Vote no on Voter ID amendment

When it comes to the Minnesota Voter ID amendment on the ballot this fall, the question you need to ask yourself is this:
Would you prevent thousands of eligible voters from voting in order to prevent a handful of ineligible voters from voting? Because that is exactly the effect the amendment would have.
It sounds like common sense to require photo ID to vote. Most people you know have a driver’s license or other form of photo ID or can get one with little effort. Why is it such a controversy? For several reasons, in addition to the one already raised — the disenfranchisement of eligible voters. For one thing, it’s unAmerican. Second, it’s unnecessary. Third, it’s a shameless power grab by one political party.
Voting is a right guaranteed by the Constitution (see 15th Amendment), just like the right to bear arms, the right to assemble, and the right to speak freely. There should be as few conditions as possible on voting rights in a democratic society. Voter ID would mark a sad return to the era of Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise minority voters.
Besides, identification requirements are already in place to prevent voter fraud, and they work. It’s crazy to risk punishment simply to submit one additional vote — which will almost never affect the election. That’s why it happens so rarely.
The Minnesota Court Information Office, operated by the state Supreme Court, said last month that there were 14 voter fraud convictions across the state in 2009, 11 in 2010, and 132 in 2011.With 2.9 million votes cast, that’s infinitesimal.
In Minnesota, there have been no convictions for voter impersonation, which is what the Voter ID amendment is designed to prevent.
None of that has stopped Voter ID proponents from repeating claims that “voter fraud” gave the 2008 Senate election to Al Franken over Norm Coleman because 1,099 felons allegedly voted.
In fact, there have been at most 156 convictions of felons voting illegally — not enough even to influence a razor-thin margin like the last U.S. Senate race — even if all 156 voted for the same candidate, which is unlikely and unknowable, given our sacred tradition of secret ballot.
Finally, the voter ID amendment is a blatant power grab by one political party (Republican) to increase its percentage of the vote by making voting more difficult for those who tend to vote for the other party (Democrat). The far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been pushing Voter ID nationwide. Former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer is ALEC’s Minnesota state chair and the author of Voter ID legislation in the House.
If this were good for the state as a whole — not just one party — it would have bipartisan support.
This is a nationwide desperate effort by a party that is losing ground due to changing demographics. In many states, like Minnesota, it is taking an end run around the usual legislative process by going right to a popular vote — and amendment to the state Constitution. That’s because bad ideas have a better chance of passing among the uninformed electorate than they do in the Legislature, where they are tested by debate and balanced by the process.
You and I may not know many people who would have a hard time getting a photo ID, but those people exist. Many have been voting all their lives and would now find themselves ineligible.
When you think about all the legal voters who would not be able to vote due to Voter ID, the unnecessary, un-American and partisan nature of this voter suppression effort becomes clear.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
This column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Sept. 26, 2012.
http://www.messagemedia.co/millelacs/opinion/our_columnists/brett_larson/article_b2ae1a84-071a-11e2-b5eb-001a4bcf6878.html

Vote no on Voter ID amendment

When it comes to the Minnesota Voter ID amendment on the ballot this fall, the question you need to ask yourself is this:
Would you prevent thousands of eligible voters from voting in order to prevent a handful of ineligible voters from voting? Because that is exactly the effect the amendment would have.
It sounds like common sense to require photo ID to vote. Most people you know have a driver’s license or other form of photo ID or can get one with little effort. Why is it such a controversy? For several reasons, in addition to the one already raised — the disenfranchisement of eligible voters. For one thing, it’s unAmerican. Second, it’s unnecessary. Third, it’s a shameless power grab by one political party.
Voting is a right guaranteed by the Constitution (see 15th Amendment), just like the right to bear arms, the right to assemble, and the right to speak freely. There should be as few conditions as possible on voting rights in a democratic society. Voter ID would mark a sad return to the era of Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise minority voters.
Besides, identification requirements are already in place to prevent voter fraud, and they work. It’s crazy to risk punishment simply to submit one additional vote — which will almost never affect the election. That’s why it happens so rarely.
The Minnesota Court Information Office, operated by the state Supreme Court, said last month that there were 14 voter fraud convictions across the state in 2009, 11 in 2010, and 132 in 2011.With 2.9 million votes cast, that’s infinitesimal.
In Minnesota, there have been no convictions for voter impersonation, which is what the Voter ID amendment is designed to prevent.
None of that has stopped Voter ID proponents from repeating claims that “voter fraud” gave the 2008 Senate election to Al Franken over Norm Coleman because 1,099 felons allegedly voted.
In fact, there have been at most 156 convictions of felons voting illegally — not enough even to influence a razor-thin margin like the last U.S. Senate race — even if all 156 voted for the same candidate, which is unlikely and unknowable, given our sacred tradition of secret ballot.
Finally, the voter ID amendment is a blatant power grab by one political party (Republican) to increase its percentage of the vote by making voting more difficult for those who tend to vote for the other party (Democrat). The far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been pushing Voter ID nationwide. Former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer is ALEC’s Minnesota state chair and the author of Voter ID legislation in the House.
If this were good for the state as a whole — not just one party — it would have bipartisan support.
This is a nationwide desperate effort by a party that is losing ground due to changing demographics. In many states, like Minnesota, it is taking an end run around the usual legislative process by going right to a popular vote — and amendment to the state Constitution. That’s because bad ideas have a better chance of passing among the uninformed electorate than they do in the Legislature, where they are tested by debate and balanced by the process.
You and I may not know many people who would have a hard time getting a photo ID, but those people exist. Many have been voting all their lives and would now find themselves ineligible.
When you think about all the legal voters who would not be able to vote due to Voter ID, the unnecessary, un-American and partisan nature of this voter suppression effort becomes clear.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

