MinnPost

Syndicate content
Updated: 3 min 59 sec ago

Council Member Andrew Johnson's April 16 McGuire email

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 5:49pm
MinnPost file photo by Terry GydesenCity Council Member Andrew Johnson

1)      A referendum would be triggered under the City Charter unless either A) the “relief” is less than $10 million in value, or B) the State Legislature overrides the City Charter again as they did with the Vikings Stadium.

9.4. - Debt. Professional sports facility. Neither the City, nor any board, commission, committee, or department, nor any governmental body whose territorial jurisdiction is coextensive with or falls wholly within the City, may finance any professional sports facility in an amount greater than $10 million unless the voters in an otherwise scheduled election (and not an election held only for that purpose) so authorize. For this section 9.4(e)'s purposes, "finance" includes applying existing realty, infrastructure, overhead, or other resources, and forgoing taxes or any other revenue, as well as spending money directly, issuing bonds, or otherwise incurring debt.

For those that recall the Vikings Stadium legal questions, the State Legislature adopted a special law overriding this City Charter requirement, but that special law specifically was for “stadium infrastructure as a venue for professional football” [473J.01], a scope repeatedly mentioned throughout the special law and to which their overriding the Charter was solely applied to, so the law itself could not be used again for a separate facility beyond what is being built for the Vikings. 

2)      Even if the State Legislature was to override the City Charter, property tax breaks of this nature violate the Minnesota Constitution. Only TIF is allowed, notwithstanding the Charter requirement.

Section 1. Power of taxation; exemptions; legislative powers.

The power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended or contracted away. Taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects and shall be levied and collected for public purposes, but public burying grounds, public school houses, public hospitals, academies, colleges, universities, all seminaries of learning, all churches, church property, houses of worship, institutions of purely public charity, and public property used exclusively for any public purpose, shall be exempt from taxation except as provided in this section. There may be exempted from taxation personal property not exceeding in value $200 for each household, individual or head of a family, and household goods and farm machinery as the legislature determines. The legislature may authorize municipal corporations to levy and collect assessments for local improvements upon property benefited thereby without regard to cash valuation. The legislature by law may define or limit the property exempt under this section other than churches, houses of worship, and property solely used for educational purposes by academies, colleges, universities and seminaries of learning.

Why did Minnesota United's owners even bother asking for a property tax exemption for a new stadium?

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 5:49pm

It seemed like simple math.

When the prospective owner of Minnesota’s prospective Major League Soccer franchise, Bill McGuire, finally said what he wanted from government when it came to building a prospective new stadium, the case was made that foregoing tax revenue wasn’t really foregoing tax revenue.

See, the argument went, if no soccer-specific stadium is built at a site near the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, then no sales taxes on construction equipment and materials would be collected. And if a stadium is built without having to pay those taxes, then the government entities get exactly the same amount of revenue as they would have had nothing been built at all.

It’s the same math that’s used by politicians supporting all sorts of tax breaks — for everything from computer server farms to Super Bowl tickets to just about anything built in Greater Minnesota: if wasn’t here, there wouldn’t be any of that revenue anyway.

As Billy Preston might say, nothing from nothing leaves nothing.

That’s why the “ask” by McGuire on behalf of himself and his prospective co-owners seemed to be somewhat warmly received, at least at first. Gov. Mark Dayton and some legislative leaders who had been saying “no, no, no” moved to, “well, maybe” once they heard what McGuire actually wanted — a sales tax exemption for facility construction materials; a property tax exemption; and limits on future local taxes — and, more important, what he didn’t. 

Unlike all who had come before, McGuire said that he and his fellow Minnesota United owners would buy the land and build an open-air soccer stadium on their own dime. They would own it and run it without the need for the fig-leaf of a public stadium authority or city ownership — both of which give control and most revenue to the teams. (It also means he won't be getting lower-interest rates available when government sells construction bonds.)

But that fact, refreshing as it might seem, gave stadium opponents — somehow epitomized by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges — an opening. Hodges is opposed to any tax breaks for the stadium, be they sales, property, income, whatever. And she gets points for consistency, since she didn’t support the Vikings stadium deal while on the city council, either.

But in an official statement, prepared by city staff but posted on her private web page this week, Hodges showed how the old argument about the second part of the McGuire request — the property tax exemption — doesn’t hold up. Turns out that the city is, in fact, already getting property taxes on the private parcels targeted for the soccer stadium.

In fact, if the purchase price for the land is around $30 million (a number McGuire revealed earlier this week), taking the land off the tax rolls would mean a loss of revenue of around $350,000 a year. And letting McGuire (not to mention his partners, which include the Pohlad family, which owns United Properties) develop the land tax free ends the chance that the city of Minneapolis could collect the enhanced property tax assessment from another private-but-taxed development.

Hodges went further, mixing some solid arguments with some peripherals (wondering why the new team couldn’t play at another facility; stating that a new stadium could compete with city-owned Target Center for concerts) in a kitchen-sink anti-stadium treatise.

But by piercing the property tax provision, she pointed the way for other attacks. While lots of businesses in Minnesota get sales tax breaks, none apparently get an exemption from paying property tax. There’s a reason for that, offered Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson — the state constitution seems to prohibit it.

If McGuire wanted the sort of property tax breaks that all the other stadiums in the Twin Cities get — no sales tax as well as no property tax — he would need to have it under public ownership, as is the case with those other facilities.

In that scenario, though, McGuire and his co-owners would not own the land under and around the stadium. And though Hodges et al would still assuredly be opposed to that arrangement, at least there would be a precedent for it. There is no precedent for a privately owned anything getting a property tax exemption.

So is this all just a real estate play? For McGuire, there is certainly some sort of beneficence in coughing up the $100 million franchise fee to MLS, the $30 million for the land and the $120 million for an 18,500-seat-plus-standing areas-plus suites stadium. And since MLS teams don’t make money, some annual losses should be included in the budget. But couldn’t he and his fellow owners make some of it back by developing the area around the stadium (which is near the proposed-but-not-funded Southwest LRT light rail line)?

Or maybe the owners just figure it wouldn’t be fair for them to pony up for a stadium that jump- starts redevelopment in a part of town that needs it — and then get hit with much-higher property tax payments on much-higher-valued land they helped make happen.

Either way, it’s not much money. Sales tax on a $120 million stadium wouldn’t be much more than $3 million. And property taxes on a place assessed at $150 million or so would be in the range of $1.5 million to $2 million a year.

The Minnesota United ownership group has a lot of money, of course, and it could be argued that at least two — the Pohlads and Glen Taylor — were made significantly richer when the teams they own, the Twins and Timberwolves, respectively, received new or renovated taxpayer-supported facilities. Spending some of that money on a new sports team is either poetic justice — or an indirect means of putting tax dollars into another new stadium. Or both.

So why does McGuire bother, with the aggravation and the personal attacks for a few million bucks? If other professional sports team owners in other cities are a guide, it may just a matter of getting a little bit of love from a place you think you’re helping out. And given how much the other sports owners are getting (hello, Wilfs), it might just be embarrassing to be the only team getting absolutely nothing at all.

McGuire now must be wondering why the most-generous offer by any owner in Minnesota yet wasn’t better received. He has to get his arms around the fact that politicians who were saying “no-direct subsidy” are now refusing to take ‘yes’ for an answer. Then he can either walk away or carry on.

So what’s the endgame? Any deal would take legislation at the state level, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk — not exactly a soccer enthusiast, anyway — said he wouldn’t move without support from the city of Minneapolis, which is divided. And that’s for the sales tax part only. As for the property tax — that might take changing the state constitution, and it’s hard to imagine a Sports Owners Relief Amendment having much (or any) chance at the polls.

At the press extravaganza announcing the franchise, both McGuire and MLS Commissioner Don Garber didn’t seem all that concerned that a stadium wouldn’t happen. Only when pressed did Garber even acknowledge something resembling a deadline for finalizing a stadium deal, and he always followed any gloom and doom talk with a forceful statement of his confidence in McGuire, et al. So the July deadline that is being tossed around is a phony —  or at least flexible — one. Having come this far and offering up this much private money, it would be a shock for the owners to walk away over a few million bucks in taxes.

Britt Robson's 2015 NBA playoff preview

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 5:35pm

Unlike the Minnesota Timberwolves, a majority of NBA teams have a postseason to play. What follows is my thumbnail take on the eight first round series, which figure to be mostly blowouts in the Eastern Conference and, for the most part, highly competitive and entertaining jousts in the West. 

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks (1) vs. Brooklyn Nets (8)
The Hawks will be hurt during the postseason by the loss of wing stopper Thabo Sefolosha, but not so much in this series, where there is a whopping 22-win differential between the teams. Atlanta is simply the better team at both ends and hope to end this quickly so the shoulder of Paul Millsap has more time to heal. The Nets best hope for an upset involves a barrage of three-pointers from Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Bojan Bogdanovic and Thad Young against a Hawks defense that has been suspect on the perimeter.
Keys: The Al Horford—Brook Lopez matchup and who wins the three-point battle.
The pick: Hawks in 5

Cleveland Cavs (2) vs. Boston Celtics (7)
This has the potential to be very entertaining. Both teams turned it on during the second half of the season and the Celtics can play without pressure as a heavy underdog happy to be here. They can take away Kyrie Irving but have no answer for Lebron James. This will be the first-ever playoff games for both Irving and Kevin Love. An early loss would ratchet up the scrutiny, so the first two games are crucial.
Keys: Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart bothering Irving, Cleveland’s mental resilience.
The pick: Cavs in 4 

Chicago Bulls (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
It’s weird to consider the Bulls going into a playoff matchup as the inferior defensive team, but the Bucks’ length and athleticism on the wing has given it fearsome pick and roll coverage. Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s offense is horrible, the team is young, and it has no counter for the slew of talented bigs Chicago rolls out in Noah, Gasol, Gibson and Mirotic.
Keys: The disruptive prowess of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams for Milwaukee; the ever-precarious health of Derrick Rose for the Bulls.
The pick: Bulls in 4

Toronto Raptors (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)
The point-guard matchup between Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Washington’s John Wall is appointment television, a fabulous clash of styles. The Raptors have better depth, especially in the backcourt, but can’t stop anybody on defense. Toronto was upset by Brooklyn in last year’s playoffs, while Washington had a spirited run into the second round and have added Paul Pierce, who lives for playoff heroics.
Keys: whomever wins the Wall-Lowry tussle; the outside shooting of Washington's Bradley Beal; and the effectiveness of Toronto’s bench.
The pick: Wizards in 6

Western Conference

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8)
It is simplistic but accurate to treat this series as the best team in basketball versus the game’s best young player in Anthony Davis of New Orleans. If the Pelicans are to steal a game, the do-it-all budding superstar will have to showcase his entire gamut of skills. Of course, in MVP favorite Steph Curry and volume scorer Klay Thompson, the Warriors are hardly lacking in star power.
Keys: avoiding injuries for Golden State; getting Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans back in rhythm for the Pelicans.
The pick: Warriors in 3 (ok, 4)

Houston Rockets (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)
So many superb matchups here: Tyson Chandler vs. Dwight Howard at center; playoff overachiever Rajon Rondo guarding MVP candidate James Harden; and Trevor Ariza vs. ex-Rocket Chandler Parsons out on the wing. Factor in the brilliance of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the enmity between Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Rockets GM Daryl Morey, and the geographical proximity and you’ve got a potential classic.
Keys: all of the above matchups, with Ariza, who often comes up big in the postseason, an especially intriguing x-factor.
The pick: Mavs in 7

Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. San Antonio Spurs (6)
The Clippers rival Golden State for the best starting five in the NBA. San Antonio has the league’s most effective and influential team culture. The Clippers are salty in their attitude and have a dearth of talent on the bench. The Spurs are deep, relatively dispassionate, and proudly systematic. Anything can happen here.
Keys: How do Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin match up? Can the NBA’s best point guard, Chris Paul, shake the NBA’s best perimeter defender, Kawhi Leonard? And how about that Gregg Popovich-Doc Rivers coaching joust?
The pick: Spurs in 6 

Portland Trailblazers (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
A marvelous study in contrasts: Portland loves to spread the floor and fire away from distance, while the Grizzlies grind it into the paint for their points. The matchup of Zach Randolph and LeMarcus Aldridge epitomizes the difference. Both sides are dinged, especially Mike Conley and Tony Allen of the Grizzlies, although the biggest hurt is the absence of gritty wingman Wes Matthews, out for the season with an injury.
Keys: Both point guards Damon Lillard and Conley are crunchtime studs. Memphis home court advantage is huge. How will Grizzlies deploy the smothering defense of Allen?
The pick: Pure tossup. I’ll say Grizzlies 7. 

