October 2007

Dr. No’s education prescription

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

The ever-provocative Phil Krinkie, former legislator and now President of the Taxpayer’s League of Minnesota, has stirred up some trouble on the education front, according to this report from KSTP-TV.

Krinkie, known somewhat affectionately as “Dr. No” during his years at the capitol for opposing all manner of tax and spending increases, recently suggested that special education mainstreaming should be reconsidered, and that class sizes of 100 or even 200 might work in high school.


Clinton on Social Security: Is That A Fact?

Friday, October 26th, 2007

tice.jpgWe recently examined the GOP presidential candidates’ positions on Social Security, as revealed in a recent debate, and found them less than wholly impressive, although Fred Thompson scored a few points for candor.

The Democrats have been debating Social Security’s problems, too.

At a September 20 debate in Davenport, Iowa on Health Care and Financial Security, five Democrats (not including Barack Obama) took on the entitlements challenge.

One of the more provocative moments came when frontrunner Hillary Clinton charged that the Bush administration’s fiscal irresponsibility has cost Social Security 14 years of solvency — that is, brought the date when the Social Security Trust Fund is expected to be exhausted 14 years nearer.

Here’s the clip:

Watch the whole debate here. The Clinton statement is at 39:00 if you’d like to see it in context.

It’s a very strong claim — that Bush and congressional Republicans have shortened the life of the Social Security Trust Fund through irresponsibility and taking money out of the fund to finance the Iraq war and tax cuts for the rich.

Trouble is, it’s misleading at best.



Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Five years ago today, Paul Wellstone died. Bob von Sternberg offers this roundup of some of the ways his footprints remain, despite the many waves of time that have washed over them.

I’ll add just a brief reminiscence. By chance, I saw Wellstone the evening before his death. He wellstonecame in to meet with the Pioneer Press editorial board, on which I then served, for his endorsement interview.

He was in his best form, feisty and funny and relaxed– partly, I think, because he was pretty sure he was not going to get our endorsement no matter what he did (the PP edit board of that time had backed Norm Coleman for years). We never got around to deciding between Coleman and Wellstone, of course.

I am one of the innumerable people who felt as though I had something of a “special” relationship with Wellstone. It had everything to do with him and nothing to do with me. We often disagreed, but he always gave the impression that disagreeing with me was a unique delight for him, that he couldn’t get enough of disagreeing with me. He really had that quality.

I walked him out that evening, and as he pushed the button and got on the elevator he said: “You know, you are..you are…well, I won’t say it.”

And the door closed, and I never saw him again.

Other memories? Other thoughts?

A Day in the Life

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

lopez.jpg One of the greater gifts of being a candidate for higher office is the chance to step out of your own life and take a look at how othes live, if only briefly. Call it a gimmick, call it opportunity, but the Service Employees International Union has built on this idea and asked presidential and senate candidates to do just that. But not just observe. Do.

Yesterday, that meant DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken rolled out of bed at 4 a.m. and hustled over to Robbinsdale Rehabilitation and Care Center for a 5:15 breakfast with Ulysses Bridges, a Minneapolis caregiver who has spent the last 25 years of his life doing with grace and compassion the jobs few others want.

But before breakfast, there were a few details to attend to: Franken helped awaken the residents, many of whom are in advanced stages of multiple sclerorsis. Together, he and Bridges cleaned out urine bags, changed adult diapers, made beds, helped with clothing and toothbrushing and wheeled folks out for food _ which they spoon fed them.
Early next month, Franken’s rival, Mike Ciresi, will spend a similar day as a custodian for a Sauk Rapids middle school. Stevens said that other candidates, such as Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and Jim Cohen, may be asked as soon as they appear viable for endorsement.

Now, cynical political hands may roll their eyes and say _ big deal, another photo op. But I spent the day there (well, not at 5:15. I’m not running, after all.) But from 8:30 on I watched it all. And you cannot help but be changed by the experience. Ulysses, a lanky fit man with the muscled arms that come from lifting grown men, seldom sits and when he does, he’s always watching his charges. His name badge bristles with tiny purple pins _ each given by patients who nominate him for “good deeds.” When he wheels Richard and Rick outside for their smokes (they get two a day on his watch) he’s alert for the moment when the cigarette might drop from their curled fingers and catches it. When he passes by Joyce, a 60ish woman whose mobility is almost completely gone, he pats her hand, strokes her hair, asks if she needs anything. “Thank you,” Joyce says softly. “Thank you very much.”

