Carpe per diem (5×8 – 6/8/11)

1) CASH AND THE MINNESOTA LEGISLATOR

GOP leaders move to trim lawmakers’ expense payments,” the headline on an MPR story said when the Legislature began its work in January. How did that leading-by-example thing work out? Not so well, MPR’s Tom Scheck reports today. The move in the Senate was supposed to cut $100,000 out of the budget; it saved $50,000 over 2009. That was more than offset by the increase in per diem payments in the House, Scheck reports.

Taking the maximum amount of per diem — about $12,000 — was a bipartisan effort.

Sen. Mike Parry said he would be willing to take less per diem if he were paid more. One legislator who took no per diem said the private sector doesn’t pay people this way, so neither should the government.

In 2009, the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to per diem payments when it ruled an increase in per diem payments is not an unconstitutional salary increase. The last time the Senate voted to increase per diem, the vote wasn’t close.

More politics: Tim Pawlenty made enough bold assertions in his economic plan’s release yesterday to allow fact-checkers to easily see if his assumptions were correct. The Washington Post did, finding many of the underpinnings of his plan are faulty.

Pawlenty blamed “Obamacare” for spiraling health costs. But, the Post noted, the law doesn’t full take effect for three years and the report his campaign cited doesn’t attribute costs to the health care reform law.

Pawlenty also said, “Five percent economic growth over 10 years would generate $3.8 trillion in new tax revenues. With that, we would reduce projected deficits by 40 percent. All before we made a single budget cut.”

Cool. And probably wrong, the fact-checker said, because the former governor based his math on assuming 5 percent annual growth, which doesn’t happen anymore. The last time it did was about 50 years ago.

But the paper reserves its biggest blow for Pawlenty’s assertion that cutting 1 percent of the budget for six years would balance it by 2017.


The projected deficit in 2017 is $890 billion. In other words, Pawlenty is proposing so much deficit reduction that he cannot meet his goal even by eliminating ALL spending on nondefense discretionary programs ($462 billion). The military would need to be decimated, or Social Security or Medicare slashed.

The Post gave Pawlenty “two Pinocchios” for his effort.


2) HOT vs. COLD

While it was over 100 in the Twin Cities yesterday, it was 59 along the harbor in Duluth.

“Our new billboards say ‘Duluth is a Cool City,’ but we really mean great place to visit, not necessarily colder,” Gene Shaw, spokesman for the Visit Duluth tourism bureau, told the Duluth News Tribune. “In my time here we’ve never really tried to advertise that we are colder even in places where it’s really hot. I’m not sure that would work so well in the long run.”

Is it better to be hot wishing you were cooler? Or be cold wishing you were warmer?

Chew on that while watching the always-entertaining Duluth HarborCam‘s video summary of Monday’s action.

Highways have been buckling under the stress of the heat. A News Cut hat tip goes to South St. Paul. Yesterday, Concord Street erupted around 5 p.m. near the old stockyards, appearing to be something like an earthquake fault. Rock was everywhere. In the 103 degree heat, a South St. Paul cop grabbed a shovel and started filling in the hole. Well done, sir.

Temperatures will be in the 40s overnight and tomorrow morning you’ll need a light jacket. Who doesn’t love Minnesota weather?

3) THE PROBLEM WITH MEN

Sent a picture of your “deal” to a woman you don’t know? Cheated on your wife with a campaign aide? Gotten a housekeeper pregnant? If not, you must not be a man, columnist Maureen Dowd is saying today…


In five decades, we’ve moved from the pre-feminist mantra about the sexual peccadilloes of married men — Boys will be boys — to post-feminist resignation: Men are dogs. And there’s no point in feminists wasting their ire at women being objectified because many women these days seem all too ready to play along.

We’ve traded places with France. There, after D.S.K., a spirited feminism has blossomed, an urge to stop covering up seamy incidents of droit du seigneur. Now we’re the world-weary ones, with little energy to try to reform relations between the sexes: Is there any point, really, in trying to fix men?

This scandal resonates less as a feminist horror story than an Internet horror story. Are men, as New York magazine recently suggested, losing interest in having sex with their real partners because they’re so obsessed with porn, sexting and virtual partners? The lazy man’s way to sex, where a billion women are a click away.

4) THE CURE FOR WHAT AILS CLASSICAL MUSIC

MPR’s Euan Kerr reports that some of America’s biggest orchestras are meeting in the Twin Cities this week. These are tough times for the orchestras. The economy isn’t so hot and you may have noticed there aren’t a lot of kids dancing along with classical orchestra music on the iPod these days.


“I think classical music has a relevance and is interesting; it’s just how we get it out there,” Cantus executive director Mary Lee said. “I just really think it’s the organizational model and the business model that we have to kind of look at and be aware of.”

America, hear me out. Reality TV: Classical music edition. Reality TV makes stars out of people who do nothing; imagine what it can do for people with actual talent. Drama? Classical music has drama. And dirt.

Take the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, where artistic director Grammy award-winner Roberto Minczuk, hired in 2005, is trying to upgrade the quality of the symphony. He told the 82 musicians they had to undergo individual evaluations.

The BBC notes that the fallout is roaring through the classical music world. That’s reality TV gold there.


“Some of the musicians had 40 years of experience in the orchestra. Submitting them to a test is like telling a doctor with a 40-year career that he has to take an exam in order to go on,” says violinist Luzer David, who had played in the OSB for 23 years.

An angry violinist? The perfect hook to get America to pay attention. Say, can he dance?

Nearly three dozen musicians were fired, and the the dispute is front-page news in the newspaper.

“I am shocked by the lies that are being spread online and in the media,” said Mr Minczuk.

