Friday, March 26, 2010

Whatever Happened to Hope: Why Barack Obama Cannot Become a Transformational President

In this recent talk at Vanderbilt University author Rick Perlstein (Before The Storm, Nixonland) points out that in today's polity, the Right is "operating in a post-shame world."

He says liberals have difficulty in dealing with an opposition that "operates from bad faith." And that Obama's consensus politics have little meaning if he never pivots to say certain views and people are beyond that consensus, thus marginalizing them. He argues the president has done nothing to move the political center of gravity away from the far right that now dominates our politics and discourse.

Regarding the Netroots, including the 600,000 people registered at Daily Kos, Perlstein describes it as a new social movement, one which the Obama administration has foolishly "affirmatively ruled out" as a partner in what it is trying to do. The fact that new social movements, Perlstein argues, are where real change comes from, puts the lie to Obama's claim to be an agent of change.

Punishing the victims

While Barack Obama blithely goes about blaming teachers for the children who do poorly in their schools - all the while cheering the destruction of those same schools, Diane Ravitch goes about her lonely duty of debunking the Washington consensus on education. In the words of a blogger whom she quotes, citing poverty as a key reason for poor educational performance:
"We can't fire poverty." Since we can't fire poverty, we can't fire students, and we can't fire families, all that is left is to fire teachers.
Indeed. Ravitch concludes:
It would be good if our nation's education leaders recognized that teachers are not solely responsible for student test scores. Other influences matter, including the students' effort, the family's encouragement, the effects of popular culture, and the influence of poverty...
This strategy of closing schools and firing the teachers is mean and punitive. And it is ultimately pointless. It solves no problem. It opens up a host of new problems. It satisfies the urge to purge. But it does nothing at all for the students.
Of course the morons who control our discourse - including the self-satisfied assholes at Morning Joe, will have none of this.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Truthiness in broadcasting

Today on the "liberal" MSNBC show Morning Joe viewers were treated to propogandization on a level that is too often the case on nearly all US media. The subject was "school reform" and featured guest after guest, subject after subject - six men including Al Sharpton and Mike Barnicle (!) on the glories of charter schools and the responsibility of teachers for much that ails American primary and secondary education.

The show cherry-picked the schools it chose to highlight - the ones I saw were all successful - when in reality a charter school is twice as likely to be failing than a regular public school. The schools seemed chosen specifically because they were not typical - they are the select high-flying set - somehow meant to be an example to all the other failures.

In her new book Diane Ravitch showed how when you boil down the few success stories that exist there can be no formula derived. She points out how some of the success stories pointed to, specifically in New York, are atypical even in the demographics of the city, coming from affluent White and Asian neighborhoods, whereas the majority of the city's neighborhoods are poor, Black and Hispanic.

The level of mendacity on the show was breathtaking, even given the low standards of cable TV. Perhaps the biggest lie was NY Mayor Bloomberg's assertion that, contrary to logic, studies, and the views of real education scholars the problem of poor schools cause poverty, and not the other way around. In this regard we are to take the word of Sharpton, a Black leader who Joe Conason said rents himself out to "GOP tricksters", and a billionaire mayor, as opposed to peer-reviewed research, 20 years of charter schools and privatization, and the views of real education scholars.

Someone on the Joe panel emphasized the false point that the future of our country's job market was dependent on all schools succeeding. But education is not the ticket to the middle class that it once was. In fact, as Paul Krugman put it, "Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser." Fortune magazine reported that between 2000 and 2004 "real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined."

In other words, the problems so obviously go much deeper than public school teachers, who are nothing but a convenient target. The same forces that are bringing down our economy are bringing down our schools. Impoverishing foreign trade, loss of jobs, the housing meltdown and the steep drop in our economy are hurting American families. In both cases deregulation and privatization in a way that retains the spending and authority of government but transfers the power to private entities is having disastrous results.