As for the rest of the playoffs, here are my telescoped picks, with the caveat that this will look sillier and sillier as time progresses.

Second round, East
Cavs over Bulls in 7
Hawks over Wizards in 6

Second round, West
Warriors over Grizzlies in 5
Spurs over Mavs in 6

Eastern Conference Finals
Cavs over Hawks in 5 

Western Conference Finals
Warriors over Spurs in 6

NBA Championship
Warriors over Cavs in 5

Why MSP is the once, current and future Internet of Things (IoT) alley

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 3:51pm

A slender wristband that manages your home’s climate control, stereo and security system with the flick of a finger. A system that turns your cabinets and appliances into “smart things” that sense the world around them and tell you what they’ve learned. A miniature electric guitar that teaches you how to play at your own pace and produces concert-quality sound to boot.

What do these three different gadgets have in common?

One, they’re all part of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), a rapidly growing cohort of Internet-connected devices that directly communicate with one another and can sync with any other device that’s hooked into the cloud, including your personal smartphone, tablet or home computer. Two, they’re all — along with numerous other IoT devices — made or designed right here by companies in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Currently MSP boasts a lively, innovative IoT scene that produces connected devices, and systems that make them easier to use, for businesses and consumers alike. There’s even a movement afoot to rebrand MSP as “IoT Alley” in recognition of its historical and contemporary contributions to the field. (Though Boston-area techies claim ownership of the “IoT Alley” label too.) Whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that MSP is leading the march toward a future in which even the most mundane objects — furniture, apparel, lawn sprinklers — plug into the cloud and communicate with the wider world.

IoT hub before the term was coined

MSP has been a major IoT hub since the days of the mainframe computer, when IoT was known as “machine to machine communications” (M2M) and didn’t have much use outside of large-scale manufacturing applications.

OAS_AD("Middle");

Back then, remote data sensors made by Minneapolis-based Honeywell and other local firms formed intranet networks in self-contained settings, such as heavy-industry environments too hostile for humans to safely spend lots of time in. They supported early generation automation and monitoring applications, making manufacturing safer and more efficient.

In the 1990s, Minneapolis-based Medtronic pioneered a “smart” glucose-monitoring system that recorded patients’ blood-sugar levels as they went about their business and periodically sent the information to their doctors. Numerous connected medical devices followed.

“MSP was an IoT hub way before the term was even coined,” says Joe Morris, a local entrepreneur, investor, startup mentor and owner of MinMor Industries, a printing, packaging and promotions firm. “And it still is today: I’m currently working with several promising IoT startups.”

Today, geometric improvements in computing power and bandwidth have dramatically reduced the cost and complexity of Internet-connected devices, precipitating new applications that were once impractical or unthinkable. Modern factories are awash in connected devices, allowing them to get by with far less labor than a generation ago. Many medical implants transmit real-time data, though security concerns persist.

The Internet of Things is revolutionizing agriculture, too, with field-deployed sensors communicating soil moisture measurements to smart, highly efficient irrigation systems and Internet-connected tags enabling real-time inventory management at far-flung locations on large farms. IoT could even change how we water our lawns: A local company called IrriGreen makes a smart home irrigation system that uses up to 50 percent less water than conventional sprinklers.

“What makes the current situation different than before is the ability for [connected devices] to be created by almost anyone and the ability of these devices to communicate across a common medium, the Internet,” says Morris. “The potential there is almost unlimited.”

“IoT is a huge growth industry,” echoes Ryan Broshar, principal at local venture capital fund Matchstick Ventures, adding that it may soon be unhelpful to try to differentiate the Internet of Things from the Internet itself. “Pretty much everything will eventually be connected, so the term ‘Internet of Things’ really just describes the future of the Internet.”

IoT’s building blocks, made in MSP

IrriGreen is just one of many local companies working on smart, connected devices and systems. In large part, startups and established companies headquartered in MSP, or that maintain design studios and manufacturing facilities here, are leading the IoT sector’s heady growth.

Spark, for instance, makes development kits and “a suite of hardware and software tools” — with names like Core, Photon and Electron — that enable users to build connected devices in their workshop or basement. Spark’s technology facilitates rapid prototyping and testing; once the user works out the kinks in their device, the technology allows production to be scaled almost without limit.

For the cash-strapped, idea-driven innovator, Spark shortens the time necessary to demonstrate proof of concept, boosting the chances of attracting investors’ or collaborators’ attention before the innovator’s initial funding (or patience) dries up. Judging by the list of devices “powered by Spark” on Spark’s website, lots of inventors and entrepreneurs see the value in its solutions. Not surprisingly, Spark was a huge hit at last year’s Innovation Expo.

Exosite, another local firm, focuses its efforts on businesses looking tap the power of IoT and connect their equipment to the cloud.

“By 2020, there will be as many as 60 billion connected devices in use,” says Mark Benson, Exosite’s chief technology officer. (Other estimates are a bit more conservative, but still impressive: Research firm Gartner predicts 25 billion connected devices by 2020.) “Many, perhaps most, will be the sorts of devices we already use,” like household appliances, motors, car parts, even tables and chairs. In other words, the future of the Internet is about animating formerly inanimate objects — what Benson calls “pervasive computing.”

Exosite offers two solutions for IoT-ready businesses. The first is a software-as-a-service platform that manufacturers and parts suppliers can harness to produce connected industrial sensors, home appliances, medical devices and pretty much anything else. The platform supports clients’ APIs (programming interfaces that facilitate communication and data-sharing between applications) and integrates directly with the manufacturing process — “80 to 90 percent of what you need to create a connected product,” says Benson. Clients’ in-house development teams typically handle the remaining 10 to 20 percent.

Exosite’s second solution is a hands-on “professional services” package. Clients can hire Exosite’s in-house engineers and architects to outfit and set up newly connected devices, train in-house IT departments that may be unfamiliar with IoT protocols, and develop apps that integrate with connected devices. LogicPD, another MSP-based firm with offices in several other cities, offers a similar suite of services.

The next leg up for IoT: consumers

These building blocks underpin the “next big thing” for IoT: consumer applications. As connected devices become cheaper and more ubiquitous, says Morris, it’s easier and more economical to devise new ways to sell them to individual end-users. Jamstik, for instance, is a compact, Internet-connected “electric teaching guitar” that produces super high-quality music and taps the cloud to deliver a customized curriculum based on the user’s performance and preferences.

Courtesy of JamstikJamstik is a compact, Internet-connected “electric teaching guitar.”

An even bigger market for MSP’s consumer-facing IoT innovators: home automation. In the past five years, home automation has transformed from a fringe novelty for techies into an increasingly affordable and commonplace trapping of middle-class life.
 
“I’m not sure how MSP got into the home automation business,” Morris admits, “but it’s a big, big focus here.”

Reemo (made by an MSP-based startup called Playtabase) is a powerful, lightweight wristband that controls basic home functions like climate control, entertainment and security, all with a flick or two of the wrist. The device can be programmed to initiate event sequences when users go to bed or return home from work — in the latter instance, perhaps simultaneously turning on the lights, disarming the security system, unlocking the doors and powering up the thermostat with a single command. Reemo was a co-winner at this year’s CoCo Pitch Night, a sure sign of its broad appeal.

SmartThings, another local home automation firm, is much farther down the road to success: Samsung bought the company last year for a cool $200 million. Like Playtabase, the company makes a proprietary system that loops formerly “dumb” in-home fixtures and appliances into an intelligent, communicative, fully connected network. SmartThings’ system is even more extensive than Reemo: It includes exterior and interior motion sensors, for instance.

Like Reemo, SmartThings’ system can be customized to the user’s preferences and routines. By analyzing users’ behavior patterns, it also “learns” over time. The interface isn’t quite as simple — no wrist-flicking — but the SmartThings system does sync with the user’s smartphone: a pocket-sized, fully mobile home control panel.

These IoT successes might not be possible without a supportive, tight-knit community of developers, engineers, entrepreneurs and other innovators. IoTMPLS describes itself as “a monthly meetup focused on uniting scrappy coders, engineers, makers, hackers, thinkers and doers with artists, marketers, entrepreneurs and innovators.” Among other things, the group dedicates itself to helping members tackle tough IoT-related engineering and programming challenges.

Meanwhile, Beta.mn — co-founded by Matchstick Ventures’ Broshar — has a broader focus, supporting startups in every corner of MSP’s tech scene, including IoT. Beta.mn sponsors informal events and meetups where innovators and entrepreneurs meet, mingle and discuss what they’ve been working on in a laid-back environment. The group’s mission, per its website is simple: “We believe that by throwing meaningful events ... for the area’s brightest innovators, we’ll ensure that the next big thing happens in our own backyard.”

IoTMPLS, Beta.mn and similar groups contribute to a community-first ethos that sets MSP apart from more cutthroat innovation hubs. “As I’ve become more involved in MSP’s startup community, I’ve noticed that people here want to help others with little to no concern about themselves,” says Morris.

In other words, MSP’s brightest innovators and investors aren’t single-mindedly focused about becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. They’re more concerned about the professional success and well-being of their fellow innovators: What benefits one member of the community benefits the community as a whole.

How MSP keeps its IoT edge

No matter how innovative you are, though, selflessness only gets you so far. Recent examples of MSP-built IoT firms looking for growth elsewhere should give the region’s boosters pause. After accepting Samsung’s buyout offer, SmartThings relocated its headquarters to California, though it does retain a significant presence here. Spark remains independent, but it too opened a Bay Area office after a successful funding round and now seems more focused on building up its West Coast presence.

Spark and SmartThings raise the question: Does MSP need to do more to support and retain successful startups?

“It’s certainly concerning that promising companies feel the need to move elsewhere” when they reach a certain size or level of success, says Benson.

Broshar, Morris and others believe that the key to a more robust, retention-oriented MSP IoT startup scene lies in building bridges between local early stage companies and the Medtronics and 3Ms that may one day buy them out — or, for startups that remain independent and become wildly successful, compete with them for the same customers.

Pairing the efforts of support groups like IoTMPLS and Beta.mn with a more robust funding and mentorship ecosystem — exemplified by people like Broshar and Morris — could help startups move beyond the do-or-die phase, become profitable and ultimately attract the attention of their more established peers.

“There’s no lack of willingness [among large firms] to engage with nascent IoT startups,” says Morris. “But big companies aren’t able to invest in every single startup out there — they’re not built that way.” Instead, he says, they bolster startups indirectly by providing financial support for business-development initiatives and organizations like GreaterMSPMinnesota Cup and the Minnesota High Tech Association, which in turn support and recognize the efforts of local IoT entrepreneurs.

Separately, MSP’s political leaders need to recognize the long-term economic importance of maintaining the region’s edge in IoT and other next-generation tech sectors, says Benson. Exosite tripled its square footage last year, he notes, but it’s already in danger of outgrowing its new space. Though his company isn’t threatening to leave the region, younger firms that can’t devote as much capital to rent payments and other overhead costs may feel pressured to move to cities or states with better tax incentives for job-creating startups or lower business taxes in general.

Thanks to the enthusiastic, often selfless innovators pushing the boundaries of what’s technologically possible, however, the region is well-positioned to lead the next phase of IoT growth. But as the Internet of Things becomes increasingly indistinguishable from the Internet itself, other IoT leaders are likely to emerge as well. Boston may well wrest the “IoT Alley” label eventually — and that’s fine, as long as MSP remains known as the IoT capital of the North.

This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Brian Martucci is The Line's innovation and jobs news editor.

MN Blog Cabin Roundup, 4/17

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 3:49pm
Latest state economic update shows higher revenues but slower economic growth

from Minnesota Budget Bites by Clark Biegler

Minnesota’s spring is arriving with mixed economic news. State revenues have come in higher than expected, but the U.S. economy is not expected to grow as quickly as earlier predicted. That’s according to the April Economic Update from Minnesota Management and Budget.

How power companies profit from net metering

from The Deets by Ed Kohler

One of the nice things about residential solar systems in Minnesota is that they’re eligible for net metering. You have an upstream meter and a downstream meter and are charged for electricity based on the net consumption. So, if your home uses $40 of electricity over a month but your panels produced $60, you’ll get money back from Xcel. Not $20 back, since there are base fees to cover, but you’ll still get a check.

A common beef from the pollution industry and their legislative allies against net metering goes something like this:

Residential solar users are freeloaders. They’re selling electricity to the grid at retail rates, yet benefit from being attached to the grid when they really need it.

The case for closing Portland Ave. in Downtown East

from streets.mn by Nick Magrino

A debate exists online and perhaps in real life over whether or not we ought to close Portland Avenue through the new, not-yet built or even designed or paid for Downtown East Commons in Minneapolis. Many smart people do not want to close Portland Avenue. Others think closing Portland Avenue would be just fine. A streets.mn post about a month and a half ago suggested that, “Hey, maybe we could just close it for a few weeks and see how it plays out?” Here are some more detailed thoughts about that whole situation.