Are capital gains tax rates fair?

Mitt Romney on 60 minutes the other night said he thinks it’s “fair” that he only paid 14 percent in taxes last year, which is less than most of the people reading this. His rational is that most of his income is from investments — “capital gains” that have already been taxed “at the corporate level.”

Bottom line, though, is that’s it’s income, and should be taxed as such, but thanks to low capital gains taxes, it’s not.

The idea of progressive taxation, which was embraced by both parties pre-Reagan, is that the wealthy pay a higher rate than the poor because they can afford it and because they have benefitted more from the American system that taxes support. In real terms progressive taxation is a thing of the past because the wealthy can afford accountants and lawyers who make their taxes lower (as a percentage of income) than yours and mine.

Romney’s belief in the fairness of a tax code that is not progressive in any way shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The reality is that wealthy conservatives will not be happy until they’re paying the same AMOUNT as you and I, not just the same RATE.

This is the belief of hard-core conservatives: that everyone should pay an equal amount because everyone uses a relatively equal amount of services.

Not only do they want a non-progressive “flat” tax; they want a clearly regressive tax code where the rich pay a lower rate than the poor.

Thanks to deductions and loopholes and capital gains taxes, they already have it, but they’ll never stop trying to get more because they think they’ve earned it and deserve it for being “job creators.”

What’s absurd is how many poor and middle class people enable them by voting against their own economic interests.

Update: Note the comparison in the graphics, which I got from a tweet from Joe Walsh, the Democrat who is running for District 15A rep vs. Republican incumbent Sondra Erickson.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger.

The worst writing in the world

I’ve long believed that the worst writing in the world is rock-and-roll “criticism” ala Rolling Stone.

Part of it is the genre. It’s silly on its face to write seriously about an art form composed of danceable beats, catchy melodies, and lyrics about teenage infatuation designed to get young people to wave their fannies at each other.
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Obviously there are great pop songs, songwriters and musicians, but we ain’t talking Shakespeare, no matter how often the comparison is made.

Rock critics suffer from one main problem: They are at heart slobbering fans, so their observations are warped by the binocular effect: Everything they see (especially if it’s created by musicians elevated to celebrity status by critics) looks bigger than it really is.

This morning, listening to a podcast of Fresh Air on NPR, rock critic Ken Tucker exemplified everything that’s wrong with rock criticism.

The dude’s so in love with Dylan and with his own ability to turn a phrase that he can’t see what’s right in front of his nose: That the music he’s praising is commonplace.

Here’s the opening lines, which he plays, then comments on:

I’m searching for phrases,

To sing your praises,

I need to tell someone,

It’s soon after midnight,

And my day has just begun

A gal named Honey,

Took my money,

She was passing by,

It’s soon after midnight,

And the moon is in my eye

Here’s Tucker’s take:

“Take, for example, ‘Soon After Midnight.’ The beauty of the song’s opening moments — the way the music rises up like mist to envelop the tender couplet, ‘I’m searching for phrases / To sing your praises’ — is something to be cherished. We are better human beings for hearing such music.”