Implicit in the Morning Joe argument is a utopian idea that all schools - and their students - can be exceptional. That's a nice romantic notion, and I too wish everybody could be exceptional. But in this world, as the existentialists would say, that is not possible. Existence before essence. With their destructive lies, the school choicers have taken a different path: In pursuit of an unattainable essence, they rejoice in the removal from existence of those merely trying to exist. To get a flavor of this, just look at the reaction to the recent announcement of the closing down of a so-called "poorly performing" school in Rhode Island.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Exposing the Obama education disaster

Today the failed experiment that is charter schools represent about three percent of all national primary and secondary schools. President Obama's plan for improving public education is to double the number of charter schools - to six percent of all schools. How in the world creating MORE failed charter schools - all the while maniacally focusing on teachers as the sole cause of the supposed failing of public education - will improve education is not discussed, as if the non-existent market for schools is some kind of magic bullet. And what will become of the 94 percent of schools that are not charters?

Now one of the prime ideologists of the destructive No Child Left Behind act, and a chief right wing proponent of school choice, charters and school vouchers has done a 180 degree turnaround, denouncing NCLB as a blueprint to destroy public education, and school choice as a failed theory originated by White southerners after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in public schools. It is a stunning turnaround for Diane Ravitch, who besides being a (former, now) right wing operative is also a noted historian of public education. Click the image at right to watch an interview with Ravitch from C-Span's Booknotes.

Her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, is about as powerful and complete a repudiation of American education policy over the past 20 years as one could find. She is especially harsh on President Obama and his wretched Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Ravitch says she met with Duncan to share her concerns with Obama's education policy of blaming teachers for students' failures and his pressing for more failed charter schools.

Using her decades of research experience, Ravitch pointed out to Duncan the error of his and Obama's views on education, and how they would achieve the exact opposite of the purported goals. She described the obvious fallacies of the economists and statisticians whose views rule education policy.

Noticeably she placed poverty at the apex of reasons for failing students, and recommended a government policy of dismantling the NCLB testing regimen and charter schools, instead using the money for poverty reduction, which would have a much stronger effect on creating better students than punishing those who are trying to help. According to Ravitch, Duncan listened politely but paid her no mind.

Given Ravitch's importance to the right wing school "reform" movement, and her shocking and brave turnaround, you'd think her ideas and research might have an impact on our discourse, but you'd be wrong.

The Right is already going about rewriting its own history. John Stossel, for example, has already dispatched Ravitch by reporting on her turnaround, then fishing around the regular channels for comments suggesting "Diane Ravitch was never really a reformer." Really? You wouldn't know that from her writings, nor her professional affiliations, both political and within the conservative movement.

Recently in a disgusting display of ignorance and ill will on CNN Wolf Blitzer teamed up with Arne Duncan and "Bookie of Virtue" Bill Bennett to spend a half hour telling lies about public school teachers and charter schools. Duncan is touring the country with Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton - those noted education experts - touting Obama's sadistic education policy.

Here in Minnesota we are regularly treated to anti-public school teacher and pro-charter school nonsense in the Star Tribune. Buffoons like Don Samuels advocate the exact policies which Ravitch so efficiently debunks, but thanks to the censorship of the newspaper readers will likely never know they have been duped. At any rate, here's three cheers to the courageous Diane Ravitch.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Deregulated out of existence

The Securities and Exchange Commission is the government's lead regulator of Wall Street and the formerly high-flying banks like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, etc.

But history will show that the SEC, far from doing its job as a regulator, may have actually abetted the criminality that has led to $10 trillion in losses. As but one example, during the Bush years SEC enforcement actions fell 90 percent. One SEC investigator, in fact, was fired after merely asking to interview a Wall Street bigwig!

Hamstringing government, especially regulation of business is one of the central themes of Republican ideology. Whatever issues they might campaign on, when Republicans gain power deregulation is always attended to. The Neocons actually convinced gullible press and politicians that business would voluntarily regulate itself, a near-religious belief that one of its chief proponents, Alan Greenspan, has admitted was a gross failure of his economic worldview.

Republicans either gut regulations, or simply don't enforce them. In this regard the failure of the SEC, far from being seen as a disaster, is actually a successful application of a Republican ideology which doesn't believe in the legitimacy of government.

Today comes news that the SEC was in fact warned of Lehman Brothers illegal book keeping months before the behemoth bank collapsed, triggering the housing, stock market and financial collapse. Like in the case of Bernie Madoff, it seems absolutely nothing could get the attention of the SEC.

