Friday, September 28, 2012

Great moments in public education

I had the chance to run up to Red Wing High School today, where I haven't been much since my youngest child graduated. One of the features of the school is a "roundabout" in the front, and over the years it's been the habit of many people to park along the circle during sporting events, concerts, etc.

The school decided to put an end to the practice, so they purchased a half-dozen signs and placed them around the circle, all of which look just like this one:

That's right, they used the adverb "maybe" instead of the proper two words, "may" and "be."

Just a nice reminder to several hundred students every morning that the people running their educational institution don't have a great grip on basics like English grammar.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Republican Eagle covers up for a DFLer

I'll warn you right up front: If you're not from Red Wing, or interested in Minnesota legislative politics, then you might find this simply a long, boring blog post. Consider yourself warned:

I've written before (click here) about my affection for what was once a great newspaper, the Red Wing Republican Eagle. It was the first newspaper to hire me out of college, the place where I won my journalism awards and for years after I left the paper, I was proud to have it on my resume.

The editor/publisher was a tremendous fellow named Phil Duff, who took incredible pride in producing a high-quality daily newspaper in a town of just 15,000 people. Phil's commitment to journalistic excellence - and that of his co-publisher, Arlin Albrecht - was evident in every issue. The R-E was an important, vibrant part of the community and Phil delighted in having lively, involved opinion and op-ed pages in which local, state and national issues were discussed.

Its decline, to be fair, largely parallels that of the newspaper industry as a whole. First the R-E stopped Monday publishing, then it went down to two days a week, with delivery only by mail. Eventually it was purchased by a chain headquartered out of state, and it no longer has the resources to really function as a full-fledged newspaper. It's mostly now just a glorified shopper that also publishes obituaries and a local calendar of events.

It does, however, still have a letters to the editor section, which is where our story takes off. Last Saturday the section contained a letter from a local DFLer that contained a bald-faced lie about a local public official, State Senator John Howe.

(Full disclosure: I do some volunteer work for, and have made a financial contribution to, the Howe campaign.)

The DFLer said that Sen. Howe "received full pay and per diem" during last summer's state government shutdown. The fact is that Howe did not take any per diem during the shutdown, and he donated his pay for the entire month to the food shelves in Goodhue, Wabasha and Winona counties. Both these things are a matter of public record. So the accusation was a lie. But it was a lie about a Republican, so the R-E just put it right into print without checking anything.

This bothered me on a couple different levels. As I said, I'm a supporter of Senator Howe, so I don't like seeing him unfairly attacked. But more importantly, as a R-E alum, I'm embarrassed by the kind of sloppy, lazy editing that has become all too common in the paper. It was particularly disturbing because, in this campaign season, the R-E hasn't made any effort to investigate Senator Howe's opponent, a guy named Matt Schmit, who is a real piece of work. (More about him later.)

So I fired off this letter to the editor:

To the editor: 

On one hand, it’s very hard to understand the logic in Nona Nelson’s Sept. 15 letter. She criticizes Sen. John Howe for having his Legislative Update printed by the Senate – something that is perfectly legal and has been done by senators from both parties for years – and she criticizes him for answering a reporter’s question. 

The only way the letter makes sense is if you understand this: The DFL has chosen a horrible candidate to run against Sen. Howe, and the only way they think they can win is by trying to slime and attack an honorable public servant. 

In Matt Schmit, the DFL has chosen a candidate who: 

* Has lived outside the district for most of the last decade
* Has never paid a dime of property taxes in his life
* Has a recent criminal conviction 

The DFL understands that if voters know who Schmit really is, they’ll never win this race, so they are choosing to use lies and distortions to attack Howe’s record of bipartisan accomplishment, hoping voters are dumb enough to fall for their attacks. 

I’m sure more of these cheap attacks are coming in the next few weeks from a desperate DFL and Schmit campaign. Voters should recognize attacks like this for what they are: Slimy politics from a campaign that has nothing else to run on. 