There are few votes to be found in an M.S. ward. No fundraising to be done. Instead, Franken found himself spending a half hour just spooning sauerkraut and cut-up ring bologna into Joyce’s waiting mouth, alternating with John, nearby, who wants to hold his own juice cup, but needs help because his hands shake so badly.

It is an activity, Franken said later, that requires you to “really be in the moment. You realize that at the moment, nothing is more important than making sure Joyce gets her sauerkraut. That makes her happy.”

The sheer tedium of the job becomes apparent as the day rolls on. More bag changes. More wipings, feedings, cleanings. Roll the boys out for another smoke. But more moments, too. Carol wants to get from her wheelchair to her bed but first tenderly asks Bridges, “How’s your back? I don’t want you to hurt your back.” She apologizes for a leaking bag that makes it impossible to measure her urine output. Bridges and Franken change the bag, measure what’s left, ease her into bed, chat with her for a time before moving on.

Makes you wonder, if every politician in America, from the president on down, spent a day in Ulysses’ shoes, how different would things look?

The GOP on Social Security

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

tice.jpgFormer Sen. Fred Thompson distinguished himself from his presidential rivals in Sunday night’s debate thompson__fred.jpg — by confirming his support for a specific, tough-medicine approach to Social Security’s funding problem.

The plan Thompson is pushing –described, along with the skittish response it’s inspiring, in this article from The Hill — is simple enough. He would reduce future benefits by indexing them to inflation rather than to wage growth, which is the way they’ve been set since the late 1970s.

It’s a real plan for restoring Social Security’s solvency — real enough to be scaldingly controversial. By most estimates, so called price indexing would cause future benefits to fall enough to balance Social Security’s books without tax hikes, about 25 percent from the levels now promised. In effect, it would simply cut benefits to match Social Security’s existing revenue stream.

All the same, price indexing would still mean that future retirees would receive real benefits, after inflation, equal to those of today’s retirees.

Do past positions on Iraq matter?

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

tice.jpgPatricia Lopez’s look this morning at the frankentruth1.jpg evolution of Al Franken’s thinking about the Iraq war raises a good many questions. Here are a few:

One way to interpret the facts Lopez reviews is this: Neither of the DFL’s leading Senate candidates was a bold, public opponent of the Iraq war when that was a risky thing to be.

Does this matter? Or — considering that the same could be said of several top Democratic presidential hopefuls — is a candidate’s current position on the war the only thing that counts?

If previous public positions, or the lack of same, don’t matter so far as the Iraq debate is concerned, could the candidates’ history on the war still be significant in another way? Might it reveal something telling about how they may respond to unknown future controversies that prove complex, confusing, and politically hazardous?

Issues may well arise during a six-year Senate term about which we know little or nothing today. What do Franken’s and Ciresi’s responses to Iraq suggest about their likely conduct in the face of the next high-pressure debate?

If candidates’ war records do matter in some fashion, who has the more impressive (or otherwise) record?

Is it Franken, who publicly supported the war and only with time turned against it because he at first trusted the administration and later worried about the consequences of a pullout?

ciresiOr is it Ciresi, who disapproved of the war from the outset but for years took no public step to express that oppostion?

Beyond his views on the Iraq mission specifically, does this story illuminate a Franken philosophy on military policy that could displease some liberals? Does it, for example, suggest that he embraces the concept of pre-emptive war under some circumstances — say, if the threat to be pre-empted were real and the adventure was not incompetently and corruptly conducted?

At the same time, does the Franken who comes into focus in this story differ in important ways from the caricature his critics like to draw? Is this the angry extremist they often portray — wrestling with himself over the right course in Iraq, admiring the sacrifice of American troops, even empathizing with the difficulties of those he disagrees with?

Or does this look like someone whose first instinct was to set partisanship aside where national security was concerned, until unraveling events in Iraq caused him to lose faith in the policy?
Meanwhile, if Franken’s evolving sentiments on the war soften and complicate his political image, don’t they also, as Ciresi warns, make it harder to portray Sen. Norm Coleman’s changing views as opportunistic and implausible?

If Franken can honorably struggle with the issue and reposition himself — particularly as he has lost confidence in the Iraqi government — why not Coleman?

Forget 2008. On to 2010!

