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MN Blog Cabin Roundup, 10/31

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 3:58pm
Four-lane death roads should be illegal

from streets.mn by Bill Lindeke

Death Road™ is what I call 4-lane streets that have been shoehorned into a narrow right-of-way in an urban area. If you bike or walk around Minneapolis or Saint Paul, you can recognize a Death Road™ in an instant. It’s a four-lane street where cars are weaving unpredictably at high speeds, turning left at low speeds. You’ll see cars speeding around other cars stopped waiting to make a turn, or cars weaving around other cars racing to make a stoplight. Death Roads™ often have narrow sidewalks and usually lack an on-street parking buffer.* The mix of speeds and multiple lanes means that biking on, driving on, or trying to cross one of these streets can be deadly.

A conversation with Kyle Lewis — former IP officer

from mnpACT! Progressive Political Blog by Dave Mindeman

I had a very pleasant face to face, sit down conversation with former Independence Party Vice Chair Kyle Lewis today. We went through a range of topics but mostly we talked about the IP. Where it is and how it got there.

Minnesota Litigator Profile: Trial advocate Stephen L. Smith

from Minnesota Litigator by Seth Leventhal

Twin Cities litigator Stephen L. Smith stands out as an advocate for many reasons but, unlike all of the other Minnesota Litigator profile subjects, his practice is also extraordinary because he has an active practice on both the criminal and the civil side.

A passionate ‘genius’

from News Day by Mary Turck

Volunteering at a rape crisis center in college changed Sarah Deer’s life. She worked with rape victims, heard their stories, accompanied them through trials. The crisis center was “grass-roots, tiny,” Deer says, but its influence was huge. Her work there set her on the road to becoming a lawyer and, this year, winning the prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship commonly known as a “genius grant.”

Devastating consequences from a sow farm fire

from Minnesota Farm Living by Wanda Patsche

As I was sitting in my combine seat this past Saturday afternoon thinking about how nice the corn looked as I was harvesting, I noticed to my north and east smoke. I honestly didn’t think too much of it—thinking someone was burning their CRP land or burning a road ditch. What I didn’t realize at the time was this smoke was a sow farm burning. Cougar Run is a sow farm (sows and piglets) located about 20 miles northeast from where I live and there were billows of smoke coming from it’s barns. As I have had some time to process this tragedy, I realize there are some other devastating consequences from this fire.

Halloween is for bullies too

from Kristine Holmgren — Drama Queen by Kristine Holmgren

This year, when the Halloween doorbell rings,  I open it to a new generation of ragamuffins and bullies.

But new studies exploring the roots of bullying teach us new things about our children.  The lesson is simple — when we treat them with respect, when we educate them and nourish them well, they grow into productive citizens.

How Shabbat can heal the tyranny of busyness

from The Middle Stages by Amy Gage

The word Shabbat literally means “ceasing” or “stopping,” a concept I am only beginning to grasp at middle age — and one made more difficult in a time when being digitally connected (always on, forever reachable) is expected, if not embraced.

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

Reaching tenure as a teacher: More than a voilà moment

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 3:57pm
Ryan Fiereck

There seems to be no end to the articles about teaching and public schools. While I try to keep an open mind and a thick skin about commentaries critical of my profession, I was struck by a recent claim by a colleague in MinnPost.

Holly Kragthorpe wrote this about the day she received the due process protections commonly called tenure: “Then, voilà: Three years passed, I received tenure and the pink slips stopped.”

I know each school district is different, and for that matter each building in a district can be very different, but my experience with my tenure was not a “voilà” moment. I doubt it was for most teachers.

She wrote she experienced layoffs, frustration and finally received a continuing contract as sort of a prize because she kept coming back.

That was far from my experience.

Working toward tenure

I spent my three years before receiving tenure working hard to improve my curriculum because I wanted my district to give me the top rank of “fully engaged.” I went through 96 hours of in-class study. My teaching was observed by administrators 16 times. Each observation came with support and feedback that made me a better teacher and my classroom a better place to learn.

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Like Kragthorpe, I received pink slips. My first came in my first year. I blamed deep cuts in school funding, not the district’s policies on layoffs or tenure. When I questioned my future in education, it was because I doubted Minnesota would ever invest in its schools again and I worried about the direction schools were going with the increased emphasis on testing.

After three years of working hard on my classroom instruction, I was handed another pink slip that March. I was disappointed and worried about how I would pay my bills, including a hefty student loan payment, but then I experienced one of the most inspiring moments of my career.

Important feedback

An administrator told me, “Ryan, I’m really proud of your classroom. When you started, I was worried you would not make it. I didn’t think you would be patient enough. Over three years I’ve seen you become a good teacher. I’m sad to see you leave our building.”  

It gave me confidence. It also reassured me that my administrators actually got to know me during all those observations and conversations about my craft. They considered me an educator that they wanted their students to have.

Later in that school year, I received a recall notice and was transferred to an opening in another school. This meant receiving my due process rights, or tenure.

This was not a “poof” moment. It should not be treated like a magic trick or a participation medal. I was able to gain employment in a district I believed in and where I worked so hard to prove myself. I wanted to provide my students with the best chance to be successful inside and outside my classroom, and the district had given me another chance to do so.

That was more than a few years ago, but I still have the same concerns about Minnesota schools. Budget cuts could still mean my job. I’m still trying to find better ways to prepare my students for what comes next. I worry about their test scores. I worry about how, due to the focus on those test scores, my students’ curriculum has been stripped of many of the memory-making opportunities that were special to me as a student.

Observations lead to growth

I also still look forward to the three to four observations of my teaching each year. The feedback is sometimes positive and sometimes critical, but it all helps me grow as an educator. That support is critical to teachers at all points in their careers.

Tenure is the least of my concerns, because it exists.

I’m able to enter my administrator's office and have a tough conversation about what my students need. I’m not brushed aside. I like to think I’m worth the trouble because I’ve invested the time and effort into our students and our building. But if it’s just because I’m hard to replace, so be it. My students benefit either way.

Ryan Fiereck has been a computer technology teacher in the St. Francis School District for nine years. He is a father of two young students.

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.)

Twin Cities apartment vacancy remains low

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 3:56pm
Courtesy of OpusThe recently completed Vélo project in the North Loop area of Minneapolis.

Apartment vacancy continues to hold steady across the Twin Cities amid an ongoing building boom for new multifamily rental housing. In its latest “Apartment Trends” report, Minneapolis-based Marquette Advisors reported an apartment vacancy rate of 2.4 percent across the metro at the end of the third quarter, down slightly from the vacancy rate of 2.5 percent reported a year ago.

Overall, Marquette Advisors found a rental vacancy rate of 2.1 percent in Minneapolis and 3.1 percent in downtown Minneapolis. The latest numbers for downtown Minneapolis reflect a notable drop from the vacancy rate of 5.7 percent that Marquette Advisors reported for the second quarter this year.

It’s not clear what caused the change in the downtown Minneapolis numbers. The Marquette Advisors report indicates: “Note that our calculations do not include all units which have opened within the past six months and are currently in lease-up.”

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Marquette Advisors vice president Brent Wittenberg could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning on the latest findings.

Across the Twin Cities, Marquette Advisors expects 4,946 new apartments to have opened in the metro by the end of 2014. For 2015, Marquette Advisors is forecasting an additional 3,600 new units.  According to the report, 2,763 new apartments opened across the metro in 2013.

Throughout the apartment boom, downtown Minneapolis has been ground zero for many new apartment projects. According to Marquette Advisors: “Downtown Minneapolis has accounted for 40 percent of new construction and 33 percent of absorption in the region since December 2012.”

Recently completed projects in downtown Minneapolis include the 354-unit LPM Apartments and the 101-unit Vélo. The Nic on Fifth, a 26-story tower with 253 luxury units, is being completed in November. Projects under construction in downtown Minneapolis include the 262-unit 4Marq and the 319-unit Latitude 45.

