Tag Archives: Minnesota

Americans Need To Grow Up

The ubiquity of social media has created a whole new category of problems, especially for lawmakers and parents. Much of the consternation is understandable and many of the concerns eminently reasonable. But when technology and social media meet America’s deeply-rooted sexual prudery, we get some very unfortunate (not to mention marginally insane) results.

A recent case from Minnesota is illustrative.

A 14-year-old girl is facing charges in Minnesota juvenile courts that could lead to her being placed on a sex offender registry—all for taking a nude selfie and sending it to a boy at her school. Prosecutors say that she violated Minnesota’s child pornography statute, which bans distributing sexually explicit pictures of underaged subjects.

Words fail.

A 14-year old girl showed an absence of good judgment. (That’s sort of the definition of a 14-year old…girl or boy.) This sort of behavior clearly calls for parental intervention; what it just as clearly doesn’t call for is placement on a sex-offender registry.

Parents, schools, and law enforcement around the world are wrestling with how to handle teen sexting. In 2014, a teenage boy in the UK was added to an investigative database after sending a nude snap to a classmate. The Supreme Court in Washington state recently upheld the child pornography conviction of a 17-year-old boy who sent a picture of his erect penis to a 22-year-old woman.

We can expect to see more of these cases in the future because surveys suggest that it’s a common activity among underage teenagers. One recent survey found that 12 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds had sent a sexually explicit image to someone else in their lifetimes—including 4 percent who had done so in the last month. That adds up to millions of teenagers who could be classified as child pornographers by the reckoning of Minnesota officials.

I don’t have a solution for this problem, but I’m pretty sure that labeling impulsive and hormonal teenagers sexual predators and giving them criminal records that will follow them through their adult years–affecting their abilities to get jobs, enter universities and rent apartments–isn’t the way to go.

For some reason, Americans have never seen sex as simply a natural part of life. (Hester Prynne isn’t the only woman who has been humiliated by that A.) That historical prudery, ironically, has intensified interest in–and consumption of– pornography and other sexually-explicit materials. Anyone who ever raised teenagers understands the attraction of the forbidden. It’s like drinking–French children who are accustomed to wine with dinner are much less enamored of alcohol than the suburban offspring of uptight parents who lock their liquor cabinets and lecture their children about the evils of drink.

We really need to grow up.

 

 

 

Those “Laboratories of Democracy”

A friend from Madison, Wisconsin, often sends me articles from that city’s newspaper. The most recent one had this headline: “As Deficit Looms in Wisconsin, Minnesotans Fight Over How to Spend 1.9 Billion Surplus.”

I’ve written about Wisconsin and Minnesota before. Scott Walker and Mark Dayton were elected at the same time; Walker, as we all know, pursued GOP “austerity” policies–slashing money for state government and education in order to “return” money to taxpayers, while Dayton actually raised taxes and increased funding for education.

As I noted in a previous post,

Minnesota and Wisconsin share common roots: both were settled primarily by German and Northern European immigrants; both states engage heavily in farming; and, until recently, both shared a political culture of populist progressivism. So when their politics diverged (with the election of Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Democrat Mark Dayton in Minnesota), it created a natural experiment.

What happens when you apply dramatically different economic policies in otherwise very similar states?

The Madison newspaper article provides us with an answer to that question.

While Wisconsin’s budget, enacted in July, sets the state up for a $210 million structural deficit, legislators across the Mississippi are arguing over how to spend a $1.9 billion surplus.

Of course, results inconsistent with ideology and/or the desires of campaign donors will be discounted and explained away by the true believers, because we live in a world where “reality” is what the most skillful and unscrupulous propagandists tell us it is….

You Going to Believe Me or Your Lying Eyes?

Minnesota and Wisconsin share common roots: both were settled primarily by German and Northern European immigrants; both states engage heavily in farming; and, until recently, both shared a political culture of populist progressivism. So when their politics diverged (with the election of Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Mark Dayton in Minnesota), it created a natural experiment.

What happens when you apply dramatically different economic policies in otherwise very similar states?

These two governors aren’t simply Republican and Democrat: Walker is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers and espouses their brand of radical conservatism with almost religious zeal; Dayton is an unabashedly progressive Democrat. The two of them took their respective states in diametrically different directions. Walker attacked unions, cut property taxes and cut funding for education and infrastructure. Dayton raised taxes by 2.1 billion, and increased funding for primary and secondary education by $485 million, among other things.

So which state is doing better economically?

Minnesota’s Department of Revenue recently announced that the state’s budget SURPLUS has risen to $1 billion. At the same time, its unemployment rate in November was the lowest  since 2001 – 3.7%. Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s budget DEFICIT sits at $1.8 billion and its unemployment rate is 5.2%. It ranks 34th for job growth.

Rhetoric may carry the day on Faux News, but on the ground, policies have real-world consequences.

 

 

If Evidence Mattered….

When I was researching my 2007 book, God and Country: America in Red and Blue, I came across surveys that asked clergy of various denominations about their economic policy preferences and beliefs. Not surprisingly, there was a split among Protestants between those who favored the “Social Gospel” and those we might think of as Social Darwinists.

What did surprise me was the discovery that the most conservative clergy viewed capitalism as the only economic system compatible with Christianity–as though Adam Smith’s “Hidden Hand” was another word for God.

Clergy aren’t the only folks whose economic beliefs have a whiff of religious ferver about them, of course. That’s what makes economic policy so tricky–ideology regularly trumps evidence. I thought about that when I read a recent article in the New York Times comparing economic performance of Wisconsin and Minnesota, states with similar histories, political cultures and weather.

In 2010, Wisconsin–as everyone who follows politics knows–elected Republican majorities in both houses of its legislature and Scott Walker (very rightwing protege of the Koch brothers) as Governor. Also in 2010, Minnesota elected Mark Dayton, described by the Times as one of the most progressive candidates for governor in the country, and in 2012 gave him a Democratic legislature to work with.

Minnesota raised taxes by 2.1 billion dollars, and introduced the fourth highest income tax bracket in the country. Wisconsin, under Walker, reduced taxes and spending, and attacked the collective bargaining rights of unions.

So–how have these states fared? According to the article, three years into Walker’s term, Wisconsin ranks 34th in the nation for job growth, well behind Minnesota, which has the fifth fastest-growing state economy. (Forbes ranks Minnesota as the 8th best state for business.) This is particularly noteworthy, since Minnesota’s economy was “subpar” under Dayton’s predecessor, Tim Pawlenty.

Dayton invested heavily in K-12 education and all-day kindergarden; Walker cut state funding of K-12 schools by more than 15%.

Dayton expanded Medicaid, and created a state insurance exchange that enrolled 90% of its first month’s target. Premiums in Minnesota are on average the lowest in the country. Walker refused to expand Medicaid or create an exchange, and as the Times reports, “The uninsured and ill bear the burden.”

Everything isn’t peachy in Minnesota, but it’s hard to ignore the difference in economic performance–not to mention quality of life–between the two approaches. It turns out that beating up on school teachers and other public servants while giving tax breaks to the wealthy doesn’t produce jobs or spur economic growth. It also turns out that raising taxes isn’t necessarily an economic kiss of death.

Not that evidence matters. There’s a reason we call it “blind faith.”