Category Archives: the poor are always with us

The fifth “C”

Last night I decided to skip singing in our church’s Maundy-Thursday service to attend Denfeld’s meeting where parents concerned about their children getting the short end of the stick reported back findings after a similar meeting a month earlier.

Much of the meeting was a repeat but I did note some information that I will keep in mind for future reference. In particular one MOAB. Mother of all Bombs (for you current events fans)

One of the speakers of glittering generalities listed their group’s “four C’s,” Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Commitment. But then the bomb dropped. It was a fifth C that I remember well from my early years – 1996 through 2003 – on the School Board – Compensatory Education.

This is one of the extras in state funding for public schools to address serious needs over and above their “base” needs. Do you have a vast school district with long bus runs? The state gives your district extra money for gas. Of all these extras Compensatory Education funds are perhaps particularly important, especially in this day and age where we wring our hands over the achievement gap between have and have-not students.

In my first two stints on the School Board my western colleague, Mary Glass, complained bitterly about how comp Ed dollars were spent going to schools in the east that did not generate much of the funds. I talked to administrators I trusted and learned that they were abiding by the laws which gave District’s a lot of discretion about where to spend the money. In ISD 709 we use some of this money to keep class sizes down across the entire school district.

In my old days we had much smaller class sizes, better funding. I wasn’t convinced that a tilt toward the East was all that outlandish. But that was then. Red Plan financing has forced us to take $3.3 million each year out of the General fund to pay off building bonds (something Art Johnston was irritated wasn’t mentioned in this otherwise excellent budget story.) And our voters are so jaundiced about the Red Plan that they have refused to pass a fully fleshed out operational levy which could add another three million to our budget. That’s at least $6.3 million dollars which @ $96,000/average teacher salary would allow us hire an additional 66 teachers. HOLY COW!!!! Thank you old school boards for short changing today’s school children.

The achievement gap in Duluth has never been any wider than it is at present. And last night for the first time ever I saw a side-by-side list of which Duluth schools children generate State Compensatory funds and which schools consume them. Talk about adding kerosene to the fire.

For the uninitiated – Compensatory Education funds are simply called “Comp Ed.”

School……………Comp Ed Earned…….Comp Ed received


Lincoln Park……..$973,192.00……………$496,264.00

Congdon………….$ 95,567.00……………$400,548.00
Homecroft……….$ 79,622.00……………$295,671.00
Lakewood…………$ 70,212.00……………$181,315.00
Lester Park……….$ 65,506.00……………$324,110.00
Laura MacArthur..$849,445.00……………$503,071.00

What ISD 709 is doing is perfectly acceptable under the language of State Statute. Whether it fully comports with the “spirit” of the law is another thing.

House Hunting

The Trib reports that the Duluth City Council wants to address the issue of homelessness. I found these two paragraphs pertinent:

“According to the Maxfield study which was done in April of 2014, at that time it was determined that we needed approximately 2,482 units of rental housing for people who earn 50 to 80 percent of median income. Of those 2,482 units, we’ve only actually successfully created 336,” he said.

“We’ve just barely touched the need for that particular group, and that contrasts with the need for full-market-rate apartments,” Anderson said. “It was determined that we needed 1,092 of those units. Well, guess what? We’ve overdone it there. We’ve created 1,318 units.”

Perhaps tonight when I attend the Mayor’s State of the City Address at Lincoln Middle School at 5:30 she will address the issue of homelessness in Duluth. I wish her well. I think other Mayor’s and City Councils have done the same in the past.

At the moment the Duluth Schools have some empty buildings that a few developers have looked at for “market rate” housing. That’s for people in the market who can pay full freight. However, as someone who serves lunch once a month at the Damiano Center and whose wife comes home with stories from the CHUM Shelter and who regularly hears about students in our schools who have no home I’m well aware that the growing economy is still leaving folks behind who can’t afford market rate housing. It will be so much better when the Ryan Plan goes into affect replacing Obamacare so that those without insurance can return to scavenging health care in our emergency rooms.
or as Scrooge said “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

And while they are doing it they can live on the streets. God forbid America’s 2,043 billionaires would have to pony up more taxes to even things out. At least President Trump’s taxes can go down now that he’s dropped a billion dollars in the ranking.

