Archive for the ‘Interesting’ Category

More blogging in hard times.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Jul 10 2006

Last week, I wrote on the challenges Michelle and I have faced in the past year. As usual, instead of thoughtfully considering my personal musings, some right-wingers concluded that I was simply whining and should go find some Prozac. Personally, I think they didn’t care to listen to what I had to say about life in north Minneapolis. Heck, I suspect that these are the same people who didn’t hear Scott Ritter, Hans Blix, David Kay and Charles Duelfer tell the world that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction before, during and since the American invasion of Iraq because they went deaf beating their war drums, but I digress. I wish ours was simply an isolated phenomenon or simply a streak of personal bad luck, but it isn’t.

Let’s take a brief look at something basic that is affecting people’s lives lately: health care.

I have friends and family who are currently experiencing acute job insecurity or were recently unemployed. Some are teachers either entering the field or trying to stay in the field. Others work, or worked, in jobs that were either near the top of the corporate food chain or the bottom. Those who have lost their jobs that had health benefits are now struggling. Many of us are familiar with COBRA, which is supposed to give people the option to keep their health insurance after leaving a job, but for many people, the loss of the job is the loss of the health benefits, because paying the premiums under COBRA is simply not possible.

For all the (in my opinion, quite dubious) arguments against a single-payer, universal system of health care, critics cannot argue against the fact that, at the very least, people would have coverage regardless of their employment status or economic class. As an added benefit, we wouldn’t have to read stories about how CEOs of HMOs have received huge salaries and bonuses — which I suspect are a small part of the reason for our spiraling premiums and diminishing coverage year after year — or see statistics that show that most personal bankruptcies are caused by a personal health crisis that incurs a huge, unavoidable medical bill.

The last thing people need is to have their personal lives thrown into disarray when they are uprooted from their working lives.

Dems in touch with public? No way!

Interesting | Posted by admin
Jul 08 2006

Way.

Public Just As Divided As Democrats On Iraq (The Left Coaster):

One of the staples of a lazy, White House-fed press corps is the ongoing drumbeat of “Democrats are divided about Iraq” stories that pop up every week or so in the media. The latest installment comes from Liz Sedoti of the AP, which has run this GOP-inspired storyline already several times before. Aside from providing this as a fresh example of how the media takes a spoon-fed storyline from the GOP and continues a narrative for them, I wanted to bring this up for an even simpler reason: Why does the media expect the Democrats to be unified when the public itself is divided on Iraq?

Gallup reports today that there is no consensus amongst the general public on what to do in Iraq, with the country split approximately in thirds between immediate withdrawal, gradual withdrawal, and staying the course. …

When it comes right down to it, I believe it is the political party that most closely resonates with the voting public that wins elections. If the Dems are more in tune with the public on Iraq, the state of the economy, civil rights, and open and accountable government in all three branches (that means no exemptions for a certain Unitary Executive), then I have hope for our nation’s federal government this year that we will see an end to the Republican party’s ham-fisted rule.

I see two ways this story could wind out, however: On the one hand, Republicans can use the public’s uncertainty against itself, arguing that they, at least, have a plan — even if “staying the course” is nowhere near a plan — and maintain their rule because they have convinced or harangued voters into maintaining the status quo in Washington. One the other hand, they can try to utilize that uncertainty to their advantage, only to run into a brick wall of public impatience. The way the party’s poll numbers, along with the president’s own numbers, have been trending (that would be in the way-sub-50% range, if you hadn’t noticed), I am leaning toward the second possibility at this time.

The war in Iraq is simply not going as the administration and its backers have promised. Three years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and thousands dead along with tens of thousands injured can’t be talked away as easily as Republicans might hope. Meanwhile, the price of gasoline grates many working-class Americans who are not feeling the same optimism as the right-wing wants them to feel. I have encountered people who feel as if their civil rights, freedoms, and system of democratic government with checks and balances are under siege by this administration and its supporters in Congress. It will be tough for the Republican candidates to muster support this election cycle in the face of such daunting issues, ones that they have created and left unresolved for six years running.

A preventable tragedy.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Jun 09 2006

Here is an example for our need for a strong social infrastructure.

Pedestrian killed by truck in Coon Rapids (Minneapolis Star-Tribune):

An 80-year-old woman was killed Thursday night when she was struck by a pickup truck while walking across a street in Coon Rapids.

