military retirement pay

I don't know enough about this one. I don't like special tax exemptions, so if there aren't similar exemptions for other kinds of retirement pay, I guess I would have to say this one is no good.

• An additional $3 million a year for a program called State Soldiers Assistance, which acts as a safety net for veterans and their families who may need emergency services such as therapy or temporary financial assistance

Great news. Too many people who are homeless or who suffer from mental illness are veterans, and ignoring them after their service to our country is shameful.

• An additional $3 million to county veterans affairs offices throughout the state

Ditto the last one.

• The establishment of a Military and Veterans Support Cabinet that will reach across state agencies to help veterans and their families

No real problems here.

• In-state tuition rates for nonresident soldiers and veterans

Again, no problems.

• Delayed tuition payments for veterans who are awaiting federal GI benefits

Hey, don't punish veterans for the slowness of the bureaucracy.

• New rules that make it easier to transfer military educational experience for training and education credit at colleges

Transfers are always good.

• On-campus veterans assistance offices to provide a coordinated program for veterans continuing their higher educations

Education is a real investment, so it's nice to see it treated as such.

All in all, not a bad set of programs.

See Ya Bye!

Ek. Gone. Buh-bye.

The court order removing her from the ballot doesn't state whether the Republicans can name a replacement, and there seems to be some disagreement over this issue. MN Publius says that there are rumors of a well-known Republican taking the spot of they are allowed to do so, but no names are mentioned. Nothing comes to my mind right now, and if the Republicans had a good candidate to begin with Ek would never have been on the ballot. Perhaps people are talking about frequent candidate Duane Schumacher, who last ran in 2002.

All in all, this has been a pretty hilarious election season for Saint Cloud Republicans. I almost feel sorry for their haplessness. Almost.

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Today's kolumn is about those noble servicepeople who are serving the country overseas by medically treating both U.S. soldiers and Iraqis, some of which wish to do the U.S. harm. It must be tough to treat people who just tried to blow up your friends with an IED, but these people do it, and they certainly deserve our praise.

I'm sure that 95% of our soldier overseas are doing their best for our country and acting in this manner. What we need to do, though, to win the worldwide publicity war is ensure that those who break the law and act like animals are punished for their crimes, and that means from the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of Defense on down. Torture and the use of Soviet prisons tars the name of those citizens who are trying to win hearts and minds.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ek circling the drain

Judge says Ek lived in Saint Paul, not Saint Cloud, on June 27th. Thus, Ek has not fulfilled the six-month residency requirement for running for the House. Although the case is still pending, she's about out of luck here.

Not that it would have made much difference. Based on all the feedback I have been hearing, as well as my personal experience, the Republican candidates in Saint Cloud are about to get creamed. It's shocking how poorly they are doing, considering the area. The state Republican party is about to have a very, very rude awakening.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Immigration report backlash

The Pioneer Press has a story today about some of the backlash that the governor's report on illegal immigration has sparked around the state. Not surprisingly, immigrants and immigration advocates are not too pleased at the inaccurate, one-sided, misleading report. Some say that this could awaken a formerly dormant group of people who have been generally outside of the political process.

Pawlenty is right when he says that the immigration system "has to be legal and orderly and reasonable, and the current system that we now see playing out across the country and in Minnesota doesn't meet that definition in my book." But do you know whose fault that is? It's the fault of Congress and President Bush, and nothing the governor can do aside from urge the federal government to act will make a difference. The BCIS needs to be completely reformed and given the resources it needs to do its job. As it stands now, it is a fairly corrupt bureaucracy with a backlog measured in months and years. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.

One thing that definitely will not help is a law that prevents cities from passing ordinances that keep the police from acting as immigration officials. Apparently, this is something that will be pushed by Republican Jim Knoblach of Saint Cloud. The police do not have the training or legal knowledge to determine a person's immigration status. You can be legally here if your visa has expired. You can be illegal if you have a visa. This is because our immigration laws make no sense whatsoever. In a lot of cases, it takes many lawyers and judges to untangle a person's status. The police can't do it, and expecting them to will only keep immigrants from cooperating with the police.

It is no secret that some Republican grassroots activists are trying to make immigration a big issue for the next elections. However, the business wing of the Republican party isn't as eager to make this a huge issue as some other conservatives, simply because they rely on cheap labor from legal and illegal immigrants. So another thing Pawlenty could do if he really cared about this issue is talk to his Republican business owner friends and encourage them to obey the law with regards to wages, safety, and immigration status of their workers.

The issue of immigration has to include more misinformation and incorrect stereotypes than just about any other issue. Pawlenty's report certainly isn't helping.