The fact that in real life the ideology and policy of deregulation led to social and economic disaster seems not to have led to a reconsideration by political or media leaders that corrective regulation is needed, and lots of it.

New controls won't happen for two reasons: 1) As Dick Durbin said, despite being bailed out by the taxpayers, the banks still own Washington, and 2) The Right has an institutional apparatus in the form of think tanks and advocacy groups working year round demonizing regulation and telling lies about its supposed negative effects.

Ironically one tangible group of victims in this anti-regulation fraud are the formerly regulated banks, who through their own megalomania got themselves deregulated out of existence.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Economic prescription: Soak the rich

Given the country's ongoing economic meltdown, there isn't really much discussion in the traditional media about what could - or should - be done to turn around the decline in living standards.

As Joseph Stiglitz says in his book Freefall, the popping of the housing bubble might have just led to a regular recession if it was not accompanied by the collapse of the financial system as well. The consequences of the housing bubble and the collapse of the financial sector are further exacerbated by the economic inequality created by 40 years of Republican economics in which tax cuts for the rich were accompanied by government spending cuts which inordinately hurt the poor and people of color.

As the inequality expanded in the 1990s and 2000s, consumers, whose spending makes up about two-thirds of the domestic economy, turned to extracting capital out of their houses and plain old debt to finance the continuance of the American lifestyle, despite not having the incomes to continue.

To read the traditional press and watch the talking heads blather on the tv machine one would be led to believe there is no way out of this dilemma, and that Americans have no choice but to downgrade our civilization, making extreme cuts to the social safety net. But the reality is that there is another way: Soak the rich. As Stiglitz says:
For total American consumption to be restored on a sustainable basis, there would have to be a large redistribution of income, from those at the top who can afford to save, to those below who spend every penny they can get. More progressive taxation would not only do that but also help stabilize the economy.
If the government raises taxes on upper-income Americans to finance an expansion of government spending, especially on investment, the economy will expand - this is called a "balanced budget multiplier."
Supply-side economists, popular in the Reagan days, argued that such taxes will discourage work and savings and thus lower GDP. But their analysis (if correct at all) applies only to situations where production is limited by supply; now there is excess capacity and production is limited by demand.
But with the dominance of "conservative" voices in the media, this macro economic solution is not on the table, to say the least. But it should be.

Friday, March 12, 2010

An "endless cycle of poverty and failure"

A few days ago Don Samuels and the Star Tribune asserted that the "endless cycle of poverty and failure" in north Minneapolis schools are somehow the fault of teachers' unions. Their arguments were ludicrous at best, and libelous at worst. Samuels accused the teachers of being "cynical and morally bankrupt."

Putting aside Samuels' assessment of why there is a "cycle of poverty and failure" in north Minneapolis schools, let's assume he is right that there is, in fact, a pattern of students failing there. What, then, might be the real reason for that failure? In a healthy discourse we could rely on media to help suss out the answer to that question.

Certainly lack of funding, and the socio-economic-status of the students and parents play a part. There is also fresh evidence that people of color receive unequal, harsher "justice" than Whites. But for traditional media like the Star Tribune, such questions are never asked. Softened up by conservative philanthropy supported propagandists, the teachers are just too easy a target.

That doesn't mean that the answers don't exist. At least part of the answer has been the war on minorities waged by Republicans. Tax and government spending policies, both at the national and state level over the past 30 years have inordinately hurt people of color.

Here in Minnesota you'll never hear racist comments coming from the mouth of Governor Pawlenty: He's too smart for that. Moderate voters just will not put up with overt racism. But the impact of his budgets, policies, and spending cuts have unquestionably hurt minorities and the poor more than White and the middle and upper classes.