Tim Droogsma
Red Wing, MN

Schmit, as I said, is a real beauty of a candidate. His web site says he is a "lifelong resident of Red Wing" even though he hasn't lived here in more than 10 years. He claims to be a small businessman since 2007, but the Secretary of State's office shows that he only legally organized the business last December. And in 2008, he was arrested and charged with drunk driving.

His arrest report is comical. He was pulled over on Hwy. 52 in Inver Grove Heights at 10:30 at night after weaving over both the fog line and center line, and when asked how much he'd had to drink, he lied to the officer and said, "None."  Schmit had to be told three times not to move his head during the field eye test. He had to have it explained twice how to stand to take the walking test. The report says he "missed heel to toe on all nine steps," and was unable to turn around as requested or stand on one leg for more than eight seconds. He tried three times to blow into the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) device, and was unable to successfully do so. The officer asked why he had lied about not having anything to drink, and Schmit said he "didn't understand the question."

Finally, the officers handcuffed and arrested Schmit, and took him to jail, where he finally managed to successfully provide a urine sample, which later showed him to have a .131 blood alcohol level, more than 60% over Minnesota's legal limit.

For reasons unknown - and I'd love to hear the Inver Grove Heights prosecutor's office explain why - Schmit was later allowed to plead guilty to "Careless Driving." He paid several hundred dollars in fines and was placed on probation, underwent chemical dependency evaluation, etc., etc.

Which brings us back to the Republican Eagle and my letter to the editor. Editor Anne Jacobson emailed back to say that she was unable to find any evidence of Schmit having a criminal conviction, and did I have any proof? I told her that it could be found on MN/CIS, the Minnesota Judicial Branch's web site. She wrote back to say that she still couldn't find it, and did I have a case number? So I gave her the case number and a copy of the MN/CIS summary.

(Just picture that: A private citizen having to do the newspaper's research for it. You would think an editor would be embarrassed to say that they can't undertake a basic search of public records, but I'm not sure modern "journalists" are capable of embarrassment.)

The next issue of the paper came out, without the letter, and then an email came from Jacobson, saying that they wouldn't run the letter without a couple of major alterations. First, they objected to the assertion that Schmit - who's never owned a home - had "never paid a dime of property taxes."

"He likely would pay taxes as a renter," Jacobson wrote, which is stupid on its face. Renters don't pay property taxes.

Secondly, they would only print the letter if the line about Schmit having a "criminal conviction" was softened to say he was convicted "for careless driving," as though he had simply been arrested for rolling through a stop sign or checking his cell phone.

It's an interesting contrast: The R-E printed a letter with a demonstrably factual lie in it, and when that letter was responded to with a letter that contained documented facts, they refused to run it.

Liberal media bias is such a given these days that it's not worth complaining about. But this instance strikes closer to home, because it illustrates again what a shallow excuse of a newspaper the Republican Eagle has become, and each instance makes me a little less proud of the countless times my byline appeared in it.

And it leaves one more question: Will the Republican Eagle ever getting around to doing a story on the real background of a candidate who, after all, claims to be a "lifelong resident of Red Wing" and who is running for a fairly important office? Given their efforts in the past few days to shield him, I doubt it.


9/22/12 UPDATE: In the spirit of fairness, I've emailed Anne and asked if she would like to respond, particularly to explain her assertion that renters pay property taxes. I'll let you know if I hear anything.

10/27/12 UPDATE: Anne never chose to respond, and to this date the R-E still has not written a word about Schmit's DWI, his residence questions or his employment history. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

The peculiar lunacy of Mark Dayton

No one has ever accused Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton of being the brightest bulb on the tree. While his ongoing battle with mental health issues and alcoholism is certainly courageous, it is sometimes very hard to listen to him and not wonder if all the mental cylinders are firing in the right order.

Case in point: This week Dayton took to the stage at the University of Minnesota and essentially called the people of Minnesota selfish for not wanting to pay more taxes.

Mark Dayton
"This unwillingness to pay taxes ... is going to be the death of this country if it's not corrected," said Dayton, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "Our legacy is going to be that we were not willing to raise revenues for what we know we need."

