What’s Sauce for the Goose

Regarding my post on Rush Limbaugh a friend emailed me this comment:

Harry…part of your presentation…causes me to think of a possible parallel presentation that would include a picture of Teddy Kennedy, the corpse of Mary Jo Kopechne, the bridge at Chappaquiddick, and a bottle of booze; with the captions, This is your DFL brain, and This is your DFL brain on drugs.  One of my dad’s sayings was that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  However, I prefer total abstention from inappropriate comment, so that there would be no motivation for retaliation in kind.”

I don’t disagree. Nothing infuriated Republicans more during the Chappaquiddik Bridge incident than the absolute unwillingness of Massachusetts Democrats to abandon Teddy Kennedy after his craven act of cowardice. That kind of blind support reminds me of the similar support of “Dittoheads” for Limbaugh and. What’s more, Limbaugh didn’t cause anyone’s death.  Part of the price Kennedy has paid for Chappaquiddick is never being permitted to carry on the Kennedy legacy beyond the Senate. Ironically, he has been a serious Senator since that scandal perhaps to atone for fecklessly throwing away his reputation and Mary Jo’s life. The Democrats have also paid a price. Whenever they wanted to point to Republicans as being anti-women Republicans had only to point to Kennedy and Mary Jo to demonstrate their hypocrisy. Ditto for Clinton and his intern. 



King George

Andrew Sullivan calls it his “King George watch.” What he’s watching is the President’s constant usurpation of Congressional and judicial powers. Sullivan speculates that the reason Bush hasn’t bothered vetoing any bills is because he simply administers the law the way he sees fit. The Boston Globe reports that so far Bush has disobeyed 750 laws.

Maybe America needs a Magna Carta. Then again, maybe a good old fashioned impeachment would do the trick. Declaring a war based on questionable intelligence is not a high crime or misdemeanor. Running the war incompetently isn’t one either. Neither is letting your bumbling, bullying, Secretary of Defense take over the portfolio of Secretary of Scapegoat. But ignoring his office’s Constitutional requirement to enforce the laws of Congress……well that may be sufficient grounds. It was enough to impeach Andrew Johnson.

Readers in the Trash

I went swimming this morning and noticed on entering the fitness center that the stack of Readers was gone a mere two days after having been put there. Then I noticed a half dozen Readers stuffed in the trash across the hallway.

As My pointed column about abortion led off the Reader my paranoia kicked in. I figured that I’d offended someone enough so that they decided to censor me. At least that’s what I wanted to imagine. I pulled them out of the trash and put them back on the reading rack.

I swam with more vigor than usual afterwards.

Stacking the Republican House-of-Cards Deck

How is it that Republicans so easily control Congress? Will their house of cards blow over? Before 1954 when state’s were able to apportion (divide up) legislative districts without having to create legislative districts with equal numbers of voters it was easy for the rural party to stay in control. When it came time to draw up legislative districts, after the ten year Census, they simply created small population rural districts and large population urban districts. If, for instance, a state had 51 rural districts with one-third of the state’s population in them and 49 urban districts with two-thirds of the states population in them farmers with one-third of the state’s votes would control the state legislatures. 

The Supreme Court took much of the rural advantage in state legislative reapportionments away in 1954 by ruling that states had to create voting districts with equal populations. The doctrine was called “one-man-one-vote.” This assured that cities began to run the state legislature and since urban areas tended to be Democratic strongholds it meant Democrats enjoyed a generation of control of many legislative bodies including the US. House of Representatives. A generation later suburban and exurban areas which had sprouted since that 1954 ruling began to change the political alchemy as those residents were much less inclined to be Democratic. For the past decade Republicans have assured themselves control of Congress even though the voting public is split evenly 30% Republican, 30 % Democrat, 30% independent? If Republicans are in control of a legislature after the census they draw up Democratic districts which tend to be 80% Democratic, 20% Republican. The Republican seats however, give themselves districts that are 60% Republican and 40% Democratic which in normal years is still pretty safe, especially for an incumbent. 

You can see the strategy on a map. By allowing rural red areas to poach just enough urban blue democratic votes to pad the rural districts Republicans get more districts. Of course when Democrats are in control of the legislature they do just the opposite and poach just enough rural Republican votes to pad their urban Democratic districts leaving fewer heavily concentrated Republican districts. This strategy, however, puts the party on top at peril when the voting public gets upset because the people in power are more vulnerable during a landslide. 

For instance this year while even the most unpopular Democrat is unlikely to lose when fellow Democrats compose 80% of his district’s voters a Republican with only 60% of his voters being Republican could easily see a 10% swing putting him in a 50%-50% race. Right now Congress’s approval rating is hovering at about 25% and it’s easy to forecast lots of 50/50 congressional races. The swing comes largely from the 30% of voters who consider themselves independent. Right now independents have very little patience with Republicans. When the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994 they were in a similar position.  Three months of high summer gas prices, lingering bad news in Iraq, and Republicans divided on whether to court Hispanic votes or send 11 million illegals packing to Mexico are just a few of the irritations that will likely be on voters minds next November. A lot of those 60/40 Republican districts will be 50/50. No wonder the Democrats are feeling their oats. We Democrats that is. Any one for Oatmeal?