Writing in the Spokeman-Reporter, a Black newspaper in the Twin Cities, Charles Hallman asserts that "Pawlenty budgets exhibit racial bias" :
The budget cuts “continue to operate in ways that continue [racial disparities]… They protect the status quo,” says Starstep Foundation President Alfred Babbington-Johnson.
Combined with the unallotment powers he used last year to slash health care and state aid to cities among other things, Pawlenty’s proposals have harmed Blacks, other persons of color, and low-income families the most, says the Minneapolis-based Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP) in a recent analysis of the governor’s budget cuts, including his initial decision to eliminate on April 1 the General Assistance Medical Care (GMAC) program. Almost 40 percent of over 70,000 Minnesotans served by GAMC are Blacks and Native Americans.
According to the OAP, 69 percent of clinic visits covered by GAMC at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in 2009 were by people of color, compared to just 30 percent for White patients. “I know a lot of people who receive GMAC,” says Libby Osborne of Minneapolis.
...the governor also proposed a 27-percent cut in the state renters’ credit program. Under that proposal, approximately 274,000 renters will face a reduction, and 18,200 renters actually will lose their credit, the OAP estimates. This would disproportionately affect elderly renters, low income renters and the renters of color who make up 20 percent of all state renters.
The OAP’s analysis also included $300 million in state aid to local governments that Pawlenty either unalloted or cut. “We found that the counties with the highest [number of] people of color, with the highest unemployment, with the highest poverty, are the ones being hit the most by unallotment,” says OAP Lead Policy Analyst Jermaine Toney.
One of the benefits of the civil rights movement of the 1960s is that it is no longer acceptable to be openly racist. Modern racists instead use code words, and, when in power, target for cuts programs which serve minorities and the poor, such as legal aide and medical assistance. Governor Pawlently no doubt hopes his adherence to this script will endear him to the lily White Republican base. And he may be right.

At any rate, an analysis of government policy helps put the lie to the notion that somehow teachers, the people in the trenches trying to help people of color and the poor, should somehow be responsible for their plight.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Charter school chart no one will see

Last year Stanford University did a comprehensive study of Charter school performance in 16 states. The chart below shows that many more students perform academically worse in Charter schools than perform better. Bob Peterson, from Rethinking Schools, told Democracy Now! that
"on page thirty-two of their report, they reported that black and Hispanic students scored significantly lower in charter schools, significantly lower than their counterparts in public schools. That's just in math and reading."
I can pretty much guarantee that you'll never see this chart on the TV news shows, nor in any traditional media. Yet Arne Duncan and Don Samuels will continue to insist that we inflict more failing schools on our students.

The study showed that for every student who did better (in math, at least) at a Charter school, two did worse. What more proof is needed to show the Charter movement is a failed experiment?

UPDATE: In the wake of the Stanford study, even the right wing Diane Ravitch, a longtime supporter of so-called "school choice" has turned on the movement, writing that:
What we need is not a marketplace, but a coherent curriculum that prepares all students. And our government should commit to providing a good school in every neighborhood in the nation, just as we strive to provide a good fire company in every community.
On our present course, we are disrupting communities, dumbing down our schools, giving students false reports of their progress, and creating a private sector that will undermine public education without improving it. Most significantly, we are not producing a generation of students who are more knowledgable, and better prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship. That is why I changed my mind about the current direction of school reform.
What's next, Mitch Pearlstein admitting that school choice is a failed experiment? Don't hold your breath.

America the Tortureful

There are still many people who deny that George W. Bush and his administration lied the country into preventive war on Iraq, despite the obvious and overwhelming evidence. They also believe other lies Bush told the country, including the horrific lie that the U.S. didn't torture anyone. When you read the documents obtained by Salon reporter Mark Benjamin, however, you realize what a charade Bush's claims were, and what a horrible nation we have become:

That particular Bradbury memo laid out a precise and disturbing protocol for what went on in each waterboarding session. The CIA used a "specially designed" gurney for waterboarding, Bradbury wrote. After immobilizing a prisoner by strapping him down, interrogators then tilted the gurney to a 10-15 degree downward angle, with the detainee's head at the lower end. They put a black cloth over his face and poured water, or saline, from a height of 6 to 18 inches, documents show. The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner's nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing.

Detainees would be strapped to the gurney for a two-hour "session." During that session, the continuous flow of water onto a detainee's face was not supposed to exceed 40 seconds during each pour. Interrogators could perform six separate 40-second pours during each session, for a total of four minutes of pouring. Detainees could be subjected to two of those two-hour sessions during a 24-hour period, which adds up to eight minutes of pouring. But the CIA's guidelines say interrogators could pour water over the nose and mouth of a detainee for 12 minutes total during each 24-hour period. The documents do not explain the extra four minutes to get to 12.

Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee's mouth and nose using his hands. "The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee's nose and mouth to dam the runoff," the Bradbury memo notes. "In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water."

What is worse, the war crimes committed in our names, or the fact that no one has ever been held to account for them? From the Revolutionary War to World War II the United States had a reputation as a country that wasn't willing to engage in the kind of barbarity that Benjamin describes. George W. Bush has destroyed more than 200 years of built-up goodwill for the U.S. Now forevermore the world will regard Americans as unrepentant war criminals. Just another gift from the Necons and Republicans.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Star Tribune's dishonest campaign against public school teachers

Today the Star Tribune has three different op-eds lamenting the influence of teachers' unions and advocating for more Charter Schools. Of the three, the worst, and longest, is one by Minneapolis Councilman Don Samuels, along with Chanda Baker and Sondra Samuels.

The trio blames public school teachers for Minnesota'sArne Duncan, Al Sharpton and Newt Gringrich, campaigning for Race to the top failure to attract federal money from President Obama and his Education Secretary's "Race to the top" program. Samuels, shockingly compare modern-day school teachers to the racist George Wallace, who personally stood in a doorway of a school that was ordered desegregated in Alabama:
[the teachers' union] stands defiantly in the school entrance, horn in hand, blocking any innovation that would lift black children from north Minneapolis out of the endless cycle of poverty and failure...
Ignoring the obvious comparison of school teachers to a southern bigot, what is the evidence that the teachers' union is responsible for the "cycle of poverty and failure" in north Minneapolis? According to the authors, the great crime of the union is that it doesn't want to acquiesce to so-called "performance pay" or "alternative teacher certification." An honest discourse would admit that these arguments are ludicrous, for any number of reasons. How does putting less qualified teachers in the classroom help achievement?
Oddly, the national discussion over why students are testing poorly has been ridiculously crude, if not outright dumb. Both politicians and the media have focused the blame exclusively on teachers. No attention is given to the fact that so-called failing schools have been bled dry of funding. It is impossible for a teacher to succeed when there is not enough money to buy books for all the students or when classes are overcrowded, especially in schools that have students with special needs.
Poverty, and the countless social ills born from it, are the obvious reasons why students perform poorly (high income schools are never labeled as “failures”). By ignoring this glaring fact, politicians reveal themselves to have ulterior motives...
On this issue President Obama is sadistically and shamefully wrong - punishing poorly performing schools, while rewarding those that are doing well. What is the point of such a policy except to further exacerbate the problems of people who are "mired in poverty and failure" ?? The goal of Obama's policy is to create more Charter schools, which is really insane if increases in academic achievement are desired.

Here in Minnesota we just learned that Charter schools are 17 times more likely to be failing than regular public schools, and their academic performance is "significantly below" that of regular public schools. In fact, according to the University of Minnesota Law School, Charter schools are making the plight of minorities worse:
“Rather than being a solution to the educational problems faced by low-income students and students of color, charter schools are deepening these problems.”
So what Samuels, et. al. are saying is really garbage. If we were to take their advice we would essentially be making their schools worse.

Samuels also claims that under-certified teachers like those from Teach For America perform as well as regularly certified teachers. That is pure bullshit (2):
Results indicate 1) that students of TFA teachers did not perform significantly different from students of other under-certified teachers, and 2) that students of certified teachers out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified. This was true on all three subtests of the SAT reading, mathematics and language arts.
Of course, the union bashers don't lack for their own "facts" to countermand the real evidence delivered by peer-reviewed social science research. One need only look at the Neocon funded National Bureau for Economic Research to find "evidence" that somehow teachers who are poorly trained outperform those who have studied and practiced for years. Like just about any issue the Neocons push, the truth doesn't really matter. If the facts don't match their positions then they make up their own, then emit them through what David Brock calls "The Republican Noise Machine," of which the Star Tribune is apparently now a member.

Probably the worst part of Samuels' commentary is his degenerate personal attack on the teachers' union head and its members, calling them "cynical, morally bankrupt" focusing "more on protecting the adult members of teacher unions than protecting the interests of the state's most vulnerable children." Samuels libels the union by claiming it has a commitment "to thwarting real reform [blocking] every bridge that spans the racial and socioeconomic performance gap." That's the kind of emotional garbage you get in an argument when the person making claims does not have the facts on his side. And it's what you find more and more on the Star Trib commentary pages.