Gag. Plus there’s the fact that the “tender couplet” (at least it’s better than “A gal named Honey/took my money”) is lifted from “Too Marvelous for Words” by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting:

I search

For phrases

To sing

Your praises

But

There aren’t

Any magic

Adjectives

To tell you

All you are

What’s obvious to non-Dylan-fans — and even rabid fans of his early music, like me — is that he hasn’t really hit anything out of the park since the 1970s. He’s become an average musician and an average songwriter, with a below-average voice (admittedly with lots of eardrum-slicing “character”), and way beyond average reputation padded by the Tuckers of the world who are constantly searching for phrases to sing the praises of the overrated celebrities of rock-and-roll’s Mount Rushmore.

To be fair, I’ve enjoyed some of Tucker’s pieces in the past, but this one is so hyperbolic it hurts.

Tucker keeps going:

“I have to grope outside of music to find expressions of thwarted love, of remembering painful stretches of life, as they are expressed in ‘Long and Wasted Years.’ The song describes love gone slowly, steadily more sour with a ruthlessness shaped by wit that reminds me of some of Philip Roth’s fiction, or of Philip Larkin’s poetry.”

Oh brother. Talk about groping.

Here are the lyrics, which are about as mundane as the previous. You be the judge whether Tucker can be taken seriously or is just another fan whose binoculars have turned Dylan into an undeserving lyrical god:

http://www.metrolyrics.com/long-and-wasted-years-lyrics-bob-dylan.html

Outrageous fortune favors the abnormal

Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16.

Diane (my wife): “Are we gonna watch some ‘Outrageous Fortune’ tonight?”

“Outrageous Fortune” is our favorite TV show, which we watch on Netflix. It ran in New Zealand from ‘05 to 2011. It’s about a family of petty criminals from West Auckland, which makes it about as escapist as you can get for a couple church kids from the Midwest.

The title is from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them.”

I’m the suffering type. Diane takes up arms.

Brett: “I gotta write a column, and I have nothing to say to anyone.”

Diane: “You could write about making salsa! Or cutting wood! Or our 21 years of marriage!”

We never would’ve made it this long if it weren’t for Diane’s sunny optimism, so I generally take her advice.

Chapter 1: Salsa

Our marriage has lasted 21 years in part because I like to cook and Diane likes to do yard work. In the spring, while I’m making hummus from dry garbanzos, she’s planting tomatoes. In the fall, while she’s pruning the plum tree, I’m pruning the plums in the dehydrator and simmering salsa on the stove.

Without me, she’d shrivel up from forgetting to eat. Without her, I’d be lost in a forest of creeping charlie and wild cucumber.

Chapter 2: Cutting wood

They say “He who cuts his own wood is twice warmed,” but I’ve learned that he who cuts his own wood with a chainsaw is only 1.5 times warmed, and he who cuts his own wood with a 14-inch McCulloch is about 1.75 times warmed. I shouldn’t dis the Mac. It’s 20 years old and fierce as a wolverine.

Here’s another adage about cutting wood: He who works with a partner cuts thrice as much.

I hate chainsaws because they’re loud, stinky and dangerous. Every time I pull the cord I imagine sawing through my femoral artery or slipping a disc.

When you have someone to put the log on a good surface and hold it steady, it’s safer, faster and easier on the back. Another reason to marry someone who’s not afraid to get dirty (in the clean sense).

I also hate cutting wood because I know how many weekends it takes to cut enough to heat your house for the winter. Diane doesn’t know, but she’s determined to do it to save money.

So we drove the pickup down to the river and found hardly anything. Lots of rotten basswood, but not much dry ash or maple. Still, by the time the weekend was over, we had a month’s worth stacked against the house. We celebrated with an Australian shiraz and a New Zealand dramedy.

Chapter 3: Anniversary

We both forgot our anniversary until the day before and were reminded by Aunt Audrey’s card. She never misses a birthday or anniversary.

I sent Diane an email with a picture of flowers because she took away my credit card so I couldn’t order any. Actually it was a picture of a plant from the Messenger office with a couple fake flowers jammed into the dirt. Her coworkers were not impressed, but Diane didn’t care.

“Normal people don’t get it,” she said.

Which pretty much sums it up.

This column was published on Sept. 19, 2012, in the Mille Lacs Messenger.

http://www.messagemedia.co/millelacs/opinion/our_columnists/brett_larson/article_70ccdd6a-01a4-11e2-9e46-0019bb30f31a.html

Going to college? Take my advice

I was a pretty good college student, and I’ve worked on and off as a college instructor during the past two decades. I’ve seen students succeed and fail — not just at their studies but also at life skills young people should be learning during that wonderful transition between youth and adulthood.