Marquette Advisors reported a 3.1 percent vacancy rate for St. Paul and a 7.6 percent vacancy rate for downtown St. Paul. The latter ranks as the highest vacancy rate for any submarket in the metro at the end of September.

The three metro submarkets with the tightest apartment vacancy are Stillwater (0.4 percent), Crystal (0.8 percent) and Richfield (0.8 percent). In Stillwater, Marquette Advisors found a single vacant unit among 281 apartments surveyed.

Apartment vacancy rates of 5 percent or less are generally considered to be low vacancy markets that favor landlords. The average apartment rent across the Twin Cities is now $1,007 per month, an increase of 2.3 percent over the last year.

The Twin Cities apartment market still ranks at the low end of the spectrum compared to other national markets. New York-based Reis Inc., a real estate research firm, reported third quarter apartment vacancy in Minneapolis-St. Paul at 3.2 percent for the third quarter, lower than the national vacancy rate of 4.2 percent. (Different reports will often report different numbers due to variations in methodology.)

But there are signs that a shift could be underway in the market. The Reis report noted that national vacancy increased from 4.1 percent in the second quarter to 4.2 percent in the third quarter. That marked the first quarterly increase for apartment vacancy since the fourth quarter of 2009.

The bumpy housing market remains another factor driving today’s rental market. On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that found the rate of home ownership in the U.S. hit 64.4 percent in the third quarter, the lowest rate seen in 19 years.

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Northshore Mining and environmentalists square off over proposed taconite-pit expansion

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 3:55pm

DULUTH — Even as environmentalists in northern Minnesota fight to stop a copper mine because it could send sulfuric acid into the region’s lakes, a proposed iron-mine expansion is drawing concern over the possibility that it could have a similar effect. Northshore Mining, based in Silver Bay, plans to expand its taconite pit south of Babbitt into an area that contains sulfur-bearing rock. 

When sulfur in the soil is exposed to water, the runoff can damage streams and lakes. In extreme cases, acid mine drainage can kill everything in a body of water. Northshore owner Cliffs Natural Resources says it can stockpile the sulfur-laden rock to minimize contact with water. But environmental groups are calling on the state to conduct a more detailed study before allowing the expansion.

“This is 2014; we should know better,” said Paula Maccabee, attorney for Water Legacy. “Mining in high sulfur rock requires careful examination of scientific information, conservative assumptions, examination of alternatives to minimize harm, and caution in determining effects on both surface and groundwater,” she said.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has prepared a preliminary review, called an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. Environmental groups are asking the agency to conduct a much more detailed analysis, called an Environmental Impact Statement.

Cliffs declined an interview for this story, but issued a statement and answered questions by e-mail.

“Northshore Mining has worked with the Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency over 10 years to develop the current mitigation plan for mining this area of the operation’s reserve,” the company said. “If Northshore does not mine this area, it would reduce the life of the mine, thereby limiting the positive long-term employment and economic benefits of the operation for the surrounding communities.”

This is the first time the state has required environmental review before allowing a taconite company to expose rock with sulfur content. Earlier exposures at the nearby Erie/LTV mine in the 1970s and 1990s resulted in acid mine drainage affecting the Dunka River. It flows between the LTV mine pit and Northshore's Peter Mitchell Mine pit into Birch Lake, a 7,000-acre lake between Ely and Babbitt, popular with anglers for walleye and northerns. 

From Birch Lake the water flows into the South Kawishiwi River, through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) and ultimately into the Rainy River and north to Hudson Bay. Water from the waste pile of this sulfide rock has been leaching acidic and toxic runoff ever since. LTV closed in 2000; Cliffs Natural Resources bought the property and is now responsible for cleanup. The company has spent years experimenting with constructed wetlands designed to purify the water, but sulfur and other pollutants running into the Dunka River continue to exceed limits in state statutes.

A new and mammoth rock pile

In a 108-acre area on the edge of its 12-mile-long Peter Mitchell Mine pit just south of Babbitt, Cliffs plans to dig away nearly 10 million tons of surface material and bedrock each year to get at the taconite below. As mining progresses over the course of seven to 10 years, workers will build a pile of waste rock in the pit. The sulfur-laden rock will be placed on top of 5 feet of crushed rock that doesn’t contain sulfur, to minimize contact with groundwater and storm water. As it is built, the pile will be covered with a liner designed to minimize water infiltration, which in turn will be topped with soil seeded with grass. Cliffs says it will cover the pile progressively before each section is likely to start producing acid. The completed pile is expected to cover 153 acres.

Water running off the pile will be directed to the Dunka River, joining runoff from the old LTV stockpile, and flowing into Birch Lake.

Minnesota Department of Natural ResourcesThe current mine limits are outlined in green. The proposed expansion area is outlined in red. The yellow outline represents the proposed location for storing sulfurous rock.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Northshore mine is that when it closes, it will change the watershed divide in the area. The mine pit straddles the divide between the Lake Superior Basin (through the St. Louis River) and the Rainy River Basin (through the Dunka River). The land separating the two basins was blasted away, and as long as the mine is in operation, pumps direct water to both basins. But when the mine closes and Cliffs Natural Resources allows the pit to fill, all the water draining from the pit will go to the Rainy River Basin. 

While Cliffs says the design of its new stockpile will minimize acid runoff,  environmentalists aren’t so sure.

Specific criticisms

Kathryn Hoffman, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said PolyMet Mining, which has proposed NorthMet, a copper-nickel mine that would be a near neighbor to the south of the Peter Mitchell pit, has gone into much more depth with studying how stockpiles could be designed. 

“They looked at placing liners under the stockpile as well as over it,” she said. “They developed strategies for collecting water from the stockpile. To me there’s not a good reason why the Northshore mine shouldn’t be looking at those strategies as well.”

She also said Northshore’s plan doesn’t do enough to deal with heavy metals. “Much of the risk from acidity comes from the leaching of heavy metals,” she said. 

The environmental worksheet says cobalt in effluent could increase by 140 percent, copper by 50 percent, and nickel by 268 percent compared to recent water-quality measurements. Yet the DNR’s worksheet says “modeling predicts that the water concentrations will likely be below applicable standards.”

Northshore’s permit expired in July, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is not in a hurry to renew it. (It’s common for industries to continue to operate under expired permits, as long as they are meeting the permit’s requirements.) The agency is working on other permits identified as higher priorities, under pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The mine’s expired permit does not include limits on cobalt, nickel, copper and other metals; it merely requires the company to monitor for them. 

“I don’t think the DNR is holding companies to a standard they should,” Hoffman said. “Conducting an Environmental Impact Statement would bring more agency expertise to bear.”

Potential impact on wild rice

Water Legacy’s Paula Maccabee said there are many reasons more analysis is needed, but a big one has to do with an issue much in the news lately – the potential impact of sulfate on wild rice. The environmental worksheet predicts increased sulfate content in the mine’s effluent – up to 15 times the state limit for wild-rice waters. The worksheet says the wild-rice standard does not apply in this case, but other DNR documents list Birch Lake as a wild rice lake.

Maccabee also said experiments designed to predict how acidic the runoff will be did not include samples from all parts of the proposed expansion area, making the prediction unreliable. And she suggested the huge pit lake that will be created when the mine closes is liable to put pressure on underlying faults and fractures in the bedrock, creating the potential for polluted water to seep into groundwater systems, including drinking water supplies.

Critics are also concerned about the rock face that will remain exposed after the ore is removed. The vertical wall of sulfur-bearing rock will run more than a mile and a half long and 55 feet high above the eventual water level. Rain falling on the rock will likely form some amount of sulfuric acid. In a statement, Cliffs Natural Resources said its studies “indicate that the relatively small exposure area of the pit wall has insignificant contributions to the pit water chemistry.”

Analysis sought of effects in wider context and over time

Environmental groups want the DNR to conduct a thorough analysis of the potential cumulative effects of the project, considering other taconite mines in the area and the proposed PolyMet and planned Twin Metals mines.

