Lena Horne has died. Here's the Monday Morning Rouser:
1) Should there be any morality in the financial promises you make? There was troubling moment or two in last night's 60 Minutes story on people walking away from their mortgages. A young man declared he felt no responsibility to pay his mortgage, even though he can afford to. So he and his bride have stopped making their monthly payment and with the money they'll save, they'll rent an apartment nicer than their house. "It's the 'in' thing to do," he declared. Swell.
A man who has set up a company to help people walk away from their mortgages declared that people shouldn't let emotion -- or morals -- play a part in their decision. We've seen the likes of him before -- they were mortgage brokers who helped get people into mortgages they couldn't afford.
But the clients now are different. One in five foreclosures is by people who can afford their mortgages.
The comments have run the gamut, but there's this defense: It's what big business does.
A government official says regular people shouldn't walk away from their mortgages because it's the wrong thing to do. It's irresponsible. Other regular people will get stuck paying for those who walk away. Big business got millions of dollars from the government to save them and they used that bail-out money to dole out millions of dollars in bonuses while not paying back their debt to the government. Meanwhile, the average American is losing his/her home but it's irresponsible for that average American to walk away from a fraudulent mortgage! How does that make any sense?
2) Why? Because it's Betty White, that's why.
The New York Times -- predictably -- has the finest line of any review of Betty White's Saturday Night live appearance: All it took to reinvigorate a 35-year-old comedy show was the presence of an 88-year-old woman.
3) Should America buy American? The Boston Herald makes a big stink because the government bought its swag for the U.S. Census overseas. Or did it?
Meanwhile, a new census analysis shows whites are fleeing the suburbs.
4) Much has been made of Twitter's and Facebook's utility for giving voice and exposure to protesters in Iran and elsewhere. But they're not the only ones using social media; so is the authoritarian state they protest. Twitter and Facebook give Iran's secret services superb platforms for gathering open-source intelligence," according to Devin Gaffney of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. New Scientist reports on a conference that considers more research into all of the interactions spawned by the Web.
At the Raleigh meeting.. Gaffney ... described how in mid-2009 he set up software to archive every message posted by Iranians using the social messaging service Twitter to coordinate dissident protests. Now that the buzz from bloggers and journalists declaring that this was a "Twitter revolution" has subsided, Gaffney is analysing the 766,263 tweets he has collected in order to assess how justified that description was.
At the time, Twitter boasted about its role in connecting the protestors, but Gaffney's initial results suggest that Twitter had a greater impact internationally. "Evidence so far suggests a demographic of non-Iranians generating awareness about the situation," he says.
Gaffney is now trying to find out if the Iranian government itself has been monitoring and reacting to online activity, and whether the authorities have used Twitter to keep track of the protests. "Twitter and Facebook give Iran's secret services superb platforms for gathering open-source intelligence," he says.
Today's MPR commentary is about the usefulness of social media by another authoritarian state -- parents.
For example, when Emma and her boyfriend broke up, I learned about it on Facebook several days before she was ready to tell me. The public gossip flew faster than the personal message. But hasn't that always been the case with social networks? What's concerning is how prominently Facebook encourages gossip, complete with candid photos, while more personal communication takes a sorry back seat. As if we all were tabloid celebrities.
When Emma finally told me the news, though, I said just what mothers have said for centuries: "I'm so sorry you're sad. I was hoping it might not be true." Some things must still be spoken face to face. There is no virtual substitute for tears and a hug.
5) The changing face of politics. SCOTUSblog looks at the appointment of Elena Kagan as Supreme Court nominee and more:
As the days wound down this past week toward Kagan's selection by President Obama, the nation could look West and East and see cultural conventions on the verge of change, much along the lines of Dylan's title track. At the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, a Republican U.S. Senator who is a Mormon and has absolutely solid conservative credentials was dumped by his own party. In Boston, some 2,400 miles -- and perhaps a world -- away, the gay rights movement got a serious hearing in the Moakley U.S. Courthouse on its plea to change the nation's legal perception of marriage.
What those events have in common, though, is that both will figure in the fight over the future of the Supreme Court that begins later this morning with the announcement of Kagan's nomination, and both will influence, in coming months and years, the political pressures on the Court.
It's the best analysis you'll read today.
Advocates for children warn that they are at risk from cyberbullying, adult predators and other dangers on the Internet. What steps do you take to protect your kids online?
