Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

JCI’s Get out of jail free card

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

As the friend who emailed this to me said, “I guess the battle is over.” The scrappy little Timberjay was on the verge of getting a peek at how JCI went about its business with the St. Louis County Schools.

The Timberjay has asked for public data on the JCI work done on the St. Louis County Schools and took their case to the Minnesota Supreme Court. They seemed poised to get it when the Court ruled that it was indeed public. But then the Supreme Court pulled the rug out from under the public with this ruling that JCI didn’t have to disclose the public data:

“The government is required to provide clear notice in contracts for the performance of a government function that a private business performing such a function is subject to the requirements of the Data Practices Act and that the businesses must comply with those requirements as if it were a government entity,” Chief Justice Lorie Gildea stated in the ruling. Because the school district did not provide such notice, Gildea continued, JCI was not required to release the materials.

In my email of condolance I wrote:

What Bull,

So the District was supposed to quote the statute in the contract for the statute to apply? Brings new meaning to the old adage “ignorance is bliss.”

I’m guessing that Duluth is SOL too because I doubt we included that notice in our contract. Who was that notice supposed to protect? The taxpayers or the vendor JCI?


JCI has earned plenty of public dollars to insulate them in the courts from the taxpayers who forked the money over. They have claimed that their data is “proprietory” information or their own secret formula for success that they must keep secret from their competitors. To me this is like saying lying through your teeth to the customer or fraud are proprietary secrets. Our jails are full of people who would love to be able to make a similar claim.

If I had known this and attended the “Delegate Assembly” of the Minnesota Schools Association I would have offered a proposal to encourage all School Districts to include the new Supreme Court mandated language to assure that contractors could not hide public data in a contract.

As Mike Miernicki pointed out to me in a recent conversation no contractors would willingly disclose how much profit they earned from a public works project. However most public works projects, unlike the Red Plan, got their start in a competitive public bidding process to assure a fair price. That was not the case with the Red Plan and now it seems the state Supreme Court has placed one more obstacle in our way from getting any kind of accounting from JCI.

Bullying Awareness Prevention Month…

Monday, October 14th, 2013

…is October.

I do not have all the facts of this next story. It is a sobering story both tragic and a bit of a mystery. Its a tragedy because one of our students in the Duluth Schools took his life this September. It is a mystery because, apparently the School District and the Duluth Police are investigating the details and one or the other have requested the grieving family to make no statements. It would be easy for me to criticize the District and it has apparently had the affect of angering the family.

I first heard about the death a month ago at our church’s worship service. A boy had taken his life and acquaintances asked for prayers for the family. It was a surprise to me as I’d heard no news of the death in the local press. This could have been for good reason. There are often copy cat suicides, in fact, a few years ago three Duluth students took their lives in quick succession in something of a domino effect.

I’m not sure how I divined that the death was a suicide but at the Health Forum I made some light of two weeks ago I did mention that a suicide had taken place in one of our schools. I couldn’t say that overcrowded classrooms were to blame but I did point out that under the crowded situation in our schools it would be much easier for a troubled child to be overlooked by teachers swimming in students.

Then the student’ Aunt wrote a letter published last week by the Reader Weekly. I read it at the time and wondered at the unusual venue for the letter. It wasn’t in the paper of record for Duluth, the Tribune. It was in the alternative publication. I don’t have a copy of the letter at hand but I received an email from a friend of the family who wrote that the powers that be were trying to hush up the story. This may not be an unreasonable request. An investigation is underway and it would be premature to draw conclusions. Evidently the boy wrote a suicide note pointing the blame at another student who was characterized as a bully. The police seized the letter and no more has been heard from anyone about the course of the investigation. This has left a sour taste with the boy’s family.

All I know is that a child has died and the general public is unaware of this. It is ironic that it should have happened days before Bullying Awareness Prevention Month.

Red Equity

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

I almost forgot about my comments on equity at last night’s Lakeside forum when we were asked our thoughts about the subject.

I mentioned the new Duluth East Stadium, an addition to the Red Plan after we were assured the plan wasn’t too expensive. It was one of 60 million in additional expenses that drove the cost up from just over a quarter million dollars to $315 million.

The addition of the stadium was approved in the name of equity. Denfeld out west had a stadium, Public School Stadium and it just wasn’t equitable that the eastern half of Duluth would miss out on having its own stadium. Besides some parents had complained that Denfeld wasn’t very welcoming to East kids who played at PSS. So, to make things fair we built a six million stadium for East Duluth for the half dozen football games they would play at home each year. (I only had a minuted to answer the question but I can embellish and draw out my sneering here on the blog)

I pointed out that until the stadium was added in the name of fairness the word “equity” in public education had always referred to poor and underpriveleged students and bending over backward to assure their fair treatment in the schools to make up for their assets. In Duluth this had been perverted to let what was widely regarded as the rich end of town to have its own stadium. I used the word perverted at the forum.