How yesterday started

Yesterday I got a lousy night’s sleep. They seem to have come back again with the beginning of the School Year after a relatively blissful summer. Coincincence I’m sure.

During one of my sleepless hours the night before I’d made up my mind to visit Congdon Elementary School that morning at the beginning of its school day. I’d gotten the sense that the school was a little more disordered in recent years due to myriad changes in the School District. But all those sleepless hours resulted in me waking up at about 7:15. (I don’t often set alarms anymore) By the time I’d fed the cats, completed morning chores and cleaned myself up it was ten to 8. I was afraid the busses had long since dropped off the children but I drove over anyway. For the past six months I’ve been making up for the hideous first two years of my service on the School Board. I had stayed away from schools lest employees be brought under suspicion for being seen in my presence. I know that sounds, well paranoid, but it was a concern I had. Twenty years ago I used to joke with another school board member that our school board’s slogan ought to be “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.” If its any comfort to my readers, and it shouldn’t be, I always worry that everyone in the District is paranoid about me especially what I might write about them in my blog. Mostly I give our employees a pass. As for my fellow elected officials……..I just write what I see, experience or hear tell about them. We are the elephants fighting in the African proverb about trampled grass.

When I got to Congdon it was quiet as a mouse. I’d only seen one parent I knew crossing the parking lot to get to the school. I signed in and introduced myself to the Office denizens and explained my intention and my failure to get to the school before the busses. I told them I’d walk the halls for a few minutes and make sure to get to Congdon earlier next time. On my way out of the office I followed one of the staff members to her office. When I asked her what she did she told me she was working with the homeless children. That rang a bell. I asked her if it was her name on the new emmployee list I’d perused at Monday’s Human Resources Committee. She affirmed that this was the case.

I asked her how many homeless kids went to Congdon. Forty she replied mentioning that there were about 80 such children at Myers-Wilkins (the old Grant School) and some more at Piedmont Elementary.

We spoke for about fifteen minutes before I went on my way. What I was assured of was of great importance to me. These kids going to Congdon, Myers Wilkins and Piedmont are allowed, encouraged even to continue on at the same schools no matter where they may move to while living in Duluth. That’s called stability and transient children need this desperately.

This is a vast improvement over the situation that existed when I was first on the School Board. I’d agonoized over “transient” children in those old days. These were kids who might find themselves in a half a dozen different school within a single school year as their rootless, homeless families wandered from residence to residence or even the back seat of a car – if they had one. Back then Congdon, being situated as it was in the posh Congdon neighborhood, didn’t have many homeless kids. Today it does and even handles more than its “share.”

My walk around the hallways afterward reminded me of the old orderly Congdon. Some of the teachers from Congdon I’d met at Denfeld on August 30th averred that class sizes were a little too generous but I saw no evidence of chaos in my walk through. Whew! That “Whew” said, its still early in the school year.

Among the news stories mentioned in the previous post that had me in their grip was one about Minnesota’s poverty rate reported by Minnesota Public Radio. The story reports that Minnesota has the second lowest poverty rate among the fifty states at 9.1 percent. Having mentioned homeless students I should add that Duluth’s poverty rate is significantly higher than the rest of Minnesota’s rate and that poverty affects children on average more than the adult population.

The DNT had a chart of National poverty rates going back to 1960 that I couldn’t help but contrast with the Op Ed piece the Tribune commissioned from the conservative blogger, John Hinderaker, of Powerline.

Hinderaker makes the case that the reason for Minnesota’s falling from the top to the middle of prosperous states is because of a couple decades of high taxes. I’m not so sure. Republican legislators have managed to fight state tax increases pretty successfully for the past fifteen or so years of this new century. A case could be made that the taxes not spent in education and fixing up old infrasctucture blunted our economic growth. As evidence I’d offer Minnesota’s economy from the 1970’s through the 1990’s during which Minnesota’s growth exceeded that of most other states while we were one of the five or six highest taxing states.