“We need an Environmental Impact Statement to look at impacts on surface water and make sure we’re not allowing high-sulfur water to get into our precious groundwater aquifers,” said Maccabee.

The DNR declined to discuss technical questions about the environmental worksheet. Spokesman Chris Niskanen said the agency has received more than 600 comments, and staffers need to “take a hard look at them and have some pretty intense internal discussion about the technical aspects of the report” before talking to the media. The DNR has until early December to decide whether to do a more detailed study.

The Star Tribune endorsed Stewart Mills for Congress. His policies? Not so much

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 2:55pm

So who saw that coming?

On Monday, October 27, the Star Tribune endorsed 8th District Republican challenger Stewart Mills over Democratic incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan.

The decision caused a stir on social media — much of it speculating on whether new owner Glen Taylor’s politics and stated preference for a less liberal paper had anything to do with the decision.

Editorial page editor Scott Gillespie said the paper has a long-standing tradition of not discussing how the editorial board arrives at its decisions, though he did say the talk about Taylor misses the mark. “We take a nonpartisan approach to making our picks, despite what some on the left and right want to believe, and it would be wrong for anyone to read anything broader into a single endorsement decision,” he said in an email. “The Star Tribune endorsed candidates from both parties — and independents — long before Glen bought the paper. People who see evidence of our page ‘turning right’ in this year’s endorsements are reading very selectively, in my opinion.”

Yet the endorsement was notable not just for who it supported — Mills was not the only Republican the paper endorsed this election cycle; the paper also backed both Erik Paulson in the Third Congressional District and John Kline in the Second — but how it did so. 

While praising Mills for his “intelligence and pragmatic instincts,” his “realism,” and his energy and “zest,” the paper also noted that it “would welcome more specifics” when it came to entitlement reform and — most importantly — that it differed with Mills “on a number of issues.”

How many is “a number”? Hard to say, exactly, but a look at recent Star Tribune editorials and Mills’ policy positions and statements shows that the candidate and the paper seem to disagree on quite a bit, including prominent issues such as gun control (which the Strib duly noted), taxes, Obamacare, the environment and foreign affairs.

Here, a closer look at where the paper and its endorsed candidate in the 8th Congressional District diverge: 

GUN CONTROLMillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills’ campaign was essentially kicked off in 2013 with a 12-minute video about Second Amendment rights addressed to Rep. Rick Nolan and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. An excerpt:

“Rick Nolan’s duck gun is much more lethal and impractical than the so-called assault rifles that he would legislate away. … Gun control isn’t about controlling guns. It’s about controlling people and limiting your freedom. … Gun-free zones are killing our kids. … They are magnets for psychopaths.”

The paper has long supported gun control measures: In an Aug. 24 editorial on the regulation of firearms at the state Capitol, for example, it noted:

“Measures that merit serious consideration include bag checks — like those that many professional sports fans already endure — and the use of metal detectors to check for weapons at certain times or places in the Capitol complex. … Strong consideration also should be given to statutory changes that would clearly give public safety officials the authority to check whether gun owners who provide advance notice about their intent to carry at the Capitol do in fact have a valid permit.”

 

OBAMACAREMillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills has not been shy about his distaste for the law. From a position statement he gave to Minnesota Public Radio:

“One of the main pillars of my campaign is to repeal and replace Obamacare with real health care reform that will lower costs and increase access to care. As plan administrator of the self-insured health plan at our family's business, I've seen first hand the disastrous effects Obamacare will have on health care in our country. The fundamental point here is that socialism doesn't work, but consumerism does.”

The paper, on the other hand, has been a supporter. From June 13:

“The venomous politics dogging the Affordable Care Act and the flawed rollouts of its new health insurance marketplaces have too often overshadowed health reform’s noble goal: ensuring that more Americans have access to vital, potentially lifesaving medical coverage. … While the state’s mostly Republican critics of the ACA quickly complained that the MNsure website was too costly to build and that the coverage gains came mostly through public programs, the dramatic drop in the uninsured rate is still a milestone.”

 

POLYMETMillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills supports both the PolyMet and Twin Metals copper-nickel mining projects and believes the permitting process has taken too long. From his MPR statement:

“We should be taking advantage of opportunities that copper-nickel mining could offer the Iron Range. Projects like PolyMet and Twin Metals will bring economic benefits and hundreds of new jobs to the Range in a time when unemployment is disproportionately high in our district. The environmental review and permitting process for these projects has gotten out of control, and I'll work in Congress to make sure we can pursue these projects in a responsible way without having to wade through years of red tape and bureaucracy.”

The paper doesn’t seem to think the review and permitting process is out of control. In August of 2013, it said the public should be given “ample time” to weigh in, and in a Feb. 21 editorial on a legislative hearing having to do with Polymet, it stated:

“Given the high stakes and the state’s inexperience setting financial assurance for a mine like PolyMet, it’s important to have public scrutiny of this critical process. It’s also good to spotlight this issue so that regulators, legislators and the public are informed as other companies vie to mine the region’s rich deposits of copper, nickel and other metals vital for electronics and green-energy technology. The transparency will go a long way toward reassuring a state that has significant uncertainty about this new type of mining.”

 

TAXESMillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills wants to flatten the tax rate for everyone. From his Oct. 7 debate with Nolan:

“We need simplification of our tax code to make sure our small- and medium-sized businesses that make up over 80 percent of all employers in the 8th District are not put at a competitive disadvantage. For the benefit of the middle class, we need to flatten out the tax code and simplify it.”

It’s a bit of an apples and orange comparison (state vs. federal), but the paper has expressed its support for higher taxes for the top tier of earners with its support of Gov. Mark Dayton’s policies. From its Oct. 19 endorsement of the governor:

“Johnson’s desire to not just reform state taxes but also reduce them, to a level he does not specify, should give Minnesotans pause. … State government stability is itself a competitive asset, one Minnesotans should not want to jeopardize again. Dayton deserves credit for the fiscal stability that has returned on his watch. His push to correct the oversized income tax cuts enacted in 1999 and 2000 was important to that change, as was the discipline to enlarge the state’s reserves and repay more than $2 billion owed to school districts.”

 

FOREIGN POLICYMillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills advocates taking the fight to ISIL, even if it involves American forces. From his debate with Nolan:

“We don’t have a choice in this one. They have a direct stated intention of attacking Americans, attacking America and American interests abroad. And the current track that we’re on is the right track. Because we need to leverage our air power, we need to work with our allies in the region, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, whether it’s Turkey, it looks like they’re getting interested, and it’s right in their interest to make sure we crush the threat of ISIS.”

The paper has tended to be far more circumspect when it comes to using U.S. forces in the Middle East. From a Sept. 19 editorial:

“… Assad has been targeting the more moderate factions in order to show the West that the alternative to his butchery is an even more barbaric terrorist organization. So if the moderate rebels aren’t an effective enough force, whose boots will be on the ground? And if ISIL is defeated, won’t Assad benefit? These are among many tough questions that Congress must ask as it debates next steps. In typical fashion, Congress prioritized campaigning over governance, and so a vote authorizing military force wouldn’t take place until after the election. But Congress can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid vetting Obama’s strategy before it takes any future steps toward another Mideast war.”

Frustrated with Twin Cities media, police chief suggests using social media more to 'get our message out'

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 2:22pm

Minneapolis Chief of Police Janee Harteau has had a rough couple of months.

There's been high-visibility violent crime in the city’s North Minneapolis neighborhood; a police confrontation with a prominent Black activist; complaints from minority communities about police tactics; Mayor Betsy Hodges repeatedly calling for a change in police culture; and a recent Star Tribune story about the chief's out-of-state travel.

And then there was her controversial decision to cancel an appearance at a community forum on Sept. 19, after she received credible evidence that a violent disruption was being planned.

All were widely reported in newspapers, websites and on Twin Cities radio and television stations. So it might be understandable that Harteau seems less than enamored with reporters these days.

“We continue to be frustrated and challenged, frankly, with local media,” Harteau said during her presentation to the city council's budget committee Thursday.