The Coon Rapids woman, whose name has not been released, was crossing Hanson Blvd. near its intersection with 121st Avenue NW. about 8:50 p.m., said Deputy Police Chief Tim Snell.

She was hit by a northbound truck driven by a 44-year-old Coon Rapids man, Snell said.

The accident is under investigation.

I have lived in Coon Rapids some years ago. One serious problem I noted back then was the lack of sidewalks on many residential streets and the general lack of pedestrian friendliness throughout most of the city. This isn’t exclusive to this Minneapolis suburb, though. Many suburbs of Chicago, St. Louis, and the area in and around Fort Myers, Florida also suffer from this lack of conscientious civic planning, preferring to give lip-service to the notion of pedestrians possessing a right-of-way while giving automobile drivers the sense that they are the top of the transportation food chain.
As our nation grows older, we will find an increasing need to make our cities easier for pedestrians to safely navigate. That requires electing local, state, and federal politicians who are willing to stake out these positions and others that thoughtfully and equitably improve the quality of life for all Americans.

Note to Pawlenty and Minnesota Republicans: Pro-tax cuts = anti-Minnesota.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Jun 02 2006

Okay, here’s the ‘sitch:

State falls to 16th in tax ranking (Minneapolis Star-Tribune):

Minnesota has tumbled to 16th place among the states in total state and local taxes as a portion of income, its lowest ranking since at least 1958, according to a preliminary summary of the latest U.S. Census data released by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association.

Minnesota for three decades has almost always been in the top 10 in most bottom-line measures of tax burden. The drop from eighth place in 2000 to 16th in 2004 is bound to make waves in a crucial election year.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the leader of a conservative interest group hailed the new ranking as a major achievement by a fiscally conservative Republican administration.

Leaders of liberal interest groups say the tax decline already has been accompanied by shabbier public services, more economic inequality and lower rankings on some key quality-of-life indicators.

“This is just great news, a very big deal,” said David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, an aggressive anti-tax advocacy group that got Pawlenty to sign a no-tax-increase pledge when he ran in 2002. The League has no connection to the Taxpayers Association, a nonpartisan research organization founded in 1926.

“When we Republicans took control of the House in 1998, Speaker Steve Sviggum and I used as a benchmark goal getting out of the top 10,” Pawlenty said. “These numbers bounce around every year but this is great progress and it sends a good signal to those who might want to invest in our state.”

Sounds great, eh?

Well, that one part, mentioning the decline in public services and our general quality of life, should give everyone some pause for reflection.

Are our roads better? Not by the number of potholes I have to avoid when driving on I-94 through downtown Minneapolis. Are our streets safer? Not if I take into consideration that Michelle was held up at her bus stop, our home was burglarized, teenagers holding large parties at a house down our street only to end in gunshots. All that occurred in a six-month period. Oh, I forgot to add the drug deal I witnessed across from my home along with the other rash of similar burglaries, hold-ups and party-busts that have also taken place during that time, too.

Are our schools better? Not if it has meant yet another year of layoffs for Minneapolis teachers. Resources have been stretched so thin that the district is barely holding itself together. I have observed the decline in the quality of education personally and very up close. Four years ago, when our schools were much better, I witnessed that while our resources were still modest, we could still teach, maintain a sound, respectful learning environment, and offer a sense of hope and opportunity for our students. Today, however, I fear we may be losing that as our kids witness meager materials, less-than-acceptable time with teachers who are finding themselves with thirty-five or more students each hour — a number that effectively limits the opportunity for teachers to offer a truly thought-provoking, engaging, and intellectually-stimulating education that will allow their students to leave as capable thinkers and actors who can positively impact their community.

Ask yourselves these questions and many more: Is our system of health care better? Ask anyone who lost their job or found themselves priced-out of their health plan. Has public transit improved? Not if cuts in bus routes and hikes in fares are any indication. Has our state’s environment become cleaner? Think about those increased number of air pollution alerts in recent years and judge for yourself. Again, ask these questions and more. Do it between now and November. Then figure out for yourselves whether we should really care if our state ranks first, sixteenth, or last in tax rates if it means a living in a state that will grow increasingly nasty, brutish and short for more and more people.