Fran Bradley retiring

Lots of reports today that Fran Bradley is retiring. He is a Republican from Rochester who chairs the Health Policy and Finance Committee, making him partially responsible for a lot of the health care cutbacks in recent years. For that reason, I'm sure a lot of people aren't that sorry to see him go.

Rochester has trended less Republican in recent years, so this could be an interesting race in 2006.

Creationists lose

As Pharyngula has reported, the Minnetonka School Board has rejected an attempt to water down science standards put forward by some Creationists. It really sounds like the school board has their stuff together, which is good news for students.

Teaching that scientific theories can change is important, but why don't we stick to when one scientific theory supplants another one? The Newtonian physics/Theory of Relativity is a perfect, noncontroversial example: Newtonian physics worked very well for mundane data, but once science had advanced to the point where experiments were conducted using high-speed and high-energy particles, the data didn't fit the equations. Thus, relativity stepped into the void. If students need an example of theories adapting, there you go.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Court to decide soon on Sue Ek case

The Saint Cloud Times has the story here. Arguments tomorrow, then the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday. If she is removed from the ballot, Republicans would have a week to nominate a new candidate, which pretty much puts them on top of election day.

Like I've said before, it's just pathetic that Saint Cloud Republicans couldn't find a better candidate. I am really surprised by that. Is the party apparatus up there that ineffective, or do smart Republicans know that they can't win this race?

Pawlenty names new head of state supreme court

What does this mean? I have no idea about this person. I guess you can say that at least it wasn't Scalito.

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Today's Kersten kolumn is about LARK, a big, old-fashioned toy store near Kellogg, Minnesota. For those who want to take a trip down memory lane, go ahead and give it a read.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why the Creationism fight matters

Here's a comment on the Minnetonka Creationism issue that I want to talk about because it's a good starting point for why this is important. No disrespect intended to Anonymous.

I worked for Dave and he's a good man.
He may very well be a good man. I don't know him, so I really can't agree or disagree with this statement. His approach to science standards, however, are wrong and harmful.

The need for applying logic to faith seems foolish. Let's each believe what we believe and not pick on each other.
I don't think anybody is trying to apply logic to faith. If anything, people want to apply faith to logic: they want to bring their particular faith into the realm of science, where logic reigns supreme. I agree that they should be separate. That's why people are fighting this Creationism nonsense.

Comparative religion yes.
Completely agree with you there. In fact, I would like to see comparative religion classes required in schools. However, this would not make most Creationists happy; in fact, it would do the opposite. A true comparative religion class would teach each religion not as a dogma, but as a subject to be pored over, discussed, argued over, picked apart, and put under the microscope to tease out the realities of religious histories. They would include discussions about inconsistencies, inaccuracies, misstatements, and the context that each religion was created in. Religious fundamentalists would have a heart attack if schools took this approach. They want their particular religion taught as fact, not as something that is open to debate.

I took a comparative religion course in high school and I found it to be very helpful.

Scientific process yes.
Can't say I argue with this one.

One scientific answer to every issue no.
Well, I do have a problem here. There really is one scientific answer to issues that can be addressed scientifically. The computer I am typing on works because all of its constituent parts conform to a group of specific scientific "answers": take any away, and the computer doesn't function. When I drop something, it falls to the ground because of one scientific answer: gravity. It doesn't fall because of gravity sometimes and invisible gnomes other times. Science is about finding the theory that best fits the observed data.

There are plenty of issues that science can't address. I think that Creationists are afraid that scientists are somehow trying to make these issues go away or something, but they aren't. They simply can't be answered by science because they are in the realm of metaphysics: by definition, they are beyond science. Thus, while science can tell us what happened in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, science can't answer the question, "Why the Big Bang?" That is where faith comes into the picture. There is no need for conflict between faith and science if both sides realize the limits of their respective fields. Now, by and large, scientists do so; you never see any scientists going around trying to "disprove" God. But apparently lots of members of the faith community don't understand the limits of their field, since they are very openly trying to "disprove" science.

I'm sorry but all you "open minded" scientists have to let other people have their say without being indignant. Isn't being open minded what the process is about?
This issue has never been about not letting people have their say. It's about where people have the chance to do so.

Creationism is not science. People have every right to believe it, but they don't have the right to teach it to others as science, any more than I would have the right to teach that I have magical powers in a science class. Comparative religion, fine. Philosophy, fine. Creation stories around the world, fine. But it is not science.

