Saturday, June 29, 2013

The 51st state Northern Colorado?

For years I can remember discussion if Puerto Rico would become the 51st state.  It turns out that it actually might be Colorado.  I group people from northern counties in Colorado are talking succeeding from the state and becoming the 51st state.  Worried about the Democratic leaning legislature passing bills like gun control, treatment of illegal immigrants, and legalization of marijuana the Conservatives in rural counties are running scared, but it seems like the requirement for additional renewable energy was the same for Colorado as the ending of slavery by the North was for Southern states.    

Like some others, Bushner wasn’t convinced that a statehood bid would be successful, even though Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker said that it was a fairly straightforward process — at least from a legal perspective.
The first step, he said, was for each county’s citizens to vote to officially exclude their county from the state of Colorado. Once those votes were conducted, counties that passed the secession measure — assuming they all shared a border — would ask voters from all of Colorado to amend the Colorado Constitution to remove their combined area from the state, and require that the state legislature submit a formal request that Congress recognize its 51st member.
If that statewide measure passes, and Congress agrees to enter it into the union, “North Colorado” — or whatever official name is eventually chosen — will be created.
Why is it that whenever the GOP conservatives claim that they don't like a bill that has been passed that they threaten to leave the country?  How is that being a proud American?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Chris Kluwe May Become My Hero

Today I was listening to MPR radio while on my way to pick up my renew our tags for our cars.  Chris Kluwe (former punter with the Minnesota Vikings and now with the Oakland Raiders) was on promoting his new book Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies on the Daily Circuit this afternoon.  He said two things that struck me in the 15 minutes that I listened to the interview.  He pointed out that the book had a running concept of the need rational empathy.  He explained that societies have failed because of their lack of empathy for those less fortunate and in the minority.  That has lead to the underclass to rise up and overthrow that society.  That is not a rational stance that any society would seek.  The only rational action is to use empathy with others and seek to secure their needs as if they were your own.  (I am majorly paraphrasing here.)  The idea sounds very similar to John Rawl's Veil of Ignorance.  It is not often that you hear that level of discussion from an NFL player.

The second thing he said was about his willingness to use swear words and foul language.  He said that he likes to use swear words and that society has gotten lazy when it comes to swearing.  Swearing can be very effective, but if you are just throwing around the "f" word and the "s"word then you are being lazy.

Mark Twain had a few great quotations on the matter.

"The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong. He can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way."
- Private and Public Morals speech, 1906

"Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer."
Mark Twain, a Biography

So, Chris Kluwe, thank you for your interesting ideas and making my day a little fuller.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Because I am a Father

I listened with anticipation today about the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage and equal treatment for GLBT.  I was happy to hear that the Supreme Court's ruling began the process of moving toward equality for people of all races and all sexual preferences.  Why?  Because I have several friends that are gay?  Because I have taught and teach many wonderful students that are gay?  Because I believe that bigotry must be fought on all levels?  Well, yes.  All those statements are true, but the real answer is because I am a father of two wonderful boys.

My boys are both at such a young age that issues of sexual preference have not emerged yet (although my oldest has had a few "girl friends" already.)  The reality is that I can't imagine not loving them if they told me that they were gay.  That they were attracted to another person of the same sex.  That is what being a father is supposed to be about.  Love your child with your whole heart no matter what the child does or is.  My oldest son has been diagnosed with ADHD.  That doesn't mean I love him any less.

You see, I don't want to live in a country that would treat my boys as inferior or less equal because they happen to be gay.  We have seen people begin to shift their thinking when a loved one comes out as being gay.  People like Dick Cheney and Rob Portmann have shifted their thinking.  Why did it wait until they were personally impacted?