And she may be planning to do something about it. As part of her efforts to increase department transparency and community engagement and outreach efforts, Harteau said, she might be looking for ways around the daily newspaper and TV news.

“We have to find ways to communicate and get our message out,” she said. “How do you get messages out? We have to figure that out.” 

Harteau said she hopes to use social media more often — and more effectively — as a means of doing that. “We’re working on Twitter, Facebook. I have my own. We also have YouTube,” she said. “I’m going to start using that more so that people can get messages directly from the chief. You (council members) can have them. The community can have them. They can hear my comments in their entirety. I can do it fairly quickly and they’re in context.”

The question, at least for local reporters, is whether the chief see her social media efforts as a supplement for responding to media questions — or an alternative?

One of the MPD's public information officers, Scott Seroka, said Harteau is not planning on using social media to avoid traditional news outlets, and will continue to be available to reporters.

Chief Janee Harteau's testimony on Thursday to the Minneapolis City Council's budget committee begins at the 44:55 mark.

“Chief Harteau has been one of the most accessible chiefs in the department’s history and will continue to engage with local media with tremendous regularity,” Seroka said. “Realizing that media outlets cannot always broadcast or print statements or answers in their entirety, she wants to increase her opportunities to speak directly to residents in an unfiltered and unedited fashion."

“So nothing will change in regards to responding to local media," he said. "What will change is the frequency in which she will speak directly to residents through social media channels."

In her presentation to the committee, Harteau noted that the department had hired two civilian public information officers who had arranged some 2,400 media contacts and responded to “media requests from across the globe including several requests for information from network television and national publications.”

She also reported that the PIOs cultivated relationships with local reporters “that have resulted in an increase in positive news coverage.”

Native American tribes to ad against Washington nickname before Vikings game

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 1:58pm

Two Minnesota Native American tribes are sponsoring a public service ad against the Washington football team's nickname that will run Sunday on Fox 9 right before the game.

The powerful 30-second ad has inspirational images of Native Americans, and says:

"Proud, forgotten, Indian, Navaho, Blackfoot, Inuit, Sioux, unyielding, strong, indomitable. Native Americans call themselves many things.

The one thing they don't..."

Then it cuts to a picture of a Washington football helmet, which has an image of the mascot that many consider offensive.

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe officials bought time to run the ad right before the noon kickoff, on Fox 9, the station that airs the game locally.

A rally against the nickname will be going at the same time at TCF Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, where the game is being played.

The ad, "Proud to Be," was created for the Change the Mascot campaign launched by the Oneida Indian Nation and a two-minute version was released by the National Congress of American Indians in January.  A 60-second version was aired by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a California tribe, during the NBA Finals in June.

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Charlie Vig said:

"We hope Minnesotans will gain greater understanding about this issue and benefit from this perspective."

Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin said:

“Our tribes work hard to encourage self-respect among our children and young adults. Derogatory names used for our people in the wider culture undercut our efforts. We hope running this ad contributes in some way to bringing the practice of hurtful mascots to an end."

Fearing deflation, local Fed chief votes againt ending stimulus buying

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 1:41pm
Narayana Kocherlakota

The local Federal Reserve chief voted against ending that controversial stimulus buying program. In the Strib Evan Ramstad says, “ … Narayana Kocherlakota said Friday that he voted against ending the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying stimulus earlier this week because he believes the central bank needs to attack low inflation just as it would high inflation. … Kocherlakota’s dissent wasn’t surprising. For weeks, he has spoken publicly about risks of low inflation, even deflation, and his worry that businesses, investors and consumers will begin to doubt the Fed’s belief in its benchmark. When inflation is low, and particularly when an economy slips into deflation, consumers and businesses tend to delay spending in the expectation of lower prices.”

You mean these people expect to be paid? Kim McGuire of the Strib says, “Renee Rushdy has seen Eden Prairie school support staff disappear from the classroom and her children’s class size increase because of money slashed from the district’s budget in recent years. … What has Rushdy and other parents anxious is school leaders’ pledge to cut another $10 million if Eden Prairie residents don’t vote Tuesday to renew and increase a portion of the school’s expiring operating levy. On the district’s chopping block if the levy is allowed to expire: block scheduling at the high school, gifted and talented programs for elementary students, teachers at every grade level, counselors and even some bus routes.”

More on Sunday’s game day protests by Matt Sepic at MPR: “In Minnesota, a state with more than 100,000 people of Native American ancestry, many say the term ‘Redskins’ is a racial slur that insults and trivializes their culture. Outraged that the D.C. team has refused to drop the name, Indian protest leaders plan the largest demonstration ever against it. … Native American groups have demonstrated at Washington games for years. But Goodthunder said Sunday's protest will be much larger. Not only will there be students, but organizers say they're expecting as many as 5,000 American Indians from across the country.”

Early voting is up 20–25% says the PiPress’s Frederick Melo, thanks to a push from various special interest groups. “On Thursday, the secretary of state's office said 197,167 absentee ballots had been distributed to Minnesota voters and 125,358 had been returned and accepted by election officials. Immigrant and minority advocates are especially interested in mobilizing voters early because their communities are sometimes the hardest to get to the polls, especially when there's no presidential race to galvanize interest.”

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Two people not takin’ nuthin' from The Man. Phil Pfuehler of the Forum News Service says, “A western Wisconsin couple have been charged with plotting to kill police and a judge in revenge for an early October search warrant and arrest at their River Falls home. Cheryl L. Kloss, 60, and her husband Kelly J. Kloss, 56, face numerous felonies, ranging from conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide to conspiracy to commit battery or threat to a judge. Cheryl Kloss was found and arrested on the new charges Oct. 24 at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where she works as a residence hall custodian. Her husband was in jail at the time.” So, in other words, not hard to find.

Next time you talk to a Minneapolis cop be sure to comb your hair and pick the lettuce out of your teeth. Peter Cox at MPR says, “As Minneapolis police prepare to roll out a pilot body camera program next week, across the river in St. Paul, city leaders now say they may adopt the technology as well. … Next Friday, 36 police officers in Minneapolis will begin wearing the cameras in the field. Officers will be trying out two types of cameras, and are especially interested in testing how well they fare in winter weather.”

Ok, maybe you haven’t driven to Alexandria to shop. But people closer by are making the trip. Amy Chaffins of the Forum News Service says, “Regional residents and tourists are coming to Alexandria to shop, making it one of the top three statewide for its ‘pull factor’ for similar-sized cities. Alexandria's taxable retail and service sales increased 12.7 percent between 2009 and 2012, reaching a total of about $324 million, making the central Minnesota city of 13,000 one of the top regional non-metro shopping hubs in the state and continuing the city's retail boom. … The largest increase in sales was in the building materials category, which totaled about $63 million in 2012.”

Another day and another (semi-suspect) foodie list. This one “America’s 13 Best Food Cities” [under 800,000 population], courtesy of Saveur magazine and the Huffington Post. And hey, look who is among the Top 13! “Minneapolis is one of our favorite rising cities, with a booming social scene including live music, vintage shops and sports teams galore. It doesn't hurt that it's also home to the most whimsical pastries on Earth and some super-affordable restaurants. A local favorite is hot dish, an irresistible skillet dish with many renditions across the city.”

Maybe you too were wondering how the guy who fought off a 500-pound bear was doing. In the Strib Dennis Anderson says, “When the night finally went silent again, at about 2 a.m., and the bloodied bear had disappeared into the darkness, Brandon Johnson lay unmoving. This was in eastern Pine County, near Duxbury, and Johnson’s left arm was mangled and broken. His right arm and hand — the one that held the knife he had shoved into the bear’s mouth — was also broken. Leg. Midsection. Face. Head. Johnson bled from each. … Today, three surgeries later and more to come, Johnson remains in his own kind of quarantine, unable to use his left arm, unable to work … And wondering how he will pay his medical bills, including ongoing physical therapy.” It’s the American way.