Tax cuts are not “progress,” as Pawlenty put it, if it means that our civil society regresses as a result of those cuts. My vote this November will go to those who support all the residents of this state, not simply the selfish and greedy who want to live in their own private fiefdoms.

A few things from this morning’s news

Interesting | Posted by admin
May 29 2006

Senator Norm Coleman (R-Cargill) doesn’t seem to have the same enthusiasm for investigating wheat scandals as he displayed in oil-for-food scandals.

Here’s an interesting headline: St. Paul store blends meal-making and socializing. It’s followed by a story about one of those “Hey mom, here’s a way you can cram even more guilt-inducing stuff into your life and still let the lazy bums in your family do nothing” services. Trouble is, the store isn’t in St. Paul. It’s not even in Minneapolis. Sheesh.

You know those 750 signing statements issued by Our Glorious Leader wherein he explains why his signature on a piece of legislation doesn’t really mean he agrees with it or intends to enforce it? Always seems a bit over the top for me to believe that Bush – a man not known for sweating the details – actually thought about such things. Well, it turns out he didn’t. Cheney did.

I’m getting sick and tired of North Korean Moments:

Bush ‘planted fake news stories on American TV
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
Published: 29 May 2006
Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies’ products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

“We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them,” said Diana Farsetta, one of the group’s researchers. “I would say it’s pretty extraordinary. The picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air.”

I’m headed out today to find as many copies I can of It Can’t Happen Here for Spotty’s book collecting on Thursday.

Warning: Nasty “class warfare” rant ahead.

Interesting | Posted by admin
May 22 2006

It may have been good to be king, as the old-time historians would tell me, but it seems pretty darn nifty to be a CEO in Minnesota.

Median pay for state’s top 100 CEOs rose 59 percent (Minneapolis Star-Tribune):

Minnesota CEOs still make less than their peers nationwide. But they’re catching up — fast.

Median pay for the 100 highest-paid CEOs in the state jumped 59.3 percent in 2005, to $1.79 million, far above the 15.8 percent gain in April’s national survey of 350 CEOs conducted by the Wall Street Journal and Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The Minnesota figures, compiled by the Star Tribune based on securities filings made this year, include salary, bonus and long-term compensation.

The median total CEO pay package in the Journal’s national sample is $6 million compared with $1.79 million in Minnesota, but Minnesota is gaining both in percentage terms and number of corporate heads pulling down seven figures or more. In 1999, at the peak of the tech bubble, 46 Minnesota CEOs were paid $1 million or more per year. As of last year, the figure was 66. Stock-option gains accounted for the biggest part of total compensation for the 100 Minnesota CEOs — 46 percent — which translated into $202.5 million worth of shares split among 43 company heads in 2005.

Tougher regulatory scrutiny and tax-law changes are making stock options less attractive. That was driven home this month when UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire, who earlier this year held unexercised options worth $1.6 billion, suddenly swore them off.

But the waning interest in options doesn’t mean CEOs are about to take pay cuts. Instead, many companies have turned to a simpler yet still lucrative way of rewarding their top brass: restricted stock. The dollar value of restricted stock granted to Minnesota’s 100 highest-paid executives jumped from $18.1 million in 2003 to $70 million in 2005, a 280 percent jump, according to a Star Tribune review of Securities and Exchange Commission documents. Thirty-nine Minnesota CEOs got restricted stock last year, up from 26 in 2004.

I hope they get to enjoy that new Twins Stadium with the spiffy sky boxes we residents of Hennepin county will be buying them.

(Okay, this wasn’t much of a rant, but… jeez-looeez! …a 60% increase in income?)

They got it tough down here in Florida.

Interesting, Local | Posted by admin
Jan 05 2006

To my fellow Minnesotans: Get a tight hold on your battery-heated thermal socks and Sorel boots before you check this out.

South Floridians advised to protect pets, plants as weekend temperatures plummet (Miami Herald):

Even South Florida can get pretty chilly sometimes.

Want proof? Stick around for the weekend.

Residents may wake up Saturday and Sunday to the coldest temperatures felt in South Florida so far this winter, forecasters said.

The National Weather Service issued a ”special weather statement” warning of near-freezing temperatures caused by a cold front moving today into Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The possibility of temperatures dipping to the low 40s to mid 30s means owners of plants and pets may want to bring them inside tonight and Saturday night.

