Who You Calling “Nixonian”, Pal?

NEW SLAUGHTERThere is much to love about the secret taping of a Mitch McConnell strategy session, and I’m not just talking about Mitch himself referring to it as “Nixonian”.

The story, briefly, is that back on Ground Hog Day someone recorded Team McConnell huddled to discuss the points of attack they’d likely take against various Kentucky Democrats positioning to run against their man, Sen. Do Nothing Ever, Oppose Everything Always. Whether the whole meeting was taped we don’t know. But the first eleven and a half minutes, where the team rattled off actress Ashley Judd’s vulnerabilities was and it was given to Mother Jones’ David Corn, the guy who also received the video of Mitt Romney’s now-legendary 47% comments.

The Mitch Machine immediately made a big show of calling in the FBI … the FBI! … to root out the criminal low-life who would make such a nefarious assault on the Senator’s precious constitutional freedoms. (The FBI is required to consider investigating, but hasn’t exactly jumped on it yet.)

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Subpoena Day at the Minnesota Legislature!

In my high school, we had a Valentines Day ritual that non-popular kids like me dreaded. The Spanish Club came up with the brilliant idea of selling carnations for students to give to each other. Red was for “love,” white was for “hope,” and blue was for “friendship.” And, of course, nothing signified, alas, nothingness.

Needless to say the jocks and foxes looked like Rose Bowl Parade floats all day long, while I was as unadorned as a devout Amish elder. No love. No hope. No friendship. It was botanical bullying, pure and simple. There are scars. Oh yes, there are scars.

Will he or won't he?

Similarly, a litigious version of Carnation Day appears to be brewing at the Minnesota State Capitol. Like the Spanish Club, former GOP spokesperson Michael Brodkorb, who was fired from his job after having an affair with Senate leader Amy Koch, is looking for a good fundraising idea. So he is launching a half million dollar lawsuit, and will be issuing subpoenas to former colleagues who, Brodkorb alleges, have had red carnation style carnal relations with each other.

Therefore, the State Capitol, whose petty, insular culture has always been a whole lot like high school culture, is all atwitter about this critical question: “Who will get a Shaboink Subpoena??”

However, given my history of floral abuse, I’m obsessed with the question “Who won’t get a subpoena?” After all, imagine the humiliation if it is revealed that, with all the political porking that apparently has been going on, you DIDN’T have what it takes to have had a ball in the Great Hall, or fun-da in the Rotunda?

The funny thing is, when you think about the Minnesota Legislature, attraction is about the last thing that comes to mind. The way they go at each other verbally, it’s difficult to imagine anyone doing the wild thing with anyone else. Plus, they’re so busy defending marriage and all.

But as with prison cells, there are apparently two basic interpersonal challenges associated with life in the tight confines of the State Capitol: The inmates either hate each other too much, or love each other too much.

At any rate, this is just a long way of saying if I were a legislator, I’m pretty sure I’d have my mom call in sick for me on Shaboink Subpoena Day.

- Loveland

An Absolute Total Schettino

The truly flabbergasting Susan G. Komen for the Cure fiasco, which boiled to its essence is just another in a long, relentless line of attempts by modern conservatives to politicize every imaginable aspect and service of American life, (most notoriously — the U. S. attorneys scandal)  has already claimed a victim: The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Fund.

As of today, the Fund’s Bushie BFF president, Nancy Brinker, and her board are flailing about trying to reassure everyone from working class sisters of breast cancer survivors to their truly impressive list of corporate sponsors that, A: They really, truly are restoring full funding to Planned Parenthood and not playing cute while they wait for more instructions from right-wing, witch-hunting, anti-choice crusaders, and B: That they can prove they are spending more donor money on breast cancer research and prevention than “protecting their brand”. Either way, I am hereby betting heavily that the organization will have to thoroughly air out its books, divest itself of President Brinker and its VP for Public Policy, Karen Handel, the former Georgia GOP candidate for Governor and avowed opponent of Planned Parenthood, and recalculate its budget to reflect serious declines in giving, as pissed off donors — people who thought some things, like breast cancer prevention, for chrissakes, were above political game-playing — divert their philanthropy either directly to Planned Parenthood or to any number of non-political research labs and universities.