Endearing Endowing

I drove down to the Twin Cities to visit my Mother today so I couldn’t start calling to invite people to our Tuesday Endowment meeting until I got back at seven. I added five more great people to what is becoming a real A-list of attendees.

There is one huge gap in our attendence, however. We only have a few people from our PTA’s coming. I did get to send an email to a PTA contact for each school but it takes a phone call to get people signed up for a meeting. After I groused a bit about this hole in our attendance someone kindly pointed out that at this time of the year PTA types are pretty burnt out. Oh, and since lots of them have jobs, breaking away for a morning meeting isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Nobody ever said building an endowment worthy of the Duluth Schools would be easy. We’ll get this done.

Bush vs Roosevelt

Newsweek had a great comparison between these two blueblood presidents.

I was a little put off to see that Newsweek’s columnist Jonathon Alter was able to use their space to promote his new book about FDR but the two pages were a good read. Alter’s book maintains what I was told back in highschool forty years ago: that Roosevelt saved both democracy and capitalism.

The article compares how the flexible Roosevelt confronted his crisis and the inflexible Bush confronted his. I appreciated Alter’s insights on how Bush’s kicking alcohol and FDR’s recovering from polio made them very different men.

I’ll have to put his book on the growing list of Presidential bio’s circling my runway.


John Ashcroft’s buddy, defeated US Senator Rod Gram, announced yesterday that he’s been thinking about running against Congressman Jim Oberstar for a couple months. DFL pundit, Wy Spano, dismisses Gram’s chances. Spano says the DFL history and the bad political year Republicans are having both doom Grams. Wy is half wrong. While this is a terrible year to be running as a Republican the 8th District ain’t what it used to be. I had no idea that Grams even lived in the District. He didn’t when he ran for Congress 15 years ago. He was badly stung by his defeat to millionaire Mark Dayton. Compounding that injury, the state GOP (directed in large part by Dick Cheney and the national Republicans) killed his attempt to resurrect his Senate career in favor of the new Republican darling, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. (The old Mayor that is, Norm, who is now a Republican not the new St. Paul Mayor, Chris Coleman, who is a DFLer) My guess is that after that embarrassment Rod immediately focused his thwarted ambition on the Eighth District. Had the Bush Administration not tanked over the last year Grams would be in an excellent position to dump Oberstar.

Here’s why. Oberstar is a leaden politician. He’s only faced two tough elections and they were thirty years ago. He’s chicken. He will be prone to panic and that makes for losing campaigns. When I ran against him as an independent candidate in 1992 he agreed to debate me and the Republican nominee at WDIO TV but later claimed he’d never agreed to do it. Of course, it could be argued that he was simply refusing to give his challengers any press attention and that is partly true. But it’s my intuition after watching him closely for three decades that his strength is as a backroom player. He gives plenty of canned speeches before small friendly audiences but he’s never expected to say much and doesn’t. I believe that the prospect of a face-to-face debate will unnerve him. The old 8th District that Spano remembers was dominated by the Iron Range with Duluth a poor second. In fact, Oberstar’s initial election was partly a rebellion against the Range by Duluth DFLers who supported Oberstar in preference to the Iron Range’s dominant political family the Perpich’s.

Duluth is the center of the new 8th District as it was to old 8th District but its population has shrunk. The Iron Range’s population has declined even more steeply. In the past three apportionments, the swing counties of Cass and Crow Wing have been added to the Eighth. To the South exurban counties which are marginally Republican have been growing in population. That’s where Gram’s lives. Oberstar is a familiar but remote name. His greatest glory is the Northwest Air base but that happened a long time ago and with the closing of the Airbus maintenance facilities in Duluth nothing to crow about. Grams on the other hand has the luster of having been a Senator, something which Oberstar once aspired to but was denied by the DFL. Grams will be able to use this resume to raise more money than Oberstar ever had to raise. Now that the GOP is desperate to retain control of Congress they will throw more money to Grams than this Congressional District has ever seen. Democrats will match that spending. In the end the only thing that will save the colorless Oberstar is the desire of Americans to take Bush’s lapdog Republican Congress away from him. By the way, Grams made lots of friends from the Iron Range all the way up to Canada while he was Senator. Some Iron Rangers would probably even be glad to teach Oberstar a lesson for besting the Perpich’s all those years ago. It’s called Iron Range Alzheimer’s. That’s what happens when you forget everything but your grudges.

I’ve been out of the GOP loop for so long I had no idea this was possible. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.


George Bush is soaking the Rich?

