Socialism—It’s Not a Dirty Word

The United States is unique among the world’s democracies in the relative absence of socialism as an accepted world view and political movement. Unlike most democracies, the U.S. does not have a socialist party capable of winning major elections—a fact that might surprise some Tea Party members who insist that President Barak Obama is himself a socialist!

Yet socialism has played an important role in American history—especially here in Minnesota, where socialists were at the heart of the labor and progressive farm movements, were elected mayors and city council members in both Minneapolis and St. Paul and played a critical role in the foundation of the Farmer-Labor Party.

Signs that history may be repeating itself surfaced in Minneapolis this past November when Ty Moore of Socialist Alternative came within 229 votes of being elected to the city council.

Given the growing divide between the one percent and the rest of us, it is no wonder that socialist ideas are making a comeback. A 2011 poll by Pew Research showed that 49 percent of respondents between the ages of 20 and 29 had a positive view of socialism compared to 43 percent for capitalism.

So why bring socialism out of the closet? What does if offer America and more specifically Minnesota in the current historical moment?

First, socialists believe in class conscious politics and aren’t afraid to use words that reflect that consciousness. When did every American with incomes between $20,000 and $500,000 become middle class? Who erased the term working class from America’s political vocabulary? Naming things as they are is an essential first step to reconnecting working people with the democratic process.

Secondly, socialists refuse to approach public policy with one hand tied behind their back. Not every form of social ownership is a good thing, of course. But the simple act of broadening our public imagination can lead to better public policy ideas. The socialist impulse has given us creative and arguably superior approaches to health care (single payer) professional stadiums (community ownership) and municipal cable. It has given us land trusts in urban neighborhoods, food coops, and commons-based approaches to governing the Great Lakes.

Third, a lived emphasis on the social in socialism is essential to restoring a healthy civic community. Socialism’s core principle is another “S” word —solidarity. As an ideal, socialism is a timely counter to the resurgence of libertarianism, itself a marginal movement (if not a dirty word) only a decade ago.

A 21st century encounter with socialism offers neither the comfort of a uniformly heroic past or a clear-cut road map to a more equitable future. Rather, it offers something more fundamental. Far from being a “dirty word” an honest encounter with socialism as a word, world view and political practice may just be the tonic for a political dialogue worthy of a mature and dynamic society.

Posted in News & Notes | Related Topics: Government Policy 


Ending Net Neutrality: Leaving K-12 Behind

This is the second in a four-part series. Read part one here.

Every Minnesotan has a stake in the fight to keep the Internet an accessible, open platform. Schools and education groups, however, are particularly vulnerable to the damage of losing net neutrality.

School librarians are notably opposed to Internet service providers tearing down net neutrality access protections. Already strapped for time and resources, the country’s librarians have a unique view on how their jobs could become much harder if net neutrality were lost.

Lynne Bradley, the director of government relations of the American Library Association, quoted in the Washington Post, states, “We can't afford to pay more [to ISPs]. As public institutions, we're being threatened with limited resources and are trying to provide the best possible service we can given the access we currently have.”

As discussed in my earlier post, the ISPs’ proposal eliminating net neutrality would throttle content based on the bits per minute the content provider (such as Netflix, Twitter, offers as well as the amount of money the content providers give to the ISPs distributing it.

This would inherently limit the ability of public institutions and their limited budgets to ensure that all of their students and teachers have access to the educational materials needed to continue learning and teaching.

Rebecca Buerkett, a librarian and technology specialist in a New York public school district, wrote an Education Week article arguing that the loss of net neutrality could harm the equalizing potential of the Internet, aggravating the existing gaps already between students.

She points out that “for students who might otherwise be ‘low on the totem pole, on the Internet, they're the same as everyone else…Protecting good technology access for my students is very important.’”

ISPs may not even deem educational content to be a significant use of their bandwidth. With the proposed change, these corporations could decide on a whim what content deserves to be sped up or slowed down. It isn’t hard to imagine that educational materials could take a back seat to entertainment providers (such as Netflix or gaming services). Our policymakers and education leaders should know that maintaining net neutrality is important for Minnesota’s children.