Furthermore, the MPR story about the nation’s declining poverty that ran in the DNT also included an intesting graph showing the decline and leveling off of the nation’s poverty rate from 1960 to today.

Hinderacker might be advised to look at the steep decline in poverty from 1960 to 1970. That was during LBJ’s War on Poverty and judging by this evidence it did a marvelous job lowering poverty rates until 1980 when the Reagan Revolution, with its War on Welfare Queens, left us with a mildly fluctuating poverty rate plateau of 12 percent. That’s half of what it was when Jack Kennedy was elected President. Its been stubbornly stuck there ever since.


More Un-Vetted Refugees Coming to Minnesota?

After ISIS terrorists killed 130 people and injured 352 more in Paris in coordinated attacks just this month, serious questions are being asked about Syrian refugees now being welcomed to the United States. One of the organizers of the Paris attacks entered the European Union under refugee status and another had fought with ISIS in Syria according to The London Telegraph.
President Obama has committed to resettle 10,000 more Syrian refugees in the United States, despite serious concerns about the vetting process of those being relocated.
FBI Director James Comey has said that it’s “impossible to vet every single Syrian Refugee.”
While 27 state governors have so-far voiced objection to resettling un-vetted (or poorly vetted) Syrian refugees in their home states, Governor Mark Dayton calls that “grandstanding” and appears prepared to welcome them to Minnesota with open arms. US Senators from Minnesota, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar agree.
At a recent NAACP event, Governor Dayton said to those attending who questioned bringing more Syrian Refugees to Minnesota at this time, “If you are that intolerant, that much of a racist and a bigot, then find another state, [you] really should go somewhere else.”
And Senator Franken said that we must “do part of our job like the rest of the international community to take in refugees.
Senator Klobuchar said, “I will say these are legally vetted, screened refugees that would come in. And they can actually fill some of the jobs that we have available in states like mine, where we have lower unemployment rates.”

Help us continue to keep you informed and provide easy tools to weigh in on important issues my making a contribution, today.

I can’t head into the Christmas season without thinking about the challenges to peace on Earth. I have avoided pleas to blog about the Duluth Schools in hopes of the dawning of a new Era but my mind is always roving over the news events of the day beyond Duluth’s borders. Sometimes, as with this unwelcome email request for me to donate to a Republican cause it comes right into my computer inbox.

My Buddy recently “twitted” me about politicians (which would also include elected school board members) being “crapweasels.” The comment was pulled from one of the legion of “conservative” pundits, Michelle Malkin, who said 99% of all politicians are “crapweasels.” I replied by asking if a pundit like Michelle, who bent over backward not to offend her readers by avoiding the whole truth, couldn’t be considered a crapweasel too. My Buddy agreed that a pundit, even one coining such an expressive pejorative, could be a crapweasel. I thanked my Buddy for his agreement and said we crapweasels wore Michelle’s designation with pride. (not unlike lawyers who like to tell lawyer jokes) Didja hear the one about why Lawyers never sue sharks? Professional courtesy.

I certainly think the Republicans grubbing for money to protect us from Syrian refugee/jihadists have earned Michelle’s appelation. Why, it was only a few weeks ago that Republican congressman were waving the picture of a drowned child, Aylan Kurdi, in front of television cameras to condemn President Obama. Now they want to turn their backs on the Syrians during the Christmas Season.

I googled for some of the pictures of the crapweasels who recently waved pictures of the drowned Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, in front of television cameras. I found this short note from the Albany Times Union showing how pols of both parties spoke out of both sides of their crapweasely mouths regarding Syrian refugees.

Here’s a Democratic politician being a crapweasel. I could have posted a picture of a Republican waving little Aylan Kurdi’s picture around but my Buddy might have accused me of being bigoted toward my old political party.


