Thursday, July 07, 2011 9:29 AM
As we near the end of the first week of the Minnesota* government shutdown and talks on the national stage continue in a countdown to August 2, a trend—both local and national—is bubbling to the surface. While one party continues to give concession after concession, the other party clings to a single economic factor that is rarely, outside of the party, touted as the most important among a myriad of economic factors. Taxes. While Democrats have gone against the wishes of many of the party’s far-left constituents and agreed to cuts in the name of balancing budgets, the Republican party refuses to thwart the extremists among them to reach anything that might actually be called a compromise.
In a scathing article in the New York TimesDavid Brooks takes on a Republican party that he sees as abnormal in its inability to seize an opportunity to “take advantage of this amazing moment” where “it is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.”
He goes on:
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative….
[T]o members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.
Writing for The Nation, Allison Kilkenny sees this as “the era of the one-sided compromise, where millionaires are taxed at rock bottom rates while the working poor have their pensions stolen from them.” “The national calls for ‘shared sacrifice’ during these times of austerity,” Kilkenny begins, “presuppose that giant corporations like Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil share the same amount of privilege and power as, say, your grandmother.” Yet, a somewhat insignificant tax increase among the wealthy (from 35 to 39 percent) is not, argues Kilkenny, in the same ballpark as “significantly gutting the social safety net for the poor majority.” Focusing on Governor Christie of New Jersey, Kilkenny writes of the “one-sided compromise”:
The state Democrats laid down during this vicious attack on the working poor in the spirit of bipartisanship, naturally. Sharing the sacrifice, and what not. Of course, then the Democrats were simply shocked—shocked!—that a Republican governor, who they had just sold out their own party in order to support, would then turn around and stab them in the back.
In another article, Kilkenny concludes, “it seems like state governments operate in one of two modes: paralysis or aggressive punishment of the poor.” Currently the Minnesota state government is operating within the former mode. Here, too, we find the one-sided compromise at play. As Doug Grow writes in MinnPost, “The depth of the problem Gov. Mark Dayton faces grows more evident each day: He cares about governing; the Republican majority he is trying to deal with cares only about winning.” (See “psychological protest” above.) In a side-by-side comparison of the Dayton and Republican-controlled legislature’s budgets from Minnesota Public Radio reporter Catherine Richert, we see mostly cuts and reductions in the “Common Ground” category, including the following: “Cut education department funding by 5%”; “Eliminate scholarships for high achieving, low-income students”; “Reduce grants for child protection and mental health services”; and “Cuts to job training funding.” (Emphasis added.) When we get to the Taxes row, the “Common Ground” column is left blank.
Despite the widely-reported notion that these government stalemates are a product of the people electing officials that fall into one of two camps—no-new-tax-Republicans or tax-and-spend-Democrats—it seems to me that that’s not the case at all. While Democratic leaders continue to disappoint the far-left among them (and not just on economic issues; see, too, the Afghan and Iraq wars, health care, Bradley Manning, et al.), Republican leaders refuse to put aside for a moment a few core beliefs in the interest of anything resembling an actual compromise. As Brooks writes, “The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary. This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.” But since they need to remain steadfast for the most die hard among them, they won’t even entertain that much. And still, some see the exact opposite. The St. Paul Pioneer Press, in the days leading up to the Minnesota government shut down, wrote,
Rather than work out differences and sign off on large portions of the budget on which agreement is within reach, Dayton has as of this writing refused to get deals done and preserve operations in those parts of government. This is not compromise. This is hostage taking.
I’m not sure how you debate, much less compromise, in such an atmosphere. But it seems that if most economists say a balanced budget must come from a combination of spending cuts and new revenue, including increased taxes, then a party that simply says “no” to one of those two is not compromising, while the party that agrees to at least some from both avenues is closer to achieving what that word—compromise—actually means.
Of course, the fact that I can only write about this in terms of two parties is probably really at the heart of all of our state and national problems.
*Utne Reader is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Source: The New York Times, The Nation, MinnPost, Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Image by GovernorDayton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 12, 2010 11:27 AM
The recent U.S. election was discouraging in general for green transportation advocates, but one loss I felt particularly keenly was the unseating of Minnesota Democratic congressman James Oberstar by a slim margin. For as Carolyn Szczepanski writes on her blog People Powered Transportation at Mother Earth News:
If you don’t live in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District or follow federal transportation policy, you probably don’t even know the name James Oberstar. He was elected to Congress in 1974, and, since his very first term, served on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
For bike-ped advocates, those committee members are critical and, for three decades, Oberstar pushed to get bicyclists and pedestrians recognized and treated as “intended users” of our public roads. In the last wave election in 2006, when Democrats took control of the House, Oberstar was elected chairman of the Transportation Committee. A few months after he claimed leadership, he told a crowd at the National Bike Summit: “We’re going to convert America from the hydrocarbon economy to the carbohydrate economy.”
Oberstar was vested in many transit issues, as Minnesota Public Radio reports, but it was clear that biking was close to his heart, and he was responsible for directing funding to many bike trails in the nation and the state. He was in some ways a classic pork-barrel politician, but he served up an awful lot of tasty pork to bicyclists. I’ve ridden many miles on Oberstar-funded trails, including the Lakewalk along Duluth’s Lake Superior waterfront—and so, I imagine, have many of the people who voted red over blue this time around.
Washington, D.C.’s Streetsblog reports that now that Oberstar is out of the picture, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, a “coal-n-highways Dem,” may be angling for the top Democratic seat on the Transportation Committee. (The silver lining: This would take Rahall and his pro-coal agenda off the Natural Resources Committee.)