To turkey farmers hit with avian influenza: I’m sorry

from Minnesota Farm Living by Wanda Patsche

With all the news reports about the numbers of turkeys affected by the avian influenza, it’s easy to overlook the “human side” of the virus. The human emotional toll is difficult to hear, but an important dimension to the story.

Shelter Report: Disposing of the estate, Part 2

from Across the Great Divide by Charlie Quimby

We provide three dozen or more people a secure storage bin where they can safeguard papers, clothing, keepsakes—whatever they don't want to risk at the shelter, at a campsite or in a backpack. As long as they don't store food or drugs, we don't ask questions. As long as they actively use their storage and don't overfill the bin, they can keep it.

Abe first signed for his bin in October 2006. He hadn't used it since November. Today we emptied it. 

A photo documentary of Minnesota barns & thoughts on their demise

from Minnesota Prairie Roots by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

BARNS ONCE SHELTERED cows, pigs, sheep, a farmer’s livelihood. Some still do. But most don’t.

Today all too many barns stand empty of animals and are used instead for storage of recreational vehicles and other possessions. Others are simply slumping into heaps, like rotting carcasses with backbones exposed.

If you blog and would like your work considered for Minnesota Blog Cabin, please submit our registration form.

Panama Summit demonstrates a new dynamic in Western Hemisphere relations

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 3:47pm

On April 10 and 11, a historic meeting of the Summit of Americas took place in Panama. The Summit of the Americas process had been launched by the United States in 1994 and drove forward its neoliberal agenda centered on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The gathering of Latin American presidents that year in Miami unanimously endorsed the FTAA but with the conspicuous absence of President Fidel Castro, an opponent of the FTAA, who was not invited.

In contrast, this year President Raul Castro was invited to Panama by the Latin American presidents over the objection of the United States. In fact, the majority of the Latin American presidents, led by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, declared at the previous summit in Colombia in 2012 that no further summits would occur in Cuba’s absence. This stance, by the increasingly independent-minded Latin American presidents, was a key factor in the decision announced by President Barack Obama in December 2014 to begin a process of reestablishing full diplomatic relations with Cuba and bringing an end to the economic blockade of the island.

An end to the blockade of Cuba was also a key demand of the Latin American presidents at the last two Summits of the Americas. Through his December announcement on Cuba, Obama had sought to diffuse the Cuba issue and go to the Panama meeting in a position to reorder the summit’s agenda to one of Washington’s choosing. However, that hope did not turn into reality as in many ways the Latin American countries, led by Cuba and Venezuela, continued to take the lead away from the United States, and in the process assert a new framework for relations in the Western Hemisphere not dominated fully by the United States.

The most important speech of the summit was delivered by Raul Castro, a powerful and revolutionary-minded presentation of 43 minutes, far beyond the eight minutes he had been allocated. Castro delivered a history lesson, drawing heavily on Bolivar and Marti, that stressed the dangers to Latin American sovereignty and prosperity long presented by the United States. He especially focused on longstanding U.S. designs on the domination of Cuba and the role of his revolutionary government in thwarting those plans over the last half century.

Gary Prevost

His speech also focused on contemporary issues, especially the recent U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and declarations labeling that country and its revolutionary government as “a threat to the national security of the United States.” Raul’s position on Venezuela was strongly supported by many other Latin American countries and helped to prevent issues generated by the United States from dominating the meeting. The Cuban president’s speech also illustrated the deep divide between itself and Washington. The bilateral negotiations between the two governments seem to be moving forward but very slowly, because, to this point, Havana has made few concessions to the United States on key issues.

To obtain removal from the list of “nations that sponsor terrorism,” Washington sought to obtain the extradition of political figures, including Assata Shakur, who have political asylum in Cuba. On principle, Cuba refused those requests and it now appears that Cuba will soon be removed from the list without making that concession. As of this writing, the ultimate disposition of those bilateral talks is uncertain, but the Panama Summit again demonstrated that the dynamic of Western Hemisphere affairs is changing in a manner that aids Cuba in its longstanding struggle to resist U.S. domination.

Gary Prevost, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University and member of the Minnesota Cuba Committee. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Cuba, including "United States-Cuban Relations — A Critical History," co-authored with Esteban Morales.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Minneapolis council adopts resolution in support of low-wage workers

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 1:51pm

Well, the bad news is the Minneapolis City Council won't be implementing a $15/hr minimum wage. But hey, they are establishing a … working group! And calling for the recommendation of… a study!  In the Southwest Journal, Sarah McKenzie reports, “The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a resolution Friday morning that moves the ball forward on efforts to improve the lives of low-wage Minneapolis workers who struggle to make ends meet and lack access to sick leave and other benefits. The resolution directs city staff to establish a work group to develop policy proposals supporting earned sick time, fair scheduling, wage theft prevention and a living wage. It also calls for city staff to recommend a study for examining the impact of establishing a minimum wage regionally and locally.”

Tell us again about those great jobs mining brings to the Range. The Star Tribune’s Dee DePass talks to workers in northern Minnesota who are worried about layoffs as the global steel price slump continues. “[Katie] DeBlack will lose her job driving a 240-ton mining truck for Minntac on June 1, along with 700 other workers there. [Her partner Jenny] Zylka, a waitress, will also suffer because her employer counts on business from those who work at the taconite plants. … ‘I was definitely caught by surprise,’ said DeBlack, who with Zylka bought a home in Chisholm two years ago in which to raise their children. ‘Now there is just so much uncertainty. Nobody knows about [unemployment] or benefits. … Reality is sinking in.’”

Ahh, Uptown. Skinny jeans, bar patios, and… wrasslin'. Ben Johnson in City Pages reports: “Prime Time Wrestling will be setting up in the empty lot next to Calhoun Square on the fourth Saturday of every month starting in May. The best part: It's free, all you gotta do is bring a chair. And there might even be beer for sale … .”

Some fashion news for our always-fashionable Glean readers. MPR’s Nancy Yang takes a look at Target’s history of collaborating with designers on special limited editions: “Target pioneered the concept of designer partnerships with Michael Graves and Sonia Kashuk more than 15 years ago and continues to look for ways to put a spin on the model, a spokesperson said. To date, the retailer has collaborated with more than 150 designers in various partnerships. … Some are bona fide hits (see: Missoni). Others miss the bulls-eye (see: Neiman Marcus). But along the way, Target has learned and evolved with its shoppers.”

Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen’s job is being threatened after a pay-equity report had the temerity to suggest she should receive the same salary as Executive Director Ted Mondale, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s Nick Halter reports. This, even after Kelm-Helgen declined the raise.

In other news…

A suspect was charged in Tuesday’s St. Croix River stabbing death of a fisherman. [Star Tribune]

Robbinsdale police shot a woman on Thursday night, claiming she was armed with a knife. The woman is in stable condition. [Star Tribune]

So what would happen if MinnesotaCare went away? [Pioneer Press]

Pretty pathetic showing by Professor X in the recent NDSU student senate election: he only got 50 votes. To be fair, Professor X is a cat. [Inforum]

How do you boost economic development and address the rural doctor shortage at the same time? Gaylord, Minnesota is building a medical school. [KARE]

Metro State was targeted by a hacker basically for having the most generic name imaginable. [Star Tribune]

You know that saying “It’s a good problem to have”? This is exactly the opposite: “Farmington schools weigh ban on dead student memorials” [MPR’s NewsCut]

Home Depot employees help build a ramp for their co-worker’s disabled dog. Bawww. [KMSP]

St. Paul police hold East and West African youth summit

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 1:04pm

A program for East and West African youth will be held Saturday by the St. Paul Police Department.

Organizers hope to see 100 young people for the "East & West African Youth Summit" at the Amherst H. Wilder Center, 451 N. Lexington Av.

They say the free event, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, will offer presentations on:

  • health and wellness
  • Internet and social media safety
  • employment opportunities
  • youth programs for personal and professional development

Recruiters from government agencies and colleges will be there to advise about jobs and post-secondary education.

The police department is getting help with the event from:

  • Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
  • Afro Deli & Catering
  • Average Mohamed
  • Ka Joog
  • Metro Transit
  • Minnesota Workforce Center
  • Ramsey County
  • Right Track
  • Saint Paul College Somali Student Association
  • Somali Action Alliance
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • West Bank Athletic Club

E-cigarettes more popular among teens than traditional cigarettes, CDC reports

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 11:02am

Electronic cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among middle and high school students, according to a study published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That finding is due to both the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes and the decreasing popularity of traditional cigarettes.

Between 2013 and 2014, e-cigarette use among young people tripled, rising from 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent among middle school students and from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent among high school students. 

During that same period, traditional cigarette use remained about the same among middle school students, but fell from 12.7 percent to 9.2 percent among high school students — the largest yearly decline in more than a decade, according to the CDC.

In addition, hookah use almost doubled between 2013 and 2014, rising from 5.2 percent to 9.4 percent among high school students and from 1.1 percent to 2.5 percent among middle school students.

CDC officials now estimate that 4.6 million middle and high school students are current tobacco users. Of those, 2.4 million use e-cigarettes and 1.6 million use hookahs. 

Overall, the use of tobacco products among young people has shown no decline since 2011, according to the CDC data.

“We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a released statement. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction and lead to sustained tobacco use.”

A debate over safety

The FDA is considering regulating e-cigarettes, including their sales to minors. The agency is expected to make a final decision about that regulation later this year.

Health experts have been debating whether e-cigarettes  — which deliver nicotine through a vaporized liquid rather than smoke — are a safer alternative than traditional cigarettes for people who are already habitual smokers and whether the devices can play a role in helping people eventually give up their nicotine addiction. E-cigarettes are so new that little research has been conducted on them.

A study published Wednesday in the British journal Tobacco Control reports, however, that the chemicals used to add flavors to some e-cigarettes are associated with serious respiratory problems.

“Regulations are needed,” write the authors of that study. “These should include compulsory ingredient listing, limiting the levels of certain flavourings, and limiting total permissible levels of flavourings, particularly as there is some concern that flavoured products might make e-cigarettes more attractive to young people.”

Similar numbers in Minnesota

The CDC’s findings regarding the increasing use of e-cigarettes among young people is “discouraging, but not surprising,” said Robert Moffitt, director of communications for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, in an interview with MinnPost.

“It’s very similar to the data we saw from the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Study last year, which showed about 13 percent of students using e-cigarettes,” he said. “That’s about the same rate we’re seeing nationally.”

The discouraging part of the CDC’s report, he added, is that it shows how effective the e-cigarette industry has been at targeting youth, particularly by adding candy-flavored chemicals to their products.

He and his organization want the FDA to more strictly regulate e-cigarettes — and hookahs.

“If you take a puff on a cigarette or cigar, you get a harsh taste and start coughing, and many kids don’t try another one again,” he explained. “However, with hookah the smoke is very cool and very pleasant-tasting — just like with e-cigarettes.”

“There is a misconception among many hookah users that it is somehow safer than smoking cigarettes. It is not,” he added.

Moffett also stressed that e-cigarettes should not be touted as a way of helping people quit their smoking habit — not unless the devices' manufacturers are willing to submit their products to the same rigorous research that other approved smoking-cessation devices have had to undertake.

“All those devices, like the patch and the gum, have been through FDA approval and have been thoroughly vetted,” he said. “E-cigarettes have not. In fact, they have resisted that.”

Moffitt — and the CDC health officials — worry that the growing popularity of e-cigarettes might reverse recent healthful trends in tobacco use in the United States.  Just last year, the CDC reported that the cigarette-smoking rate among U.S. adults had reached an all-time low of 17.8 percent.

“The good news,” Moffitt said, “is that, generally speaking, smoking rates are down. But we don’t want the rise of e-cigarettes and hookahs to try to make smoking cool again.”

The CDC’s report was published in the April 17 issue of the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The numbers for the study are based on data collected from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which involved more than 22,000 students at 207 schools across the country. A student was classified as currently using a tobacco product if he or she reported having smoked or chewed such a product one or more times during the previous 30 days.

The 2014-15 edition of the Timberwolves: less of a team than flash mobs of ineptitude

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 10:55am

For the final recap of the Minnesota Timberwolves 2014-15 season, I was going to apportion grades to each player, something that always feels arrogant but functions as a good organizing principle.

But then I realized it is impossible to judge players accurately in a context where the organization is assiduously trying to lose every game it plays. That is essentially what happened with the Wolves for significant chunks of the season, and especially in the final five weeks, which rank among the most unwatchable games I have seen in nearly a quarter-century of covering the franchise.