Hind tit

I take some satisfaction in knowing that the richest school community, Congdon, had to wait as long as the poorest school community, Grant/Nettleton to be dealt with by the Red Planners. I worry that the many unplanned extragavances poured into earlier projects will impoverish what can be done for the Central Hillside schools now that the Red Plan seems to be spluttering and sucking up so much more of our classroom money.

Principal Stephanie Heilig is absolutely right about the teachers at her school being either one year types or lifers. God Bless the lifers who take especial pride in helping the kids who most need their teacher’s dedication to succeed.

I’m still left with nothing but contempt for the actions of the Duluth School Boards who have once again dealt the Central Hillside a bad hand.

Minnesota Poor [BIGOT ALERT]

This AP story about the growth of Minnesota’s impoverished in the Trib today was interesting. Those of us in St. Louis County live in the epicenter of Minnesota poverty:

St. Louis County had the lowest median income of the counties covered by the yearly data with $41,800. It also had the highest poverty rate at 17.9 percent, followed by Ramsey County at 17.2 percent. The poverty line was defined in 2010 as about $22,000 in income for a family of four.

From 2009 to 2010 poverty among Minnesota children has jumped from 14.1% to 15.2%. Presumably in Duluth its much higher because we have an overall rate of better than 1 in 5 locals or 20%, living in poverty. The GOP answer to this would probably be that we should speed up our laws to require photo ID’s for these people to vote and suspend their right to election day registration.

This heads up from Andrew Sullivan’s blog is worth noting as he skewers the biggest “liberal” media outlet of them all, the Grey Lady, for refusing to explain a principal driver of the rising poverty rate among children – single parentood.

I did wonder about one determinant of the statistics where Duluth is concerned. How does the local college population affect Duluth’s overall statistics. On the face of it most students are pretty impoversished crowded into college tenement style rental housing and spending massive quanties of money without earning that much and often going into considerable debt for a degree. This is worth pondering because in the Days of Katherine Martin the influx in college students has leaped from steady to a flood. How does an addition of 3 or 4 thousand such residents to Duluth affect our poverty rates?

Sorry, I’m just asking because I’m too lazy to make inquiries.

It should be noted that if college students end up tilting the statistical level of poverty up that this is a bit of a statistical fraud. Most college students have families with fairly deep pockets which they can draw from. This is very different from the experience of real poor people who often have no reservoir to draw from in times of hardship.

Reversing Democracy [BIGOT ALERT]

This column in the Washington Post pretty well outlines the half dozen ploys by which the GOP is attempting to limit the voting population to Republicans.

One of the basic history lessons, that used to be taught in American schools, was that over time America became more democratic. At first propertied men over the age of 21 could vote followed by the revolution of Andy Jackson when all white males were given the vote. The Civil War Amendments issued in the vote for black males although because of the “black codes” that right was largely theoretical. When Wyoming entered the union with a male population too small to be granted statehood it pragmatically added women to the voting rolls thereby acquiring overnight the necessary population for admission. That was followed decades later by an Amendment allowing women the franchise and in the 1960’s the southern laws which denied most black Americans the vote were made illegal leading to the wholesale movement of white southern voters into the GOP. In the 1970’s the franchise for Federal elections was lowered to the age of 18.

One important rule, especially popular in the South, preventing ex felons from voting has gained greater acceptance which has been especially useful to limit the number of votes available to Democrats. About 1 in every 8 black men is denied a vote because of prison time. But as the story makes clear the GOP is hell bent on making voting a chore and a hurdle for those of limited means. Don’t have a car and a driver’s licence? Sorry, you will still need a government document with photograph on it. Want to register on the day of the election? Sorry, you will have to do it weeks in advance.

Some Republican pundits have even gone back to the 1700’s by arguing that property qualifications should be enforced again leaving God knows how many poor people disenfrancised. The use of the felicitous phrase “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence still sticks in some people’s craw because they would have preferred that it read “property.”

Children can’t vote

A decade ago I was pouring over old newspapers from the time I was in college back in the 1970’s and was struck by the huge number of news stories about how dire the poverty was among the elderly. No more. Now the elderly are taking enhanced Social Security and Medicare benefits and joining the Tea Party to fight socialistic tax increases.