The Timberwolves may not make The Finals this year, but they’re more interesting than this tale would lead you to think. KARE-TV was saying last night, “A University of Minnesota student found a creative way to advertise his unwanted ticket to the Timberwolves season opener Thursday night. Kirby Horgan, of Mound, posted the ticket and note on a telephone pole near the corner of 14th Ave. and 7th St. SE in Dinkytown. It reads, ‘Someone take this Timberwolves ticket that I didn't feel like throwing in the garbage. 7pm vs. Detroit Pistons. Tonight. (Sorry that it isn't a Wild ticket.)’ Afterward, Horgan said he found some humor in it, so he took a photo and posted it to Twitter and Reddit. The image went viral Thursday night, making the homepage of Reddit. Outlets such as Deadpsin and NBC Sports Network shared the image.”

Civil rights commission joins call for end to NFL team's nickname

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 11:31am

More civic voices have joined the outcry against the nickname and mascot of the NFL's Washington team, as it comes to Minneapolis to play the Vikings Sunday.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said today that she supports the call for an end to use of the "Redskins" nickname, as called for in a resolution passed this week by the city's Civil Rights Commission.

A rally against the nickname is planned for 10 a.m. Sunday at TCF Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, where the game will be played at noon. Hodges will speak at the rally.

The Minneapolis City Council and the Hennepin County Board have also passed resolutions calling for a change of the nickname.

Said Hodges:

"It is baffling that in 2014 a company would retain the use of a racist logo for its product. From a human standpoint it is reprehensible and from a business standpoint the brand becomes more tainted every day."

Michael Harralson, chair of the Civil Rights Commission, said:

"...the choice of mascot name and logo by the Washington football team is offensive, derogatory, and disparaging to indigenous people. Minneapolis is home to one of the largest urban American Indian communities in the country, and the Commission is speaking out in support of our Native community. The use of such offensive language and imagery is not welcome within this great city."

What Americans fear the most

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 11:11am
Creative Commons/Vincent DiamanteWalking alone at night tops the list of Americans' personal fears.

A new survey on the “fears, worries and concerns of Americans” was released this week — just in time for Halloween.

Conducted by researchers at Chapman University in Orange, California, the survey involved a representative sample of more than 1,500 adults. The information gathered was divided into four basic categories: personal fears, crime, natural disasters and “fear factors” (the factors that are the strongest predictors of Americans’ fears).

Here are the top five personal fears of Americans, according to the survey:

  1. Walking alone at night
  2. Becoming the victim of identity theft
  3. Safety on the Internet
  4. Being the victim of a mass/random shooting
  5. Public speaking

And here are the top five worries or concerns of Americans:

  1. Having identity stolen on the Internet
  2. Corporate surveillance of Internet activity
  3. Running out of money in the future
  4. Government surveillance of Internet activity
  5. Becoming ill or sick
A persistent fear of violent crime

Violent crime elicited high levels of fear among the survey’s participants, despite the fact that, as the Chapman researchers point out, the overall incidence of violent crime in the U.S. has been declining for two decades.

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“What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others, but they also believe these crimes [as well as human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings and serial killings] have increased over the past 20 years,” said Edward Day, a sociologist at Chapman University, in a press statement released with the survey.

The crime that Americans are most optimistic about, according to the survey, is “mass riots.” About 23 percent of the people polled said that the prevalence of mass rioting has decreased in recent years.

Regional variations

When it came to natural disasters, the ones most feared by Americans in the survey were the following:

  1. Tornados/hurricanes
  2. Earthquakes
  3. Floods
  4. Pandemics or major epidemics
  5. Power outages

The survey also found that the vast majority of Americans — even ones living in regions hardest hit by natural disasters — are unprepared for such emergencies. Only 25 percent of the people surveyed, for example, said they had emergency kits containing food, water, clothing and medical supplies to help them through a natural disaster. (I actually find that number to be surprisingly high.)

Not surprisingly, perhaps, is the finding that the levels of concern about natural disasters — and the types of disasters that elicit concern — vary from region to region. While 35 percent of the survey’s participants who lived in western states said they were “worried” or “very worried” about natural disasters, only 19 percent of those living in the Midwest expressed that level of concern.

And the survey’s Midwest participants listed their fears of natural disasters in a slightly different order:

  1. Tornados/hurricanes
  2. Floods
  3. Pandemics or major epidemics
  4. Earthquakes
  5. Power outages
Two key ‘fear factors’

The final part of the survey focused on what types of people tend to fear certain things and what factors might play a role in those fears.

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Two factors were found to be the most consistent predictors of fear: having a low level of education and watching a lot of television, particularly talk shows and shows that feature real-life crime.

Of course, as the Chapman researchers point out, that doesn’t meant that these factors cause people to be more fearful. For example, people who regularly watch talk and true-crime shows may already harbor a lot of fears about the world — fears that draw them to those types of shows on TV.

One final interesting tidbit from the survey: Republicans expressed higher levels of fear about “today’s youth, the government and immigrants,” while Democrats had higher levels of fear about “personal safety, pollution and man-made disasters.”

You’ll find an expansive explanation of the survey and its findings on Chapman University’s website. The researchers plan to conduct the survey every year. It will be interesting to see how our fears and concerns change over time.

Gov. Dayton will hand out Halloween treats at the Summit Ave. residence from 5 to 6 p.m.

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:35am

Gov. Mark Dayton will hand out treats to trick-or-treaters tonight at the Governor's Residence in St. Paul from 5 to 6 p.m.

The gates to the residence, 1006 Summit Ave., will be open for goblins from 5 to 7 p.m., but the governor has to leave at 6 p.m. for the televised debate with GOP challenger Jeff Johnson, at 7 p.m. on Almanac, at the TPT public television station in downtown St. Paul.

Earlier in the day, the governor has a real-life scary encounter: he's meeting with health care associations about preparation and prevention of the Ebola virus in the state.

T-Wolves two-game takeaway: they will not be awful

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:34am

A competitive road loss to the playoff-caliber Memphis Grizzlies followed by a home win against the mediocre Detroit Pistons was the result of the opening two games of the 2014-15 season for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With 2.4 percent of the season now in the books, I’m in no great rush to make sweeping claims about what we’re going to see — and how it is going to feel — over the next 80 contests between now and mid-April. But now that the games count for something and the NBA veterans have flipped on the intensity switch, it is time to start culling through the small sample size to try and identify the salient clues and would-be trends that will characterize this edition of the Wolves.   

They will not be terrible

Timberwolves teams helmed by Jimmy Rodgers and Kurt Rambis eighteen years apart endured two-year periods where they did not win 20 games in a season. Because the current Wolves roster contains such a motley mixture of veterans designed to play with the departed Kevin Love and for the departed Rick Adelman along with very young athletes designed to create a new culture and identity, some national pundits had the team plummeting close to the depths previously spelunked by Rodgers and Rambis. Injuries and other assorted evil juju may still conspire to create such a fate, but after a fairly solid preseason and this two-game regular season snippet, it’s clear that the Wolves are not intrinsically inept.

The abiding talent on this team filters down deeper into the roster than it did a year ago. This is most apparent at the point guard position, where the feisty little fire hydrant J.J. Barea was force-fed into a ball-sharing role, for which he and the team were blatantly ill-suited. Barea has been replaced by the less excitable veteran Mo Williams, who — despite a mere one-year contract — doesn’t play as if he has something to prove. Williams is comfortable in his own skin, already a balm on this crabs-in-barrel roster scrum. And while he has always been a trifle too happy with his own shot for a point guard, he’s made 60 percent of them while ranking second on the team in assists.

The upgrade doesn’t stop at Williams, however. No longer does it feel like Wolves fans have to cross their fingers and hold their breaths when the starters rest early in the second quarter and for another stint in the second half. Part of this is the product of trading one superstar for one above-average player and two promising prospects who can be inserted into the rotation (in the aggregate, the starters are diminished and the subs bolstered). But it also involves the improvement of a pair of second-year players, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, who along with newcomer Thad Young were the best players on the floor for Minnesota versus the Grizzlies in Memphis. 