Of course, scientific theories can change. An accepted theory is that which best adheres to observed data; there is always a chance that a better theory will be found one day. It does happen. However, science does not mean that you expose children to every crackpot theory out there because there's a slight chance that the currently accepted theory may not be the best one. If another theory is found one day that is better than evolution, it's not going to be found in grade school or high school classrooms, or even college classrooms in all likelihood. It's going to be found by experts using the scientific method. It does students a huge disservice to imply that scientific theories can be replaced at the drop of a hat, or that a classroom is the right way to determine which theory is best. Of course, since Creationism isn't a scientific theory, so it won't be included by default.

Also, "open-mindedness" is a good thing, but being open minded is not what science is all about. Being open to new hypotheses, yes. Being so open minded that you throw away the rules of science in order to advance your pet unscientific theory, no. I would be open minded about Creationism as science if somebody, anybody, could point out how it is science. Since nobody can, I'm not.

As a leap of faith, I'm not interested in Creationism, but that's just my personal choice. I have my own metaphysical beliefs. They don't include Creationism. They also aren't very interesting to anybody but me, and I'm not really bent on converting anybody to my cause. In the end, it's nothing more than a parlor game, something that you believe is that "gets you through the night." How I live my life can be pretty much summed up as the Golden Rule anyway.

Faith is something that is ultimately up to the individual, which is another reason why I really don't understand why fundamentalists are so hell-bent on injecting religion into schools. The only conclusion I can reach is that these people are so unsure of their own faith that they need the cloak of some kind of "official sanction" in terms of schools so that they can believe it. That's sad. The people whom I have known with real faith can handle even critical discussions of their faith and survive. Not the weak, though.

Can't we all just get along?
I think you should address that question to the Creationists. If people want to believe in Creationism, fine. As long as they know it's not science, who cares? Those who are fighting Creationism are not interested in getting people to repudiate Creationism as a faith belief. Hell, there are people who believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and as long as they aren't geologists or people who are setting the curricula for schools, I guess it doesn't hurt me. But it's not science, and these beliefs don't help us understand the world around us, which is what science is for. It's the Creationists who want to elevate their faith beliefs to the level of science, though, and they are the ones who can't get along with those people who want to keep science and faith separate.

If people would just understand the differences between faith and science, we wouldn't have these problems.

Even more on immigration

According to Nick Coleman, some of the statistics in the governor's report on immigration came from a virulently anti-immigration group, the Center for Immigration Studies. Gee, I'm really surprised.

Immigration is an important issue that is pretty much ignored by everybody who isn't directly affected by it. It needs to be discussed, and it needs accurate facts.

The OX is gored

Wow. Not only is Sue Ek a disaster up in the St. Cloud special election, but so is the other Republican candidate, Dan Ochsner. Turns out he has a bit of a problem in the "integrity" department, according to Minnesota Republican Watch. "The OX" doctored Bush/Cheney campaign photos to make it look like the attendees were attending an OX campaign rally and holding OX signs. As MN Republican Watch points out, this may be against the law.

How sad is this? Saint Cloud is not Minneapolis. There are actually a good deal of Republicans living there, but of the two candidates the Republicans have chosen to run, one doesn't even live in Saint Cloud, and the other one uses doctored photos on his campaign lit. Checks and Balances also reports that the OX has called Saint Cloud residents "morons" and said that Saint Cloud State is "an embarrassment" on his radio show. These probably aren't things that you want to be saying when you are running for elected office.

Given Ochsner's new campaign tactics, perhaps we need a new law for campaign literature. In addition to any "Paid for and prepared by" disclaimers on literature, I think we need a new one that says "Images doctored by...". How about it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Hennepin County votes for a partial rollback of the smoking ban. Who is responsible? Pro-stadium, pro-smoking Peter McLaughlin. I'm increasingly happy that he did not win the mayoral election last month, and I hope that this vote represents the end of his political career.

Here's his statement.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Minnesota is healthiest state again

Yay for us.

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Kersten's kolumn today is about the University of Minnesota's Law School, and their involvement with the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR). FAIR objects to what's known as the Solomon Amendment, which requires schools that receive federal funding, including law schools, to open their campuses to military recruiting. The objection is due to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding homosexuals. As you can probably guess, Kersten isn't too impressed with FAIR or the law school.

While I do think it is a bit shallow of the school to join FAIR but not join the lawsuit that FAIR has brought against the government, there is absolutely nothing wrong with how the law school has acted. This may be hard to understand for Kersten and others who think like her, but a lot of people have a problem with anybody discriminating against gays, because, well, they are people too. So there is no difference here than if the military refused to admit Jews, or Blacks, or women. If the military had these kinds of policies, most people would agree that there's a problem, and even Kersten might agree that the law school was right to not allow recruiters on campus. But when it comes to homosexuals, it's apparently different: as Ford is proving, discrimination against the GLBT community is still allowed.