I’ve been out in the Southwest for much of the past few weeks, road tripping through the Mojave when not repainting trim and hanging motion detector lights on my sister-in-law’s garage in Phoenix. As I left town the big news, other than the ceaseless, circling-the-drain, buffoonery du jour of this year’s GOP presidential campaign, was the sinking of the gargantuan cruise ship, Costa Concordia. Of particular fascination was the behavior, soon to be deemed officially criminal, of the ship’s captain, one Francesco Schettino.

By now the entire world knows that not only did Capt. Schettino screw up his most basic job, the piloting of his $450 million ship, mashing it into rocks while apparently showing it off for a buddy, or trying to impress chicks on shore, I’m not sure which, but then compounded his eternal ignominy by setting off in a lifeboat while (at least) hundreds of passengers and crew were still on board. In the annals of the worst examples of command, seamanship and male valor the name of Francesco Schettino will live forever, at least as infamous as, oh, I don’t know Vidkun Quisling and Steve Bartman.

To behold a person or an episode in which at every moment a decision was required the wrong decision was made, with indisputably, unequivocally disastrous results that only bring, justified, shame and disrepute on the person(s) involved is to witness An Absolutely Total Schettino.

So it is with Ms. Brinker, Ms. Handel and the board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation which allowed someone to bring a prominent ideologue like Handel into the organization. But so it also is with … you got it … today’s Republican party.

Fraudulent command and navigation, resulting in entirely predictable foundering (think de-regulated financial markets, politicized cooking of military intelligence, demanding austerity amid a pounding recession, and gridlocking the wheels of governments for months on end for transparently political reasons) followed by an astounding run of shameful, public embarrassments. It’s your modern Republicans … without the snappy captain’s hat and white shorts.

If only, like Captain Schettino, Mitt “I’m not concerned about the poor” Romney and Newt “I’m a historian for hire” Gingrich, could be confined to their home(s) and advised by their attorneys to say nothing until arraignment.

Like Capt. Schettino claiming he was supervising his destroyed ship’s evacuation … while he was either in a life boat or on shore having a cappucino, the modern Republican party, imbued with its lethal fervor of religious certainty and self-righteousness, talk radio bombast and undisclosed billionaires’ lucre (the Dems can only cop to one of that three) has flipped the company cruise liner’s credibility on its side as a consequence of saying … whatever … will save their ass … until either a better lawyer shows up, or their cousin, Fredo, throws a canvas bag over their head and runs them across the Straits of Messina to a Sicilian hill town and a new identity.

The whole party has made a laughingstock of itself. Vain, incompetent and craven. Utterly Schettino. From Mittens and Newt (and Michele and Rick and The Donald and Herman) to Kurt Zellers, Warren Limmer, Steve “The Draz” Drazkowski, Dave Thompson, Amy Koch and Michael Brodkorb here in Minnesota

If there was another word better and more accurate than “disgraceful” for the way Romney and Gingrich have campaigned to date, I’d use it. But the word doesn’t exist. Although, “farcical” would come close if it weren’t for the fact a fat chunk of the general public, like the Costa Concordia passengers trapped below the water line, are prepared to follow Capt. Schettino to their cold, watery grave … if it means never having to call a black guy, “Captain”.

Not that I’m hoping the GOP’s Absolute Total Schettino episode ends any time soon. The whole, gaseous, brawling, whining, prevaricating spectacle makes me feel kind of Italian. Well, Roman anyway. Like at the Colosseum, watching a motley pack of doltish buffoons warm up the lions’ teeth before the real gladiators get down to business.

Minnesotans Shouldering Hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax

This week the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) announced that its member hospitals paid $226 million in “charity care” last year. The MHA is referring to instances when uninsured and underinsured patients are unable to pay their hospital bills, and the hospitals get stuck with the expenses.

While the term “charity care” is used by hospitals, hospitals don’t end up bearing the whole burden. They make up for the bills substantially by charging more to their insured patients, and insurance companies subsequently shift these higher costs to insurance premium payers.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either the hospitals or the insurers. They would go out of business if they couldn’t shift costs.

Supporters of preserving the Anti-Obamacare Tax.

But it is meant to be a criticism of Obamacare obstructionists. The MHA numbers are a reminder that those who have been aggressively blocking efforts to reduce the number of uninsured and underinsured through Obamacare are responsible for maintaining what is akin to an enormous annual tax on premium payers. An Anti-Obamacare Tax.