Meanwhile schools are filling up with children whose parents are preoccupied with survival not their children’s GPA.

The falling sky blue line shows the decrease in poverty among those over age 65. The rising yellow line shows increase in poverty for children under the age of 6.

Find out what Grant drinks and send it to my other commanders

My gadfly critic, Vic, thinks Blogger Andrew Sullivan is “tendentious.”

Here’s my reply to an email Vic sent me this morning in which one of Vic’s old law school classmates disses a Sullivan blog post I sent Vic.


I’ve read Sullivan over the same period of time. I’m unimpressed with your classmates analysis. I’ve read much the same from other “conservatives.” What you sent me the other day is one of the reasons I find Sullivan worth reading. He doesn’t join one side of a cheering section and park his brains in the locker room as though all that was at stake was bragging rights for winning a sport’s contest.

The people who read his Daily Dish regularly and find flaws in his logic and evidence get quoted on the Dish and he owns up to his errors. Show me a true “conservative” voice who does the same. Until GOP leaders dissassociate themselves from the Limbaughs, Hannitys and Becks they cannot seriously lead us anywhere as a nation. There are a few new Republicans appearing on the edges who are untainted with the GOP’s partisan dip-shittery. Mitch Daniels, Gov. Christie, the ambassador from China who’s stepping down to make a run at the Presidency. They are the hope for the GOP’s future. FOX pundits are political pornographers and the pols who refuse to disavow them are video sluts.

I do admire some GOP old timers like former Senators Rudman and Simpson. You might find Alan Simpson’s comments today on NPR interesting:

Sure, Sullivan suffers from HIV but I’d paraphrase Lincoln when he commented on U.S. Grant’s alledged alcholism. If it [homosexuality] makes men like Sulivan think, then find out who he has sex with, and send them to the other pundits!”


Here’s what the law school classmate had to say:

On Wed, Feb 16, 2011 at 7:40 AM, Vic wrote:

From one of my law school classmates:

Sullivan is even more confusing for me than Arianna. Back in the 1990s he was basically a sensible person apart from the ‘gay’ situation. Someplace along the way BDS [Bush Derangement Syndrome] became even more serious for him than HIV and his world became more unreal. I can understand being critical of G.W. Bush and some of his policies but Sullivan totally ignored the obvious deficiencies in Obama.


Here’s the post in question in which Sullivan defends his previous castigation of Obama for his lousy budget plan but then defends Obama as our best hope for rationale fiscal discipline.

—– Original Message —–
From: Vic
To: L (the law school classmate)
Sent: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 1:33 AM
Subject: The Defense Of Obama’s Fiscal Cowardice – The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan


Brazil could teach us a few things

I just read this fascinating NYT article. Brazil (and about 40 other nations pay the poorest of the poor) Its working. Its keeping corruption down. The cycle of poverty is breaking.

From the article:

For skeptics who believe that social programs never work in poor countries and that most of what’s spent on them gets stolen, conditional cash transfer programs offer a convincing rebuttal. Here are programs that help the people who most need help, and do so with very little waste, corruption or political interference. Even tiny, one-village programs that succeed this well are cause for celebration. To do this on the scale that Mexico and Brazil have achieved is astounding.

Reading this put me in mind of Richard Nixon who once proposed a negative income tax whereby the poorest people would get money back from the Government. Not quite the same thing but similar.

US politics today (Read the GOP) is too beholden to the businesses (payday loans etc.) which leach money from the poor and desperate. We’re trying to undo the damage with the incredibly wrong headed No Child Left Behind.

knocking the optimist down a peg

The video I posted earlier has caught one skeptic’s attention.

I guess I am the last person with an internet connection to see this video.

Yes he’s an entertaining and enthusiastic guy. Yes, the rise of China and India is amazing and fantastic. Yes there is a large “middle class” of countries.

But people, have you looked at the horizontal axis of his chart? The distance between $400 and $4000 is the same as the distance between $4000 and $40000.