So no, Kersten, if the U law school doesn't want military recruiters on campus, they aren't demeaning the institution of the military. The military is doing a pretty good job of demeaning itself with its stupid discrimination.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Al Franken interview

A good interview with Al Franken. I just finished his latest book, The Truth (with jokes) and it was a good one. As its title implies, this book was less about comedy than about disseminating reality, which means I did laugh less reading this book than I did with his other ones. However, it was still very powerful, and it did teach me a lot, which is impressive. For example, I had no idea about Tom DeLay and the forced abortions in Saipan. What an ass. He has to be one of the biggest pricks in politics today.

Giving credibility to the insane

Oh, great. The Star Tribune has weighed in on the ridiculous, created controversy that is the War on Christmas. Of course, it wasn't too hard for them to find some wackos like Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council to rant about how Christmas is being destroyed because some businesses say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

Incidentally, there is even more proof in the article that Prichard is not a Christian. He says, quote, Christmas "is the reason they shop, the significance of the season. Christmas is facing an unnatural exclusion." So, according to Prichard, the birth of Jesus is celebrated by purchasing material objects and going into debt. Nice. That wasn't what I was taught when I was growing up, probably because I wasn't a raging idiotic hypocrite like Prichard is. A question for any Christians out there: doesn't it bother you that somebody like Prichard, who obviously knows nothing about the Christian faith and the teachings of Jesus, is the go-to guy when it comes to religious matters in Minnesota? Anybody? Bueller?

I'd also take serious issue with the notion that "secularists" are to blame. I think that far more self-described Christians are complaining to businesses about not saying "Merry Christmas" than non-Christians telling businesses not to. I've never complained to any business about what they say because I DON'T CARE! Why are Christians, who make up the vast majority of people in this country, so insecure about their faith? Why do they need to see it everywhere they go? Are they all doubting Thomases?

Look, a non-Christian probably isn't going to be elected President in my lifetime, and an agnostic or atheist president never. Christians control just about everything, and yet they still have a persecution complex. Nobody is feeding you to the lions. Get over it.

The latest on...

Immigration: Nick Coleman has a column that finds mainly the same faults in the immigration study that I did. He does have an explicit number on how much taxes illegal immigrants pay: $300 million, which would more than make up for any costs to the state. I don't know where that number comes from, though.

School year: another story on lengthening the school year.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In passing

Both Gene McCarthy and Richard Pryor have died. There's a connection there, but it's not something that can be put into words.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Sue Ek saga

MN Publius is all over this story, so check it out if you want the latest. It looks like things are going from bad to worse for Ek. I'm about to shed a tear.

Illegal immigration II

A more complete story on the issue of illegal immigration from the Star Tribune. Good to see a little more balance.

Rep. Barb Goodwin not running again

The title pretty much says it all. Rep. Barb Goodwin, a DFLer from Columbia Heights, is not going to run for re-election in 2006.

Even more creationism

Here's a Nick Coleman column on the Minnetonka creationism issue. It does shed a little light on the subject: the proposed Minnetonka standard would say "The great diversity of organisms is the result of more than three and a half billion years of evolution that has filled every available niche with life forms." Would Eaton or some other person give a scientific theory that fills in the little word "more" in that sentence? What scientific theory accounts for the "more"? Why is there a need for "more"?

We also learn that Eaton fought against the International Baccalaureate program because some people thought it went against Christianity. So to the surprise of nobody, Eaton really is a fundamentalist who wants to put his version of fundamentalist Christianity in Minnetonka schools, ignoring the needs of students to be taught something that is actually factual and useful. Why can't all these people set up a colony in Utah or somewhere else where they can fill their children's heads with all the nonsense that they want? They won't have to worry about "anti-Christian" curricula, and the rest of us who live in the reality-based community certainly won't have to worry about competing with those people for jobs.

Illegal immigration

A new report by the Department of Administration says that illegal immigrants are costing the state up to $188 million a year in services like education and incarceration. Hold on now, though. According to the Star Tribune story, the report did not make any guesses as to how much money is brought into the state every year by these illegal immigrants. When I read further, though, especially the Pioneer Press article, I found some more troubling news, especially in how the state calculates the true cost of immigrants. I'm just shocked that the governor would use a completely biased report as a policy guide, aren't you? Seriously, the fact that the Department of Administration didn't even bother to make some estimates as to how much money immigrants bring in, and that news media didn't make a similar attempt, is just plain pathetic. So I guess I am going to have to do so. We'll take it in two steps: revenue first, then how the report is completely full of crap on the expenditure side.