WHAT WE'RE DOING
Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) - First hour: Author Siri Hustvedt investigates the causes of her migraine headaches and episodes of uncontrollable shaking that began shortly after the death of her father (originally broadcast on 3/25) .
Second hour: Sassy spinster Elizabeth Philpot befriends young working-class Mary Anning over their love of fossils. In this historical fiction, the unlikely pair navigate the early 19th century sexism of England's scientific community as they try to gain ownership and respect for their archaeological finds (originally broadcast on 3/31).
Midday (11 a.m. - 1 p.m.) - First hour: The IP-endorsed candidate for governor.
Second hour: Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller.
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - NPR, of course, will have plenty on the Supreme Court nomination and its reaction. It will also look at the possibility of a national ID card.
MPR's Dan Olson reports on the 20-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act, which , requires transportation officials to make conditions safer. In Minnesota, advocates say, compliance has been slow. Officials say they are making progress. He'll sort it out.
It is another day of waiting for the DFL solution to the suddenly-huge state budget gap. The MPR Capitol team is staking out hearings and meetings today and we'll have plenty on the subject here on MPR NewsQ during the day.
Let the debate begin! Are there enough rich people to close the state's newfound $3 billion budget gap?
The DFL, which released its budget plan this morning, thinks there is. The Minnesota House today will vote on a plan to raise the income tax rate on people making more than $200,000 (after adjustments on tax returns). It says that will provide $400 million.
Last year, the Minnesota Senate tried to raise the tax rate on the wealthy to 9.25%. This plan raises it to 9.15%.
Arthur Laffer, the guru of the supply-siders, predictably is opposed to the concept. He wrote in the Wall St. Journal last year that in state's where rich people are taxed more, rich people move out:
Finally, there is the issue of whether high-income people move away from states that have high income-tax rates. Examining IRS tax return data by state, E.J. McMahon, a fiscal expert at the Manhattan Institute, measured the impact of large income-tax rate increases on the rich ($200,000 income or more) in Connecticut, which raised its tax rate in 2003 to 5% from 4.5%; in New Jersey, which raised its rate in 2004 to 8.97% from 6.35%; and in New York, which raised its tax rate in 2003 to 7.7% from 6.85%. Over the period 2002-2005, in each of these states the "soak the rich" tax hike was followed by a significant reduction in the number of rich people paying taxes in these states relative to the national average. Amazingly, these three states ranked 46th, 49th and 50th among all states in the percentage increase in wealthy tax filers in the years after they tried to soak the rich.
But the DFL plan is more about cutting than revenue increases. It provides big cuts in local government aid, the Department of Natural Resources, it reduces county mental health payments, grants for chemical dependency treatment, and the Metropolitan Council (kiss your bus route goodbye).
The budget deficit over the next biennium grows to $4.6 billion, according to the House Fiscal Analysis Department.
The idea is probably dead on arrival and sets up another round of vetoes and veto override attempts.
The two legislative leaders -- House Speaker Margaret Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller -- will be on MPR's Midday at noon.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (and late in the broadcast, Sen. Larry Pogemiller) joined MPR's Midday program this afternoon to answer questions about the DFL budget proposal unveiled today.
Q: How serious is the budget problem?
A: (Kelliher) As serious as I've ever seen it. If one of the other people affected by unallotment decided to sue for their money, we would not be able to pay that bill. Because the budget is unbalanced, it's difficult -- if not impossible -- to do any borrowing. This is a crisis situation.
This plan more than meets the governor, but it doesn't shortchange kids or people in nursing homes.
Q: Doesn't it set up the same dynamic that we've seen over the last few years. The DFL leaders are proposing a tax increase. The governor threatens a veto, and there you all sit?:
A: (Kelliher)The governor created this financial straitjacket. He's been raising property taxes. Those who've been doing well in this economy -- they're earning over $200,000 a year after deductions. It (the tax increase) is pretty reasonable to most people.
The governor by this delay is borrowing from school districts to float the state.
Q: You say Gov. Pawlenty has raised property taxes. Shouldn't local governments reduce spending rather than scream entitlement to state funding?
A: (Kelliher)A lot of what we ask counties to do is fulfillment of work we do at the Legislature. Cities and counties don't get to say "we're not going to do that anymore." We've had a lot of reductions to local government aid that holds down property taxes.
Q: Why not just adopt the unallotments the governor proposed and next year they'll be a a new governor and another Legislature?
A: (Kelliher) The problem is the budget wouldn't be balanced. It's kicking it down the road. You might have another $300 to $400 million to balance in January.