We have had a truly magical few days recently of balmy sunny weather. On my way home I drove past East High and the aforementioned stadium. There was a night game. It looked like football players at the far end of the field to me but a quick search of the Sports results for last night informs me that Duluth East was hosting a soccer game. I’m so glad. Soccer has not yet become a big sport in the US and that may be the explanation for the paltry 30 or 40 people in the stands. I hope the six football games East hosts all see larger crowds for our new tribute to fairness.

Six Paragraphs

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

My return to the Reader Weekly, Duluth’s largest tabloid, was a little awkward. Although its publisher had kind words for me as he introduced five new columnists – “Harry is a terrific writer” – its hard not to wonder if that isn’t a promotion of the Reader rather than its returned writer.

My column was submitted and as far as I could tell languished unacknowledged for two weeks before publication. I got home late this afternoon and found that it was indeed in this week’s Reader if not in the Reader’s new website. A picture I’d submitted was not included. My dozen paragraphs were pared down to half that. To the extent that the breaks helped refocus my narative the elimination of them seemed to make it a little breathless. I suspect I’m in part to blame for the mis-communication about what I wanted published. I was on vacation and gloriously distracted until the last two days when I called and found out that another column was wanted forthwith. Yesterday I spent four hours in the car heading home and racing through North Dakota’s stretch of I-94 busily editing a rough draft down from 1100 words to 650 or so. when it shows up a week from now it will be titled “…illions.”

I’m exhausted from a long day and have valiently but incompetantly attempted to stick it into my old website. I’m too tired to correct the mistakes tonight. I need sleep. but for those of you who can’t wait here it is as I would have preferred it to have appeared in print. Tomorrow and henceforth I’ll put it in the proper place and this link will take you to the parent webpage.

I’d rejoin the GOP just to shame them from inside…

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

…for this kind of politically lethal viciousness.

The more the GOP’s hacks try to win elections through subterfuge the more contemptible the party will appear to the public. Rather like a man shoving a women aside to squeaze onto one of the Titanic’s life boats.

The only thing worse than this would be to rescind the 14th Amendment.

I wish I could have chucked Johnson Controls out of Duluth…

Friday, January 18th, 2013

…the way this cyclist chucked out a refrigerator full of drugs.

Re: Aurora, Colorado

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Conservative Judicial activism

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Its a joke. And that’s a double entendre.

Pardon me for being so slow

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Its taken me six years of fruitless requests for the public data JCI has been hiding behind the argument that they have a right to keep their public spending secret. Its only just occured to me what they mean when they call this public information “proprietary.” Its gotta mean lies as in lies about energy savings, lies about contractual rewards, lies about the process of winning and awarding bids, lies about the meaning of the law, lies about what they tell the public etc. etc. etc.

There are a lot of good proprietors living behind prison walls today. I wonder if keeping all the “proprietary” information out of the public’s hands has something to do with JCI manager’s preference in living accommodations?

Paying your dues

Monday, February 6th, 2012

My Buddy sent me this last week. I’ve only just now read it. It comes from a huge horse’s ass Andrew Breitbart. That said it is an important and as far as I can see journalisticly neutral appraisal of the politics of public employee union dues.

Here’s my take.

A. Public employees with enough seniority have very secure jobs.

B. As private sector unions have fallen on hard times over the past four decades of increasing “Right-to-work” labor laws the revenue from public employee’s union dues have become indispensable to the union movement as a whole.

C. The many rights won for all workers by unions in the 1940′s and 50′s have made union protection far less important in the eyes of workers with the result that many workers have adopted as anti union viewpoint as their fire breathing right-to-work fire employers.

D. Many of the protections that existed up until the Reagan ERA for workers are beginning to erode. The best example of this is medical coverage. This is just fine by a new Republican Party which has purged itself of moderate politicians who were comfortable with America’s less expansive version of Europe’s “cradle to grave” protection.

E. Today a right-to-work (and right to starve) GOP is faced with a public that has begun to notice that America has become a land of haves (Mitt Romneys) and have nots (the 99 percent)

F. Having done its best to put black drug sellers in prison and fence out Mexicans and cling to pale “european” skin the GOP is desperate to keep the Public employee Unions from raising money that could be used to challenge Republicans. They are probably right that unions grossly abuse their power to raise political funds from union members. There is a very big BUT in this assertion.