Given that a fully implemented Obamacare is predicted to reduce the uninsured rate from today’s 50.7 million people to about 18.7 million, and the number of underinsured people by about 70%, leaders opposing Obamacare in Congress, state legislatures and federal courts are effectively blocking the elimination of a huge annual burden on American households. If the anti-Obamacare obstructionists win, we all keep paying this Anti-Obamacare Tax.

And it’s not a small tax. In Ramsey County, taxpayers are up in arms over a proposed $10 million per year tax for the Vikings stadium. This hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax is much more painful. The Center for American Progress finds “on average, 8 percent of families’ 2009 health care premiums—approximately $1,100 a year—is due to our broken system that fails to cover the uninsured.”

- Loveland

A Few Questions on l’affaire Brodkorb-Koch.

It is a sick, schadenfreude-rich fascination, and I’m not (all that) proud of it. But the still unfolding Amy Koch-Michael Brodkorb drama/scandal, in its current state, leaves me asking more questions than it answers.

I have never met Koch and I recall only one conversation with Brodkorb, back in his hey day of running the “Minnesota Democrats Exposed” website. But both have well established reputations. Enough so that my first thought when told that Brodkorb was the likely suspect at the other end of the “inappropriate relationship” was to think, “This is as at least much about him as it is about her.” By that I mean, Brodkorb is very much the sort of guy who makes influential enemies and that it is entirely possible that Koch, her Senate Majority Leadership withstanding, is the collateral damage in a move to neutralize/destroy Brodkorb.

Before anyone tut-tuts about insinuating guilt on the part of a guy who has not been identified, much less charged with anything … please. Brodkorb was/is a guy who lived for press attention, preferably of the kind he could pre-formulate. Were he a bona fide innocent all he would have to do is answer one reporter phone call and say, “This is an outrageous slur! I have never had so much as an impure thought about Leader Koch! My lawyers dare you to suggest otherwise!”

But he hasn’t, and he won’t.

Instead he’s tweeting stuff like this … “… as he struggles to survive against his shadowy enemies and expose the truth, he doesn’t know whom he can trust.” (A reference to the John Travolta character in an old, over-heated Brian DePalma movie).

Since neither Brodkorb or Koch (who is also currently incommunicado with the public) are likely to clear the air anytime soon, here are a few questions I have should the day ever come when they stand up and explain themselves.

1: Despite comparisons to Bill Clinton toying with Monica Lewinsky, I’m struggling with the image of Leader Koch “seducing” or “exploiting” Brodkorb, the dewy-eyed staffer. In fact, call me a conspiracy-crazy, but knowing Brodkorb’s ambitions to be a player in making over the Minnesota GOP in the image of a take-no-prisoners hyper-partisan website/radio talk show, how likely is it that he was the “predator” here, drawing Koch into an episode of illicit bonding that enhanced his influence over her?

2: The GOP’s star chamber imagery, with a panel of solemn … white men … breaking the news after having passed judgment on Koch, has taken plenty of abuse for the heavy redolence of sexism. As it should. Republicans, and the Star Tribune editorial page, have commended the Council of Elders on the grounds that they acted expeditiously and with acceptable transparency. Republicans have been heard saying, “Can you imagine how bad this could have been had the Democrats found out first!”. To which I say, “No, I can’t … imagine how this could be worse.” Point being that in a normal world of routine office hanky panky — and nothing else — which goes on all the time, the Council of (Male) Elders would have met with Koch and said, “Knock this off and get this person out of your office”. Instead, the pressure exerted on Koch seems significantly greater than the offense required, to the point that she offered, on the spot, to resign as Majority Leader. Why the more heavy-handed than necessary squeeze on Koch? And don’t tell me that the state GOP is all that sensitive to mis-playing so flagrant a hypocrisy card via a “pro-marriage” tactician such as Amy Koch.

3: What has been the quality of the relationship between people like Geoff Michel, David Hann and other GOP leaders and Brodkorb? Knowing only a little about political egos, the elected have a certain hard-earned disdain for the unelected with ambitions for power. The experience of surviving the meat grinder of a public campaign gives the elected a cred mere “operatives” can only daydream about, and that disdain/cred expresses itself in summary retribution against over-reaching, unelected insiders … when it can. I would be astonished to learn that Hann, Michel et al were both comfortable and fully trusting of Brodkorb. In today’s zealot-mongering GOP game guys like Brodkorb are useful tools … until they’re not, or until as I say they forget their sub-servient status and overreach.