Calling all the shots

Okay, so saying the Wolves will likely win more than 20 games and exhibit less of a talent-gap between the first and second quintets in the rotation isn’t exactly front-page news. But it does speak to an ongoing theme that will by turns be fascinating, frustrating, fun and infuriating over the course of the season—the dominance of the decision-making power in the hands of head coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders.

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Saunders the POBO should be accorded his due for emerging with both depth and hope out of the three-player package he got in the Love trade; especially for wisely waiting out the time before Lebron James jumped to Cleveland, when Love had all the leverage. (For more context, check the beginning of my previous column.) Saunders signing Williams was one of those roster grace notes that signify a competent personnel guy is on the premises, and Saunders’ drafting of Muhammad and Dieng looks shrewder with each passing day. He deserves respect thus far for making edible hash out of the execrable mess amassed from the many droppings of his front office predecessor, David Kahn.

But it is a hash all the same, a roster that is relatively deep but starved of stardom. Because the personnel decisions in the summer of 2013 were guided by a much different philosophy than those made in the summer of 2014 (prompted by efforts to first accommodate Love and then to salvage compensation from his departure) there are holdover veterans and hungry prospects vying for minutes at every position, each with his own set of virtues and vices. It is anybody’s guess which players comprise the most compatible and productive combinations at this point, but only Flip ultimately gets to make those decisions and determinations.

Consequently, folks who follow the Wolves will be hard-pressed not to second-guess the roster juggle and what it says about style of play and the season-long tension between winning now and building for the future.

It began with the opener in Memphis. Center Nikola Pekovic, purposefully rested for much of the preseason because of lingering bursitis and frequent stress-related injuries on his 295-pound body during the course of his career, was simply not ready to compete with Grizzlies All-Star center Marc Gasol. This compounded the damaging mismatch taking place between the low-post load named Zach Randolph for Memphis and the Wolves’ undersized power forward Thad Young.

When Saunders subbed in Dieng for Pek, the defensive deterrence and jousting under the boards improved significantly. In the first half alone, Minnesota was outscored by 16 in the 17 minutes Pek played and outscored Memphis by 10 during the 7 minutes Dieng was on the court.

Dieng injured his thumb slightly, delaying his return in the third quarter, but came in for an 11-minute stint spanning the change from the third to fourth quarter that help catapult the Wolves briefly into the lead. But with 5:38 to play and the Wolves down by two—crunch time—Saunders returned to Pekovic, who again was unable to contain Gasol.

For those looking for a signal on whether Flip would rely on the vets or ride with the kids if they happened to be playing well late in the game, it was a questionable, if hardly egregious, vote for the vets. 

Holding court

In his previous stint coaching the Wolves, Saunders was usually a fount of information about his perceptions and motivations during the postgame press conferences. He lived up to that history Thursday night during his opening recap and answers to the media following the win over the Pistons. Here are the best of his many nuggets.

For the final 5:37 of what had become a close-fought game, Saunders deployed a double-point backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams. He justified the move by noting that Williams can make shots and that Williams has a “calming effect” on the game, which is especially helpful for Rubio, who, Saunders said, “was trying to do too much.” This was an accurate perception and a savvy response. It has been a little unnerving to see Rubio’s customarily sound decision-making get shaky in the fourth quarter—against Memphis he committed a crucial turnover and then stupidly tried to flop while half-guarding Vince Carter, instead drawing a foul on himself that sealed the loss. Some of this is probably left over from all the occasions Rubio was yanked in the fourth quarter last season. Thus far this season, Flip has stuck with him—but, as against the Pistons, also hedged his bet by using Williams as a safety valve.

The Pistons got back in the game via a three-point shooting barrage by swingman Caron Butler in the second half. Saunders tried guarding Butler first with Muhammad and then with Corey Brewer. His best option, the heralded rookie, Andrew Wiggins, was forsaken. Wiggins had endured an underwhelming performance in Memphis and looked tentative during the first half versus Detroit, only to erupt with a crowd-pleasing and tension-lessening spurt in the third quarter that finally showcased his copious ability.

Saunders explained that he resisted putting Wiggins on Butler because he wanted the rookie to come away from the game feeling good about his performance. He added that “I probably would have been kicking myself for not putting him back in” if the Wolves had lost.

It sounds refreshingly honest: Of course it easier to reveal if the team has won the game. More interesting to me is the way Flip adroitly spun the decision: He didn’t rely on his cornerstone rookie to address a vexing problem even when that rookie’s signature skill was the best antidote…because he wanted to ensure that the rookie had sufficient confidence in his game moving forward.

For that matter, for the second game in a row, Saunders rode his veterans down the stretch. He acknowledged it on Thursday and said the goal was the “positive reinforcement of getting some wins.” But he pointedly noted that competition was still open, that he required a “gang approach” and a “culture established where we play hard every night.” He specifically referred to a play where veteran Kevin Martin dove for a ball on defense and correctly noted that “you didn’t see that last year.” He implied that Martin needs to demonstrate that commitment to remain on the court, and added that “for the younger guys, the leash isn’t quite as short.”

Of course the younger guys haven’t been able to go out for jaunts on the court as often either—their longer leashes are on the shelf.

Beyond my perceived pros and cons of these postgame remarks, a dominant impression remained—Flip Saunders is running this show this season. Whether anyone else likes it or not, he’s taking care of Rubio’s fourth-quarter jitters, of Wiggins’ rookie mindset, of Martin’s proclivity to laze about on defense. He’s got a passel of players, only so many minutes, and nobody in the front office to counter his dictates. He is the front office.

The curse of the long two-pointer

A lingering concern about Saunders as coach of this team in 2014-2015 is his innate preference in drawing up open jump shots that often happen to be long two-pointers—the type of shot that analytics have shown to be the least efficient way to score in the modern game.

Two games is hardly a large-enough sample size to draw any conclusions, but the fear of Flip discounting the need for three-pointers—buttressed by some of his comments on Media Day—gains a little more credence by the sets his team has run thus far.

According to the StatsCube device on the nba.com website, in the three previous years under coach Rick Adelman, the Wolves attempted at least 22 percent of their shots from three-point territory—one year it was 26.2 percent. In the first two games of this season, the Wolves have attempted just 13.6 percent of their shots from long range. To a lesser extent, they are also attempting a smaller percentage of their total shots in the painted area, another region of better scoring efficiency.

Flip would probably counter that Minnesota’s true shooting percentage—a measure that groups together two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws—is 53.7 percent, which is higher than any of the three years under Adelman. Fair enough. But it places a high burden on the ballclub to make a high percentage of open midrange jumpers—no mean feat.

For example, it is obvious that the work of Mike Penberthy, the “shot doctor” hired by the Wolves this season to work with all the players, but especially Rubio, is paying off. Rubio has converted a career-best 40.9 percent of his shots thus far this season, and seems especially confident in a shot routine that has him launching jumpers after moving two steps to his right.

But Rubio’s true shooting percentage is the lowest of his career and his effective field goal percentage (which measure two-pointers and three-pointers, without free throws) is lower than it was last season. That’s because none of the 22 shots Rubio has taken this season have been three-pointers, versus 133 treys, 19.9 percent of his total shots, last year, according to Basketball Reference. In fact, 41.7 percent of Rubio’s shots this year have been from between 16 feet out and the three-point line—the least efficient shot in the game.

It’s only two games, hardly enough to label a trend. But Flip’s tendency to de-emphasize three-pointers in an ongoing subplot in what promises to be a season full of change and uncertainty. We’re not sure how good the Wolves are going to be. But the good news is, thanks to Flip and his compellingly jumbled roster, they won’t be boring.  

Jeremy Walker brings jazz to Orchestra Hall; ice palace coming to Eden Prairie

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:25am

The Minnesota Orchestra is brimming with ideas these days. Announced late last week: “Symphony in 60,” a series of hour-long concerts starting in January 2015, and the return of “Inside the Classics” in March. Cutting in line before them is another new series announced today: “Jazz in the Atrium,” curated by composer and pianist Jeremy Walker.