The Philadelphia 76ers have made no secret that their strategy has been to essentially hold tryouts for scrubs and journeymen the past two seasons while stockpiling injured young talent and future draft picks for a surge toward credible basketball somewhere down the road. They finished the season with 18 wins and 64 losses.

The New York Knicks shut down their star, Carmelo Anthony, before the All Star break and unloaded the rest of their decent players via trades or “injuries,” deploying 36 different starting lineups over the 82-game season. They finished 17-65.

The Wolves had the presumptive Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins (who ranked second in the NBA in total minutes played) and still managed to out-tank the other determined losers, finishing 16-66.

Chaos theory

After the Wolves had surrendered 47 points in the first quarter (incredibly, it was not the first time that had happened this season) en route to a 138-113 drubbing by the Oklahoma City Thunder to close out the season Wednesday night, coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders left little doubt that the Wolves had achieved their top priority by amassing the worst record in the NBA.

“When those guys got hurt at the beginning of the year [veterans Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin], our vision for this organization changed. It was a difficult change at times from a fan’s standpoint and from a loss standpoint, but from a standpoint of what we ultimately want to try and do, the team we want to put together, it was something that we had to do.”

Later, in a telling slip, Saunders added, “There is no question that these last 80 games after we went in a different direction we found out a lot more about our players.” No, Minnesota didn’t start tanking after the second game of the season — it only felt that way. But they probably started tanking before Thanksgiving, around about Game 11, the first contest when Rubio, Pekovic and Martin were all sidelined with significant injuries at the same time.

What that produced was the worst team defense many of us have ever seen sustained over the course of a season. Opponents had an effective field goal percentage (a measure counting the added weight of three-pointers) of 53.7 against the Wolves, the highest since the 1996-97 Boston Celtics and the third-highest in NBA history, behind only the Celtics and the 1984-85 Golden State Warriors.

Unless you have a tri-star lineup fronted by Lebron James, the way to win in the NBA is by slowly but surely developing continuity. The Wolves took that truism, stood it on its head, and mockingly banged it into a concussive pulp. Their 2014-15 campaign sowed chaos by any means necessary. Their roster didn’t comprise a team so much as flash mobs of ineptitude. The Wolves performed on the court for a total of 3961 minutes this season. Their most frequently utilized five-man lineup was out there for 151 minutes and 17 seconds, the lowest total in the NBA.

The future doesn’t arrive

Ah, but they garnered the most lottery balls for next month’s ceremonial ordering of the NBA draft.

Asked what it meant that, even if the franchise endured their typically rotten luck in the lottery, they could fall no further than having the fourth overall pick in the draft, Saunders replied, “It’s very significant. People always talk about the lottery; it is not from the perspective of getting the number one pick, but it shows where your basement is, who your basement is. And it is important to know that there is only a certain point to where you can go down. We are going to have, we feel at our spot, we’ll bring in an impact player into the fold and add to our good young players.”

Thus begins the marketing campaign for 2015-16. If there is an aspect of the NBA where the Wolves have slowly but surely developed continuity, it is in the area of peddling hope.

There is at least a superficially credible case for yet again embracing the hope that the Wolves are on an upward trajectory after 11 years out of the playoffs. Wiggins is the real deal, a kid who embraces the physical, mental and psychological verities required for greatness. As he adds muscle and maturity, the only thing potentially standing in the way of his superstardom is the capricious voodoo doll of visited injury.

As Saunders correctly intimates, the Wolves will also draft a player of elite potential this summer. They already possess one of the league’s best passing and defending point guards in Rubio, an offensive stud in the low post in Pekovic, and some exciting young talent in Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Efficient scorer Kevin Martin is expected to return, and it is probable that franchise icon and ace defensive tutor Kevin Garnett will sign on for at least part-time duty.

But the reality is that the future is more uncertain than it is bright. Yes, Wiggins is a legitimate cornerstone, and those are precious. But after that…

Rubio is a marvelous talent who is better appreciated the longer you watch him. But he has missed at least 25 games due to injury in three of his four NBA seasons. He is a historically inaccurate shooter in a modern NBA game where the player with the ball must be able to score in crunch time. A hard accounting would compel him being placed in the middle of the pack among NBA point guards. He will begin his four-year, $55 million contract next season.

Pekovic has earned the mantle of being injury-prone by never once playing more than 2000 minutes in his five separate NBA seasons. This year he had a career low in playing time and field goal percentage and recently underwent surgery in a last-ditch effort to salvage his status as a regular rotation player in the NBA. He is owed $12 million per year for the next three seasons.

Who is the power forward for this team in 2015-16 and beyond? The Wolves punted a first-round draft pick in exchange for Thad Young, traded Young to Brooklyn for Kevin Garnett, traded a future (lottery protected) first round pick for Adreian Payne, and also acquired former first round pick (and top pick overall) Anthony Bennett in the same Kevin Love trade that brought them Young.

Tote it up and you have two first-rounders and Young out the window, and a pair of woeful underachievers (Payne and Bennett) in the fold alongside the aged Garnett. Dieng can slide over from center in certain matchups and one of the two ballyhooed collegians expected to go early in the draft, Duke’s Jahil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, are likewise players who project as centers but might get minutes at power forward.

How will the wing positions be filled? My preference is deploying Muhammad at small forward so that Wiggins can use his superior size at shooting guard, where he is still quick enough and will be better able to avoid the physical pounding meted out on him this season.

But shooting guard is also the best position for Martin and LaVine. Unfortunately, both are horrible defenders and after a season where he was the poster boy for chaos and tanking, it is almost impossible to forecast LaVine’s future. He already seems like a worthy gamble with the 13th overall pick in last summer’s draft as a potentially prolific scorer in the mold of Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith. But he lacks court sense — an absence of instinct, not maturity — on both offense and defense that limits his astounding athleticism. When Saunders stubbornly played him out of position at point guard all season, I thought it was part of the tanking strategy (and brilliantly successful if that’s indeed what it was), but when asked last Wednesday what would happen if Rubio doesn’t respond well to his recent ankle surgery, Saunders again raised the prospect of LaVine at the point.

So let’s add that to the list: Who besides Rubio can be a credible point guard on next year’s team?

Then there is the perennial question of when and how much Saunders will concede to the fundamentals of the modern NBA game and incorporate the three-point shot into his overall offensive scheme. 

Good hoops take time to prepare

The bottom line here is that, even if the Wolves snag another budding superstar in the upcoming draft, they are a minimum of two years away from ending their playoff drought in the rugged Western Conference. The hope here is that they start engaging in the painstaking process of a slow rebuild, developing roles and relationships that can blossom in concert for the highest maximum impact.

Continuity is crucial, a daunting fact considering that loyalty to this franchise is near exhaustion for most sane basketball fans suckered by the bait-and-switch circumstances of Garnett’s return. But hey, the “Eyes on the Rise” hype delivered a slam-dunk champion and a Rookie of the Year along with 16 wins and obscene defense, so buyer beware. 

Personally, I’d settle for a half-dozen other slogans for 2015-16. Loss of Chaos. Learning D With KG.  Free the 3. No More Flip Flops. Shotworthy with Penberthy. And Patience is a Virtue.

Previewing 'Music & Lyrics,' a poster art show for Record Store Day

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 10:47am

Record Store Day takes over the entire free world Saturday, and one of the more creative – if under-the-radar – events is “Music & Lyrics,” a poster art show at Hamilton Ink Spot in downtown St. Paul next to Eclipse Records. Curated by co-founders of Hamilton Ink Spot Monica Larson and Bill Moran, the show opens Saturday and runs through the end of the month. The limited edition hand-printed beauties are all for sale ($20-$30, with all proceeds going to the artists) starting Saturday at the opening reception (1-5 p.m.), and MinnPost got a preview:

Poster artist: Samuel Anderson
Musician/Song:
David Bowie, “Under Pressure”
Inspiration: “I chose lyrics from ‘Under Pressure’ because the show coincides with Record Store Day; I believe that commercial holidays present an opportunity to show others love through gift-giving. Love and individualism is more important than consumerism, which is the concept beneath my print: A record placed in a shopping bag that reads ‘Give Love’ instead of ‘Thank you!’ Music is meant to be heard, shared, and loved; that’s why records are so awesome. In the past, when I was low or needed someone, I would listen to David Bowie sing, ‘Why can’t we give love?’ and wonder the same thing. I still listen to the song and find solace in it to this day.”

Poster artist: Morgan Hiscocks 
Musician/Song: Missy Elliot, “Work It” 
Inspiration: “The song was and is one of her biggest hits; it’ll forever cause a room to surrender to the dance floor. This verse in particular speaks volumes. It promotes cognizance, feminism, financial independence … the ‘do what you go to do’ attitude is commonplace for many demographics, I think. Everyone needs an income to live; with life’s hardships come sacrifices. This verse is rooting for the human condition. Be smart. Be safe. Play the game, don’t let the game play you.”

Poster artist: Molly Poganski
Musician/Song:
Mother Maybelle Carter, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” 
Inspiration: “I grew up in Kentucky, and I am a big fan of old-time Appalachian music. The Carter Family were pioneers in mountain music, and they traveled extensively to remote areas of the mountains to collect and learn songs from the locals. They recorded and performed these songs for nearly 30 years, laying the groundwork on which modern country (and therefore, rock) music has been built upon. Mother Maybelle Carter learned to play music at a young age and innovated her own style of guitar picking in which she played the melody and rhythm simultaneously. She was an incredibly talented musician and one of my musical heroes, yet many people have never heard her name.”

Poster artist: Ian Kolstad
Musician/Song:
Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Released” 
Inspiration: “As a fan of Bob Dylan who wrote ‘I Shall Be Released,’ and countless others who have performed it, it felt right to create a poster to commemorate the song. The poster takes its visual cues from both the literal interpretation of the song, being confined in a prison, as well as the spiritual connotations.”

Poster artist: Jeremy Lindvig aka Cletus Snow
Musician/Song:
Beach Slang, “All Fuzzed Out”
Inspiration: “I use the line ‘You are how the Smiths sound when they’re falling in love.’ I’ve always been a huge fan of the Smiths since a friend’s older brother recorded me two of their albums when I was in junior high in the fantastic ‘80s. The lyric really stuck with me and I couldn’t get it out of my head as I flipped the record over and over. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s the fact the members are my age and that I can identify with the feelings and emotions of the lyrics. Maybe it is just trying to figure out what the Smiths would sound like when they do fall in love. I’ve done a gig poster for Beach Slang in the past so they were cool with me using the lyrics. If you like the Replacements, you’ll dig these guys, from Philadelphia

Poster artist: Andy Nelson
Musician: Edith Piaf 
Inspiration: “I painted the bright organic watercolor to try and convey the energy and passion that Edith Piaf had when she sang. Each print is unique because of that aspect which I thought was fitting for her voice and character. I also included a quote by her which translates [in English] to, ‘Singing is a way of escaping. It’s another world. I’m no longer on earth,’ which is perfect for listening to her but also for listening to music in general. The little sparrow I drew and printed over the top to pay homage to her nickname, ‘The Little Sparrow.’”

Poster artists: Tim Cronin and Jeff Hnilicka aka Husbands 
Musician/Song:
The Smiths, “This Charming Man” 
Inspiration: “Riffing on Morrissey’s signature cheekiness, the poster shows a furry body taking a selfie. In the figure’s chest hair you see the lyric, ‘I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.’ The poster makes a contemporary nod to the song’s original comment on gay social interactions. Putting the text on an image suited for Grindr or Scruff, the selfie evokes a gay culture rooted in machismo, vanity, and alienation.”

Poster artist: Sara Parr
Musician/Song: 
Louis XIV, “Paper Doll” 
Inspiration: “I chose the lyric ‘If you want clean fun, go fly a kite.’ I love Louis XIV for their general irreverence, particularly on the album ‘The Best Little Secrets Are Kept.’ Their royal badness is so infectious! In choosing something to represent the song visually, I went literal. I did some research on paper dolls and came across a set of Bettie Page paper dolls, which seemed perfect – everyone’s favorite pin-up girl with a streak of innocent naughtiness. My intent is to encourage open exploration of the feminine – sex and all. Women should take the opportunity to learn what gets them off and feel free to enjoy it.”

Poster artist: Jason Yoh 
Musician/Song:
Built To Spill, “You Were Right” 
Inspiration: “One of my favorite aspects of working in print shops is the communal atmosphere of being with other people with shared interests. Music has always been a big part of that. I have a lot of associations of music and printmaking overlapping, but one specific memory that sprung to mind was the time a co-worker turned up the shop stereo to play this song. The soaring guitars begged air guitar accompaniment and I loved the way the lyrics quoted a list of cynical classic rock anthems spoke to my feelings of that time and place so perfectly that it earned a top spot on my personal print shop playlist.”