That is incredibly misleading.

The Peace Prize

I’m very impressed with the Nobel Committee’s Peace Prize selection.

I heard about Yunus’s small loans several years ago on NPR and they make so much sense. I wish a few Republicans would pay attention to this as it is exactly what the party used to encourage before it got the idea that a free enterprise economy meant steering big government contracts to cronies and campaign contributors, making them rich, and easing their tax burden.

Structural barriers to poverty

An interesting column on Poverty by economist Bradley Schiller contends that for the vast majority of impoverished Americans their condition is short term. Schiller pointed to a study by the University of Michigan which found that only 5% of poor Americans stayed poor for ten years out of the 13 years they were studied. That means that 19 out of 20 poor people were able to escape extreme poverty most of the time.

Democrats would be well advised to pay attention to this because it helps explain why America continues to be a place where optimism sells. In many ways the Democrats are too steeped in the Era and ethos of the Depression.

Schiller suggests that the best thing to do is to work on eliminating the structural barriers which make it difficult for people to escape poverty. One of those is a very Republican barrier. Usurious interest rates of short term loan business like title loans have become widespread as they left the Republicans Deep South in search of new customers in Republican leaning states. They are very much like the company stores of the coal fields or tenant farming which replaced the plantations after the Civil War.

In Republican eyes if a good ole boy can get rich by earning a 100 or 150% return on a loan to some poor desperate person so be it. Not exactly a family value – usury. Apparently it doesn’t make any difference how you make a buck so long as the law allows it and keeping it legal is what the Republicans want.

Yet a ruinous loan is a structural barrier. It should also be noted that Republicans have also  become the primary champions for gambling which provides a sin tax for government. Gaming in America reminds me of the failing Soviet Russian’s dependence in the late 1980’s on revenues from vodka sales which helped to keep the population in a compliant stupor.

Schiller also mentions the 5 million low achieving students who drop out of school every year. This is another critical barrier because poorly funded school systems drive kids out before they can get the tools to help them achieve success. This too is an outcome of Republican politics because Republicans champion “local control” of schools which all too often means localalized financing of schools.

I’ve thought for years that Congress should withold federal education revenue from states which refuse to implement some financial equity between their rich and poor school districts. I suggested this to Paul Wellstone a few months before he died. The Senator didn’t disagree with me but told me that too many Congressmen would fight such a plan.

The GOP and making good money

An article today caught my eye and on a topic I’ve been licking my lips to expound on. The GOP and its new ethos that confuses the making of money with the strengthening of the economy.

It seems that the US military which pays starvation wages to its enlisted personnel wants to crack down on Payday loan establishments that prey on servicemen. In the story today one soldier took a $255 dollar advance on a $300 guaranteed pay check. This used to be called usury and most states used to have laws against it. That fee is comparable to a 459% interest rate. Compare that with the going rate for a home mortgage loan and you can see how soldiers are being taken.

But the military sees its servicemen being bled dry by these Republican sanctioned outfits. The military wants to protect its troops from these predators but everyone should be protected from them. The growth of the once non existent car “title loans” is the same thing. Poor people hand over their car titles for emergency money and lose their only means of transportation for loans that are in the neighborhood of 100 % or more.

Rather than protect the vulnerable poor (even servicemen) Republicans insist that the poor are entitled to ruin themselves and have only themselves to blame. Too many of these modern Era Republicans never saw anything wrong with any way to make a buck (other than selling drugs).

Just look at gambling. Once strongly anti-gaming the Republican Party now pushes gaming everywhere despite it socially destructive consequences. The Republicans, hate to tax wealthy people even when the wealth is acquired more through legislation than enterprise. But with reduced tax revenues, socially destructive gambling has become an acceptable new source for revenue. Except for Indian gaming……That’s why Republicans in state’s like Minnesota have tried to break into the Indian gaming industry and why they rail against Indian sovereignty. Why are we letting all these poor Indians keep all this money? It would be better if we just let them sell cigarettes and set up title loans on the Rez.