Meanwhile, another new series is already under way: “NightCaps,” late-night chamber concerts held in the Target Atrium after performances in the big room. The idea came from the musicians’ artistic advisory committee, as a way to use the glass-enclosed room looking out on Peavey Plaza and Nicollet Mall that was part of the $50 million lobby renovation.

The unofficial first “NightCap” concert was “A Tribute to Oscar Peterson,” with Sommerfest conductor Andrew Litton on solo piano. That was Saturday, July 12. Walker was in the atrium, taking in the glittering room, hearing Litton play Peterson’s music on the Steinway grand. “By the third chord, I thought, ‘There needs to be jazz here.’ ” The atrium reminded him of the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with the energy of the city just outside the windows.

Walker went home that night and started writing a five-year plan. On Sunday, he sent it to Kevin Smith, the Orchestra’s interim president and CEO. “On Tuesday [Smith] got back to me and said, ‘Let’s meet in three weeks.’ He gave the go-ahead pretty much at that meeting …

“The big thing for us was — let’s just acknowledge what this music has been all along, which is a staggering art form … If Orchestra Hall is a flagship of the arts in the Twin Cities — and it certainly is, in terms of budget and pride of place — then jazz ought to be here.”

Walker brings his own unique set of experiences and talents to the curator role. He founded and ran the St. Paul jazz club Brilliant Corners, co-founded and managed the jazz nonprofit Jazz is NOW, and launched and curated a late-night series at the Dakota Jazz Club. He knows how to flex and adjust to change. When Lyme disease cut short his saxophone career, he switched to piano and composition.

Jazz in the Atrium is about combination and connection: a combination of area artists and nationally known musicians from New York and elsewhere, and a connection with classical musicians and the classical world. A small ensemble of area musicians — Walker on piano, Anthony Cox on cello and bass, JT Bates on drums, Brandon Wozniak on saxophone — will serve as the core group, the Atrium Jazz Ensemble.

The first concert, on Dec. 2, will feature members of the Ensemble with Ted Nash, Marcus Printup and Vincent Gardner of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, who will be at Orchestra Hall that night playing a holiday show. Wynton Marsalis will welcome the atrium audience from the mic but will not perform. The Jan. 22 concert will feature New York-based pianist David Berkman.

On April 16, Cox, Walker and Bates will be joined by MPR’s Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and opera singers Angela Keeton and Seth Keeton for the world premiere performance of “The Rage of Achilles,” composed by Walker and Cox. And on May 8, Colorado-based trumpeter Ron Miles will join the Ensemble for a mix of originals and favorites. All tickets are $25, except for the Dec. 2 opener; those are $50. Buy tickets here.

Walker foresees future collaborations with Minnesota Orchestra musicians. And more national jazz artists — like pianist Geri Allen. “I’ve got my dreams for the series. It’s overdue. I’m all in, and I feel so lucky.

“Honestly, I think it’s going to be explosive.” 

*** 

What is a Minnesota winter without an Ice Palace? St. Paul’s last Ice Palace was built in 2004 for the Winter Carnival. There were 35 earlier St. Paul ice palaces, starting with the first in 1886 and including the one F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about in his 1920 story called (duh) “The Ice Palace.” In 2012, the Mall of America hosted a giant maze-like Ice Castle built by the Utah company Ice Castles, LLC. This year, that company will take its show on the road to Miller Park in Eden Prairie. Weather permitting, the acre-sized structure will open in late December, stay open through April, and draw up to 70,000 visitors.

A date and location have been confirmed for the Leigh Kamman Public Celebration/Jazz Party, honoring the much-loved jazz broadcaster and longtime host of MPR’s “The Jazz Image” who died earlier this month at age 92. Mark your calendar for Sunday, January 25, 2015 from 3 –7 p.m. (or thereabouts). The place: the ballroom at the Saint Paul Hotel. Among the party planners are Steve Heckler of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Kevin Barnes of jazz radio station KBEM, MPR, and Jazz Central Studios. 

The picks

Tonight (Halloween) at the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul: Treats. Stop by 1006 Summit Ave. between 5–7 p.m. for candy from Pearson’s, apples and gourds from Minnesota and Wisconsin and (very sensibly) toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Saturday at Burroughs Community School in Minneapolis: 60 Artists on 50th. Do your holiday shopping early at this small, juried show of jewelry and woodcuts, fiber and clay, painting, prints, photography, leather, metal and mixed media. Held in a school gymnasium, it’s about as low-key as they come, with the artists on hand and perfectly happy to tell you all about their work, or not, as you choose. 1601 W. 50th St., Minneapolis. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Saturday at the movies: “Carmen: Live in HD.” From the Metropolitan Opera, broadcast live to movie theaters around the world. Mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili is the gypsy temptress, Aleksandrs Antonenko the besotted Don Jose, Ildar Abdrazakov the bullfighter, Escamillo. 11:55 a.m. FMI and tickets.

Saturday night at Shaw’s Bar & Grill in Northeast: Paul Metsa’s Birthday Hootenanny and All Saints’ Day Celebration. The musician, songwriter, author (“Blue Guitar Highway”), radio host and raconteur throws himself a party with guests Willie Walker, Willie West, Mari Harris, Sonny Earl, Stanley Kipper, Dave Wynne, and Chris Mulkey. 1528 University Ave. NE. 9 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.

Saturday and Sunday at the Weisman: So many reasons to visit our own Frank Gehry museum. On now: “Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes),” an exhibition of low-rider bikes created by urban Native youth, contemporary Indigenous artists, and non-Native university students in Michigan. “Lust for Leisure,” a show of travel posters dating from the 1920s to the 1940s. And “Trains that Passed in the Night: The Photographs of O. Winston Link.” A chronicle in black-and-white of the final years of steam railroading on the Norfolk & Western Railway. Open both days 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free.

Saturday and Sunday at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage: Classical Actors Ensemble presents “Twelfe Night Or, What You Will.” Shakespeare’s great comedy, performed in OP (original pronunciation), a historically accurate reconstruction of the accents of English spoken in Shakespeare’s day. This is not done very often; according to CAE, this is the first time in Minnesota. Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. “Twelfth Night” runs in repertory with “The Duchess of Malfi.” FMI and tickets ($15–$30, sliding scale). Through Nov. 23.

Sunday at Common Good Books: FitzFirst@Four. The first in a series of four discussions about the life and work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Held on the first Sunday of every month, each focuses on a different short story, with a presentation from a guest expert on events, locations, and history referenced. This Sunday’s guest: Fitzgerald scholar and author Dave Page. 4 p.m. Free.

Both parties in Minnesota preparing for the possibility of — yes — a recount

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 9:14am

After “losing,” the most dreaded word in any Minnesota political operative's vocabulary is probably “recount.”

Yet given the the state's recent history of close elections, the Republican and DFL parties are, not surprisingly, preparing for the possibility. “We always prepare for the worst case scenario,” said DFL party chair Ken Martin. 

The state saw that scenario in 2008, of course, when it took eighth months to validate Al Franken’s 312-vote victory in the U.S. Senate race with Norm Coleman. It saw it again in 2010, when Mark Dayton’s nine thousand-vote lead over Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer forced a recount and prompted the infamous “we’re not going to get rolled again,” outburst from then-GOP chair Tony Sutton. 

Neither party is expecting a landslide next Tuesday, and both have identified (but will not name) Washington D.C. law firms that will work with local attorneys in the case of a recount possibility.

According to a senior Republican party official, Republicans are focusing on the races you'd expect them to focus on: the Franken-Mike McFadden U.S. Senate race, the Dayton-Jeff Johnson governor’s race, the congressional races in the Seventh and Eighth Districts, and races that will determine the leadership of the House in the Minnesota Legislature.

“The National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, a Washington, D.C., law firm will all be consulted and play a role and decide,” the official said.  “There’s so much at stake with the Senate up for grabs that all of the Washington groups are watching this very closely." 