Poster artist: Derek Huber
Musician:
John Lennon 
Inspiration: “I chose the Lennon quote, ‘a dream you dream alone is only a dream/a dream you dream together is reality.’ It’s just a beautiful statement from the man that inspired us all to imagine. The Beatles’ music was a constant fixture in my art classes as a kid, so you could say that Lennon’s words of sharing your dreams were critical in the development of my creative process.”

Poster artist: Mary Bruno 
Musician/Song:
Amy Loftus, “Work To Do” 
Inspiration: “I first came to know this song from another printer pal of mine, Lisa Beth Robinson, who teaches art at East Carolina University of Art & Design in North Carolina. She sent me a mix CD and this song was one of the many tunes I got hooked on. I kept playing it and singing it over and over and then the words sunk in. It’s one of those songs that has it all: the perfect mix of dreamy sing-songy melody paired with mic-dropping content.”

Poster artist: Lucas Richards and Sam Smith 
Musician/Song:
Type O Negative, “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” 
Inspiration: Richards: “I listened to Type O Negative quite a bit as a late teen/early 20-year-old and this is one of the more bizarre songs I’ve heard in my life. We thought it’d be fun to make a beautiful and, more importantly, sexy poster for that song.”

 

Poster artist: Steve Senger 
Musician/Song:
Songs Ohia, “Alone With The Owl” 

Inspiration: “I have always felt a strong connection to many of the works of Jason Molina/Songs Ohia. The majority of the songs carry a dark tone accompanied with honest lyrics and a quiet hope. To me, ‘Alone With The Owl’ is one of deep introspection. Taking time to look at one’s life and be honest that something is not right and asking the questions, ‘Do I need to keep on this path? What is keeping me on it?’ The lyrics, ‘While I lived was I a stray black dog? While I lived was I anything at all? Did I have to live that way?” painted a picture just like that: A stray dog wondering, searching for an answer.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith promotes trout fishing opener on Whitewater River

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 10:38am

Usually it's the governor who gets the honor of kicking off the state fishing and hunting openers, but it's Lt. Gov. Tina Smith who's out on the water to promote this weekend's trout opener.

She's in southeastern Minnesota today and will fish on the Whitewater River in Whitewater State Park.

The trout opener is Saturday.

This afternoon Smith will tour the Trout Run Conservation Area to talk about efforts to conserve natural trout habitat. And she'll stop at the Oakenwald Bed and Breakfast in Chatfield later today to discuss tourism in southeast Minnesota.

Coleman celebrates 'dreams realized,' 'promises fulfilled' in State of the City address

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 10:33am

It’s a bit of a balancing act for an elected official to craft a state-of-the-whatever speech — city, state, nation — that sings the praises of the jurisdiction you govern without sounding like you’re just bragging.

Humility helps. Humor often works. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman used both during his State of the City speech Thursday. (Because the speech came between performances by St. Paul musical groups, starting with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Coleman began his speech by saying, “This is the worst intermission ever.”)

But perhaps the most effective strategy is to shine a light on others who helped you accomplish what you are, in fact, bragging about: business leaders, philanthropists, foundation leaders, social services managers, volunteers, even Donnell Gibson, the man who rescued a family from a house fire earlier this month. All got a piece of the praise for a city that Coleman declared was “sound.”

“So today, I offer this year’s State of the City address as a toast to all we have accomplished this last decade – to the dreams realized, to the promises fulfilled, to a renewed, vibrant and growing Saint Paul,” Coleman said.

It was Coleman’s 10th such speech in his 10th year in office — which means that just about everything the city is experiencing today, for both good and ill, happened on his watch.

He started with the good, recalling the things he called for in that first speech, and noting how many had become reality. “Quoting Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel, I said that there comes a time when we must make a choice between repeating ourselves and choosing to grow,” Coleman said. “I asked that we intentionally implement our dreams for Saint Paul and propel our city forward with energy, inclusiveness and focus. There were many opportunities on the horizon. But few items were fixed into the city’s future.”

But now, Coleman said, many are in concrete, not the least of which was the new hall in which he delivered his speech. Others are the Green Line light rail project, the new ballpark in Lowertown and the after-school program called Sprockets. And he used the speech to give formal confirmation of the “oft-rumored” plans that Ecolab will purchase the Travelers Tower, expanding the company's presence downtown.

“There is so much more to celebrate in our city,” Coleman said. “Our population is growing;  graduation rates for all children are up; crime is down across the city; we have once again earned a AAA Bond Rating; there is renewed vitality in neighborhoods across the city; property values are rising; investment in the city is at an all-time high; arts and cultural amenities are bringing back night-life to downtown; and The Minnesota Wild are in the playoffs.”

Mayors, governors and presidents are all expected to have a bit of a cheerleader in them. That’s even more important in second cities like St. Paul that don’t think they get their due. Coleman alluded to that with a reference to the recent Atlantic Magazine article, “The Miracle of Minneapolis”: “Of course, the real miracle was that it even mentioned St. Paul,” he said.

It was there that Coleman ventured into the other expectation of these speeches — the troubling failure of the region to offer the same educational and economic opportunities for all. “But while ‘the miracle’ is true for some, it is not for all.” He devoted a third of his time to describing the equity gaps and citing the attempts he and the city have made to address it. One of those is Sprockets, which now involves 90 organizations and 20,000 participants — 83 percent of whom are racial minorities, and 80 percent are from low-income families.

MinnPost photo by Mike DvorakChastity Brown was one of many artists who performed following Mayor Coleman's speech Thursday night.

Another rule is to mention members of the city council, to connect them to the accomplishments of the city. That was easier for Coleman, with seven St. Paul City Council members, than for Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, with 13 (which could explain why her state of the city speech two week ago was twice as long). About the only one in the room not called out was St. Paul school Superintendent Valeria Silva, in attendance a week after Coleman intervened to keep her from pursuing a job in Florida.

And for Coleman, thought to be considering a run for governor in 2018, speeches like these are examined for clues of ambition beyond the city limits. Coleman was interested in the job four years ago but did not run. In the last year, however, he has assembled a mayoral staff that could make up the core of a pretty potent campaign operation. Yet Coleman left regional, statewide and national issues to those other elected officials, and those other speeches. With that election three years out, he is prepared to be judged on how well he’s done as mayor.

“We are a great city,” he concluded. “The state of Saint Paul is strong. It will be stronger when all share its richness. We have accomplished a great deal this past decade. Let us keep the momentum going.”

Congress needs to scrutinize Pentagon spending

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:53am
CC/Flickr/Michael BairdDefense spending comes at the expense of a variety of other needed programs and investments in education, infrastructure, health care, veterans’ care, energy development, environmental protection, and much more.

Like so many Minnesotans at this time of year, I’m thinking about where my federal tax dollars are going. Are they going to the needs in my St. Paul community: schools, child care, job training, roads, bridges and transit — or are they going to weapons and wars?

Sen. Sandy Pappas

As state legislators, we are right now prioritizing what to spend on the programs that keep our community safe and grow our economy. Federal budget dollars that flow to Minnesota should do the same. Recently, I joined nearly 300 women state legislators around the country in signing a letter urging Congress to ensure that programs that strengthen our communities are adequately funded and that wasteful and excessive Department of Defense spending is scrutinized and reduced.

Most legislators probably wish we had unlimited resources to spend in our states and communities, but that isn’t a reality. The reality is: We have to make hard decisions about where our precious, finite tax dollars should go to best meet the needs of our constituents. Congress isn’t immune to this reality and should carefully scrutinize how our tax dollars are spent as they craft next year’s budget.

OAS_AD("Middle");

At the federal level, the Pentagon budget, including nuclear weapons and wars, continues to receive more than half of the nation’s discretionary budget. This large amount of defense spending comes at the expense of a variety of other needed programs and investments in education, infrastructure, health care, veterans’ care, energy development, environmental protection, and much more. Failure to support these important investments will ultimately weaken America’s economic strength and competitiveness. Further, University of Massachusetts economists have shown that federal investments in non-defense sectors like education, health care, and clean energy create more jobs than equal investments in the military sector.

Several areas of the Pentagon budget are particularly ripe for reform. First, poor accounting and budget practices waste enormous sums of money. We don’t know the exact number because, unlike those of every other federal agency, the Pentagon’s books have never been audited. Second, Pentagon dollars are drained by weapons systems that are outdated, unworkable, or beset by cost overruns. For example, experts acknowledge that the estimated trillion dollars planned in the next three decades to modernize the current nuclear weapons arsenal ─ including its delivery systems ─ is not affordable without sacrifices in other areas. Instead, we should to invest in the needs of our brave men and women in uniform, and our veterans, while strategically addressing 21st-century security threats.

Finally, the Pentagon must cease relying inappropriately on the “Overseas Contingency Operations” war-spending account. While the president proposed $51 billion for this war-spending slush fund, Congress aims to add more, raising this account to $90 billion – making this separate account larger than every other federal agency except the Department of Defense. This war-spending account is not subject to the budget caps that would otherwise limit Pentagon spending, but the Pentagon has been using this account to fund some of its regular programs. The Department of Defense cannot continue its lackluster fiscal management and reliance on budget gimmicks to avoid making the same hard decisions that other federal agencies and we in the states must make.

As a state legislator, I want what is best for my constituents, our communities, and our state. In signing the letter to Congress, I proudly joined hundreds of women state legislators, including several dozen Minnesota women legislators, to urge investment of our limited federal dollars in sectors that will create productive jobs and help our economy grow for years to come. We need clear priorities for our spending. Let’s make sure that our hard-earned tax dollars reflect what we care about.

State Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, is president of the Minnesota Senate and vice president of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a program of Women’s Action for New Directions.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Gov. Dayton to open MinnRoast 2015

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:47am

It was touch and go as to whether Gov. Mark Dayton would be able to return to the Historic State Theatre stage this year. We're thrilled that he's been able to join us during this busy legislative session to kick off MinnRoast 2015.

OAS_AD("Middle");

MinnRoast 2015 is our eighth annual song-and-skit variety show. All proceeds support MinnPost, your nonprofit, non-partisan source for independent news and analysis of issues important to Minnesota. MinnPost members who donate $10 per month or $120 per year (or more) are eligible for a 25% ticket discount on show-only MinnRoast tickets at the $16, $44, or $84 levels. Please contact membership coordinator Ashleigh at aswenson@minnpost.com or (612) 455-6954 for details and the discount code.

Joining Gov. Dayton this year will be Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Tom Emmer, co-hosts Barb Abney and Roxane Battle and more. You can find more information about the event and special guests here.

Click here to buy your tickets

Ticket LevelsWhat you getCostWay Above Average Ticket(s)Pre-show reception + Tier One show seating$175 + $4 theatre restoration fee
($130 tax-deductible)Show Only Ticket(s)Tier Two seating

$80 + $4 theatre restoration fee
($68 tax-deductible)

Show Only Ticket(s)Tier Three seating

$40 + $4 theatre restoration fee
($28 tax-deductible)

Show Only Ticket(s)Tier Four seating (upper balcony)$12 + $4 theatre restoration fee

Click here to buy your tickets

Mayor Coleman's 2015 State of the City Address

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:46am

Thank you Council President Stark for that kind introduction. It’s great to see you in your new role as president of the council.

I’d also like to extend a special thanks to retiring Councilmember Dave Thune for whom this will be his last official State of the City. I would like to extend a welcome to Chief Finney who has sat through a number of State of the City addresses, but this is his first as a councilmember.

And, of course, thanks to the partners who provided our space tonight, including the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Schubert Club, Minnesota Opera and Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

**********

In 2006, I stood before the people of Saint Paul in my first State of the City address and asked our community to seize the moment to move our city forward. Quoting Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel, I said that there comes a time when we must make a choice between repeating ourselves and choosing to grow. I asked that we intentionally implement our dreams for Saint Paul and propel our city forward with energy, inclusiveness and focus.

There were many opportunities on the horizon. But few items were fixed into the city’s future.

In that first State of the City address, I called for passage of state bonding support to assist the Ordway – not to build this magnificent space we are in today, but to make basic upgrades to the facility such as energy efficient windows and a new floor for the stage. The Central Corridor faced a thousand-and-one hurdles. The deteriorating Midway Stadium was acknowledged as a sub-standard home of the Saints, but no solution had been envisioned. The need for a structured out-of school-time system of learning opportunities had been identified in a gathering of nearly 300 people in December of 2005. But what was then known as the “Second Shift Advisory Commission” was little more than a concept.

Today, the path our city chose is clear. This beautiful hall provides the home that our world-renowned Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has deserved for decades. The Green Line opened to much fanfare and an immediate flood of riders last June. CHS Field has already hosted Hamline University Baseball and will soon host the first Saints game. Now more than 90 organizations are part of our formal out-of-school-time network we know today as Sprockets.

There is so much more to celebrate in our city.