Money comes into the state through two big conduits: sales taxes and income taxes. Sure, there are a lot of other taxes out there, but these are the biggies. If the 80,000 illegal immigrants a year pay more in taxes than they cost the state in services, this wouldn't be a drain on the state. Let's see if that is possible. The report says that "17,000 of their children" cost public schools to educate, but it doesn't say if those 17,000 are included in the 80,000 or not. To be fair, let's include them in the 80,000. That means that there are perhaps 65,000 working adults in the mix (this may be high if there are lots of unemployed immigrants out there, or it may be low if the children aren't included in the original number). I'm going to be getting information from the Minnesota Tax Incidence Study, which breaks information down into households, so let's pretend there are 32,000 households of illegal immigrants (again, that number may be high or low, but it's not completely out there).

Let's say that two adults are working, and they are making $20,000 a year each, which isn't a huge amount of money. That's $40,000 a year for the household. According to the tax incidence study, the effective sales tax rate for households of this size is about 3.3%. That means the household pays $1,320 a year in sales taxes, or $42 million for all households. Then there is the income tax. This is a bit trickier, since some immigrants don't pay any income taxes at all because they are paid under the table, while other immigrants pay too much in income taxes because they are withheld from their checks but they don't file income tax returns at the end of the year. Let's say that's another three percent or so, for another $38 million. So between sales and income taxes, the state takes in $80 million a year using my guesses. That's not an insignificant number. That also doesn't take into account property taxes, which would offset some of that education spending.

Now, how does the report cook the books on the expenditure side? To see that, you have to look at the PiPress story. According to that, the report breaks down the 17,000 children into two sets: 7,000 children who are illegal immigrants themselves, and 10,000 children who were born here to illegal immigrants, making them U.S. citizens. The second group does not belong in this report: they are citizens. It doesn't matter how your parents got here, once you are born on U.S. soil you are a citizen. So prorating the share for those 7,000 non-citizens, that means they cost the state between $60 million and $65 million a year.

Illegal immigrants also cost the state $35 million a year in health care assistance programs. But wait! The federal government pays for half of that cost. So in reality, the state pays for $17 million of it. If we were to count the federal government's share in the total, we would also have to take into account the federal income taxes that immigrants are paying.

When you add up all the real costs to the state, you get $91 million to $96 million a year, countered by maybe $80 million a year in revenues. Does that suddenly seem like a big problem? Not to me.

What does this all mean? Well, it's not too big a stretch to assume that Pawlenty, like many Republicans nationwide, is going to try to turn this into a campaign issue. One problem is that he has very little control over immigration. He said in a new release, "We need to remember that we are a nation of immigrants and we should support immigration that is legal and orderly. Unfortunately, the current system is neither and needs to be reformed." But how exactly can the governor of Minnesota reform the immigration system? He can't. The things he can do, like cut state aid to illegal immigrants, has been done already. So in reality, he can do little more than demagogue on this issue, like he has done before. I don't know if the majority of Minnesotans are really all that concerned about waves of dark-skinned people crossing our borders, though. Of course, there are some nutballs out there who are ranting and raving about it, but the recent survey showed that education, not immigration, is foremost in voters' minds.

If we are going to have a debate on immigration, let's make it realistic and based on facts.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Longer school year

I'm all for this. It seems like a no-brainer considering how important education is, and how far we are slipping behind the rest of the world.

Once again, thought, resort owners are against it. No offense, but the future of Minnesota's economy does not lie in resorts. It likes in biotech, nanotech, and other bleeding-edge industries that require education. And I don't buy the whole "teens need summer jobs to be complete" bit. While it's true to a certain extent, no 15-year old really needs a summer job to "find themselves." Save it for wacky college.

The only problem is how to pay for it, and that's a big one. But investments in education are just that: investments. If our state's leaders have any sense, they will find a way to turn this into reality.

Incumbents, Republicans in trouble

So says a Saint Cloud State opinion poll.

It's not really surprising that the public is turning against incumbents and Republicans. Republicans control the governor's office and the state House, and the past few years haven't been happy times for the state. Lots of people think that education is not getting the attention it deserves, and people trust Democrats more than Republicans when it comes to education.

Of course, Republicans are going to try to spin this as not being a big deal. However, the national Republican party isn't going to be very helpful come 2006. It's too early to make strong predictions, but the trends are favorable for Democrats in the next election.