So, according to the Guv, all the taxes we pay - and Minnesotans currently bear about the 10th-highest per-capita tax burden among the 50 states - go directly to things we "need."

Now, reasonable people can differ about what society's "needs" are, but I'm pretty sure they don't include new stadiums for Mickey Mouse baseball teams.

The very day after blasting his constituents for their selfishness, Dayton held a press conference to announce a series of "economic development" grants. Leading the list: $25 million for a new ballpark for the minor-league St. Paul Saints.

The Saints, in case you've never heard of them, are a baseball team that emphasizes "fun" at their games. They have to emphasize fun, because the quality of baseball is abysmal. This isn't major league baseball, this isn't even AAA minor league baseball. Or AA, or Class A. Nor is there any affiliation with any major league baseball team. The Saints are an independent team that operates in something called the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. It's a higher level of baseball than your local high school team plays, but not much better than many of the amateur "town teams" that play around Minnesota.

The Saints are a cute little operation with gimmicks like using pigs to carry baseballs to the umpire and nuns giving massages in the stands, and the past couple of years they averaged about 5,000 fans per game. I'm sure they'd like a new ballpark to play in, but I have a hard time understanding why the people of Minnesota should foot the bill.

Consider this: Minnesota has about 5 million people, so when the Governor hands $25 million to a private business, he's doing so by taking $5 out of the pocket of every citizen in the state. A family of four, struggling to get by? Mark Dayton just took $20 out of your family budget and gave it to the St. Paul Saints. Without even a "thank you."

Next, Dayton handed out $8.5 million to Duluth to build office space and a parking ramp. Now, I'm sure it will be a spiffy new building, but according to Twin City Business magazine, Duluth currently has a 14% vacancy rate in its existing downtown office space, so it's not clear that another 15-story building is really going to meet any urgent need. And if the need existed, why wouldn't a private company build the building? But again, our struggling family of four has to cough up another $7 to pay for Duluth's new unneeded office space. 

(In what I'm sure is just a coincidence, Duluth historically has one of the highest Democrat voter turnouts in the state. I'm sure that had nothing to do with Dayton giving them the money.)

Then comes light rail. Light rail currently loses barrels of money in Minnesota and is a huge, unnecessary burden on the taxpayers. The more we build, the greater the losses, but Dayton gave $2 million to another light rail project. The list goes on: $4.2 million for a health facility destroyed by a tornado (what, no insurance?), $1.9 million for a recycling plant, a million here and there for different sewer projects, none of which were apparently important enough for the locals to fund themselves.

Then to top it off, he closed the press conference with a bald-faced lie about how he chose which projects to fund. He had asked his Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to rank the various project requests. DEED, according to the Pioneer Press, did not rank the light rail project. But Dayton stood up in front of the press and said, "I went strictly by the book with this DEED rating system because I didn’t want to be accused rightly or wrongly of being involved of the politics of it."

All of this comes after a legislative session in which the Governor jammed through a $350 million bill (about $280 from our family of four) to build another private business - the Minnesota Vikings - a new facility.

And with all these millions in spending going on for things that can only be considered "wants" rather than "needs," Dayton has the nerve to blast Minnesotans for not thinking their taxes are high enough and not being "willing to raise revenues for what we know we need."

Dayton has an unnatural obsession with raising taxes. In 2011 he forced a government shutdown, rather than accept a budget without tax increases. He backed down 20 days later, when he finally realized the Republican legislative majorities didn't share his enthusiasm for job-killing tax increases.

A year later, the lesson still hasn't sunk in. It might be time to adjust the infamous gubernatorial medication.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A fight worth watching

This attractive looking bunch of "education professionals" are members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), who walked off the job today, turning their backs on about 400,000 students.

Here are a few facts about the teachers of Chicago:

 - The average salary for their nine-month work year: $76,000 BEFORE benefits. (Average salary of a Chicago taxpayer: $47,000.)

 - They currently pay just 3% of their health care costs. If their family health care plan costs $1,200/month, they pay just $36 of that.

-  They went on strike after rejecting a pay raise that averages 16% over the next four years.