  • Our population is growing
  • Graduation rates for all children are up
  • Crime is down across the city
  • We have once again earned a AAA Bond Rating
  • There is renewed vitality in neighborhoods across the city
  • Property values are rising
  • Investment in the city is at an all-time high
  • Arts and cultural amenities are bringing back night-life to downtown, and
  • The Minnesota Wild are in the playoffs

So today, I offer this year’s State of the City address as a toast to all we have accomplished this last decade – to the dreams realized, to the promises fulfilled, to a renewed, vibrant and growing Saint Paul.

Cheers.

**********

The plans we made, the partnerships we forged, the actions we took have led to a strong Saint Paul.

We are a city to which businesses want to move. Moventas, a Finnish wind energy manufacturer, is bringing green jobs to the Beacon Bluff Business Center.

We recently have cut ribbons on new or expanded businesses – businesses like:

  • Redpath
  • thisClicks, TKDA, KLJ Engineering and GovDocs
  • Afro Deli and Public Kitchen and Bar and Urban Growler
  • Legacy Chocolates, 11 Wells and Revival Wine, Beer and Spirits

Today, Ecolab renewed their commitment to downtown and I’m excited to confirm the oft-rumored plans that Ecolab will purchase Traveler’s North tower, bringing their downtown employees together in a new world headquarters for this fast-growing Fortune 500 Company.

I want to thank Ecolab Chairman and CEO Doug Baker for his commitment to Saint Paul. And I also want to thank Travelers for their commitment to Saint Paul as they will continue to maintain over 2,000 employees at their downtown campus.

Saint Paul is open for business. In 2014, the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections issued building permits representing $715 million of activity – nearly double what we saw just five years earlier. That translates into a lot of women and men working and providing for their families.

Securian continues to thrive as they transition from the incredible leadership of Bob Senkler to our new great partner Chris Hilger.

Plans are underway for new hotels.

HealthPartners is poised to break ground on a new four-story neuroscience center on Phalen Boulevard, the largest free-standing neuroscience center in the Upper Midwest and one of only a few in the country. This builds on the dream that Councilmember Bostrom has so faithfully pursued for the Phalen Corridor for over 20 years.

And the brand new East Side Enterprise Center is abuzz with entrepreneurs “Making it Happen on East Seventh.”

And the Wild are in the playoffs.

The Wild getting into the playoffs is the result of a season of hard work. And yet, just getting to the playoffs is not enough. Instead, we are anticipating a parade down 7th Street and a celebration of a Stanley Cup coming to Saint Paul.

Similarly, hard work over these past years has positioned our city well for future growth and development, greater vitality, more jobs, more residents and more visitors than ever before.

So let’s celebrate. But now we must double our efforts across the city to finish the work that remains.

In downtown, Macy’s, the West Publishing Building, the Gateway parcel and other opportunities must be seized. The West Side Flats, Victoria Park, Beacon Bluff, Whirlpool, Hafner’s and other sites across the city must be developed. And along the Green Line, we must fulfill the promise of a first class transportation system by redeveloping the former Bus Barn site and renewing the Midway Shopping Center at Snelling and University.

In neighborhoods across the city, our investments will continue to strengthen and anchor existing institutions, while paving the way for new housing to be built and entrepreneurs to build their dreams.

Next month, I am excited to announce that we will select the first two neighborhood commercial nodes to receive a combined $700,000 in “Commercial Vitality Zone” funding. Established as part of our 8-80 Vitality initiative passed by the Council in October, this resource will work to create jobs, expand tax base and increase vitality in the selected neighborhoods. I look forward to working with HRA Chair Amy Brendmoen and other members of the Council to make this work.

Whether it is a neglected or abandoned commercial strip or an empty lot, we know that there are numerous parcels in Saint Paul that can be put to higher and better use. I have requested the City’s Planning and Economic Development Department to take the lead. They will reach out to our community partners, especially our District Councils, to identify key parcels in each of their districts that can become future recipients of Commercial Vitality Zone grants or other funding sources. The goal, of course, it to help create 21st century, vital neighborhoods across the city.

**********

And of course, we can’t talk about economic growth without discussing the Ford site, which continues to be the greatest redevelopment opportunity this region has ever seen.

Recently, Councilmember Tolbert and I led a delegation of community leaders to Europe to study redevelopments in Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

There was a great deal of information downloaded during that week. But to a person, the true value of the trip was to instill in each of us a resolve to not think small. As noted city planner Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans; they have no power to stir man’s blood.” 

The developer of the airport site in Berlin, Dr. Phillipp Bouteiller, told us to give the property a “higher purpose.” We can’t simply look at the site and say let’s build X number of houses and create Y number of jobs without first understanding how we truly transform the land into a 21st Century community – an accomplishment that people from across the globe will come to study. In that sense, it can truly be a field of dreams.

But this same sense of purpose must be applied to every corner of our city.

**********

We describe ourselves as the most livable city in America. But what’s behind that phrase?

We would have a long ways to go to become the most musical city in America. Austin and Nashville have a pretty good head start. But as we demonstrate tonight, we can and should be mentioned alongside them as a great music city. A world class chamber orchestra. Great young artists like Jeremy and Chastity. The talented group of musicians who came out of Central High School. A young star like Dem Atlas. Folks like Solomon who share their talents with young musicians.

Music is more than a series of notes – music is a pathway to a stronger, more vital community. 

We can say that we are the most sustainable city in America. That’s a title I would gladly engage in a fight over with other cities. Indeed, if cities across this country and globe strive to be the most environmentally conscious city on the planet, we will actually start seeing the long-term changes required to combat climate change.

Here in Saint Paul, we have so much to brag about:

  • The passage of the comprehensive Bike Plan – which reflects the biggest investment in bike infrastructure in our city’s history.
  • Certification of the Xcel Energy Center as one of the greenest convention centers in the world.
  • Our Saint Paul Regional Water Service, visited by the head of the EPA just last week, which is nationally recognized for its water quality and safety.
  • The new CHS Field, will be among the greenest ballparks in the country, including an innovative system to capture and reuse rainwater for the field and some of the facilities, a model recycling and composting program, and solar panels to help power the scoreboard.

We can say that we are the most educated city, for that is certainly true of many residents. We have one of the most well-educated work forces in the country – with high school graduation rates and college degrees well above national averages. But, that wouldn’t honestly reflect the fact that too many of our children are falling behind and that the Twin Cities is a community with one of the largest achievement gaps in the country.

Recently, an article in the Atlantic Monthly spoke of “the Minneapolis Miracle.” Of course, the real miracle was that it even mentioned Saint Paul. But the article did a great job of talking about the very special community we have in the Twin Cities. And much of the reason we do have the quality of life that we have here is the result of intentional strategies put in place decades ago to make sure that all parts of our region thrive.

But, while “the miracle” is true for some – it is not for all. We have an amazing region – home to more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any place outside of New York, world-class colleges and universities, a richness of arts and cultural amenities, low unemployment rates, a natural environment that belies the fact that we live in a metropolitan area of nearly 3.5 million people, and – of course – the Wild are in the playoffs.

With all this as our base, the higher purpose for our city and region must be to ensure that which is best about our community is shared by all within our community. As Daniel Burnham said, “Aim high in hope and work.” We must aim not to narrow the achievement gap, but to close it. Aim not to reduce disparities in income and employment and in housing and health care, but to eliminate them. Aim to create a 21st century community not just at the Ford site, but in every corner of this city.

The lofty goals we set for ourselves have never been idle chatter. Several years ago, we set out to develop a new approach to education and family stability in the Frogtown and Summit University communities. Under the banner of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood initiative, with inspiration drawn from the Harlem Children’s Zone, we began our work.

The Promise Neighborhood Partners rolled up their sleeves, reached out to over 600 families to help shape the work, and proceeded to build a network of support for children and families that is showcasing how to stop talking about closing the achievement gap and actually move the needle in the right direction. 

In all three schools within the Promise Neighborhood, improvements in test scores have significantly outpaced state and district averages. In fact, at Jackson Elementary School, students made an eight percent gain on state achievement test scores, compared to the state’s one percent gain. Equally compelling is the fact that there is no significant gap in achievement between one racial group and another. All this in a school that became a neighborhood school through the district’s Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan – 85 percent of the students at Jackson now come from the neighborhood, as opposed to the four percent that it used to have.

There are so many partners to thank. People like Councilmember Thao and organizations like the Wilder Foundation. I also want to extend a special thanks tonight to Billy Collins, who is retiring from the YWCA – having served this community’s children and young people for decades.

We sought to “aim high in hope and work” when we began our out-of-school time network now known as Sprockets. From the original dream, to a network that today connects over 90 organizations with 20,000 youth participants – we can now measure the reach of out-of-school time learning and draw powerful connections between those programs and progress in school achievement. 

I am proud to announce that 83 percent of out-of-school time program participants this past year were youth of color, compared to 67 percent kids of color in Saint Paul Public Schools; while, 80 percent of participants were from low-income households.

**********

We have placed a great deal of emphasis on solving one of the monumental challenges before our city – racial inequality. At the root of much or our work, directly through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative or indirectly through the expansion of our youth summer jobs program, the work that we do in Saint Paul must move our city to a place where all our families thrive, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

Because we started with the dream of an equitable community, the Central Corridors Funders Collaborative committed to making the Green Line a true corridor of opportunity. I want to thank Polly Talen who has been an integral part of our work in her position at the Knight Foundation. Polly is leaving that position soon, but I can’t thank her enough for her partnership.

Because equity is at the heart of our work, we have walked side-by-side with Catholic Charities and its leader, Tim Marx, to make sure we build both shelter and opportunity in the heart of our city for those experiencing homelessness. And Mayor Hodges and I have dedicated our communities to the special task of ensuring – by the end of this year – that no veteran is without a home. We have 259 days to go and, at last count, there are 154 homeless veterans on our Registry.

Through the committed work of a team of 20 agencies and advocates, who meet every two weeks, we are on pace to meet our goal, but we need the community’s help. If you know a veteran who is homeless or, very importantly, a landlord who is willing to rent to a veteran, please call 888-LinkVet and someone will be there to help.

I want to thank another community leader retiring this year. Carleen Rhodes, through her leadership of the Saint Paul Foundation, has brought clarity of purpose and resolve to the work of ending homelessness in Saint Paul – and across the state.

Because we want to end disparities in employment, we started an innovative program to train low-income residents and people of color to become paramedics at the EMS Academy. You may remember that I highlighted one remarkable young man a few years back, Donnell Gibson. Well, we were right about him. A few weeks ago, while driving to Rice Recreation Center where he works with kids, Donnell noticed smoke coming out of a Saint Paul home. With his training in mind, he leapt into action and rescued the family inside. Donnell is here with us tonight, so please give him a round of applause.

And because we are committed to equality for everyone, CHS Field will be among the most accessible buildings in sports. With 180 specially-designed seats for people with limited mobility and twice the required space for people who use wheelchairs – there will be greater access for people of all abilities to enjoy a game.

And because I am committed to ending the achievement gap once and for all in our schools, I have stood strongly in support of the district’s Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan. I know that this level of change is difficult. But ask any CEO in any private sector, non-profit or government organization how to execute change. They will tell you that you must persist in the face of doubt, or change will not occur. That is not to say courses can’t be adjusted. But the goal cannot change.

In this case, the goal we seek is a world-class education for all. If we don’t want those words to ring hollow, we must commit to the hard work needed to get there. 

Connie and I proudly raised two children in the Saint Paul Public Schools. We certainly recognized the challenges. But we also saw the richness of their educational experience. Every child in this city deserves that experience. And it won’t happen unless we are all committed to the goal and willing to make change. 

**********

We are a city rich in so many ways.

There is our great parks system, soon to be enhanced by improvements at Rice Park and a new vision for Dickerman Park at University and Fairview – a key to fully realizing the possibilities of the Green Line.

By the end of this year, our incredible libraries will have seen $15 million in renovation and expansion over the last three years – including $7.5 million from private sources – plus an additional $14 million to build the Arlington Hills Community Center, an anchor along this revitalized Payne Avenue corridor.

And of course, there’s art and music and a cultural richness rarely seen in communities our size. Tonight we are in this beautiful, newly dedicated hall. But that great strength that the arts community brings can be seen in the sidewalks of our city because Christine Podas-Larson and the city’s artists in residence had a vision to add simple beauty and grace through poetry in concrete. 

I’d like to take a moment to thank Christine – who after 28 years leading Public Art Saint Paul – is retiring this June. We will miss her vision and her support.

I’m also excited by the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s plans to establish its permanent new home in the Pioneer Endicott Building. Their national treasure of a collection, including works by Paul Manship and George Morrison, will now be on display for visitors and residents to view.  