G. Here’s the BUT. The GOP inclined Supreme Court justices have givencCorporations an unlimited First Amendment right to spend money on politics as copiously as they wish. This threatens to turn American politics into a very unlevel playing field based on the 19th century premise that a corporation has Constitutionally guaranteed citizenship rights.

H. I think an equally persuasive argument could be made that corporations should have to allow their stockholders to withold political donations that they have not agreed to just as union members should have the right to deny their dues to be spent for political purposes to which they object.

I. If my point of view becomes law then both right wing business and left wing labor could find themselves muzzled. That would be OK by me.

This Chinese Life

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Speaking of nations with which we’ve had on again – off again relations there was a mesmerizing 45 minute long story about China today on the great radio program This American Life.

For those Republicans who are convinced that labor organizations are only a menace the story will be a cold splash of water in the face. Same for Steve Jobs worshipers.

We could do worse than have an American President that can speak Mandarin even if he inexplicably uses it in a Republican Debate.

While Congress threatens to muzzle the Internet with SOPA..

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

…It chugs on relentlessly even allowing Russians to show the world that Tsar Putin has lost his magic. This video of regular guys booing Putin even showed up on state TV by accident about the time it went viral.

Here’s a short run down on SOPA.

Occupy this!

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

My Buddy sent me this tepid criticism of Occupy Wallstreet.

The gist is that the occupiers who are so eager to be cut a fair deal are selfishly occupying parcels of land in various cities and preventing the rest of us from enjoying the properties ourselves.

As Readers of this blog may recall I dropped off some baked goods to our local Occupy Duluth encampment a month ago.

Other even longer time readers may recall my passing out Let Duluth Vote flyers to our local Tea Party a couple years ago. Here’s a post I entered just before deciding to visit one of their protests at the DECC. Appropos the previous post I see that I was complaining about the Congress’s elimination of Glass-Steagal.

I’ve had forty years to watch mass protest movements. They are easy to criticize because they attract all sorts of moths like a fire. Any critic can unfairly find some loathsome moth to point to as representative of the whole protest.

For instance in my first stab at a protest march I sat in the middle of the most important intersection in Mankato,Minnesota. It wasn’t my idea to pick that terribly inconvenient spot but that’s where organizers took us and I was all for their protest against the Vietnam War. When an angry motorcyclist drove over a protester I found myself not entirely unsympathetic with the driver. The following year I purposely avoided an even more inconvenient march to block Highway 169 because I figured it would be counterproductive and turn others against us. When I saw news reports of the incident later I saw the little jerk who tried to kick me in the testicles when I’d gotten in a fight years before. Later that day I saw my little tormentor, no idealist him, walking herky jerky down the street strung out on drugs booze or both. Did his participation invalidate the reasons for the protest? Hardly. Could participation by dimwits like him have been expected when the blockage of the highway was planned? After the motorcycle incident you’re damn right they could have been.

I felt so strongly about the counter productive consequences of such marches that the following year when a small group of college students marched to the office of the College President to occupy it in the name of protesting the war I found out where their march would go and laid down on the side walk to make them step over me. One of the peace marchers even gave me a little kick as he did so. (a very little kick to be fair)

Among the Tea Partiers at the DECC were some folks with pretty ugly signs about President Obama although much worse such signs were at other Tea Party Protests. When I got involved in the Ross Perot campaign in 1992 I was amazed that all sorts had come out of the woodwork to support him.

At every one of the Arab Spring protests there has been an angry element that threatened to tarnish the larger group by rioting.

I’ve been impressed with Occupy Wallstreet for its restraint. Even the self righteousness I’ve seen in previous protests is muted. As a group without spokesmen and strategists its been remarkably cohesive and pacifistic. And God knows its got serious grievances although they vary depending on who in the crowd you talk to. Some folks are criticizing it for this just as quickly as they would criticize it if the group was monolithic and cultic. As for me I prefer the former liability to the later.

I’ve seen all the cultic multi-monomania I want in the current Republican Party which has taken political correctness and fossilized it into impossible nostrums by which to manage America. No taxes. No limit on Defense Spending. No foreign policy other than the opposite of whatever Barrack Obama is doing. No regulation of banks. Its a sort of an illogical mashup of anarchism and laissez faire capitalism with constitutional rights for fetuses thrown in and unlimited production and distribution of semi-automatic rifles and, of course, the unleashing of hidden political contributions and the fettering of unions.

Compared to that untidy mess I’d side with unemployed kids with $20,000 student loans to pay off anytime.

Oh, and I’m glad the Occupy Duluth crowd does seem to be willing to vacate the public square – at least for the time being. Its getting cold out there.