4: What are the terms of Brodkorb’s termination? Yes, all Senate employees are “at will” and can be dismissed at any time for any reason. But has anyone in the GOP hierarchy, whether elected or a major donor, arranged severance/compensation to Brodkorb? If so, did that come with a non-disclosure agreement?

Finally, the current GOP strategy, locking down Koch and Brodkorb and “moving on” is anything but transparent. If I were to guess I’d say we know less than half the full story of the motivations and intrigues here. I suspect the Capitol press corps feels the same … and is excited and tingly at the thought of being the one that delivers the full drama in all its tawdry glory.

Dirty Job Dayton

So far in his tenure, Governor Mark Dayton has scarely met a controversial issue that he has not embraced. Think about the hallmarks of his tenure so far:

• He is attempting to sell the extremely unpopular taxpayer subsidies for professional sports owners, in the middle of a difficult economy.

• He has tenaciously advocated for an income tax increase on the state’s most powerful individuals.

• He has cut billions of dollars in safety net programs that are near and dear to him and his political base.

• He crossed the environmentalists on environmental permit streamlining and the teacher’s union on alternative teacher licensure, and these are both very powerful constituencies in his own party.

• He has taken on Native American gaming interests, perhaps the most financially powerful interest group that supports his party, by supporting a variety of ideas for expanding gambling.

• He has very aggressively championed the implementation of the much vilified Obamacare.

Nobody could ever accuse this guy of only choosing issues that are politically easy. Dayton’s tenure so far reminds me of a marathon showing of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, where the host engages in a variety of revolting vocations that very few of us are willing to enter.

But maybe he’s on to something. After all, today we learned in the Star Tribune’s poll that Dirty Job Dayton’s approval rating is a respectable 52%, much higher than midwest GOP Governors in Wisconsin (37% approve) and Ohio (36% approve). Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had a 42% approval rating in his last year of office.

How does Dayton do it? He is not considered particularly glib or politically skilled. He has almost no electoral mandate. He certainly hasn’t been able to ride an economic boom to popularity. Continue reading

Dayton’s “Dog Doe”

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” That quote, falsely attributed to Harry Truman, may be on Governor Mark Dayton’s mind as the bachelor prepares to adopt his THIRD black German Shepherd.

Dayton is in the news today inviting Minnesotans to help name his adorable new pup. To give you a sense of the Governor’s naming tastes, the first two were named Mingo and Mesabi, and Dakota recently passed away.

Some of the early nominations for Dog Doe’s new name:

• From Republican Senate Majority Amy Koch: “Marx.”
• From DFL Chair Ken Martin: “Taxable.”
• From Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken: “Smalley.”
• From accuracy challenged U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann: “Cat.”
• From Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog: “Dog of Satan.”
• From Former Governor Tim Pawlenty: “President Pawlenty.”
• From MN Independence Party Chairman Mark Jenkins: “None of the Above.”
• From GOP Chair Tony Sutton: “Target Practice.”
• From South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard: “Overtaxed.”
• From Governor’s Mansion neighbor: “ANOTHER?!”

Okay, surely you can do better. Nominations are open.

- Loveland

Indies Rejecting GOP “Cuts Only” Sermon

At some point, Republicans will have to leave the cozy confines of the Tea Party rallies, Lincoln Day dinners, right wing blogs, and conservative talk radio echo chambers. At some point, they have to listen to independent voters. After all, rare is the candidate who can win a general election without earning a sizeable proportion of the 51% of Minnesotans who call themselves “independents.”

When Republicans do start listening to the indies, they’re not going to like what they hear.

Do I hear an "amen?"

“Cuts only” is what the GOP is prosletyzing these days. In Minnesota, their insistence on filling a budget shortfall without new revenue led to a government shutdown and another Republican borrowing binge. So Republicans mostly won the policy fight, but will they win the 2012 electoral fight?

A MinnPost poll published yesterday found that very few Minnesota independents are shouting “amen” to the “cuts only” sermons that conservatives have been so vigorously preaching. While 22% of independents support the cuts only Republican approach, more than three times as many (72%) support using a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, the approach DFL Governor Dayton advocated. That’s a 50-point spread, and other recent polls have had similar findings.
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5 Reasons MN GOP Has More To Lose In Shutdown

Tough sell: Shutdown govt to protect wealthiest 0.3% from sharing in budget pain.