For a few additional introductions to the complex issue of Net Neutrality, try PBS Idea Channel’s discussion or The VlogBrothers “Net Neutrality Argument in 3 Minutes,” and, most helpfully, Vi Hart’s comprehensive Net Neutrality Review.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Technology 

Friday Morning Reads

Below is a weekly round-up of news, videos and books that our staff and writers are enjoying this week. Enjoy!

From Lee:
From one Hmong family, four of Johnson High's top students (Pioneer Press) — It was enough to make a fellow East Sider want to go out and give his neighbors a big hug. Mila Koumpilova offered an inspiring salute to the Terrific Thaos in Wednesday's Pioneer Press. St. Paul and its Johnson High School are so lucky. Carlton College is, too. Heck, the entire state has a family to look up to, encourage going forward, and try to emulate.

From Conrad:
Jon Stewart, one of our greatest political satirists, takes on the Highway Trust Fund fandango in Washington.

From Nick:
The Letters That Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want You to See (New York Times) — As a budding historian, I am really excited that 29th President of the United States, Warren G. Harding's letters are about to become public. I'm sure that it will offer a more complex view of this controversial man!

From Lucille:
Five Ways Unions Are Trying To Get Their Mojo Back (Think Progress) — An encouraging snapshot of union progress across the country.

From Steve:
People Kept Complaining This Restaurant Sucked, Look What They Found Out… (The Meta Picture) -- Here's a very entertaining example of why "blame the workers" isn't always the best default analysis. Also... put down your cell phone and enjoy your meal.

From Jeff:
Obituary: Chester Nez (The Economist) -- This obituary tells the story of the last of the Navajo code-talkers, who died last month. These U.S. marines used their native language, which their own government once tried to prevent them from speaking, to help win WWII.

From John:
The Surprisingly Predictable Patterns of Random Choice (Science Friday) — We're not good at random; we just think that we are. In fact, we're pretty predictable in getting random wrong. Science Friday.

From Deb:
I just picked up Hilary Clinton's new book and look forward reading it. I've been intrigued with the Clinton's since I first started covering them during their time as governor and first lady of Arkansas.

From Michael:
The Original Tea Partiers: How GOP Insurgents Invented Progressivism (The Atlantic)— Click-bait headline aside, this is an entertaining story of some of "Fighting Bob" La Follette's political battles in Wisconsin early last century. For those looking for an example of a political insurgency that actually did some good, it makes for great reading.

From Maria:
I just finished reading Rough Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains by Keith Heyerdahl Meldahl. It's a pretty fast read that is a very interesting and not overly technical history of essential how the western US, including the Great Plains, was made. The author has a good sense of humor and lots of passion for the subject that drew me in. A nerdy read for sure but incredibly fascinating.

Posted in News & Notes | Related Topics: Friday Reads 

Intolerable Disparities in Minnesota’s Child Well-Being

Minnesota treats children well, but not equally. New data about the status of Minnesotan children shows the state’s overall strengths, but the extent of racial disparities is intolerable. It is time for policymakers, teachers, and community leaders to pay better attention to kids of color.

Minnesota ranked fifth in the nation for children’s general well-being in the annual KIDS COUNT report, released July 22. Minnesota has landed in the top five states for overall child well-being for over a decade which definitely warrants a pat on the back.

In general, Minnesota's economy is flourishing, our schools succeed, and our healthcare systems save lives. Compared to much of the US, Minnesota’s children thrive. Still, many non-white kids do not.

“The report found the state has some of the worst disparities in the country, with nearly half of Minnesota’s black children living in poverty,” MPR’s Sasha Aslanian writes.

Individuals below the poverty line are more than double as likely to be non-whites in Minnesota. We cannot forget about the children in impoverished homes, the resources they lack, and their unfair future ahead if nothing changes.

Neighborhoods with high poverty levels often have higher pollution, more crime, and poorer-performing schools. As the amount of Minnesotan children in poverty increases, kids are at a higher risk for health problems and academic failure.

Research on education, healthcare, and family life shows startling racial gaps. Minnesota’s non-white students are less likely to be prepared for kindergarten and almost 40 percent of black and Hispanic students do not reach the 4th grade reading standard, according to the report.