(Pogemiller) Even if we adopted all of the governor's recommendation -- which we're proposing doing by and large -- you're still short of solving the problem. The level of cuts we're adopting are almost equal to the governor's. The level of borrowing he's willing to undertake, we're willing to do that. And we're still $400 million short of solving the problem. You could adopt the entire proposal from the governor, it doesn't balance the budget.
Q: Why does the Legislature continue passing bills that will certainly be vetoed?
A: (Kelliher) We'd love for the governor come to the table and negotiate in good faith, but his answer is always "my way or the highway." The court said, "get in a room, work together, and get this done." We don't have enough votes for an override on our own, but if three Republicans want to come over to make sure we keep our kids learning and not losing money, then we would be interested in that. Last Friday, we voted on the governor's proposal and it had bipartisan opposition. The Republican leadership in both the House and Senate did not vote for it.
(Pogemiller) I understand people's frustration; that has to do with the messaging. There is no solution that is politically viable in which this problem is solved just with budget cuts. I'm concerned that this level of borrowing that's going on is very dangerous for the long-term fiscals of education. The property tax implications for this situation are very severe.
Q: Why not?
A: (Kelliher)When the rubber meets the road, the governor has made bad decisions and they know it, too.
Q: Why did you settle on an income tax increase rather than other proposals -- broadening the sales tax, for example?
A: (Kelliher) It's the most fair for most Minnesotans to understand. If Minnesotans want us to do more tax reform, it's going to take more time and a different governor.
Q: Why are we always looking to the wealthy to fund everything?
A:(Kelliher) Everyone is paying here. They're paying through property taxes. The cuts that have happened -- over $2 billion just this year -- will affect Minnesotans and it's a form of taxation when they don't get a good K-12 education or good services for their disabled child. The higher income Minnesotans have not been paying their fair share.
Q: If you've been spending our money wisely, how can you come up with $2 billion in cuts in the blink of an eye.
A:(Kelliher) We have seen a major fall-off in the revenue coming into the state. We are in the process of a continual restructuring of the services we are delivering.
Q: Don't we have a 'rainy day' fund?
A: (Kelliher) We still have the rainy day fund, it just has nothing in it. We've used that money already and the economy has not improved enough to pay into it.
Q: Would it be easier to reach an agreement if the governor wasn't running for president and you weren't running for governor?
A: (Kelliher) It's up to the governor to decide if his presidential ambitions are influencing how he's negotiating. My job is to put what's best for Minnesota above politics.
Q: Is there likely to be a special session or government shutdown.
A: (Kelliher) A government shutdown could happen immediately if someone who was unallotted now demanded to be paid. We have enough time to solve this problem.
Q: How do you get out of this mess?
A: (Kelliher) It'll take three courageous Republicans.
The fastest-spreading story on the Internet today is the one from Georgia where -- allegedly -- senior citizens have been told they can't pray aloud before their meal because the food is provided courtesy of the federal government.
The Associated Press kicked things off last week with a story that the agency that runs the senior center -- Senior Citizens Inc. -- told the seniors they couldn't pray aloud because praying over food that is paid for with federal money violates the separation of church and state.
The agency claimed it's in the federal guidelines, according to the Associated Press.
FoxNews got in on the story today, featuring a politician who's taken up the cause:
"I told them they're not fighting this alone," Eric Johnson, a Republican running for governor, told FoxNews.com. "To heck with the federal government -- we can't stop people from free practice of their faith."
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
There is no evidence such a guideline -- as interpreted -- exists in any federal contract, however. And there's no indication there's anything involved here other than an official of a senior citizen center who doesn't quite understand the Constitution.
Nothing infringes on the right of people to pray. But a government agency cannot force someone to pray, lead a prayer, or sponsor a prayer. Praying to oneself is not any different than praying aloud and if the senior center official believes a silent prayer is acceptable under the Constitution, a verbal prayer would be as well.
But it's too late. The story is already spreading. "Oppressive Government: Feds Tell GA Old Folks They Can't Pray Before Meals," screamed one Web site headline.
Expect to find this story in your INBOX on a regular basis for the next several years.
Update 4:10 p.m. - From Georgia Public Broadcasting:
"There are no guidelines or policies set by the Division of Aging Services that would prohibit public prayer," says James Bulot, head of the Division of Aging Services at DHS. "We serve over four million me
(h/t: Julia Schrenkler)(7 Comments)