I don't know my boys sexual preference, but it doesn't matter.  I will love them because I am their father and that is a love that all people should be able to experience.  I hope that all the states will allow same-sex marriage and I will support it in South Dakota because I am a father.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Voting Is a Right, Not a Political Football

The Supreme Court today strike down key components of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the idea that the evidence is too old.  It has struck down section 4 and therefore damaged section 5 of the Voting Rights act.  Section 4 established a formula that the federal government used to determine states that had a history of voting rights violations and required the states to get preclearance before making voting changes that might impact minority voters.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his opinion ”Congress — if it is to divide the States — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

The problem is that there are problems that are not 40 years old, 30 years old, or even 10 years old.  South Dakota is one of the states that is required to get pre-clearnce and was covered under section 4 and 5 dues to issues the voting rights of Native Americans.  The Native American population traditionally votes more for Democrats.  But this is 21st Century and things like that don't happen anymore, right?  In 2008 the ACLU sued Shannon County and the State of South Dakota over the unlawful removal of several Native Americans from the voting rolls.  In 2005 the federal courts came in and order the state to redraw the legislative districts established in 2001.  Here is the description of the ruling and the rationale behind it:

Prior to this decision, which was issued yesterday by U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier, the court had ruled that the state of South Dakota had failed to submit its 2001 redistricting plan to federal officials for pre-approval under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The plan was then submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice, which cleared it for implementation, but the plaintiffs claimed it was discriminatory nonetheless because it created a 90 percent supermajority of Indian voters by ""packing"" them into District 27, thereby violating Section 2 of the act. The court later agreed with this claim and in a lengthy 144 page opinion that was issued September 15, 2004, Judge Schreier gave the state an opportunity to fashion a new plan that did not discriminate against Indian voters. After the state refused to do so, the judge issued yesterday's ruling ordering new lines drawn to comply with the Constitutional principle of one-person, one vote and the Voting Rights Act. The judge's remedial order adopts one of the plans that had been originally proposed by the plaintiffs and their attorneys with the ACLU. Attorney Patrick Duffy of the Rapid City law firm of Duffy and Duffy served as local counsel on the case.

In 2004 a judge ordered the stopping of poll watchers from following native american voters and taking down their license plates numbers.

In the past election the Oglala Tribe sued the state to allow for early voting which was held to only 6 days while most counties in the state had 46 days to vote.  

It is frustrating to me when I try and encourage my students to get out and vote because voting is a right and it matters.  I don't care who you vote for as long as you take some time to get informed and vote!  This country has too long of a history of trying to prevent voters from having their right to vote for the Supreme Court to rule the way that they did.  There have been too many stories about politicians that have talked about how they can prevent certain segments to get out and vote.  We have to be vigilant against attempts to prevent minorities, young voters, Democrats, or Republicans voting rights.  

A right should not be treated as a political football.  It is pure and simple.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Let the Spin Begin!

I was shocked this afternoon while working when flashed across the screen was the message, "The Farm Bill is Defeated in the House."  It is a clear signal that the United States House of Representatives is broken.  The answer is simple.  The Republicans (for the most part) do not want to work with the other side.  Now Kristi Noem is able to come back to South Dakota and say, "Golly Gee.  Those darn Democrats.  They won't do what we tell them."  The problem is she was basically promising that the bill would pass.  In fact in the March 16, 2013 issue of the Argus the headline read "Kristi Noem: House will pass farm bill"  OOPS!  So now she is blaming the Democrats?

The Argus quotes her explanation:

Noem said both sides contributed to the bill’s failure, but pointed her finger primarily at the other side of the aisle.
“Both Republicans and Democrats today share the blame for this outcome,” Noem said.
But Democrats told Republicans they “would have more votes for the bill” than actually appeared, she said. The amendment process cost the bill some support, but she said a bigger factor was President Barack Obama’s late-game opposition.
It turns out the Democrats promised 40 votes and delivered 27 even after moves by the Republicans to end dairy subsidies and Cut SNAP benefits and reward states for forcing hunger people from the program.  The 13 additional votes promised would not have been enough to pass it.

Guess who voted for the Southerland's amendment? (One of the amendments being held up as the vote that destroyed the chances of passage.)