This inequality is a pressing issue that cannot be solved fast enough. Citizens need to pressure their leaders to prioritize growth for children of color—now.

Minnesota must implement stable programs and infrastructure that address racial disparities among children. These changes should originate from local governments and state legislation, as well as school boards and community outreach organizations.

Every child deserves access to Minnesota’s top-ranked resources. By working to solve the current deep-rooted inequality, we can build a better future for all Minnesotans.

Posted in Health Care | Related Topics: Children's Health 

Could Go-To Banking be the ticket?

Significant praise has been heaped on ridesharing services. Uber, Car2Go, HourCar and NiceRideMN, to name a few, are lauded for increasing transportation options. Each service adds another way to get from point A to B, making our multimodal system stronger. These networks run best when switching from one mode to another is easy and obvious.

Now, however, these services accept payment in different methods. Uber and Lyft charge through a smart phone application. Car2Go and HourCar have membership cards to unlock the vehicles; and NiceRideMN uses a credit card or a membership card. Each of these services uses a different system, making it challenging to switch from one to another. This makes our multi-modal network weaker. There should be one card that works across all platforms, so each mode is easily accessible. The Metro Transit Go-To cards can be that card.

Go-To cards already make for a more efficient public transportation system. They can be used as a monthly pass or as stored value, so no accidentally throwing out a needed transfer. With only a quick swipe needed for payment, boarding the bus is faster. When money is added to the card, an extra 10 percent is added, making taking the bus an even cheaper option than driving. With a solid track record of success, expanding Go-To cards to all the transportation options just makes sense.

The expansion would benefit many regular Go-To card users. Many high school students use a Go-To card everyday. Since 2013, all public school buses to high schools have been discontinued and replaced with Go-To passes. The collaboration between Met Transit and Minneapolis Public Schools gives each eligible student a Go-To card that provides rides between 5:00am and 10:00pm. Adding the other multi-modal options to the card improves access for these students. It facilitates students to take the bus to the library or a museum and take a NiceRide the last 5 blocks, making the city a classroom for all students.

Let’s expand Go-To cards to NiceRides and car-sharing services like Uber and HourCar. Adding Go-To cards to other transportation services would strengthen our multimodal transportation system helping people connect to destinations in a way that works for them.

Posted in Transportation | Related Topics: Personal Finance  Minneapolis / St Paul 

Geezers Behind the Wheel

Minnesota's "Queen Mother of Comedy," the late, great Merrilyn Belgum, used to crack about how tough it was to get old. "I can't see or hear," she'd say. "Thank God, I can still drive!"

I was reminded of this wry observation and its transportation policy implications when a Minnesota 2020 colleague alerted me to a recent Minnesota House Research report entitled "Older Drivers"—shortly before I was due for my driver's license renewal. 

As someone who's doing really well for an old man on Medicare, I didn't know whether to take that as a hint or not. Regardless, I passed the vision test and was granted another four years behind the wheel.

As I've found so often in my Baby Boomer lifetime, I'm part of a serious trend. According to the report, the number of Minnesotans over the ages of both 65 and 85, respectively, is expected to double from 2010 levels by 2035. By 2030, 69 of the state's 87 counties will have an elderly population of more than 20 percent. In recent years, the traffic crash and fatality rates for older drivers has been declining, but the percentage of overall crashes involving us geezers has been rising.

Historically, crash rates are the highest among the drivers at each end of the age spectrum. Minnesota and most other states have attacked the problem for the young-'uns with a number of policy changes in recent years and continue to strengthen restrictions on them.

Similar measures targeting elders are few and far between. While youthful recklessness is implicated and addressed, there's been little response to the declining vision, hearing, cognitive ability, motor function and physical resilience that may come with advancing age.

In fact, Minnesota law specifically prohibits extra driving examinations based on age. A few states have required a new road test for older drivers, required doctors to report medical conditions that could impair driving and shortened the renewal cycle beyond a certain age. According to the House report, Minnesota mandates several renewal policies—a relatively short 4-year cycle and in-person application and vision tests—for all drivers regardless of age.