Oberstar is a savvy guy. He probably knows that he didn’t get voted out because people suddenly hate bike trails, but because the soft, doughy, pliable middle of the electorate simply swung in the other direction this time. Maybe they need to get out and bike a bit more.
Sources: Mother Earth News, Minnesota Public Radio News, Streetsblog Capitol Hill
Image of Rep. James Oberstar by John Schadl, courtesy of the photographer.
Monday, December 22, 2008 4:32 PM
Not even movie stars are immune from the effects of recession. Illuminating an unexpected consequence of economic volatility, Minnesota Public Radio reports on research showing that our conception of beauty changes with the market. Reporter Nikki Tundel spoke with psychology professor Terry Pettijohn, who studied the phenomenon by analyzing the physical features of popular actresses during economic booms and busts. Tundel reports:
In the early 1980s, for example, the country was emerging from a recession. Things were looking up. That's when women like Sissy Spacek and Sally Field really made it big on the big screen. Both actresses, says Pettijohn, had young, almost cherubic features. The same could be said for a young Bette Davis, who had one of the most popular faces during the 1940s, another era where prosperity was on the rise.
The early 1990s, on the other hand, were a time of economic struggle. During those years, Emma Thompson and Sharon Stone were among the most celebrated actresses. Both had strong bone structures, smaller eyes and more mature-looking faces.
While Pettijohn found perceptions of female beauty varied with economic conditions, he told Tundel physical characteristics deemed attractive in men were unaffected.
Friday, November 14, 2008 2:16 PM
In his new book, The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World, wildlife photographer Steven Kazlowski set out to capture the polar bear in all aspects of its life. He told Minnesota Public Radio that accomplishing this meant bearing 80-mile-per-hour winds and 40-below temperatures for weeks on end and being very patient. At one point, Kazlowski spent 17 days camped outside a mama bear’s den waiting for her to emerge from hibernation. But the fruits of his effort were worth it: When that mama bear finally left the den to hunt, Kazlowski had the rare opportunity to photograph her den from the inside.
He also captured some remarkable ways polar bears negotiate their fragile environment. In one photo, a bear drags its back feet instead of walking on all fours to prevent itself from breaking through thin ice.
Photos like this one speak to the challenges polar bears and other wildlife face in a warming arctic. Before a recent event at the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis, Kazlowski told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he has "found that being a wildlife photographer and an activist are one and the same." He said he hoped to "show people how beautiful this place is," as well as show them the environment in transition. The book's cover image shows two bears standing precariously at the edge of fragmented sea ice, and the book also includes a shot of a polar bear in captivity with this caption: "If we do nothing as a society, and the ice continues to melt, zoos could be the only place on Earth where polar bears can be found."
You can see many more of Kazlowski's polar bear photographs at his website.
Images courtesy of Steven Kazlowski/
Monday, November 10, 2008 2:10 PM
The flip of a coin could have the final say in the hotly contested Minnesota Senate race between incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Richie. Some 200 votes currently separate the two candidates, and a recount will likely take place. If Coleman and Franken somehow tied in the recount, Richie told Minnesota Public Radio, “I believe there is a coin toss. We don't have provisions for re-elections.”
Friday, August 15, 2008 9:22 AM
Over at Slate, Jack Shafer wonders why news outlets are sending 15,000 reporters to this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions. “[T]hese political gatherings tend to produce very little real news,” Shafer writes. “Yet the networks, the newspapers, the magazines, and the Web sites continue to insist on sending battalions of reporters to sift for itsy specks of information.”
It’d be one thing if that were, say, 15,000 news outlets each sending one reporter. But it’s not. Even Slate, Shafer says, is sending eight reporters to Denver and six to St. Paul.
In a year of blistering cost-cutting and layoffs, and with remaining reporters spread ever more thinly, is this really the best use of newspapers’ dollars? Might many of those 15,000 reporters not be better utilized to, say, cover local news during the two weeks of the conventions?
“As news organizations dwindle,” writes Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine, “this is an irresponsible use of resources and it only shows how the industry’s leaders are tied to doing things the way they always did them. That’s what will be the death of journalism.”
It’s probably fair to say that what happens inside convention walls is thoroughly rehearsed, uninspiring, and un-newsworthy. But what’s surprising about that? Most reporters worth their salt know that, as with any well-orchestrated media circus, the good stories lie well beyond convention parameters. Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins urges journalists to take a few detours: “Look for a better location to learn the real stories behind the script from which the Dems and Republicans want the media to read.”
Friday, August 01, 2008 12:16 PM
Soon, Galactic Pizza-delivering superheroes might have to share Minnesota streets with another group jockeying to put more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road.
With a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a group of Minnesota high school students on the Experimental Vehicle Team created an electric motorcycle that could hit a top speed of 60 mph and goes 40 miles before recharging. It looks like the result of “mating a mutant soybean with a Vespa scooter,” writes Minnesota Public Radio. The bike’s unorthodox design stems from concerns over rider safety. Along with a seat belt, the bike has a body that encloses the rider, “designed for crumple zones so that it will take the energy from an accident and dissipate it,” team member Tom Lenertz told KSAX-TV.
You won’t see a fleet of these bikes on the road anytime soon, however. Talks to register and license the original bike with the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles have been ongoing since March, says team advisor Mark Westlake. “They keep asking for the model and who made it,” says Westlake. “And we’re like, well, we made it ourselves. We don't really have a model name for it.” Sounds like the Experimental Vehicle Team could use some marketing help. Any suggestions?
(Thanks, City Pages.)
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