BTW - I submitted this as a letter about Charters last week, but of course it wasn't published.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The end of the Neocons?

Wishful thinking, I'm afraid:

Charter school fail

Yesterday the Star Tribune reported that the bottom performing five percent of Minnesota primary and secondary public schools will be subject to draconian punishment, including the possible closing or restructuring of 34 schools. Of those schools, half are Charter schools.

Minnesota has 2,637 public schools. Of those, according to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, about 152 are Charters. Doing the math, that means that 17 of 152 Charters are failing, versus 17 of 2,485 regular public schools are judged failing. That amounts to about 11 percent of Charters failing versus a little more than one-half of one percent of regular schools failing - meaning Charters in Minnesota are about 17 times more likely to fail than regular public schools.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the educational attainment levels of Charters versus regular public schools. A study from Stanford University last year found that Minnesota Charter schools perform "significantly below" the level of regular public schools.

So what will be done with these failing Charters? What is the point of "restructuring" a Charter school, when it was a failed experiment to begin with?

As I've said repeatedly, Charter schools are an experiment that has failed miserably. It is now a political movement, not an educational one, and it is the children of Minnesota who are now the continuing victims of a scam based on creating a "market" for schools where none existed, and where none can truly exist.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Demonizing with lies

Over at Rowdy Crowd Brian Lambert crafted a post about two Strib op-eds that touched on the issue of journalists judging the veracity of competing arguments (i.e. calling bullshit). He was partially lamenting the reticence of reporters to call obvious lies lies. In the long discussion that followed I pointed out that when one side (Republicans) takes license to lie as a core belief in their value system (justified by the theories of Leo Strauss) it short-circuits discourse. As an example of this lying I pointed out the lies that the Bush administration told to take the nation to war on Iraq. In response, Mike Kennedy asserted that
The Iraq War will continue to be debated. I’m not convinced Iraq should have been the priority.

However, anyone can throw out charges using words like lies and demonizing. It is a form of demonizing in and of itself. The country has serious problems that are not addressed when we resort to name calling.

Thus Kennedy made my point: In "civil discourse" it is apparently not acceptable to point out systemic lying, making actual discourse impossible. I replied
By being the party of grand old liars the Republicans make it difficult, if not impossible to have a conversation. Calling someone a liar immediately makes the person making such an argument open to ridicule as being in-civil at best, and duplicitous at worse. So – if one side does lie, mis-characterize and draw unwarranted conclusions as a matter of practice, it becomes difficult, if not impossible to have a real discourse. This is the box the Straussians and neo-cons have put us in.
Citizens who thus miss the way Republicans lie through their teeth all the time are destined to never understand the corrupt cacophony that is American discourse. Those people may not be convinced of the historical certainty of Bush lying the country into war.

Then today I came across this MSNBC post from 2008 on a study by the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism into the rhetoric employed by the Bush administration in the run up to the war on Iraq. The researchers found that the Bush administration made 935 false statements on Iraq alone in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. I'm sure Mike Kennedy will find some way to discount the study, which is according to script. Telling lies, big and small, and denying traditional ways of knowing things (i.e. the scientific method) is what conservatives do these days.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Air quality and reporting fail

Data is now in for February air quality in the Twin Cities, and it doesn't look any better than November, December and January. Fewer than one-third of the days in February had acceptable air quality in the Twin Cities:

The Star Tribune finally got around to noticing the air quality fail, but curiously blamed the pollution on the weather! The premise of the Strib report is that the problem is not that we are marinating in our own filth, but that the light winds of winter are to blame! If only...four months of the weather making bad air for us to breathe? Only in the Strib.

UPDATE: I might add: IMHO journalism is supposed to empower the citizenry, i.e. illuminate issues so that we might improve our governance and world. What is the effect of environmental reporting that attributes four consecutive months of piss poor air quality on the weather? Obviously we cannot change the weather, so the story basically implies that nothing is to be done. But of course there IS something we can do: strengthen emission controls.