The reason why some Democrats were pushed away from supporting the bill is explained by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains the amendment and what it would actually do.

The Democrat leader on the AG issues (Collin Peterson) best explained what needs to be done:

Peterson said House GOP leadership should take a look at the Republicans who voted for the Southerland and Goodlatte amendments but voted against final passage of the bill.
"I would guess it didn't get them a damn thing on their side, plus it's wrong policy," he said.
Kristi needs to stop blaming the Democrats because in the end, she is the one that promised passage (sort of) and she is in the seat right now.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Education problems in America.

The New York Times had a very interesting article looking at how the US approach to education is part of the problem with education today.  One of the key points made was that it is not the amount of money spent, but how it is spent.  Strauss writes "And while America does spend plenty on education, it funnels a disproportionate share into educating wealthier students, worsening that gap. The majority of other advanced countries do things differently, at least at the K-12 level, tilting resources in favor of poorer students."  This tilting has created a situation that the elite colleges are providing even better education to students while the public schools are falling further behind.

At the college level, the divergence in per-pupil spending is staggering. Since the 1960s, annual per-pupil spending at the most selective public and private colleges has increased at twice the rate of the least selective colleges. By 2006, the funding chasm in spending per student between the most and the least selective colleges was six times larger than in the late 1960s.

In short, more money is being spent on wealthy students who have never been more prepared to excel in college. Meanwhile, poorer students who are less prepared — those who a generation ago would not have even enrolled in college — are getting a smaller slice of higher education spending. According to a study by the demographer John Bound and his colleagues, lack of institutional resources explains up to two-thirds of the increase in dropout rates at lower-tier colleges.

Of course, this divergence in educational investments begins long before college. Wealthy parents are piling on cognitive enrichment activities outside of school from preschool on up, and at a rate that is leaving everyone else in the dust. Schools could make up some of the difference by intensively investing in poor children, and the majority of richer countries do just that — spending more per pupil in lower-income districts than in higher-income districts. But it is the reverse in the United States, in large part because, unlike most other advanced countries, revenues for public schools continue to be raised mostly from local property taxes.

We continue to argue that we need to be better than the other countries, but we fail to follow their lessons.  Public colleges and community colleges are becoming less selective to increase student enrollment, but that is exactly the wrong move.  Cory Heidelberger writes about teacher education in South Dakota and the need to make admission into teacher training more rigorous.  I think this is the case for all schools.  Make the programs as rigorous as those in top counties like Finland and Sweden, but note that they offer free college for the best students up through the attainment of a Master's degree.  Bills like SB 5 and SB 15 will have any little real impact.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day edition

Today is Father's day and I am blessed to have two wonderful, healthy boys that keep me on my toes.  I also miss my father who passed away over 18 years ago in the Spring of 1996.  Being a father can seem to be a tricky job.  As a teacher, I have witnessed what poor parenting can do to our children.  Today, while skimming through the comics, Dennis the Menace had a simple and poignant strip.  All of children were to draw a picture of what their dad's love the best.  All of Dennis's friends drew images of golfing, fishing, dad's car, etc.  Dennis simple drew a picture of Dennis and his mom.  After reading that I realized that being a dad may not be as difficult as it seems if you simply choose to love your children more than your objects and activities.

Happy Father's day to everyone out there.  If you don't have children, that is okay.  You can still be a father figure to someone that needs it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Obamacare...End the Hyperbole or we will all DIE!!!!!

Hyperbole happens to be one of my favorite terms to teach students.  It is fun to say.  The examples can be very enjoyable.  It can be effective when you use it in moderation.  If you overuse it, however, you come off sound dishonest and a bit of a crackpot.  Today's politics are full of hyperbole (okay, there has always been a lot of hyperbole in politics, but lately it seems to have gotten out of hand).  Obamacare is one of those issues that when examined logically, comes off as many improvements to the current system, but with some flaws.  You know, "you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life."  That is one of the great aspects of the government established by our Founding Fathers and supported by Miss Garrett.