Pension troubles

I don't know enough about the pension troubles facing the Minneapolis Teacher Pension and others, but the state auditor says that they need reform, now. Presented for your enjoyment. I do have to say, though, that if these pensions can't even do better than the state's pension fund, then they should be combined. Investing isn't difficult.

A new ID

First there was the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Now there is the theory of Incompetent Design. I like it.

If nothing else, the idiocy of creationism has generated a lot of amusing discussion, some of it even serious. I would love to take a philosophy class talking about all of these issues. Just not in biology, m'kay?

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Today's kolumn is free from insanity. It is a story of some of the heroes of World War II, members of the merchant marine. There are countless stories of heroism from all of the wars that the U.S. has been in, and it is always good to read some more. Go ahead and do it today, I promise it won't hurt you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Data security

Troubling news about the security of the data that is collected by the state, everything from tax returns to vehicle information. In short, the state is not doing enough to ensure security. To be fair, lots of government agencies and private businesses aren't taking proper steps to secure data either, but just because other people leave the door unlocked isn't an excuse for Minnesota. The issue of data security is going to become more important as entities collect more data electronically and link it to other data. Let's see if Minnesota can become a leader in this area. It's been a long time since Minnesota has been at the forefront of an issue, and that's disappointing.

Budget surplus II

They City Pages' Britt Robson has a take on the budget "surplus" in today's edition. He isn't terribly impressed either.

Look, I know that Governor Pawlenty is a politician, and as such he is going to toot his own horn regardless of whether he really deserves it or not. But still, this does seem to go beyond some kind of line. I could never do it; maybe that's why I would make a lousy politician. Ignoring inflation on the expenditure side is the really awful thing. It's like saying that because I got a raise I can afford more house when I purchase one next year, because housing prices aren't going to go up at all. Yeah, right.

Trouble in Saint Cloud?

According to Checks and Balances (registration required), the Republican candidate that is running to succeed Rep. Joe Opatz in St. Cloud, Sue Ek, voted in St. Paul between 2001 and 2004, leading to questions about her St. Cloud residency. However, according to her campaign literature, she has been a St. Cloud resident "since 1968". Either she is lying on her campaign lit, or she is lying about her residency when she votes in St. Paul. Either way, it's not good.

It is also interesting that Republicans always complain about students voting twice, both at their home address and at their school address. Now, there is no indication that Ek has been voting both in St. Cloud and St. Paul, but it is interesting that for some odd reason she is choosing to consistently vote in a location that doesn't seem to be her home. I would never do such a strange thing, nor would most voters.

I don't know a whole lot about Ek or her candidacy, but she does sound like she is a bit off the wall. She is the executive director of a "Natural Family Planning" organization, which isn't really surprising given the people who live in Saint Cloud (and believe me, I know them all too well). What is Natural Family Planning? It's a way to pretend to use a method of birth control while not going against any dogmatic Catholic beliefs. According to this "method," you guess the days that you can't have sex. The standard joke told by real family planning professionals is this:

Q. What do you call people who use natural family planning?
A. Parents.

The only people that I know of who have used it have five kids, so judge for yourself.

In any case, Republicans have cause for concern in these races. Ek and her Republican Senate candidate counterpart are not the strongest of candidates (the guy running for Senate is some blowhard talk radio host -- I don't know if the "Jesse Factor" really works up in St. Cloud). Not only is there a good chance that Republicans will lose both races, but some moderate Republicans are getting very nervous. Stay tuned.

Smoking ban consequences

A study done by the Pioneer Press has found that there has been no doomsday for bars and restaurants as a result of smoking bans passed in the Twin Cities. This seems to be in line with reality. Some time ago on MPR I heard a few bar owners who are against the ban say that "thousands" of employees had been laid off as a result of the ban, while a spokesman from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said that only about a dozen hospitality workers had filed for unemployment benefits as a result of being laid off.

I find myself going out more than before, although it's not entirely due to the smoking ban. However, it is definitely nice to not come home reeking of smoke. Over Thanksgiving, I spent time in a place that does not have a smoking ban, and I could definitely notice the difference.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

War on Christmas

I don't care about the supposed "War on Christmas". I don't care what Target employees or anybody else says to me. In fact, I don't want them to wish me anything at all. It's bad enough when overzealous store employees constantly ask me if I need help finding anything. It's a freaking store, dammit! It's not complicated.