At the renovated Turf Club, musicians old and new are filling the Green Line with great songs and inspiring new generations of performers. We continue to build out amenities like the Palace Theater that will open in 2016. Como Dockside will soon be filled with walkers and bikers coming to hear great music and sample an exciting range of Cajun food. And, if you don’t have plans after tonight’s event, slide over to the Hill Library to hear the Real Phonic Radio Hour. You can also head to the Xcel to watch the Wild game on the large screen because, in case you haven’t heard, they’re in the playoffs.

In June, the Jazz Festival will be bigger and better than ever – including a performance by Dr. John at CHS Field. Support these festivals. Help them grow. The visitors we draw for that event now will be the future employee, employer or resident of Saint Paul.

Let’s continue to build on the vibrant arts and culture of our city.  Let us marshal our collective resources and our creative energy to build to a crescendo in 2016 – which I am, tonight, officially declaring the Year of Music in the City of Saint Paul. Let’s make sure that every child in our city experiences live music in 2016. Let’s make sure that our musical venues and artists are supported and celebrated in 2016 like never before. Let’s do it because it reflects our higher purpose and because culture and music and vitality are inextricably linked.

**********

We are a great city. The state of Saint Paul is strong. It will be stronger when all share its richness. We have accomplished a great deal this past decade. Let us keep the momentum going.

Tonight, I offer up our shared work together in celebration of all we have accomplished. And what better way to celebrate than great music. So, enjoy. Cheers! And thank you for being a part of this incredible city.

Rob Stewart: Restoring voting rights to ex-felons strengthens communities

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:44am

Rob Stewart’s journey with addiction began when he was a 15-year-old high school student growing up in Owatonna. It culminated in 2007 with his arrest and felony conviction of first-degree possession of cocaine and methamphetamine with an intent to sell.

Stewart, who’d been arrested on drug charges before, was sentenced to 100 months of correctional control in February 2008. He was 27 years old. He served his time through a combination of incarceration and supervised release.

One could say that Stewart grew up during his incarceration, attending AA and NA meetings and Bible studies, committing to sobriety, taking correspondence courses, tutoring his fellow inmates and mending fences with his family. He also developed a keen sense of what he perceived as the injustice of state laws that restrict people convicted of felonies from voting in state and national elections until they have completed the full terms of their paroles.

Stewart believes that his middle-class upraising and strong family support meant that he was successfully able to make the transition from prison to the real world, eventually enrolling at the University of Minnesota and earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology of law, criminality and deviance in 2012. He’s on track to complete is Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on punishment, law and crime in 2017. This is not the case for the majority of his fellow inmates.

“Not everybody is set up with the same set of skills to succeed,” he said. “Look at my situation: When I was released in 2009, I returned to a good, supportive family that was willing to help me get back on my feet. That has made a lot of the difference with the success that I’ve had post-prison, compared with my peers who didn’t have a family that was able to be supportive emotionally and financially.”

Since 2011, Stewart has been active with the voting rights group Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, advocating for changes to state voting laws. He believes that granting voting rights to those leaving the state’s penal system will help level the playing field and increase the health of communities through involvement and activism.  

I met Stewart this spring while I was writing an article for Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Alumni Association magazine; he agreed to expand on his thoughts about felon voting rights for MinnPost.

MinnPost: You have nearly completed your sentence and will be able to vote later this year. Why are you continuing to advocate the voting rights of other former felons?

Rob Stewart: The American penal system was based on the belief that people can redeem themselves, so if we support that concept, we should give former felons the opportunity to rejoin society. It comes down to basic fairness. The more people that can vote the better. When people are involved in having a say in their community, they feel tied to that community. I think that could only have positive benefits.

MP: You were raised in a family that emphasized voting, but you haven’t been able to vote since your felony arrest in 2006. What does feel like to not be able to vote?

RS: When it’s the first Tuesday in November and everybody else is walking around with a little red sticker that says, “I Voted,” but you can’t, because you’ve been convicted of a felony, it’s a pretty depressing experience. The ability to vote conveys a signal of inclusion. When a community says, “You can vote,” that’s basically saying, “You’re an important, valuable part of this community.” That’s a message more of us need to hear.

MP: How does the state of Minnesota restrict voting rights for felons? 

RS: Current Minnesota law says that if you are under sentence you can’t vote. “Under sentencing” means the time spent in jail or prison and the time out in the community on parole. Minnesota has some of the longest probation sentences in the country. We have thousands of people every year who are sentenced to decades of probation. I understand that people should be punished for their crimes, but at the same time I would ask: “What is the utility of restricting somebody from participating in the civic process? What’s the utility of that punishment? What good does that do?”

MP: How are voting rights a racial issue in Minnesota?

RS: One of five African-American males in Minnesota can’t vote because they are on probation. This is a serious racial issue: Large communities of people aren’t represented in the body politic. In certain areas of Minneapolis that are home to large communities of people of color, a large number of citizens there aren’t getting a say on how things are run in their community. And if parents can’t vote, the message gets passed on to their children. I think voting is one of those behaviors that you learn through your family. If your parents voted a lot, then you’ll vote. You’ll see the importance and you’ll believe that you have power in your community. Children whose parents can’t vote are less likely to vote when they become adults.

MP: What are some of the arguments people make against granting voting rights to former felons?

RS: There tends to be three main arguments against felon voting rights. The first is the perception that granting voting rights will create this “felon voting block,” this block of felons all voting together that are going to overthrow the government. But that would only be possible if they were all located in the same place in the same senate district. And that’s just not how it is.

A second argument is that this is how it’s always been in our state. But when the Minnesota Constitution was ratified in 1858, there were something like 26 people in prison and they didn’t even have probation. Today there are three-to-four times more crimes at the felony level. Many are nonviolent drug crimes. So many more crimes are criminalized today at the felony level than they were back then.

Another argument against granting felons voting rights is: “We don’t want to rapists and murderers choosing who is going to run the government.” But the fact is if a person has committed some really heinous crime they’re probably going to still be in prison, and if they’re not in prison anymore, then that means that the prison system or the Legislature has said that it’s time for them to be released into society. 

MP: This session, you’re continuing your voting rights advocacy with the Second Chance Coalition. Have you made progress in your goals? 

RS: I’ve done some public forums and spoke at Second Chance conferences. I’ve met with legislators. I’ve never had a legislator say to me, “You’ve lost your right to vote so you shouldn’t vote.” Maybe people are thinking that, but they are not going to say it to my face. My goal is to not make them feel sorry for me. My goal is to say, “I’m somebody who is experiencing this right now and this is my perspective. Consider it with all these other things you are considering and think how this could be better.”  

This year the most ideologically diverse group of people ever are getting behind us in the Legislature. Since I’ve been involved with the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition and Restore the Vote — Minnesota, I’ve seen a progression to the point where people are willing to sit down and talk and think critically about voting rights. This year looks like the best year since I’ve been involved.

My goal is to try to bring people around to my way of thinking. The other day, I had a long conversation with my grandma. She tried the, “I don’t want rapists and murderers to vote,” argument. We talked about the issues for a long time. I asked her to think critically about the practice. In the end, she said, “I started way over here but now I’m over here, closer to you.” That’s really what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get people to think critically about some of the things we’re doing and some of the basic rights we take for granted.

Checking out Carleton's Goodsell Observatory — and its fascinating history

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:42am
Courtesy of CarletonDetail from a 1935 map of Northfield by Nadine Evers Grill

On a clear night in Northfield, walking down Third Street just a few blocks off Carleton College’s campus and the main drag of Division Street, you can see a remarkably full range of stars overhead. The skies over Northfield, that self-proclaimed bastion of cows, colleges and contentment, provide a nighttime display that’s quite close to the night skies of my exurban youth, before the dairy farms around my childhood home were transformed into shopping centers. I look up and remember constellations I hadn’t thought of since the last time I went camping.

Those night skies are an important part of the college’s history. The campus of Carleton has no shortage of buildings that look like perfect expressions of the 19th century collegiate ideal. In my opinion, however, the most captivating of them all is the Goodsell Observatory. Right on the northeastern edge of the campus, two silver domes protrude from the top of a red brick academic building, each housing an 8” and 16” telescope, respectively. These telescopes are still regularly used and maintained beautifully – magnificent artifacts of an exciting time for scientific inquiry. There’s a monthly open house where you can see them in action.

The Goodsell was a major observatory in late 19th-century America, in this big-sky part of the country, the focal point of an important center of study for astronomy – and, owing to Northfield’s status as a rail hub, a center for the sort of precise cosmic timekeeping needed to keep the trains running. A history of the Goodsell on its website lists superlative after superlative for the facility: “It set time for all major railroads from Chicago to Seattle. It published the leading astronomical journals in the country. It was home to one of the nation’s first state weather systems.” (The entire history is fascinating and well worth reading.)

MinnPost photo by Andy SturdevantThe Goodsell was a major observatory in late 19th-century America.

A few buildings over from the Goodsell, the documentation of this distinguished heritage is stored at the Gould Library. Some of the most interesting documents in this body of work were exhibited in the library several years ago in a show curated by Margaret Pezalla-Granlund, as part of an Art in the Library program highlighting interesting aspects of the collections. (Quick sidenote/disclosure: I am artist-in-residence at the library this week.) Over the course of about a week during the opposition of 1892 – the “opposition” refers to one of the regular periods in which Mars is closest to the Earth, on the exact opposite side of the horizon from the Sun – Professor H.C. Wilson made a series of drawings of the canals of Mars, observed directly from the observatory’s 16” telescope. These drawings were published in the journal Astronomy and Astro-physics, edited by Wilson’s Carleton colleague William Payne. “On a few nights,” he reported, “we were able to make out not only the prominent markings but some of the ‘canals’ of Schiaparelli.”

Courtesy of CarletonProfessor H.C. Wilson made a series of drawings of the canals of Mars.

The idea that there were canals on Mars was deemed, during this era, “the most sensational astronomical discovery of the 19th century,” according to one of the theory’s most enthusiastic backers, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. The word “canal” – which Professor Wilson throws in scare quotes – is translated from the Italian word “canali.” That’s the name given to supposed features of the Martian landscape first seen a decade earlier by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, whom Wilson references. Schiaperelli reported long, straight lines on the surface of the planet in 1877, when seen through a telescope. The word “canali” is translated into English as “canal,” but it can also mean “channel.” The difference between the two words in English, of course, is that one designates a human-made aspect, while the other more generally designates a natural feature. (In Italian, those famous waterways in Venice are also called “canali.”)

There was some debate over whether these supposed canals or channels were natural features or not, but a large contingent of scientists believed, for at least a few years, that Martians were responsible for building the canals. It appeared to be a civil engineering project, the work of a race of Martian civilization builders, potentially ready to communicate with the Earth. “They would be fourteen feet high,” writes an anonymous editorialist in Chamber’s Magazine at the time. “This would make their strength very great. … We should expect that that Martialites have executed large engineering works; perhaps also their telescopes are much superior to ours, and we have been the objects of interest for their observers.”

Wilson’s drawings have a charming, nearly amateur quality to them – more poetic than scientific in their rendering. “The seeing on this night,” Wilson writes, almost by way of an apology, “was for a time excellent but became poorer before the drawing was completed.” They look very much like science fiction – like waterways, connecting vast, dark oceans together in a network of irrigation infrastructure, giving life to a distant planet and its inhabitants. Wilson makes notes of the specific canals observed by name – Titan, Tartus, Nectar, Ambrosia. He references other features of the Martian landscape, like Libya and Hellas. These were names originally given by Schiaperelli, invoking parts of his native Mediterranean landscape. The overall effect, writes historian and geographer K. Maria D. Lang, was “casting Mars as a familiar, Earth-like world.” Returning briefly to that anonymous Chamber’s editorial – “perhaps also their telescopes are much superior to ours, and we have been the objects of interest for their observers” – we can extend that notion to its most extreme conclusion. Imagine a Martian Carleton, with its own Martian Goodsell Observatory, and a 14-foot-high Martian Professor Wilson looking right back at his Earthling counterpart, and at Carleton’s artificial Lyman Memorial Lakes, the campus’ own small-scale public works canals right next to the observatory.

Wilson is also careful with his language, though – he writes in such a way that I doubt he was thinking of Martians. He notes “so-called seas,” and writes with some potential skepticism about the fact that his images “differ so much from Schiaparelli’s maps that it is difficult to identify the features drawn with those in the map.” He’s not a sensationalist, but assuming the mantle of an objective observer, simply peering through his telescope in Northfield and diligently recording what he sees in a sketchbook.

Scientific belief in the phenomenon of the canals is short-lived; in the immediate decades following Wilson’s drawings, consensus among most astronomers was that there were no canals of any kind on the Martian surface. The belief had mostly died out by the early 20th century. It’s true that Wilson’s drawings differ greatly from Schiaparelli’s, and even from many of the other contemporary depictions of the Martian canals. It’s still not clear what Wilson and his colleagues were seeing – potentially the edges of canyons, or some other optical illusion.