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

lopez.jpgHow much more advanced can the election cycle become? Can you say 2010?

Would-be DFL candidates are already starting to test thebakk.jpg gubernatorial waters and near the top of that list is Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Virginia.

Carpenter, labor leader and 100 percent Iron Range, Bakk has risen through the ranks from House rep in 1994 to chairman of the powerful Senate Taxes Committee. Often mentioned as a possible challenger to Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Mpls., for Senate Majority Leader, Bakk says he’d like a corner office, but not that one.

“I’m a problem solver,” Bakk said, “I’ think I’ve got pretty good leadership ability. I’m thinking pretty hard about putting my name up there, seeing what people think.”

There hasn’t been an Iron Range governor since Rudy Perpich which was also, incidentallY, the last time DFLers held the office.

Mind, Bakk’s far from the only one with gubernatorial aspirations. Others said to be interested are Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

So, what do you think?

You may now return to the ’08 cycle, already in progress.

DFL influentials choose Franken

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

lopez.jpgAfter months of fence-sitting, local DFL power brokers Sam and Sylvia Kaplan say they’ve decided to throw in with comedian Al Franken, who is in a four-way endorsement franken.jpgbattle with attorney Mike Ciresi, university professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and environmentalist Jim Cohen.

Early and longtime backers of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, the Kaplans have long enjoyed making a difference in the Minnesota political scene and helped elevate Rep. Keith Ellison when he sought party endorsement for his successful fifth CD race.

Sam Kaplan said that while he likes both Franken and Ciresi, he’d been won over partly by Franken’s active support of the party.

Franken became a fixture at DFL events in 2006, criss-crossing the state to raise money for the caucus and for downballot candidates.

Few endorsements make or break a campaign, but the Kaplans’ not only put their money where their mouth is, they get other ciresipeople to do the same. Ciresi, who is far behind Franken in the race for dollars, has maintained that money should not be the driving force in the leadup to party endorsement.

Kaplan says that’s true, but adds that “fundraising is not unrelated to a campaign’s effectiveness. It’s reflective of it.”


Still more buzz about Pawlenty’s veep appeal

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

lopez.jpgThe more Tim Pawlenty says no, the more attractive he becomes to elements of his party that keep toying with the notion of Midwestern veep on the ticket.

The latest admirer is Mallory Factor, one of the conservative elite who has been called the “George Soros of the right,” for his high-level involvement in politics.

In the latest National Review, Factor lists Pawlenty’s charms, calling tim_pawlenty.jpghim “an obvious choice” for the shortlist. His reasons? Pawlenty’s oft-quoted “Sam’s Club” Republican philosophy, his focus on clean energy, his anti-tax tilt and his basic clean-cut quality

Interestingly, Factor points to one potential problem area for Pawlenty: his veto of the transportation bill prior to the I-35W bridge collapse. “Though he did so for the best reasons _ he thought it was bloated with pork and he wanted the Legislature to try again _ he will nonetheless have to account for the decision,” Factor said.

Factor seems to be particularly fond of the young-old dynamic, saying that Pawlenty’s “youthful demeanor and attractive family would make a nice contrast to an older presidential nominee, such as John McCain or Fred Thompson.” (Thompson, who has children far younger than Pawlenty’s, may take exception to that.)

Recently relocated from his longtime bastion in New York to South Carolina, Factor seems to think Republicans needn’t waste time wooing the South. (If that base isn’t already secured, he said, not much else will matter). Rather, Republicans should focus on a potentially new locus of power: the tri-state super region of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, which together offer 27 electoral votes. (Just for the record, Bush lost both Wisconsin and Minnesota last time and won Iowa by a hair.)

So why does Pawlenty keep popping up on the national agenda? Here’s a guy who says repeatedly that wants only to serve out his term. If only… he didn’t turn up so often in WSJ, NYT, CNBC’s Power Lunch (on the same day the Factor piece came out).


Tutu invited to St. Thomas after all

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

The University of St. Thomas has changed its mind and is inviting Desmond Tutu to speak at the campus.

In a letter, University president Father Dennis Dease says:

“…The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has agreed to serve as a co-sponsor of the forum, and I expect other organizations also to join as co-sponsors.

“… I would look forward to a candid discussion about how a civil and democratic society can pursue reasoned debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other emotionally charged issues.

Should the use and misuse of Nazi analogies play a role in that?

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