A Wall Street Journalist says that under George Bush tax policies taxpayers making over $200,000 have seen their taxes rise from 41% to 47 percent……That caught my attention. I presume he’s not talking about the tax rate on the 2hundredthousandaires but their slice of the tax pie that goes toward the federal budget. Is this really a laffer? I linked first before reading the commentary which I only listened to with half an ear. I’ve got to read this carefully, think about it and make some pronouncement…… but right now I’m grilling shishkebobs.

Raising more money – for the Duluth Schools

My primary concern for the past two weeks has been the Duluth Public Schools Endowment. Six days from today there will be an organizational meeting to start fundraising to accumulate an endowment fund worthy of Duluth. Today I’ll start calling friends, retired teachers, PTA members, community leaders, and parents of school kids to get them to attend. I have seen little response to my column encouraging people to attend. This demonstrates an iron law of volunteerism. To get people involved you have to ask them. (The same iron law goes for getting contributions as well)

To make this succeed I’ll have to overcome my “Minnesota Nice” instincts which is partly a reluctance to intrude on others and partly a reluctance to have them tell you “no.” I need a minimum of 40 people. We’re half way there. We’ll find them.

There is a small division of opinion on the Endowment Fund Board about whether the best way to raise money is through a few big donors or through many small ones. I’m pushing for both.

Certainly there are people who could write large checks and for whom public education would be a worthy recipient even and above the taxes they already pay toward that end. On the other hand, I suggested in my Reader column a couple weeks ago that it might be possible to talk a thousand parents into making annual ten dollar contributions to the endowment. A thousand times ten is ten thousand dollars. One fat cat could do that with a single check. But I like the idea of giving everyone a chance to do a little something above and beyond the call of taxation for our schools. Besides, any contribution will help cement the relationship between our schools and the contributors. What’s more, today’s small contributor may be tomorrow’s bigger contributor.

Howie Hanson’s e’blog yesterday carried Duluth Marshall’s announcement of having successfully raised $4.7 million dollars in the past couple years. Sure, Marshall has no choice but to raise money and has a fairly well-to-do donor base. Still, Marshall’s families are a fraction of those in the Duluth Public Schools. This ought to provide some incentive for partisans of the Duluth Schools. If Marshall can do it so can we.

Wish us luck, or better yet send me an email telling me you are going to come. Oh, I forgot. I’ve got to call you first. What’s your number again?

Duluth tenth graders can right rite

The top story in the DNT’s local section showed that 93 percent of Duluth’s tenth graders can write passably. On a scale from 1 to 6, 3 being passing, all but seven percent pass muster.

This is not to suggest that writing at level 3 is anything special. You wouldn’t want to read a blog written at level 3 but a person can survive in our literate world at this rate.

The NCLB law is not the first effort aimed at pushing low functioning kids to higher levels. Its only innovation is being the first nationalized effort to do so. As a teacher a couple decades ago it began to dawn on me that I had lots of barely literate kids in my social studies classes. Rather than do all my testing with multiple choice tests I began testing my kids with essays. Its one thing to ask kids what caused the civil war in an essay than to offer them the alternatives of A.slavery, B.sectional economic differences, B.Kansas Nebraska Act, D.the banana boycott; to see if kids have learned their history. Many couldn’t and many wouldn’t write anything. Blank answers weren’t necessarily eividence of ignorance of the subject. It was just as likely an indication of their unwillingness to demonstrate their poor writing skills. How far would a kid go to hide such a failing?

Today’s Dear Abby has a letter from a young woman whose 33 year-old boyfriend refuses to do anything about his illiteracy. It raises the age old question of how a child can spend ten or twelve years in school without learning how to do the single most requiement of an education.

Whatever else its flaws NCLB testing is one way to keep a school district focused on student progress so that they don’t fall between the cracks.

It didn’t take passing NCLB to get this done. Fifteen years ago Minnesota adopted a process called “outcome based education” or OBE for short. The idea was simple. Schools would pay more attention to the outcome of a child’s schooling i.e. getting them educated than it would keeping trakc of their seat time (time spent in class). Ironically it was killed by Republicans and their allies for doing exactly what the NCLB is nnow attempting to do – make sure no child falls too far behind his classmates. But the outrage that killed OBE had more to do with the fear that schools would spend all their resources on the worst students by shafting gifted and ambitious kids. This complaint lives on with the Republican inspired NLCB.

OBE was followed by Minnesota’s even more ambitious “Profiles of Learning.”  It had too many cooks, hundreds and thousands of designers made it so complicated that it was almost beyond the public’s comprehension. Again state Republicans led the charge to kill another ed reform. Now Republicans are beginning to rebel anainst President Bush’s NCLB.

Why is it that 7 out of ten Duluth tenth graders can’t write? Some may be newly enrolled foreign students still learning English. Others may be special education students with limited intellectual abilities. Some may have gotten their education in other school districts so that Duluth shouldn’t have to be tagged with their failure. Whatever the reason it should remain a reason and not an excuse. An excuse is one step away from a justification.