The school district that employs them used its fiscal reserves to plug last year's budget deficit, and is currently looking at a $1 billion budget shortfall for this year. The State of Illinois, which provides much of the district's funding, is on the brink of insolvency, with a budget deficit of more than $40 billion (worst of the 50 states). It's not clear where these teachers think additional money is going to come from, but then, they don't really care about that.

Perhaps these are an exceptional bunch of teachers, however. Maybe they are so good at their jobs and produce such amazing results that they are worth whatever amount of money they want. Well, let's look at a few more stats for the district:

- Just 15% of the district's 4th-graders are proficient in reading
- Only 56% of the district's freshmen make it to graduation
- 79% of the district's 8th-graders are not grade-proficient in reading
- And 80% of those 8th-graders are not grade-proficient in math

I understand that teaching in an urban school district is no piece of cake, but the Chicago Public School system is a disaster.This union stopped being about educating kids a long time ago, and has become just a tool for putting its members snouts into the public trough. Just as Wisconsin's public employee battles were critical to the future of the country, so too is this one. If the union can't be forced to back down, the future of public education is bleak indeed.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It's good to know who the enemy is

It turns out that - according to a sampling of delegates to the Democratic National Committee - the biggest problem in this country is that corporations are allowed to make money.

Listen as these delegates are asked whether a law banning profits is a good idea. And remember, these are NOT just random people on the street; These are folks who are leaders in their local Democrat Party organizations, elected by their fellow Democrats to represent them at the national convention, and they are stupendously stupid people.

I find it sort of chilling, particularly when you listen to those for whom simply "capping" profits is considered a compromise position, as opposed to outright banning of profits.

Nice work by radio host Peter Schiff.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Hello again, everyone...Sorry for the slow blogging pace recently. As some of you know, I do some work in conjunction with the Minnesota State Fair. It IS the nation's greatest fair, a 12-day spectacle that draws around 1.8 million people, but the fair schedule and other work commitments make it an exhausting time of the year, and blogging just seems to fall down the priority list.

But now the fair is over, and we have in front of us the spectacle of the Democratic National Convention, which is ripe for parody, commentary and just plain fun. There will be lots to talk about, but I want to focus first on the chair of the Democratic National Committee, the neither-lovely-nor-talented Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

We last visited DWS in this blog post last January, when she talked about her need to lie and exaggerate in order to generate attention.

Well, she must have been feeling particularly in need of attention this week, because she told a whopper of a lie to a group of Jewish Democrats. She told the group that she had been talking to the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, and that Oren told her " what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel.”

This would be a shocking thing for any diplomat to say, and so a reporter who heard the remarks got in touch with Ambassador Oren to ask why he would say that. Oren issued a very strong statement in which he denied making such a statement, saying:

"I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel. Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.”

So you have an Ambassador on one hand, and good ol' DWS on the other, saying absolutely non-compatible things. The Debster went on TV last night and was asked about what appeared to be a pretty bald-faced lie. Her response was to double down and tell another lie: She said she had been misquoted.

“That comment was reported by a conservative newspaper," DWS said. "It’s not surprising that they would deliberately misquote me.”

So that was her new story: She never said what the reporter claimed she had said. It's convenient to have a reporter to blame when you're caught in a lie, and that might have been the end of it. Except that.....

It turns out there's an audio tape of the meeting. You can listen to the tape here, and what you'll hear DWS telling the group is this:

“We know, and I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel.”

Gee, sounds like the reporter got the quote down pretty accurately. Like, word-for-word.

So, she first lied to the group about her "conversation" with Ambassador Oren, and when caught in that lie, she told another one in an effort to cover up the first lie.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise to learn that the Chair of the DNC is a pathological liar. After all, it was just last week that her party was calling Rep. Paul Ryan a "liar" for saying that a GM plant that closed in 2009 had been closed in 2009. The "fact checkers" in the media were quick to help the Dems spread that falsehood, but it's pretty tough to find any of them "fact checking" good ol' Debbie.

Because, after all, she needs the attention.