Our kind of corruption

Monday, October 10th, 2011

The founding father’s would have viewed it as such even if the laws today permit it. From a book review by Mathew Yglesias:

Lessig moves beyond quid pro quo corruption of the sort that typified the Gilded Age and recently ensnared such congressmen as Duke Cunningham of California and William Jefferson of Louisiana. Taking a broader view of the problem, Lessig develops a concept of dependence and independence that draws on the Founding generation’s obsession with the alleged corruption of Parliament at the hands of a monarchy that dispensed pensions and offices to compliant representatives. As part of this analysis, Lessig cites the anthropological concept of a “gift economy” to argue that a person can become indebted to another without any explicit agreement of a quid pro quo.

Material Party

Friday, September 30th, 2011

In light of my post whining about having been a pawn as a school board member comes this post from Sullivan. This quote perfectly captures the problem with what has become GOP dogma – that people are solely motivated by rewards and punishment. If you tie salaries to hoop jumping they will jump through your hoops. If you pass a law against something people will stop doing it. Yup, just teach abstinence and kids won’t have sex.

When a remote authority sets incentives, people respond by manipulating the system. This fact is poorly understood by education reformers who are fond of pay-for-performance and national standards, by health care reformers who are fond of paying for quality, and by financial regulators. … The Hayekian story here is that effective compensation practices require local knowledge and tacit knowledge.

Rich republicans just hire lobbyists to get special tax breaks written into law. Taxes are bad you know.

The Republican Party may be the most Christian Party in US history but it deeply believes in property rights and other material things. This is at variance with Jesus who commands people not only to surrender everything they own but to turn their backs on their family rather than turn from Jesus. Its the kind of message deprogrammers have been fighting for decades. This later my simply be standard Hebrew exaggeration to make a point found in the New Testament period “If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Nonetheless, anyone who doesn’t heed the eye of a needle parable is either an uninformed Christian or a heretic.

Rich Republicans just hire lobbyists to get special tax breaks written into law so they can take their camels to heaven with them.

For crying out loud – Stop over-regulation 1

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Don’t over-regulate the melon growers. Listen to the GOP. Get Government off the back of business.

All coked up

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

America’s puritanical, prohibitionist laws regarding drugs are deeply flawed. I found this arresting image as I peeked back at old NPR stories I’d missed. This fellow had a kilogram of Cocaine inside him. 72 containers worth.

This would-be drug smuggler survived after surrendering his goodies with the help of powerful laxitives. He was lucky not be in Mexico. Decriminalization in America could be as miraculous as Jesus turning water into wine.

Life’s not fair

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Some possible explanations.

When will Plessy vs. Fergusson be reinstated?

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

The title is a Constitutional Lawyer’s rhetorical joke.

Or maybe not:

Obama, however, has yet to get a single appellate court judge under 45 appointed to the appellate courts. Since the inauguration of Reagan, “Republicans have appointed 41 federal appellate judges under age 45 to the Democrats’ 10.”

The Timberjay hits on the sad truth

Monday, June 6th, 2011

From this editorial.

Voters in school districts around the state rightly assume that when officials from the Department of Education review a major school bonding proposal, they actually conduct some level of due diligence. It turns out, however, that they don’t review the financial figures or question assumptions provided by school district consultants, even when the consultants stand to reap millions of dollars from the projects. Instead, the department routinely gives stamps of approval to projects that make no sense. Once again, the supposed watchdog is napping.

At the county level, citizens were supposed to be able to rely on the oversight of the St. Louis County Planning Department, which is charged with enforcing the county’s zoning ordinance. Instead, department officials worked hand-in-glove with JCI to improperly grease the skids for school building projects that were completely incompatible with the zone districts in which they were proposed.

And now that the projects are underway, we learn that JCI has routinely flouted the contract they signed with the school district— and the board majority seems willfully blind to the reality that they are being taken for a ride.

So what are we, as members of the public, expected to do about it all?

Call the state auditor, who has already ignored us? Call the Department of Education who approved it all to begin with? Call the county? Call the police? You’d do just as well to call the Ghostbusters.

In the end, the public has only one recourse, and it’s a courtroom. And as we all know, that’s a recourse that’s largely reserved for those with money. Which is why, for all practical purposes, the law only applies to average people. For big corporations, like JCI, or large institutions like school districts, the law can usually be ignored. Even if the public finds out, what are they going to do about it? Spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys?

For big companies and school districts, that’s just a cost of doing business, but for the public it’s an insurmountable hurdle that all but denies them access to justice or the protection of the law.