Based on my experience, here are a few tips:

1. Take notes. When I started teaching freshman comp in 1993, I was shocked at how few students took notes. When I was in college, I assumed everyone was writing as furiously as I was, though I might not have noticed those who weren’t because I was too busy writing.

Note-taking is valuable for several reasons: It gives you a summary of the lectures to study for tests; it helps you determine what the professor thinks is most important from all the information you’re absorbing from textbooks; and it shows the professor that you give a crap.

It also helps you retain information. Instead of going in one ear and out the other, information takes a pause in your brain, comes out your hand, and ends up on a page in words you can see. You’re using all your learning faculties — listening, seeing, touching — and the result is better retention.

2. Read your books. This should go without saying, but I’ve known many students who barely cracked a book in four years. If you don’t, you’re wasting your time and money and you’ll likely end up with worse grades and poor recommendations.

An underrated skill I didn’t learn until my junior year is taking notes from books. Instead of just running a highlighter (the most overratted tool at the bookstore) over the page, you’re learning actively with eyes and hands — summarizing, synthesizing, analyzing, responding.

3. Budget your time. The old rule of thumb is one to two hours of studying outside of class for every hour spent in class. College is the equivalent of a full-time job, so you should be spending 40 hours per week at it. The best way to manage your time is like you’d manage a job: Get your studying done during daylight hours. Use the evenings and weekends for socializing and recreating.

When you study, avoid the student lounges and noisy dorm floors. Find a favorite coffee shop or library carrel where you can study without temptation, and when you’re done, reward yourself by relaxing or hanging with friends.

4. Budget your money. For many, college is the beginning of a lifetime of debilitating debt. To prevent that, start out with a budget for tuition, living expenses and spending money, and keep track of everything you make and spend. If at all possible, only borrow enough to cover tuition, and use summer jobs and part-time work during school to pay for room and board. If you’re lucky enough to be a full-time student, try to limit your work hours to 20. I think it’s good for most students to work 10 to 15 hours per week to keep one foot in the real world and learn to manage time and money.

5. Beware of the dangers. During college years, many students learn positive habits that will help them on the job and in their relationships, but just as many learn bad habits that will dog them for life.

Foremost among them are booze, cigarettes, weed, casual sex, and the all-you-can-eat meal plan. The best defense is to know the dangers and go into college with a plan to embrace moderation. Eat smart, get some exercise, and limit your partying to Friday and Saturday. And for God’s sake, don’t drive drunk or drink 21 shots on your birthday.

We want you to make it to graduation.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

This column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Sept. 15, 2012.

http://www.messagemedia.co/millelacs/opinion/our_columnists/brett_larson/article_2b3f39ba-f69f-11e1-b2fb-0019bb30f31a.html

Brett’s blog — Amendments, etc.

I’m strongly opposed to both constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall. I’ve expressed myself in columns already and may do so again.

There’s a good anti-Voter-ID column on MinnPost today: http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2012/09/how-—-and-why-—-i-made-my-decision-voting-amendment
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It’s one of those “common sense” amendments that appeals to those who don’t think too hard about it, but when you dig a little deeper you realize it’s limiting individuals’ ability to exercise a constitutional right. It’s also expensive, unnecessary, and a transparent attempt by one party to disenfranchise those who tend to vote for the other party.

On the marriage amendment, Jesse Ventura today endorsed the “vote no” campaign, though I’m not sure Jesse has much credibility.

For what it’s worth, here’s his statement:

Friend,

Being a Minnesotan is something I’ve always been proud of. We’re independent, freethinking people. We don’t let anyone tell us what to do, or what is right and wrong. We fight our own battles.

That’s why Terry and I are proud to speak out today against this harmful and divisive constitutional amendment. Watch our new video here:

This amendment just isn’t the way we do things in Minnesota. We don’t use our constitution to limit the rights and freedoms of our fellow citizens. We don’t tell some families that they aren’t good enough. We don’t let government dictate love.

I know you and I may not agree on everything. But I’m certain that we can agree that every Minnesotan has dignity, and that none of us should be constitutionally deemed unworthy of marrying the person we love.

Defeating this amendment isn’t a liberal or conservative issue – because the truth is that it impacts each and every one of us.

We have a chance to decide what kind of state we want to be – and I plan to make sure that we’re the kind of state that protects the freedom and dignity of every Minnesotan.

No matter what they say, love is by far bigger than government can ever be.

United,

Jesse Ventura

38th Governor of Minnesota