Recently District six Senator Ernie Otten posted a link to an article about Ohio insurance rates increasing 88%.  I don't how Ernie Otten plans to overturn a federal law (other than make sure not to expand medicare that will help insure hundreds if not thousands of constituents in his district), but at least he has some clear form of communication not offered by the other representatives.  It turns out that a Republican based insurance office declared that rates will go up 88% for Ohio citizens.  It turns out that if you focus on the details, the increases will impact only a very small amount and many people will see a decrease in insurance.  It turns out the study used plans that include a $25,000 deductible available to a male under 25 for $29 month.  A Cleveland Plain Dealer article exposes the problems with this study:

But there are three problems with examples like these, analysts said. First, Gmeiner said that one insurance broker she spoke with did not even sell such a low-cost policy as the first one Taylor cited for a 25-year-old male. 

Second, the substantially higher prices in 2014 will be offset with subsidies for many buyers, depending on their incomes.

The third problem illustrates the biggest difference in viewpoints.  The high deductibles made these terrible policies, health care advocates said. Yet such policies are often the only kind available to people with preexisting conditions. That will change under Obamacare. 
Discussing policies that have $10,000 deductibles and almost certainly require much higher premiums the following year if a person gets sick and actually files claims, Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser foundation, observed, “It’s not really what we should be calling health insurance.”

Obamacare will not be the end of life as we know it, Obamacare will not kill everyone, and Obamacare will not solve the health and financial problems in this country.  If we end the hyperbole, we can begin to explore real methods to improve lives of citizens.

Thoughts on Smarter Balanced

Today I wrapped up training on PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) in Sioux Falls and took some time during a break to look into the Smarter Balanced test that is be developed to replace Dakota STEP tests.  The Smarter Balanced tests are supposed to be designed to test students while aligning to the Common Core (More on that in a separate post).  A preview of the test has been released for the general public to examine.  I think that is a good thing.  You too can take some of the practice questions for all levels in ELA (English Language Arts) and Math.  The real thing will not role out until 2014-2015.  I decided to walk through the practice test.

Recently Leo Kallis and Josh Vargas did a little back and forth over the Smarter Balanced tests.  At issue were the types of questions that will be on the test, the length of the test and who is actually writing the test.  The Smarter Balanced website states that the high school portion of the ELA reading will take approximately 4 hours to take (3 1/2 hours for 6-8 and 3-5).  I think this is a little optimistic.  I have looked over the ELA portion and it will take longer.  If it doesn't, then the students are not putting forth a true effort in answering the questions.  I also tried a little experiment with my son who just completed the third grade.  He scores very high in reading.  To read on passage and answer four of the questions, it took him approximately ten minutes.  (He only made one mistake in ordering sentences of the plot, but the directions were unclear and I think that threw him.)  If you were to extrapolate from the very short experiment (he wanted to go to the pool), he would need to answer approximately 40 questions and it will take him 100 minutes or 1 hour and 40 minutes.  The numbers for smarted balanced total time is based on the idea that he will be done in 1 hour and 30 minutes.  They do provide 30 minutes for "In-class activity" which is for bathroom breaks and a chance to get up and move a little bit.  My son is also ADHD and asking a third grader to sit on a task for an hour and thirty minutes will be impossible.  That will require frequent breaks which add to getting them back on task time. I think it is more accurate to put the figure for the tests at 9+ hours as Kallis suggests.  That does mean 10+ hours for high school students.  I know we needed about 2 more hours than suggested for the Dakota STEP test this year.

Leo also worries about the shift from fictional literature and too much emphasis on nonfictional literature.  If you look at the blueprint for the tests, students will get twice as many questions dealing with non-fictional material than fictional.  The students will also have a listening section (which may make their ears bleed.  It reminds me of the narrator you heard on all of the still slide show presentations that required you to change the slide at the beep.)  The listening sections are also non-fictional based.  Then there is a performance task that which has one fiction, two non-fiction, a written component which will be based from non-fiction, and a listening section that I am sure will also be non-fiction.  I do think Mr. Kallis and all literature teachers do have something to fear.