“They’re all to blame!” That will be the dominant public outcry if state government shuts down tonight at midnight. Politically speaking, both Governor Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature will lose public support. But here is why Republicans have more to lose:

NUMBERS. In Minnesota right now, there are more GOP legislators than DFL legislators. So if incumbents are voted out in 2012 because of frustration over the shutdown, Republicans simply have more seats to lose. It’s a numbers game, working against Republicans.
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Fiscal Frankness

Let’s say a family’s household income stays flat year-to-year. Not even a cost-of-living adjustment. At the same time, household bills for food, housing, insurance (premiums, deductibles and co-pays), utilities, transportation, child care, clothing, out-of-pocket health care and higher education increase. On top of that, the family takes on a new household member, such as a newborn, an adopted child, a foster child, a vulnerable adult relative or an elderly parent. That new household member consumes goods and services that the family didn’t consume the year before.

Under those circumstances, the family would be less well off economically than it was the year before, correct?

And so it goes with the state budget. Republican legislative leaders are holding out for a budget total of $34 billion, and they assure us that it is The Largest Minnesota Budget Ever.

But here’s the problem. That level doesn’t keep up with the year-to-year increase in expenses. Therefore, as with the hypothetical family example, Minnesotans will have significantly less than the year before.

GOP leaders aren’t shooting it straight on this issue. For instance, Mower County Republican Chair Dennis Schminke recently opined in the Austin Daily Herald:

“…the $34 billion-plus budget (that Republican legislators support) is not a cut — in fact, it is the largest budget, and largest tax burden, ever presented to Minnesota citizens and taxpayers.”

This ubiquitous Republican talking point is used to create an illusion that a $34 billion budget provides more services than ever.

It doesn’t. Again, it doesn’t keep up with the rising costs of things governments buy. Medical inflation alone — probably the biggest cost driver in the state budget — is expected to be 8.5% in 2012. Because these bills are going up, the Republican $34 billion budget will eliminate 140,000 poor people’s health coverage (shifting costs to the rest of us), hand a 12.5% tuition increase to college students and their families, and result in local governments raising property taxes on homeowners and business owners by a projected $1 billion dollars.

I could respect Republicans like Schminke if they shot it straight to Minnesotans: “Our $34 billion budget means Minnesotans will have a significantly lower service level next year, but we believe less government services is in our state’s best interest long-term.” That would be honest. But I can’t respect the persistent spin that a $34 billion 2012-13 budget does not represent a reduction in the level of service. Whether or not you support government service cuts, let’s just be honest with each other about the true implications of this debate for ordinary Minnesotans.

- Loveland

“$110M Closer?” Dayton Loses Headline War of the Day

Your move, Mr. Dayton.

Today’s Star Tribune has headlines on the front page and after the jump declaring that Governor Dayton and Republican Legislature are “$110M Closer,” due to a compromise offer from the GOP yesterday.

Winning this headline is a big PR win for Republicans. For months, they’ve struggled to find a way to look like they’re compromising without actually, well, you know, compromising. Amazingly, they talked yesterday’s headline writers into it.

But does the headline carry the truth to newspaper scanners? The Republicans offer yesterday was that they would increase spending in part of the budget – education and courts – and decrease spending in yet-to-be-determined other areas of the budget. Now, that’s movement. But it’s movement on the budget recipe rather than the budget overall. What the Republicans did yesterday is like increasing the amount of chocolate chips in a cookie recipe and decreasing an equal amount of sugar, and then claiming they’ve made more cookies.

This headline would be accurate if the months-long debate at the State Capitol had been about the size of the education and courts budgets (i.e. more sugar or more chocolate chips?). But that obviously hasn’t been the source of the stalemate. The lengthy debate has been about the size of the overall budget (i.e. How many cookies?). For months, Dayton has said there needs to be bicameral agreement on an overall budget target, and that the compromise needs to be between his preferred target and the Republicans’ preferred target. There was absolutely no new movement on that sticking point yesterday, making it truly remarkable that the Zellers won the headline.

Think of it this way: If Governor Dayton holds a news conference today and offers to cut his income tax increase by $110M, while increasing a different tax on the wealthy by $110M, would this new “compromise” have brought the two sides “$110M Closer”?

I’m floored that they pulled this off. PR wizardry.

- Loveland

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