But after going to the post office, I do realize that I want one thing: for people to know that you need to address packages before you bring them to the post office. It would also be nice if postal employees put the smack down on these people. It did me absolutely no good to properly address and fill out all required ancillary forms before I got to the window at the post office, because I kept on getting interrupted by morons who don't know how the postal system works. And the postal employees didn't turn them away with a hiss and a chop of the hand like they deserved; no, they interrupted my transaction, needlessly drawing it out. If postal employees kept these people outside where they belong instead of interrupting me, I wouldn't care if they ended every transaction with "Hail Satan, suckaz!"

That also goes for certain stores that accept cash only. You know who you are. As Bill O'Reilly said, you should be thanking Jesus for the ridiculous orgy of spending that happens this time of year. Whenever you lose a sale and piss off a customer because you won't take a credit card, Baby Jesus cries. It's far worse than wishing people "Happy Holidays!"

More creationism nonsense

What is with Minnetonka's schools? Apparently, they are discussing changes to, you guessed it, the biology curriculum. Once again, a creationist, Dave Eaton, wants schools to leave the door open to unscientific alternatives to evolution, because right now, teaching that evolution is basically the accepted theory that explains the diversity of species and how they adapt in response to changing environments is too "dogmatic." So tossing out crazy alternatives is supposed to be better?

I am wondering if Eaton and everybody else who is interested in dumbing down the science taught in schools is interested in challenging any other widely-accepted theories out there, like gravity or General Relativity? This wouldn't be a witch-hunt to try to score some political points, would it? Perish the thought.

And don't buy the bull from Eaton himself that he is not a creationist. He says that Intelligent Design is not creationism, because it is based on science. Okay, big guy, where's the science? Show me the science! I want just one honest creationist to show me the true science behind "Intelligent Design."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Katherine Kersten's Korner

It's time for another Katherine Kersten's Korner, and today's kolumn is on a topic that is dear to Republican hearts: private schools. Since many far-right Republicans don't like public schools very much, they never pass up the chance to trot out an example of a private school where everything is being done correctly. Today, it is Ascension Catholic School in North Minneapolis. Even though many of the kids come from troubled backgrounds, and the school spends less than half of what Minneapolis public schools spend per student, students at Ascension are doing very well. Ergo, public schools are a huge mess, and we should have private schools for all.

...Right. To be honest, I appreciate some of her comments. My views on public education set me apart from a lot of Democrats: I was a product of private Catholic schools myself, and I have a very dim view of public schools as a result. However, unlike Kersten, I inhabit the reality-based community, and I actually understand that there are some pretty significant differences between how private schools and public schools work.

First, the good things about private schools. They do tend to have a very rigorous curriculum, something that I think public schools are lacking. There are many reasons why I think this is bad, and I'm not going to get into too deep a philosophical discussion here, but in general I think that expectations need to be raised dramatically at all levels of education, and that failing needs to be far more common. Too often schools expect very little from students and get it. Expecting too much and having to fail lots of students is far better than expecting too little, getting it, and just passing uneducated students on to the next teacher. This would also require removing the stigma from failure, however, so this is a pretty tall order.

It's also true that teachers at private schools tend to be a lot more dedicated than public schools. They have to be, since they are getting paid a good deal less than their public school counterparts. Now, of course, this isn't always the case, and I do remember several teachers at my private schools that seemed to work there not due to their dedication but due to the fact that they couldn't work anywhere else, but by and large teachers at private schools tend to be more interested in the lives of their students, with positive results.

So why can't we simply replace all public schools with private schools and see huge benefits to our educational system? Because private schools have one huge benefit over public schools: they can choose which students to accept. According to Kersten, Ascension has "no costly bureaucracy, no 'curriculum specialists.'" Why don't they have these specialists? Because they probably don't have any special-needs students. Kersten doesn't say how many children at Ascension have severe learning disabilities or other impediments to learning, but I'm willing to guess that the number is zero. At my Catholic schools, out of hundreds of students, we also had zero. Public schools, since they have to accept all kids, can't pick and choose their students like private schools can. The same goes for children who are serious distractions in the classroom. Private schools can (and believe me, they do!) simply expel students who are negatively affecting the learning environment. Public schools are once again trapped.

In addition, when parents are actually paying tuition to a school, they tend to be a lot more interested in their children's' studies. One of the foremost problems in education is how to get the parents involved, and private schools do this by taking money from the parents at regular intervals. Perhaps it is a bit of that ownership society. This doesn't have to set public schools apart from private schools, though; an argument could be made for at least partially funding public schools in this way, although it is hard to see exactly how this would work. Vouchers, incidentally, are not really the answer here, since vouchers from the government don't represent real money coming out of your pocketbook.