I encourage you to take the practice tests to see what our students will be doing in a few years and form your opinion.  I do think that they are better than the Dakota STEP tests in some degree, but I don't think that they will be a true measure of a student's ability to succeed in life.

You can't get a score from the test.  I was hoping to find out how it handled common responses on some of my short answer questions like "I don't know," "?," and of course "cause."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Groundworks: A non-profit that gets it right

Today I wanted to talk about a non-profit organization that is actually changing student's lives and enhancing education: Groundworks.  This organization works to establish teaching gardens in schools across the mid-west.  The schools contact them, they discuss what the teaching gardens can offer and let the schools share what they would like to see, come in to build and set up the beds, and provide supplies and access to teaching resources for the schools to use.  They do not force anything on the schools that they do not want.  They do not have a "secret" agenda to push certain ideas on students.  They do not try to be something they think everyone wants, but actually listen and try to be true to the desires of those that come to them.

Groundworks has established teaching beds in several elementary schools in Sioux Falls and will be building beds in Lennox, Rapid City, Dell Raids, and has had several other schools contact them.  That is one of the many ways I think Groundworks gets it right.  As a teacher, I am worn out when all the newest concepts and ideas are pushed and forced on me by others.  There is no understanding that each teacher is a unique individual that brings in different strengths and weaknesses.

I am glad to see Lennox bring in teaching gardens, because it offers a lot of potential opportunities for children to experience.  They can get hands on learning by associating different concepts while working in the garden, it can provide a safe place for kids and parents to be, and it can increase the idea of growing foods that many children, even in a rural community like Lennox, are simply not exposed to.

I encourage people to look into organizations like Groundworks and support them.  I am not saying that just because I think the Communications Director is the most beautiful woman I know, but because it is really an exceptional idea that needs to be supported.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Newton's Six Months Later

It has been six months since Adam Lanza went into Sandy Hook and killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook.  The tragedy sparked a massive debate about the need for more control over background checks and closing some loopholes.  We even saw an attempt at a bi-partiansin bill in Senate Bill S. 649.  That bill failed to get the new concept of a majority (60-40) and was pulled by Harry Reed to give it a chance later on.  Senator Tim Johnson voted for the bill and Senator John Thune voted against it.  I was upset that a common-sense, bi-partiansin bill like this that would have expanded background checks modestly and provided a modest push to more regulation on guns did not pass that I actually e-mail Senator Thune to explain his reasoning.

You see, I had read an article published in the Mitchell Daily Republic on March 28 (a few weeks before the vote took place) in which Thune had said that he could support some limitations.  He then went on to blame gun violence on lack of mental health services (although "He acknowledged he is not sure there is congressional support for increased funding for mental health programs, despite saying mental illness is a primary cause of gun attacks."  By congressional support I am sure that he means the Republican party) and violent video games and movies that are awash in blood.  So, I held some hope that he might actually sign onto this bill and do something.  HE DIDN'T and I wanted to know why!

Here is his reasoning (or lack thereof):