Our state does allow case-by-case evaluation of licensees based on reports of potential driving impediments received from family members, police or physicians. Still, a significant protection against seniors driving badly is just self-regulation, voluntary restriction of time behind the wheel, according to the report. An 88-year-old friend of mine has done just that, relying instead on his bicycle to get around his south Minneapolis haunts.

"The increase in older Minnesota drivers will likely continue to raise various policy questions," the House report concludes, noting that potential responses need not be limited to driving privileges alone. Attention should be paid as well to "the capacity and geographic distribution of other transportation options (such as transit service)," it adds.

And that's a refreshing step outside the box of autocentric thinking that permeates our culture. My city-dwelling friend can ride his bike or the bus to practically anywhere he needs to go. But greater percentages of the elderly live in Greater Minnesota, where distances are daunting, transit service is sparse and what exists is heavily used by older folks. Road crash and fatality rates also are much higher outside the Twin Cities. Minnesota is a national leader in providing rural transit, but it will need continuing improvements in that area as the population ages.

Posted in Transportation | Related Topics: Roads & Highways  Road Safety  Senior Issues 

The Importance of Teachers, Time, and Training

“Blended learning” is one of those buzzwords that flies around the edu-sphere. Done right, the combination of in-person and online education, often spread between time in school and time at home, has real potential to aid in helping each student learn at their own pace. Done incorrectly, it turns into a frustrating waste of time and money. A pilot project at a handful of schools in Oakland, CA, recently got some attention from Education Next. The story highlights key areas that districts considering blended learning should remember.

The first of these is the central role of teachers in making a pedagogical shift of any kind happen. In the Oakland blended learning example, according to Education Next, “all the teachers within the schools that implemented blended learning were “early adopters” who wanted to try something new.” It’s tough to overstate the significance of voluntary adoption in place of top-down mandates for creating positive changes in teaching. If a change is successful, those early adopters can become local experts, helping other teachers who have become interested master the new approach (especially in schools and districts that prioritize local, teacher-led professional development).

Time is another critical consideration. The roll-out of blended learning in Oakland wasn’t a rush job. It certainly wasn’t the kind of massive, district-wide technology purchase like the $2 million iPad boondoggle in Los Angeles or the bulk iPad purchases many Minnesota districts have made or discussed. Instead, different schools in the Oakland pilot tried different tools, learning from each others' successes and failures. This is the kind of deliberate pacing that allows teachers, principals, and district administrators to learn and make informed choices as they work for change, rather than betting big on one fast, big purchase.

Finally, the Oakland experiment realized the importance of training. Teachers spent at least an extra hour a week on training and collaboration. The foundation footing the bill made specialists available, especially to schools that struggled the most. The current goal is to adapt the early lessons into training and coaching support for expanding the approach.

The importance of teachers, time, and training aren’t just important for blended learning. They’re important to all major changes in how teaching and learning happen in schools. We need a school system that trusts teachers as leaders and gives them the time and training they need to make education better.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: K-12 education  Teachers 

Ending Net Neutrality: A Primer

Net neutrality is the concept that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all service consumer equally, regardless of bandwidth use. Currently, consumers and website creators buy access to the Internet at the same rate regardless of use. But, that could change.

Instead of allowing Minnesota 2020 or online retailing giant Amazon to be accessed at the same speed, the proposed tiered system could deliver Amazon to you at a faster speed than Minnesota 2020, simply because Amazon was able to pay your specific ISP (such as Comcast or Time-Warner Cable) more money for its bits to load faster.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing a rule to “protect and promote the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission, and thereby to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability and remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” The FCC has extended a public comment period on the issue of classifying ISPs as common carriers, so anyone (including you) can leave a comment on their website.

ISPs dislike this rule, because it treats them as common carriers. Common carriers (including buses, trains and cargo ships) cannot refuse or limit service to any user, since the service they provide can be accessed simply for a fee.

Classifying ISPs as common carriers is in the public’s interest because it ensures that anti-trust laws against monopolies are enforced and that the Internet maintains its status as a level playing field. Without this classification, ISPs could refuse to build high speed internet infrastructure in rural areas because they will not be turning an acceptable profit.

To put it simply, net neutrality is one of the most important undiscussed public policy issues. In subsequent posts, I will explain the specific implications that the loss of net neutrality could have in many different sectors that impact Minnesotans’ daily lives. There's much to think about it.