Also: Dress the kids in layers before letting them play outside, and consider wearing a sweat shirt for this weekend’s jogs.

”Oh my God, I think I might die if it gets that cold,” said Susan Wilson, office manager at American Pool Service in Plantation.

A warning for “near-freezing temperatures?” “Consider wearing a sweat shirt?” Quick! Close the schools, rush the grocery stores for supplies, and declare the state a disaster area.

Heh. If Wilson thinks the mid-30s will bring her close to death, she should come up for a visit in The Land of Thirty Below.

Weather. It’s all relative, eh?

Lifestyles of the rich and famous president.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Dec 30 2005

Personally, if all that brush is such a problem, why did he waste his moolah on buying fifteen-hundred acres and building a ranch there? I guess I can’t relate. Mowing my yard or shoveling the snow takes up enough of my time, and I am pretty sure I don’t have even a quarter acre… or an eighth of one.

Down on the Ranch, President Wages War on the Underbrush (Washington Post):

On most of the 365 days he has enjoyed at his secluded ranch here, President Bush’s idea of paradise is to hop in his white Ford pickup truck in jeans and work boots, drive to a stand of cedars, and whack the trees to the ground.

If the soil is moist enough, he will light a match and burn the wood. If it is parched, as it is across Texas now, the wood will sit in piles scattered over the 1,600-acre spread until it is safe for a ranch hand to torch — or until the president can come home and do the honors himself.

Sometimes this activity is the only official news to come out of what aides call the Western White House. For five straight days since Monday, when Bush retreated to the ranch for his Christmas sojourn, a spokesman has announced that the president, in between intelligence briefings, calls to advisers and bicycling, has spent much of his day clearing brush.

This might strike many Washingtonians as a curious pastime. It does burn a lot of calories. But brush clearing is dusty, it is exhausting (the president goes at it in 100 degree-plus heat), and it is earsplitting, requiring earplugs to dull the chain saw’s buzz.

For Bush, who is known to spend early-morning hours hacking at unwanted mesquite, cocklebur weeds, hanging limbs and underbrush only to go back for more after lunch, it borders on obsession.

Aides are corralled to help, although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a frequent guest, has escaped brush duty. “The tradecraft she uses to get out of it is highly confidential, and I can’t discuss it,” said national security adviser Steven J. Hadley. To date, no visiting foreign leaders have been conscripted.

The president “clears brush like he rides his bike,” said deputy press secretary Trent Duffy, who has sawed beside Bush. “He goes at it.”

Ronald Reagan chopped wood and rode horses, Bush’s father sailed off the shore of Kennebunkport, Maine, and Bill Clinton jogged. For George W. Bush, clearing brush projects the image of a cowboy president, a tough rancher fighting the elements to survive. That is, of course, the White House’s projection; the president’s critics take a dimmer view.

“Most likely he’s doing that to show the media he’s got a chain saw,” joked Larry Mattladge, who raises Black Angus cows three-quarters of a mile from the Bush ranch and built his fence rows out of cedar posts. “It’s a man’s thing. Brush clearing is not only for the young at heart, it’s for the young. It’s to show he’s a Texan.”

Presidential historian Robert Dallek said: “This is part of his macho image. Obviously this is nothing Bush has to do. He’s the son of a rich man who doesn’t have to spend his time cutting underbrush.”

But some of Bush’s neighbors in the Crawford area said they understand his pleasure — even if he doesn’t have to do it. “We do it because we have to,” said Zach Arias, who with his wife raises cows on 400 acres about 20 miles from town. “But afterwards, you kind of go, ‘Wow. I feel good about what I did today.’ ” White House counselor Dan Bartlett explained it this way: “It’s therapeutic for him, I guess. There’s very few things he gets to do hands on.”

Frankly, I don’t care how “folksy” it appears to make him, Bush is not a regular guy by a long shot.
Hey, Dubya, when you git-er-done on yer Crawford Land Yacht, how about payin’ some to that there economy? It ain’t lookin’ so hot, what with housin’ starts goin’ down and oil prices climbin’ up again. Oh yeah, there’s that war you got goin’ in Eye-rack, too. Could’ya do sumptin’ ’bout that? It’s been three years now and it don’t seem like much is really changing over there. Much obliged, pardner.