Dear Michael:
Thank you for contacting me about the debate on S. 649, the recent gun control legislation. I appreciate hearing from you.
As you know, Congress recently debated and considered S. 649 and a variety of amendments to this legislation. On April 11, 2013, the U.S. Senate voted on a procedural motion related to this bill. I voted against this motion because I had many concerns with the underlying bill and believe the problem we are trying to fix will not be solved by this legislation.
I agree that we must keep high-risk individuals from obtaining and possessing firearms, and one tool to achieve this is the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires every person to undergo a background check through NICS in order to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer. It also prohibits nine classes of persons from receiving or possessing firearms, including felons, fugitives, persons that unlawfully use any controlled substance, and persons adjudicated as “mentally defective.” However, S. 649 would not have strengthened or fixed current issues with the NICS. Rather, it would create a universal background check system and leave the door open to the formation of a national registry of gun ownership, creating a host of constitutional questions.
Included in this debate was an amendment offered by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that would have expanded background check requirements to private transfers of firearms. This amendment failed by a vote of 54 to 46, needing 60 votes to pass. I opposed this amendment due to concerns about the process for enforcing this expansion of background checks. Additionally, before expanding the use of the background check system, I believe we need to ensure that accurate records are being reported to the NICS. While those adjudicated “mentally defective” are prohibited from receiving or purchasing a firearm, only about half of all states forward these records to the NICS index. Expanding the use of the NICS will not prevent high-risk individuals from obtaining firearms until we gather more records and make NICS more effective.
The Senate also considered a substitute amendment to S. 649 offered by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). I supported this amendment because I believe it would take the necessary steps to reduce gun violence and improve mental health without violating law abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights. This amendment would have included much needed reforms to the NICS, while also increasing federal prosecutions of gun crimes. This alternative legislation also included mental health and school safety titles. Unfortunately, this amendment failed by a vote of 52 to 48, needing 60 votes to pass. I strongly feel these are the steps we should take to address the issue of gun violence.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled S. 649 from the Senate floor without proceeding to final passage of the bill. It is unclear at this time if the Senate will resume consideration of this legislation. If you would like additional information on my activities in the Senate, please feel free to visit my website, Thanks again for contacting me. Please keep in touch.
Kindest regards,
United States Senator

Okay....Let us begin to break this letter down.  In the first paragraph he said that NICS requires anyone that buys firearms through a licensed dealer must go through a background check.  That was the point of the bill was to cover things like gun shows and internet sales.  If you would like to read an accurate description of the amendment, you can read it here.  I will be referring to again from time to time.  Okay, so mislead number one.

Thune then propagates the lies that Machine-Toomey would set up a national registry of gun owners.  
Here is what the bill actually called for:

• As under current law, background checks are performed by licensed dealers, and recordkeeping will not change—dealers will keep the records in bound books, like they do now. The federal government cannot keep records.
• Our bill explicitly bans the federal government from creating a registry and creates a new penalty for misusing records to create a registry—a felony punishable by 15 years in prison. 

I know the NRA is great at shooting lies from the hip, but it doesn't mean that you need to push them Mr. Thune.

Then he argues that the current NICS is flawed and not all the states produce the records.  That we must gather more records and make the NICS more effective.  Please read this statement from the description of what the amendment actually does:

• Under current law, if you buy a gun online interstate (from one state to another), the gun must be shipped to a licensed dealer, you must go to that dealer and get a background check before you purchase the gun. However, for intrastate (in the same state) sales, no background check is required and you can sell the gun to the person without ever meeting face-to-face.
o Our bill requires that the current system for interstate sales be expanded to cover intrastate sales as well—so all purchasers buying guns online must undergo a background check by a licensed dealer. 

There are serious problems currently with states not putting records into the NICS system. One tragic example: records on the Virginia Tech shooter that
would have put him on the prohibited purchasers list had not been entered into the system.
Our bill encourages states to provide all their available records to NICS by eliminating unnecessary responsibilities for states and directing future grant
money towards creating systems to send records to NICS. The bill will also reduce federal funds to states that do not comply.
  • Provides additional Second Amendment protections to our veterans.
  • Requires that if a background check at a gun show does not result in a definitive response from NICS within 48 hours, the sale may proceed. After four
years, when the NICS improvements are completed, the background check would be required to clear in 24 hours. Current law is three business days. 

HMMM...This seems to begin to actually fix part of the problem with the need to make the system more effective.  I think one way to make the whole ATF more effective would be to actually name a director instead of blocking it for the past seven years!  How about letting the ATF computerize the files they have in their records now instead of microfiche and paper?  A federal law prevents them from taking this common sense step in a modern area.  It is also next to impossible to track guns because of a lack of reporting system.  A quotation from the Daily Beast sums it up best, "So, yes, the NRA leadership is all for enforcing the laws on the books—so long as the enforcer of those laws is leaderless, blinded, shackled, and not allowed to use computers."  