So yes, private schools can do a lot for certain students that would not flourish elsewhere, and yes, there is a lot wrong with the state of education in this country today. However, Kersten provides a very naïve view of what she appears to see as a panacea, that of private religious schools. It's going to take a lot more work, and a lot more discussion, than that to fix what ails us.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Why do these ignorant bigots get press coverage? Are we next going to hear about where members of the KKK go grocery shopping?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A future for the Ford plant?

Again, rumors of the Ford plant closing are just that: rumors. However, preparations are being made in the event that they turn out to be true. This is an interesting idea; I don't know what to think of it yet. Creating a research center for alternative-fuel vehicles would future-proof the plant, though, and if we give Ford any state assistance it has to take these issues into account.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Structural balance

I did take a look at the actual November forecast today, and the party opposite is right: the out years do show a surplus, but only barely if you factor in inflation and a constitutional amendment dedicating the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax to transportation (I think that's what it was). I'm not going to get into the idiocy of ignoring inflation on the expenditure side while keeping in on the revenue side right at the moment.

Ford plant

They are only rumors at the moment, but there's whispering going on that the St. Paul Ford plant may be one of the plants that Ford will close when they make their big announcement in January. If this is true (and so far there isn't any confirmation yet), this would be a blow to the area. There are 2,000 high-paying union jobs with benefits at that plant, and losing them all at once would hurt a lot of people, more than just those who would lose their jobs.

Does the state have a role in this? The MPR article has Speaker Sviggum not ruling out a special session, with Dean Johnson a bit more cautious. I'm wary as well. Just throwing money and incentives at Ford does not sound like good policy; Northwest Airlines has been bailed out many times, and look where it has gotten us. I wouldn't rule out everything, but we need to face facts: the small trucks that are manufactured at that plant aren't selling well. To ignore business realities and just hand out money would only delay the inevitable.

This also illustrates why Minnesota needs to keep investing in education. These high-paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing all over the country. In order to ensure that the right kind of high-paying jobs come in to this state, we need an educated workforce. Otherwise, all we will get are low-paying service jobs.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Katherine Kersten's Korner

I thought that while I was gone for Thanksgiving and unable to read Kersten's kolumns that I would have missed something. Turns out she had a vacation like I had, so today's is the first since last week. In it, she takes on an issue that quite honestly vexes people on both the left and the right: the content of video games.

I am pretty libertarian with regards to these things, and I find a lot of the bellowing about games like Grand Theft Auto to be pretty annoying and based out of ignorance. Video games are now a larger industry than movies, and why shouldn't they be? For about five times the cost of an average movie ticket these days, video games can give people hundreds of hours of entertainment in a way that makes you a participant, instead of a spectator. For adults, M-rated video games are no worse than R-rated movies.

That's the key: for adults. Kids should not be playing M-rated video games. This can be achieved in two ways. First, stores should not be allowed to sell M-rated games to kids. If legislation is required for this (and it appears that it is), then pass it. I'm happy to see that Best Buy, a Minnesota company, has 100% compliance with its policy of not selling these adult games to minors. All retailers should abide by this.

Secondly, and more importantly, parents have the duty to monitor what games their kids play, just like they have the duty to monitor what TV programs they watch. Frankly, Kersten doesn't seem to get that. She says at the very beginning of her column, "But at least we can breathe easy when our kids are in their bedrooms playing their favorite video games, right?" Wrong. Every responsible parent knows that video game systems, like computers, do not belong in kids' rooms. They belong out in the open, for everybody to see, so that the activities performed on computers and video game systems can be monitored. Parents also need to set restrictions on "screen time" so that time spent playing video games is limited. These can be black-and-white time limits, but more reasonable (and more successful) is for parents to engage their children in activities that take them away from the tube.

The only way that "Video games [can] become dominant story tellers for many kids" is if parents let that happen. Let's have a little more responsibility and a little less bashing of the messenger.

Structural balance

One thing I forgot in my post on the budget forecast is the issue of structural balance. Put simply, is the budget still showing more revenues than expenditures into the future, beyond this biennium? I didn't see any news reports on this, and I haven't cadged a copy of the report myself. I would be interested in seeing this very important part of the forecast. With health care costs rising, it's going to be hard to get our state's budget into balance.

Oh, and yes, the overall budget surplus is good news for the state, despite what certain commenters may think I believe. My point is that the money is already set aside for righting the wrongs wrought by the legislature in the past. It is far too early for legislators to start congratulating themselves and figuring out how to spend the money.