Quantitative education’s chickens come home to roost.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Dec 27 2005

As a burgeoning teacher, I have had some time to develop a thought or two on this…

Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline (Washington Post)
Survey’s Finding of a Drop in Reading Proficiency Is Inexplicable, Experts Say:

Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation.

“It’s appalling — it’s really astounding,” said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. “Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That’s not saying much for the remainder.”

While more Americans are graduating from college, and more than ever are applying for admission, far fewer are leaving higher education with the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical activity, according to the federal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Experts could not definitively explain the drop.

“The declining impact of education on our adult population was the biggest surprise for us, and we just don’t have a good explanation,” said Mark S. Schneider, commissioner of education statistics. “It may be that institutions have not yet figured out how to teach a whole generation of students who learned to read on the computer and who watch more TV. It’s a different kind of literacy.”

“What’s disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels,” he added.

Seeking definitive, quantifiable and simple answers might be the first of many problems. From the general public to presidents, governors, federal and state legislatures, school boards, and even the students, too many people are interested in learning only “What Do I Need to Know” in order to pass an assignment, test, or course. Compounding this first problem is, as I have observed from fifth graders to even graduate-level college students, a sense that students develop a very narrow focus that prevents them from taking a comprehensive view of their academic or non-academic world. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to hear in my physical geography classes last year that students learned about weather in their biology classes. I would reply that, as a social studies class, we are a mixture of the sciences and humanities and that our work on such a topic as weather would lead us into future discussions of human cultures. For example, I would ask, what decisions would individual people and groups make regarding something apparently simple as excessive or deficient rainfall? How might they adapt to just that one factor among the many that people must address in order to survive and prosper in their environment?

This leads me into another problem our children face. I have noticed a general impatience with revisiting topics previously covered. I would hear students, both as a teacher and as a student in a classroom, complain about how they have “already learned” the material we might be covering in a class on a particular day. Maybe I have spent too much time in education, but I have come to think that I have no problem with revisiting topics I think I “know” because I realize that I can forget bits and pieces that need refreshing or that a new perspective from a new teacher, or fellow student, is actually valuable. As I teach, I find this kind of impatience is one of my greatest obstacles because we live in a society that places an emphasis on “getting something done” and moving on to the next thing.

Reflection, meditation, studying, revisiting, mastering; these things do not carry much weight in our production- and performance-oriented society. We are reducing education to two questions: “Can our kids read?” “Can our kids do math?” In these two simplistically posed questions, we develop quantifiable tests and set quantifiable goals. If we were to shift away from this and, instead, ask if our kids can think, we might find that quantifiable tests and production-performance theories of education are inadequate and move toward a more qualitative, thoughtful and humane style of education. That takes more money, teachers, schools, community support, and — dare I say — faith than I think too many of us are currently willing to spend. If we cannot make this shift, however, then we might as well toss Proust off to the wayside.

Another round of Victory Gin, on the house.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Dec 12 2005

Stand by for an important update from the US DoD (aka MiniPeace)…

Iraqis Want Coalition Vocabulary Change (American Forces Press Service)

Changing perceptions and perspectives here mean changes in vocabulary: “Sunni insurgents” is out, “Saddamists” is in.

American officials here said Iraqi officials have asked by them to stop calling groups opposed to the coalition “Sunni insurgents.” The idea is that a great many Sunni Arabs are moderate and want democracy for Iraq, officials explained.

Coalition officials have hit on the term “Iraqi rejectionists” to refer to those people who want to participate in the election process, but still launch attacks on coalition forces.

Coalition officials also said many Iraqis want to change the perception that all Baath Party members are evil people. Saddam Hussein, of course, ruled through the Baath Party. Iraqi officials maintain that millions of their countrymen and women joined the party simply to get or keep a job.

Coalition officials now are using the term “Saddamists” to refer to die-hard Baathists who want a return to the bad old days of Saddam’s rule, officials said.

Isn’t it nice that the Iraqi officials asked the American officials to change their vocabulary? Now, why wouldn’t the DoD comply? After all, we don’t “torture” people in our custody anymore, but we may “render” them to places that may have a penchant for “aggressively interrogating” people who we have labeled “enemy combatants” because they might have enjoyed too many rights as “prisoners of war.”

Next up: We have never been at war with Oceana. We have always been at war with Eastasia.