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The Mamaw of All Elegies

After reading an excellent essay about “Two Underclasses” in the current issue of “National Review” by J. J. Vance, who also is author of the applauded new book “Hillbilly Elegy,” one of my first thoughts was that as important conservative voices go, his was certainly emerging.  But I quickly corrected myself, recognizing that he and his voice already were fully emerged, and vitally so. Vance and his remarkable background are coming to be well known in select quarters.  A son of Appalachia and the Rust Belt, he managed to escape disorganization and dysfunction (as sociologists might put it) by way of...

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When Public Officials Read Troubled Situations Less Well than Troubled Kids Actually Read

In a Star Tribune story last week (July 28) about another year of no progress to speak of by students on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments – with exactly the same holding true with reducing achievement gaps between white kids and kids of color – Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius is cited as saying that problems outside of educators’ control such as homelessness and family income are at least partial causes. The commissioner is absolutely right – at least partially.  But what she didn’t say, what people in government hardly ever say (as witness last month’s Republican and Democratic national conventions) is...

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Meet Kris Greene, Minnesota’s Quiet Mama Bear

I met Kris Greene several years ago. We were in federal court, listening to arguments in a case she and other parents brought in an attempt to stop Governor Dayton from inviting a union to speak for them, or even worse, interfering with how they care for their disabled family members. On the steps of the courthouse she quietly but firmly told me, “I don’t want a union getting between me and my daughter.” As a fellow mama bear, I immediately related to Kris Greene. Kris Greene’s daughter is a beautiful, disabled adult who will never live on her own. Taxpayers have generously...

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Families and the Fourth

The July 4th holiday means family for many Minnesotans--reunions, backyard cookouts and fireworks.  American Experiment’s Mitch Pearlstein recently collected insights and ideas from 36 thinkers from across the country on what our society can do to better support the family structure and encourage parents to make the commitment to strengthen family bonds. The Fargo Forum published Mitch’s thoughts on this July 4th weekend. Thirty years ago this summer, I was an editorial writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and had a chance to interview Bill Bennett, who was secretary of education at the time in the Reagan administration. About a...

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Going Forth on the Fourth

Putting on my sociological hat – which sits to the right of where most social science headgear sits atop others – I can list any number of reasons why many Americans have extra tall hurdles to leap. To start there’s poverty. Add extraordinary numbers of young people who are forced to grow up with missing parents. While claims of racism and other forms of discrimination are regularly overstated, that doesn’t mean they’re never on-target. Perverse peer pressures can be paralyzing academically and in other ways. For people with weak skills, increasingly demanding job markets make earning a decent living and supporting a family increasingly difficult. Many...

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An Extra-Modest Word about Fathers on Their Day

Despite all the writing I’ve done about the sad and damaging effects of family fragmentation, my “operative” view of fatherhood – surprisingly, I trust to many – is a rather minimalist and non-romanticized one.  This is the case since I don’t argue or even hope for fathers being immersed in their children’s live in the kinds of intense ways some seek. For instance, as long as it doesn’t upset their wives or other divine relationships they may have, I don’t see it as required that husbands change any diapers.  It surely would be nice if they did, but it’s not imperative...

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Neglecting What Matters in Neglect Deaths

Following up on last week’s blog, the new one below again looks at a recently released national report aimed at “eliminating” – not just reducing but completely ending – child abuse and neglect fatalities in the United States.  This new blog starts by touching on what’s going on in Hennepin Country, and Minnesota more generally, in regards to such dreadful matters.  So as to leave no doubt about what I see as one of the biggest, albeit almost inevitably ignored causes of child abuse and deaths, I will once again assert that there is no way – none – to...

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Choosing Your Partners Carefully

Heck with expensive bourbon and more expensive cigars. There’s nothing like an intriguing endnote about a social service program in Ohio called “Choose Your Partner Carefully” to cap off a sober evening reading a copious federal report about a depressing subject. More about the intricacies of marrying (or maybe just moving in together) in Marion County in a moment, but first a few words about the 167-page report itself. The 2016 document is the product of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, a group composed of a dozen men and women appointed two years ago by President Obama and...

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The Metropolitan Council’s Disparities Report: The Limitations of Racial Explanations

The Metropolitan Council released a report this week statistically documenting, once again, disparities between “persons of color and White, non-Latinos” in regards to poverty rates, home ownership, employment, and levels of education in the 16-county Twin Cities region.  All four sets of disparities are among the biggest in the country.  The report relies on regression analysis, a research method I’m not nearly expert in, but about which I know two key things in this instance. The first – this is true in all regression analyses, not just those pertaining race – is that the pertinence and comprehensiveness of the data researchers...

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Is the Customer Always Right? Or Do Businesses Have the Right to Refuse Service?

Governor Mark Dayton issued two decrees this week to the state’s workforce: all non-essential travel is banned to North Carolina and Mississippi. The governor’s memo came in response to legislation that throws a life line to citizens whose religious liberties may come under fire. Dayton may have to issue more travel bans as more states try to protect certain business owners faced with a conundrum: gay or lesbian customers ask for goods or services for their wedding ceremony. Or a customer who is physically male but feels he is really a woman, wants to use the women’s bathroom or locker room. The...

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