Finally,  he talks about how we should support the Grassley substitution amendment like other Republicans (and only Republicans for the bi-partianship lovers out there).  The amendment never ends the problems that prevent the NCIS from being effective and doesn't really increase any background checks.  It focuses on punishing people who fail a background check and allows people with conceal and carry permits to cross state-lines and ignore the laws of different states.

I appreciate the Thune's office took the time to respond to my request for his reasoning for not voting the the amendment, but that doesn't mean I can accept his vote.  I know that this law probably would not have stopped the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  I don't believe in simple solutions to complex problems, but it would reduce the number of incidents of gun tragedy's around the US.  Six months since Sandy Hook, over 4,200 people have died due to gun violence.  That is a tragedy we only hear about when it is in terms of mass-killings like that of Santa Monica, California; however, we should close our eyes, shrug our shoulders, and say that nothing can be done about it.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The GOP and Cognitive Dissonance

The Concise Encyclopedia explains cognitive dissonance as

Mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The concept was introduced by the psychologist Leon Festinger (1919–89) in the late 1950s. He and later researchers showed that, when confronted with challenging new information, most people seek to preserve their current understanding of the world by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding the new information or by convincing themselves that no conflict really exists. Cognitive dissonance is nonetheless considered an explanation for attitude change.

This is exactly what South Dakota John Thune and Kristi Noem seem to be experiencing.  The Argus Leader reports today that despite calling repeated times for the complete doing away of the Affordable Care Act, Senator Thune and Representative Kristi Noem filed for money for the Community Health Center of the Black Hills (Johnson also supported the application but he has always supported the ACA) for a five million dollar grant provided through a provision in the ACA.

Noem then proudly points to the fact that she has voted to repeal the ACA 40 TIMES!  Noem is quoted as saying, “There’s been a few exceptions, but if South Dakota organizations do seek my support on something, I always try to ask that that agency give them their full and fair consideration,...”   This seems to meet the basic definition of cognitive dissonance to me. She advocates for a group and then works to end their source of funding that she had asked for.  This is just one example of many from Kristi.  From claiming to end government reliance and then advocating  for a stronger farm bill to ending the game of picking winners and losers and then being a strong advocate for ethanol subsidies and ending subsidies for big oil.

Thune is also not exempt.  He too has called the end of the ACA which would have ended the funding that he was requesting.  Thune supported the idea of a sequester, but doesn't believe that saving money on military budget cuts that might impact Ellsworth Air Force base are wrong.  He thinks government spending is damaging to the country, but between 2008-2010 requested over 526 million dollars in earmarks.  The only way to justify action like this is to embrace cognitive dissonance.  I think the comments reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in December of 2010 show the level of cognitive dissonance.

"Senator Thune, I was just looking at the list of earmark requests that you requested this year and it adds up to over a hundred million dollars," said another reporter, asking the South Dakota Republican - who has been talked about as a Presidential hopeful - if he would strike those earmarks.

"I support those projects, but I don't support this bill," Thune answered.

Time for another question.

"Going through this bill, there is earmark after earmark from the both of you, millions of dollars in earmarks," asked another scribe with a jab.  

"Why do you have any credibility on this?"

"Because we're going to vote against the bill," answered Cornyn.

"It appears like you're saying one thing and doing another," another reporter pressed.

"Not at all," said Cornyn, as Thune also stepped in to defend their stance on the Omnibus.

I know that this is not a Republican only problem, but it seems to happen much more on the right side of the world.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Privacy versus Security

A new round of the government collecting data on US citizens has been announced with the NSA collecting data from ALL Verizon cell phone users and have been doing so since 2006.  The issue is discussed on Gawker.  A Reuters article quotes a senior administration official giving a reasoning behind the action:

Such information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the official said, speaking on the condition of not being named.
"It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States," the official added. 

