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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Federal Funds to the States - Saving Jobs & Balancing the Budget

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 11/24/08 17:59, Edited: 11/24/08 18:00

by Dave Mindeman

On November 18th, I posted about the need and possiblity that the Federal government could use some of its deficit spending authority to remedy some of the state budget deficits that are looming large.

Yesterday in Politico, Thomas Suozzi, a New York county exec, made a case for the same thing. As he put it directly:

Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent to bail out banks, insurance companies, mortgage firms, and maybe even the automobile industry. Why can?t Washington spend $50 billion to help the beleaguered American taxpayer by stabilizing their state and local governments?

Why not, indeed?

David Brauer of Minnpost noted the same article and picked up on the same point:

Re-enter the feds. We know they can borrow, so they could take states off the constitutional hook. Local-government support might not create new jobs, but teachers, cops and medical staff at least wouldn't lose theirs.

To turn this economy around, we have to first stop the bleeding. Massive state cuts in our current budget will almost certainly result in more job losses at all levels of state and local government. So, if the Feds are going to bail out Citi Corp, AIG, and who knows how many other banks with billions of taxpayer funds, how about a smarter investment in the state governments?

We don't want to add more government jobs via this method, but we can at least prevent the massive layoffs that will surely come with the next budget axe.

Save the jobs; balance the budget; and then let's forge ahead with fixing this mess.
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Elected Officials and Civic Knowledge? Not Good

Category: US Politics
Posted: 11/23/08 14:42

by Dave Mindeman

I have to say that I find this a little disturbing:

From Yahoo News:

US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

"It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned," said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.

"How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don't understand the American experience?" he added.

The exam questions covered American history, the workings of the US government and economics.

Test yourself. Take the test here.
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I-35 Bridge: Maybe Even More Patience Required for Truth

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 11/23/08 12:48

by Dave Mindeman

Bob McFarlin (former assistant commissioner at MNDOT) and Katherine Kersten (resident expert on everything) have written similar discourses on chastising the "rush to judgment" regarding assigning blame and determining causation for the collapse of the I-35 Bridge. We should have been patient. We should have let the experts investigate and make the proper determination. MnDOT, Governor Pawlenty, and Commissioner Carol Molnau were castigated unfairly for an accident beyond their ability to control. McFarlin and Kersten are telling us the controversy is over and apologies are in order.


They are basing this "righteous indignation" solely on one report and one agency -- the National Transportation and Safety Board.

McFarlin put it this way:

In last week's two-day hearing to release the National Transportation Safety Board's official report on the collapse of the I-35W bridge, the virtue of patience in assessing a crisis was clearly shown and officials' early calls for restraint were proven correct.

And Kersten was a bit more direct:

The National Transportation Safety Board's findings, released on Nov. 14, must feel like some vindication to Pawlenty, Molnau and MnDOT's bridge inspection and maintenance team.

The assumption here is that the NTSB is the final word. That they are the final arbitor on the facts and the conclusions. And, in one sense, they are, as far as government entities are concerned. But, quite frankly, some questions still linger.

The NTSB has, in the past, had a very envious track record for a government agency. Their investigations were considered thorough and unbiased. The conclusions drawn for transportation accidents were meticulously and painstakingly backed up with data and investigative depth. Their conclusions and recommendations have been considered a gold standard in the transportation industry.

But, then, the same thing was said of FEMA prior to the Bush administration.

The current NTSB board are all Bush appointees. Three Republicans and two Democrats...all of them appointed to 5 year terms by George W. Bush. The current chair, Mark Rosenker, was lifted out of the Bush White House, where he was a military public relations liasion to the Defense Department. He has no background in engineering. In fact, this is the first NTSB board that doesn't have a single member with an engineering background.

Back in 2005, retiring board member John Goglia pointed out a line in the law governing NTSB's operations that says:

"At least three members shall be appointed on the basis of technical qualification, professional standing, and demonstrated knowledge in accident reconstruction, safety engineering, human factors, transportation safety, or transportation regulation."

The excuse, given by a board spokesperson, was that the agency has staff experts in all the various engineering disciplines and all forms of transportation. Yet, it is the board members who have the final say on official reports.

But the findings regarding the I-35 Bridge collapse are more of a textbook example of public relations than sound scientific method. Consider these points:

1) The focus of the investigation centered on the gusset plates from almost the beginning of the investigation and never wavered right up to the final report.

2) No public hearings were allowed.

3) Governor Pawlenty's "parallel" investigation and the NTSB investigation soon merged into being the "official" investigation.

4) All information collected came from the University of Minnesota, MnDOT, and inspection companies. All of them stakeholders in the investigation and potential defendents in lawsuits. Outside reports came from anecdotal papers already in the files of these same stakeholders.

5) In virtually all of the interim and final reports, wording was carefully constructed to absolve government agencies....for instance, corrosion and maintenance issues were always dismissed, directly and unequivocally, as potential additional causation.

Again, John Goglia, who left the NTSB in 2005 warned of the growing political goals of the Board. In a 2005 report in the National Journal, there is this quote:

Goglia, the former member, said he's concerned that a political desire to show safety improvement is driving the reduction in new recommendations. An outside aviation safety expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he thought the reductions were designed "not necessarily to improve safety, but just to get the numbers down".

Maybe inadvertently Kersten's complaints about the critics have offered the right solution. Maybe a little more patience is necessary as we allow our "litigious" "culture of blame" to work its way through the facts. The final analysis of our courts may be the only way to get "all of the truth".
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