MinnPost photo by Andy SturdevantMeteorites in the lobby

The Goodsell today is home to a few academic departments and some distinctly Wes Andersonian classrooms (how many of us, after all, could boast of language classes in a space observatory). The circular lobby, right under the largest telescope, contains a wood display case in the center. This case houses a collection of meteorites, labeled and presented in the wildly modest manner consistent with the standards and practices of the pre-edutainment era. The largest of these meteor fragments was donated by an alum who would go on to become a wealthy securities trader, but began, in an improbably Horatio Alger fashion, as a janitor at the Goodsell with an interest in astronomy and a supportive professor.

All in all, there are more than 60 meteorites on display, from a number of meteor falls in the American west. The nearby didactic makes note of the fact that they represent “one of the most complete college collections in the United States.” It’s another small testament to this campus’ outsize role as a center for American astronomy, observation and timekeeping – in the very romantic words of an early astronomy journal on campus, a sort of sidereal messenger to the rest of the United States.

AWP: They came, they read — and they lingered for a big tribute to Robert Bly

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:41am

Last Friday, Minneapolis was named the most literate city in America. Coincidentally, at that very moment, it was probably the most literate city on the planet.

Nearly 12,000 poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, editors, publishers, agents, writing students, faculty from creative writing programs, and hopefuls were here for the 48th annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference, the nation’s largest literary shindig.

By day, they attended more than 550 panels, readings, lectures, tributes and other events and hung out at the Bookfair, whose 700 exhibitors included literary presses and journals, colleges and universities with creative writing programs, arts centers, and arts organizations.

By night, they fanned out over the cities to hundreds of off-site events, from readings at the Loft to a Prince Purple Poetry Party at First Avenue, happy hours, receptions, a Literary Death Match at the Nomad, and a show of paintings based on Tom Robbins’ novels at Gamut Gallery that ends May 7.

Ever hospitable, especially to out-of-towners, we brought out all of our weather: rain, sleet, snowflakes the size of doilies, brilliant blue skies and warm sun pouring through the windows of the Convention Center, sometimes all on the same day. The skyways leading from the Convention Center to the Hilton and the Hyatt were wildly popular. The Convention Center itself was a star. This was our first time there for an actual conference, and we were impressed.

AWP was held at the end with the auditorium, which was used for large events. Four levels of meeting rooms were linked by escalators. Helpful people were everywhere, answering questions, pointing conferees in the right direction (and sometimes running after them when they headed in the wrong direction, which we learned firsthand). The only problem we noticed was the single, solitary Dunn Bros. coffee outlet, where the line was always endless.

You’d think that after hosting the Alcoholics Anonymous convention here in 2000, which drew 50,000 people, they would have figured out the coffee thing. During the hours people spent waiting for lattes, they could have been writing more poems.

There are many ways to do the AWP. You can follow well-known writers around, and the conference offered many: Karen Russell, Claudia Rankine, Bob Shacochis, Louise Erdrich, Patricia Smith, Greil Marcus, Roxane Gay, Carolyn Forché, T.C. Boyle, Ted Kooser, Vijay Seshadri, Quincy Troupe, Jayne Anne Phillips, Richard Blanco and Anthony Marra, to name but a few. You can get down to nitty-gritty and attend panels on writing, teaching writing, podcasting, getting paid for writing, revising your writing, crowdfunding your writing, self-publishing, handling rejection, editing other people’s writing, writing about your mom, writing about your dog, and writing about your own sexual experiences – as nonfiction. You can spend the whole conference on a barstool, talking with friends. Some do, with no regrets.

We went local. At the Page Meets Stage Tenth Anniversary Showdown, a traveling version of a popular NYC reading series, Minneapolis-based Vietnamese American poet Bao Phi shared the spotlight with Blanco, the inaugural poet at Barack Obama’s second swearing-in. We sampled a reading by four new Milkweed poets and went to the Cedar for a presentation by Mizna, an Arab American organization based in Minneapolis that produces a literary journal. We peeked in at a special “Talking Volumes” event where MPR’s Kerri Miller interviewed Louise Erdrich and Charles Baxter.

At a presentation for the University of Minnesota Press’ 90th anniversary, we learned from editor Erik Anderson that it publishes 130 books each year and currently has an astonishing 3,500 books in print. Then we heard terrific readings by authors Karen Babine (“Water and What We Know”), Kate Hopper (“Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood”) and Sarah Stonich (“Vacationland”). “As a University press,” Anderson said modestly, “we love publishing complicated books.”

A Graywolf reading featured poets, fiction writers and nonfiction writers, reading from their latest: Jeffery Renard Allen (“Song of the Shank”), Catherine Barnett (“The Game of Boxes”), Margaret Lazarus Dean (“Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight”), Mark Doten (“The Infernal”), Tony Hoagland (“Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays”), Ander Monson (“Letter to a Future Lover”). We ran out after and bought two copies of “Leaving Orbit,” Dean’s personal elegy to the end of the space shuttle program.

We found and followed a thread that led from Minnesota’s literary past to our present, out the door of the Convention Center and south to a reading Monday night at Plymouth Congregational Church. The thread was Robert Bly, now 88 years old, whose latest book, “Like the New Moon, I Will Live My Life,” has just been published by White Pine Press in Buffalo, New York.

It is not a stretch to say that Minnesota wears its most-literate crown, and boasts more poets per square mile than is wise or legal, in large part because of Robert Bly. A poet, writer, editor, publisher, translator, cultural critic, rabble-rouser, serape-wearer, lute-plucker and declaimer, he has lived here for most of his life.

Three events at AWP looked closely at Bly and his work. A panel called “Robert Bly and the Minnesota Writers’ Publishing House” considered the revolutionary press Bly launched in the 1970s. Modeled on the Swedish Writers’ Publishing House he had discovered during a trip to Scandinavia, it launched many careers and made Minnesota a national center for poetry.

A panel on poet James Wright, who knew Bly well, credited Wright and Bly with changing the face of American poetry. Wright, who hated Minnesota (he taught at the University of Minnesota from 1957-64 and described that period of his life as “eight years in the 7 Corners of Hell”) had decided to give up writing poetry altogether when he went to his faculty mailbox and discovered a small magazine called “The Fifties,” published by Bly and William Duffy.

Soon after, he paid a visit to Bly and his first wife, writer Carol Bly, at their farm in southern Minnesota, where he found “luminous space and kindness.” He spent many weekends with them, arriving after a three-hour bus ride, writing in a former chicken coop turned writers’ shack.

Bly and Wright and their circle wrote in a radical new way, opening the door to free verse, breaking with the tradition of English poetry, “letting the dogs in.” Of huge significance, they translated world poets unknown in America at the time – Neruda, Machado, Rumi, Rilke, Transtromer, Georg Trakl and others – publishing them in “The Fifties” and later “The Sixties.”

At “Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat: A Tribute to Robert Bly,” which drew a standing-room-only crowd, writers, singers and a magician reflected on Bly’s influence on poetry and American culture. Bly – who was there, sitting quietly in the first row beside his wife, Ruth – was praised for creating a perceptual shift; with helping teachers teach; with inviting non-human life into his poetry; with writing from the realm of the deep image, so his poetry is never purely personal or confessional, but universal.

About his men’s work (in much of the world, Bly is known more for his book “Iron John” than for any of his poetry), poet Marie Howe said, “You brought men together and let them feel their feelings without holding a beer in their hands.” Later, Howe said, “I once went to a conference and found myself Sufi dancing in a barn with Robert Bly.” Then Bly read a few poems from “Like the New Moon,” and we all headed out into the closing hours of AWP.

The conference ended Saturday, but several out-of-towners stuck around for an event Monday night at Plymouth Congregational Church. Presented by Plymouth’s Literary Witnesses series, the Loft and Rain Taxi Review of Books, it celebrated Bly’s new book with readings by 24 poets and Bly himself.

“Like the New Moon” is a sequel, sort of, to “Stealing Sugar from the Castle: Selected and New Poems, 1950-2013,” a 400-page collection published by Norton in 2013. Most people thought that “Stealing Sugar” would be Bly’s final book, but White Pine publisher and longtime Bly friend Dennis Maloney thought there was too much missing from it – poems out of print for years, poems that appeared only once in magazines, poems that deserved to stand in the light again. He drew much of “Like the New Moon” from his own collection of Bly books, chapbooks and magazines.

Twenty-four poets and friends – Maloney, Jim Moore (whose “Underground: New and Selected Poems” was recently published by Graywolf), Minnesota poet laureate Joyce Sutphen, Michael Dennis Browne, videographer Mike Hazard (producer of the documentary “Robert Bly: A Man Writes to a Part of Himself”), Tony Hoagland, Utne Reader founder Eric Utne, Louis Jenkins (whose 2013 play at the Guthrie, “Nice Fish,” was a collaboration with actor Mark Rylance), Ed Bok Lee, James Lenfestey, and others – each chose a poem from “Like the New Moon,” read it aloud, and resisted standing there for hours sharing their own stories about Bly, although you could tell they were itching to.

After, with Lenfestey at his side, Bly took the podium and read several poems from his book, becoming more energetic as time went on, joking with Lenfestey, thumping his cane on the ground for emphasis. He also read one of his finest poems, “Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat,” about blessings and grief and persistence. “Each of us deserves to be forgiven,” he read, then paused to ask, “Is that true?”

You can hear Bly read “Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat” (and two other poems) in this MN Original segment from 2014. A film by award-winning director Haydn Reiss, “Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy,” is in the final stages of production. Here’s the trailer.

Carl Bernstein makes the case for ‘the best obtainable version of the truth’

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:40am

“The best obtainable version of the truth.”

The famous Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein is fairly obsessed with the phrase. I’m not saying this in a bad way.

On stage in Minneapolis Thursday night at the great Westminster Town Hall Forum, Bernstein introduced the phrase “the best obtainable version of the truth” (hereafter TBOVOTT) early in the talk and then circled back to it again and again as the summary of what journalism should but too often does not produce and what the public should but does not want.

“People are not looking for the best obtainable version of the truth,” he said, because much of the audience for news and information cares less about reading or hearing TBVOTT than on having its ideological biases confirmed. And “journalism is not committed to the presentation of the best obtainable version of the truth.”

As a result, “we can’t have a fact-based debate in this country,” he said. We have lost “the ability of each side to accept the sincerity and good will of the other. “ As a result, “Congress is totally dysfunctional” and there is “no good will” across partisan or ideological lines, and little ability to compromise for the greater good. Forty years of “scorched earth politics” and “culture war,” Bernstein said, “has depleted us.” As a result, he said, “I’m not optimistic about what is going on in the politics of this country.”

No kidding.

Bernstein never defined TBOVOTT precisely but I suppose it almost defines itself. I think it purports to be a simultaneously grand and humble definition of what journalists are supposed to put in the paper and on the air every day. The truth, that’s pretty grand. But if TBOVOTT is only a version of the truth, well, that seems to acknowledge that there’s no single and only truth. And if it’s just the best “version” of the truth that was “obtainable” within the confines of time and space and wisdom and within the talents of those assembling it on a given day… well, that’s why I call it humble as well as grand. And to that degree, I share his nostalgia for the (perhaps mythical) good old days.

Bernstein did single out Fox News as the leading factor that led the nation’s news consumers astray. He acknowledged that there are leftier versions of biased journalism, but Fox was the pioneer and Fox is “the most potent political force” to come onto the scene over the past 30 years even though, he added, Fox often reports information that is “demonstrably untrue.”

(By the way, I assumed TBOVOTT was a grand principle Bernstein had been taught as a young journalist, but when I Googled it up, there are lots of references but they were all attributed to Bernstein.)

On the Clintons

In 2008, on the occasion of her first campaign for president, Bernstein produced a book titled “A Woman in Charge: The life of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” which, of course, has new relevance on the occasion of her current second presidential candidacy and which he was available to sign last night.

Westminster Town Hall ForumCarl Bernstein

Observing the Clintons, he said, one is struck by the “sheer spectacle,” by which he meant the doings of Bill and Hillary Clinton contain “large parts soap opera.”  He added that the Republican Party is dedicated to “wiping out Clintonism,” which adds to the drama.

Bernstein mentioned just two ideas for making things better. He would favor a constitutional amendment that would overrule the Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court and impose limits on campaign spending, and he would favor the creation of a “compulsory program of national service for all young people.”

Bernstein’s talk, which was really a Q and A session with former MPR host/interviewer Gary Eichten, will be broadcast on MPR at noon Monday. MinnPost, by the way, was a co-sponsor of the event.