Read part two: Leaving K-12 Behind

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Communication  Technology 

There are no Magic Bullets

If there is one thing that my Introduction to Global Health class taught me, it is that there are no magic public healthcare policy bullets. We simply cannot isolate issues to identify micro-solutions sufficient to overcome large scale, sytemic challenges.

Minnesota, compared to the rest of the United States, has an exceptional health care system. According to the United Health Foundation, Minnesota’s health care system ranks number three, with our strengths being a low prevalence of physical inactivity and diabetes, a strong high school graduation rate, and low rates of premature death and cardiovascular disease deaths. However, MPR’s recent reports that investigate Minnesota health disparities are revealing a disturbing trend. Marginalized individuals have higher rates of health discrepancies. This marginalization threatens the whole.

Marginalized Minnesotans' health disparities aren’t simply due to poor health care access although that certainly can play a role. Health disparities are often linked to external factors such as stress faced by discrimination, the proximity of one’s home to an interstate, and the home's condition.

Many, if not all, of our lifestyle choices impact our health. If we choose to smoke, we put ourselves at a higher risk for lung cancer. If we drink excessively, we put ourselves at a higher risk for liver damage. However, do we want to accept a Minnesota that allows for marginalized individuals to face higher health care costs for a lifestyle they do not choose but is forced upon by economic status?

Consider long-term health care cost to society. Kids going to the hospital for an asthma attack due to home location to hospital bills that the family may or may not be able to afford, undermining family economic stability. It also reduces the hospital space for people who endure non-preventable emergencies. A society ruled by stress, a notable health issue in the LGBTQ community, only increases our nation’s mental health epidemic and affects our society’s ability to be as productive, and happy, as we can be.

Resolving and improving these challenges won't be easy. There is no magic bullet. We can’t focus on health care and expect it to improve drastically just as we can’t simply focus on housing development or education. We can't lose sight of the big picture in our world of specialization. Seeing the forest is just as important as seeing each tree.

Posted in Health Care | Related Topics: Health Care Reform  Public Health 

Good Jobs, Bad Jobs Reports for Clearwater County, Rural Minnesota

The Minnesota county with the highest unemployment rate in June also saw the greatest month-to-month improvement among Minnesota's 87 counties.

Clearwater County, in northwest Minnesota, had a full one percent drop in the official unemployment rate from May with unemployment falling to 9.5 percent in June from 10.5 percent in May and and from a painfully high 14 percent as recent as April.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) released June unemployment data for counties on Tuesday, July 22. Statewide, Minnesota is among the Top Ten states for low unemployment, at 4.5 percent, but the extremes of both high and low unemployment continue to be localized in counties far from the Twin Cities metro area.

Tom Burford, manager of the Farmers Publishing Co. community cooperative and editor of its Farmers Independent newspaper at Bagley, said he suspects the statistical improvement in the county unemployment rate reflects a return to more "normal" employment in June. "We really had awful spring weather," he said.

A few firms, such as component parts engineering and manufacturing company Team Industries at Bagley, have added jobs, he said. At the same time, no new factories or new businesses have opened in the county and started hiring in June.

Clay County is the Minnesota side of the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. It had the lowest unemployment rates in June at 2.8 percent. Stevens County, which had a statewide low of 2.6 percent unemployment rate in May, had its June rate bump to 3.0 percent.

The Canadian border county of Koochiching, meanwhile, saw June unemployment increase a tick to 9.2 percent, from 9.1percent in May, to join Clearwater County on the high end of the unemployment list.

Except for Clay, statistical measures of employment and unemployment are influenced by thin numbers in demographic information in several rural counties. Clearwater County, with five incorporated cities that are all small towns, had only 8,695 residents in the 2010 Census. County seat Bagley, the county's largest city, had a population of 1,392.

As Burford noted, it doesn't take a huge number of jobs gained or lost to impact the unemployment rate in densely populated counties. Going forward, however, it will take jobs creation and higher paying jobs to lift people out of poverty and get unemployed people back into the jobs market.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Job Growth  Unemployment  Rural Minnesota 

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