Did he say lies? Perfect.

There’s your solution, League of American Orchestras. Enjoy the rest of your stay in the Twin Cities.

5) THE NATURE OF FORGIVENESS

How a convicted murder ended-up living a door jamb away from his victim’s mother in north Minneapolis is a story, not of horrible misfortune, but of remarkable mercy,

Steve Hartman says.

Mary Johnson told the Catholic Spirit in 2009 that she knew she had to forgive her son’s killer at her first visit with him in prison. “He said to me, ‘Ma’am, may I hug you?’” she recalled. “In that embrace, I cried and cried because I knew I was truly broken, and I literally began falling to the floor. He held me up.”

Bonus: How beer is really made. (h/t: Neatorama)

Tornado recovery update: From Sen. Linda Higgins (via Facebook):

The Camden Lions will be at the Community Hot Dog event at North Methodist Church at 44th and Fremont Ave N on Thursday evening from 5:30 to 8:00 handing out bags of groceries to those in need. The Lions have donated many hundreds of bags of groceries since the tornado. Please let people know how they can get this help from their Camden neighbors.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty says government should stop running trains, delivering mail or offering any other service that’s available from the private sector. Today’s Question: Should government stop offering any service that the private sector can provide?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Dr. Olivier Ameisen has tried to persuade the medical community to test what he says is a highly effective cure for alcoholism: a decades-old muscle relaxant called baclofen. Is this a major step in improved addiction treatment? What other innovations are on the horizon?

Second hour: Writer Francisco Goldman blends memoir and narrative in a new book about the death of his young wife, and his efforts to keep her memory alive.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Former GOP Rep. Jim Ramstad and former Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo talk about the ability of Congress to wrestle with the budget.

Second hour: James Stewart, author of “Den of Thieves” about Wall Street in the 1980s. He spoke recently at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Political chatter with NPR politics editor Ken Rudin.

Second hour: Henry Kissinger and Ted Koppel.

  • John O.

    In years past, suggestions to increase legislator’s pay were frequently met with scorn and ridicule by Sen. Parry’s Republican predecessors. How ironic it is that a Republican that oversees a committee that wants to eviscerate state government in the face of a $5.2B deficit insinuates he is not making enough?

  • jon

    I crunched the numbers a while ago about what a member of the state legislature makes, I don’t recall what answer I came up with… but itw as something like 20% of their “potential” income comes from per deims.

    that being said, it’s a job that pays some $50k a year, and is only 6 months out of the year that the legislature is in session… seems like the same people who’ve argued teachers making $30k per year for only working 9 months out of the year should be all over this.

  • bench

    just to be clear, Duluth did reach a scorching 71 degrees yesterday. Almost had to turn the fan on…

  • JackU

    #1 – The only time I ever received something approximating the per diem that the legislators get I was an independent contractor. (I’m in IT and was working as a developer for company in the Twin Cities while living in Madison, WI.)

    So I think the legislators can keep their per diem, but they should loose all other benefits they might have like any good independent contractor.

    On former Governor Pawlenty and Amtrak: It seems another Republican presidential hopeful needs to brush up on his history.

  • matt

    Tim Pawlenty just wants 5% growth of GDP over the next 10 years what is so wrong with that? Oh, he wants it each year – that is some funny stuff.

  • Tyler

    Regarding the Brazilian Orchestra or whatever – I had to re-audition every year to stay in the Band at St. Olaf – with a group ensemble like that, it’s not hard to coast, and without individual pressure, the organization as a whole suffers when individuals aren’t striving for improvement. Kudos to whomever decided on that course of action.

  • Jon (a different one)

    I am struggling to understand the point of the per diem. It is one thing for legislators who live a few hours away to need housing or gas money, but a lot of those names on the list are metro dwellers (of both parties). What function does it serve, beyond supplemental pay, for those who live nearby?

    I know a legislator is really never off the clock and being out of a job market for 5 months (6…7… months) each year probably limits your other employment options, but $32,000 seems like good compensation. How many Minnesotans make less than that for their entire year’s wages (and don’t receive extra gas money to get to work)?

  • Dave Detlie

    Well, you know, those men in powerful positions, they have, you know, those powerful men powers.

    I mean, you know, look at MoDo, that powerful Rush guy turned on his powerful men powers, you know, and eeeuw, she went on a date with him.

    You know, if she can’t stand up to it, you know, how can us helpless girls.

    You know, its all their fault really!

  • matt

    This is a sticky wicket…if you keep the pay (in aggregate) of legislators too low you attract candidates that are from one end of the spectrum or the other (too rich to need the money or poor anyways but committed enough to an ideology to spend time doing it). Hard for the everyman to have a voice. Yes that is the legislators job to be the everyman’s voice but again if we are left with a less desirable pool of candidates the representation fails. Even now, if you are capable and willing enough to go out and do the work of getting elected you probably are reasonably qualified for a job that pays in excess of the salary/per diem.

    Reconstructing the way the legislature works could go a long way to solving this. Technological advances and the falling costs of communications make it possible to make some real changes.

  • Kassie

    I think they should just call legislators full time employees, let HR decide what they should be paid based on their skill set needed, just like they do with union positions, and call it a day. They should get the same raises the union employees get. When we don’t get a raise, they don’t get a raise. When we get jacked on our deductibles, they get jacked on their deductibles. When we get shutdown and not paid, they get shutdown and not paid.

  • Jamie

    Jon, I don’t know where you get that $50k figure. I don’t know about senators, but state representatives start at around $31,000, and I don’t know if they get raises on that. If you add in maximum per diem, it comes to about $43,000.