I normally understand the tradeoff that is needed to give up some aspects of privacy, but after the revelations of the AP records, the crackdown on leaks and the Fox news reporter, and now this, I wonder where the line must be drawn between protecting citizen's safety and preserving their right to privacy.  I think the administration needs to retool their "War on Terrorism" to prevent a "War on Citizen's Rights."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Time for the Twins to rethink the Aaron Hicks experiment.

I will always be a Kirby Puckett man.  No one could roam the centerfield like he could.  He was a leader and all-around amazing player.  There have been many exceptional Twin's outfielders since the days of Puckett.  Who can forget players like Torii Hunter and Denard Spahn, but I have a soft spot for Kirby.  The new Twins center fielder, Aaron Hicks, is being touted as the next great Minnesota center fielder, but I am afraid that he is simply not ready.  As of this post, Hicks is hitting .175 and despite some pop in his bat and some brilliant catches in the outfield, I think he could use more time in AAA ball.  At times he looks completely lost up there batting.  I think a few months in the minors to work on the mechanics and evaluate what is going wrong would be a great benefit for the young player.

Why ALEC is not for the average South Dakotan

There has been a lot of news about ALEC and South Dakota citizens paying for the legislators membership dues.  While I stand in firm agreement with various newspapers like the Argus Leader, Pierre Capital JournalAberdeen NewsVermillion Plain Talk, and several others that have reported why our tax dollars should not pay for partisan gatherings.  Not one single Democrat in state government is a member of ALEC.  ALEC is not needed to "help" legislators with writing bills.  There are actual non-partisian organizations that many members in South Dakota belong like National Conference of State Legislatures.  While all of that signals that our money should not be used to pay for the Republican members to belong to ALEC (the Democrats have asked no money be used to pay for their dues to an organization that they choose not to belong), there is a bigger problem with ALEC influencing our state.

ALEC is clearly a right-wing leaning organization (The group clearly stresses "Limited Government, Free Market, Federalism" on their website.) that maintains most of its funding from private companies.    ALEC is very successful in pushing its agenda that may sound familiar.  Here is one such bill that is being purposed by ALEC.  This legislation is titled the Education Enterprise Zone Act and this is the summary of the legislation:

The Education Enterprise Zone Act creates and provides for parental choice of schools within an educational enterprise zone (EEZ). All public and private schools within a designated zone. Any elementary or secondary student who is eligible for participation in a free lunch program may attend any school within the zone, provided the school has space and the student meets admission requirements.
The legislation further provides that if the student attends a private school, the state shall issue to the parent a voucher valued in an amount equal to the average amount of per pupil funding allocated to that school system, or the full amount of the private school’s tuition and fees, whichever is less.
This bill enables a school district to adopt and offer higher education scholarships for high school pupils to any high school pupil who graduates high school early and who achieves a score in the “proficient” range or above on all subjects tested in the statewide assessment. The scholarship would be equivalent to 1/2 of the total per-pupil expenditure for high school pupils in such school district to be used to defray tuition costs at any public or private institution of higher education within or outside of [state].
We called the bill the Jumpstart Bill:  Here is the bill summary as it was assigned into law:
 Section 1. That chapter 13-55 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:
    There is hereby established the jump start scholarship program to be administered by the Board of Regents. The purpose of the program is to allow a student who graduates from a public high school in three years or less to receive a scholarship funded with a portion of the money saved by the state in state aid to education funding pursuant to chapter 13-13 as a result of the student's early graduation if the student enrolls at any college, university, or technical school accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools that provides instruction from a campus located in South Dakota.

In 2005, ALEC proposed that states implement the The Virtual Public Schools Act to be passed and in 2006 we passed the HB 1236.

These are just a few examples.  It make me wonder exactly how much influence ALEC has had on our laws.