Martin declined to go into which races the DFL expects to be close.

The scrutiny of the process has already started. Republicans say it’s now standard operating procedure to engage poll watchers on the lookout for voting irregularities and to have attorneys at the ready.

The DFL is on the same page, with an “election protection program” they run each election cycle that includes “lawyers cataloging any anomalies leading up to and on Election Day which may impact the outcome,” Martin said.

The state requires an automatic, publicly financed recount in races that are decided by less than one-quarter of one percentage point of the vote. But the parties pay for the lawyers that monitor recount activities. And it’s not cheap. In 2010, Dayton established a special fund to pay the $750,00 in legal fees from the gubernatorial election recount. 

The Republicans footed the bill for Emmer’s legal expenses, also in the $700,000 range, though former GOP chair Sutton tried to keep the debt off the party’s books by establishing a separate account. The state campaign finance board ruled that the fees had to be considered party obligation, and the fees helped put the GOP nearly two million dollars in the hole, a debt that the party is still paying off today.

After 15 years of turbulence, Sun Country finding clear air

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 9:07am

If you had asked an airline executive in the year 2000 to list the carriers that would survive two recessions, 9/11 and a wave of industry consolidation that has left the industry in the hands of four mega-carriers, Sun Country Airlines would not have been on that list.

Continental is gone, Northwest is gone, AirTran disappears next month and US Airways next year. Charter carriers like ATA, Evergreen and World are defunct. Regional niche lines born of deregulation, such as Morris Air and Midway, are long merged into bigger carriers.

Yet Mendota Heights-based Sun Country remains, more than 30 years and multiple incarnations later — in the wake of two bankruptcies, various strategies and ownership that’s run the gamut of disparate backgrounds — still providing an alternative to flyers unlike any other airline in the United States.

“People in Minneapolis-St. Paul should be appreciative they still have this airline,” says Joe Leonard, Edina resident, Air Canada director and CEO of AirTran from 1999 to 2008. “It’s about the only one of its type left.”

Which raises questions — “not just how Sun Country still exists,” says longtime aviation journalist and business traveler advocate Joe Brancatelli, “but why?”

The story the airline tells is a sweet one — of a plucky carrier that just wouldn’t quit. “You’ve got a phenomenally loyal, dedicated group of employees,” says travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research, “and tenacious, dedicated management.”

But the more revealing version is that Sun Country survived, and thrives, because when it needed to, it has been able to fly under the radar to stay alive.

Too small to matter

Sun Country’s harrowing life story (see “12 Pilots And Two Flight Attendants”) belies a widely misunderstood idea about the airline. Throughout its tenure, local newspapers and business publications speculated on when the airline would be snapped up by a larger carrier. But it never happened.

“No one needed to go through Sun Country to get what they wanted,” says Minneapolis attorney Jay Salmen, who served as president or CEO of the airline from 2001 to 2006 and again from 2007 to 2008. “Sun Country could never give another airline something it couldn’t create on its own. It doesn’t own its planes. It doesn’t own its gates.” Nor does SY (the two-letter designation assigned by the International Air Transport Association, and the airline’s industry moniker) control many valuable takeoff and landing slots at restricted airports on the East Coast.

“There are enormous synergies in merging big carriers,” says former CEO David Banmiller, who ran the airline from 2000 to 2002. “But there were never synergies for buying Sun Country.”

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Put more simply, and perhaps painfully: “They were too small to matter,” says Harteveldt, “but that may have been their saving grace.”

That very quality is central to Sun Country’s strategy going forward. “We don’t offer a survival threat to a large airline,” explains CEO John Fredericksen, who joined the airline a decade ago as its general counsel.

Left at the altar in the merger mania, Sun Country — based in a crowded office space in an unassuming Mendota Heights office park — is now reaping the benefits of what others have sowed.

“The predominant focus of the major carriers is constraining capacity,” says Leonard. They’ve done it largely through mergers.

“In general, [industry] consolidation has been helpful to us,” Fredericksen notes. “There are not as many seats in the marketplace. There is more pricing rationality.”

And there’s the drip-drip-drip of ancillary fees. Baggage fees, change fees, seat assignment fees. “Airlines produce a lot of cash flow,” says Harteveldt, “and all the fees are allowing superior margins.”

Sun Country charges fees, but at about half the going rate of the major carriers. “Our business model,” says Fredericksen, “is not to extract every nickel we can from you.”

How Sun Country competes

Sun Country is trying to walk a fine line as a hybrid carrier. It’s not a major network carrier like Delta, nor a low-cost carrier like Spirit, nor a hip customer-service innovator like JetBlue.

“We don’t want to be the cheapest airline,” says Fredericksen. “We want to be the best value and offer more of a civilized experience.”

That’s been Sun Country’s mission throughout its history, but the airline has lost far more money than it’s ever earned. But management thinks—through years of painful trial and error—that it’s finally gotten the strategy right:

Focus on the leisure market: SY has come to terms with the fact that it is not positioned to serve most business travelers, even though they are the most lucrative airline customers. “Competing for business travelers requires an extensive route network and frequencies,” says Harteveldt.

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Which leads to another problem. “Corporate travel departments get rebates from Delta based on volume of travel,” explains Salmen. “Sun Country can’t match that volume, so flying them just inflates your company’s travel expense.”

So Sun Country concentrates on leisure, a market with risk. “Our research shows the typical leisure traveler earns $73,000 a year,” says Harteveldt. “It’s one of the ultimate discretionary purchases and this customer is extremely price sensitive.”

Control costs: As a niche carrier serving a price-sensitive audience, Sun Country must keep its operating costs below that of the major airlines. “At AirTran we looked at cost every day,” says Leonard. “We wanted to reduce our unit costs 1 to 2 percent each year. If costs drift up, you lose your major competitive advantage.” Currently Sun Country has a cost advantage over the large network carriers but not other niche carriers, and it carries a cost disadvantage compared with ultra-low-cost airline Spirit (see chart, right).

An airline’s primary driver of expense today is fuel, a cost the business has no control over. “The price of oil changes by $1 and your pro formas change a lot,” says Tom Petters’ estate trustee Doug Kelley, who was charged with selling the airline out of its second bankruptcy. “Oil was volatile when we had the airline, and I remember [prospective buyers] the Davises telling me they were comfortable with volatile commodities because they were in the dairy business.”

Stay under the radar: The lesson of the airline’s dark years is to stay out of the major carriers’ honeypots, because they are able to lose money at a hub or route to chase competition away. That said, Delta does not compete as aggressively with SY as Northwest did and often seems to ignore Sun Country’s pricing and sales.

“Delta and Sun Country are competing for a different customer base,” says Harteveldt. “Delta is a much more diverse organization than Northwest was. It doesn’t want to be cast as the bad guy. It has more aircraft in maintenance hangars than Sun Country has in its fleet.”

Sun Country treads cautiously. When it recently added service to Chicago, it did not take on the majors at O’Hare (as Spirit did), but instead chose Midway. Unable to attract much business travel, it clumped its flights around weekends.

“We jumped into Chicago knowing it was the most competitive air market from MSP,” says Fredericksen. “Bracketing weekends has worked for us.”

Fly the troops: Sun Country did $66 million in charter revenue in 2012, the most since 1999. The charter niche today, though, is not vacation bundling; it is shuttling troops for the military.

“Twenty-five percent of our revenue is charter flying,” says Fredericksen. “And we’re bullish on the future of that. It’s ripe to be developed, and there’s limited competition.” SY also flies college sports teams and casino groups. Charter customers pay for the cost of labor and fuel, so the airline’s profit is baked in, not subject to the vagaries of fuel spikes or weak bookings. Still, there are downsides.

“The military market is a great market when it’s working,” says Banmiller. “But you need a war or conflict.”

Build loyalty: Sun Country revamped its frequent flyer plan not long ago and just this year introduced a branded credit card. The frequency plan’s point of differentiation is that members can pool points. The credit card allows customers to earn points through any spending.

The credit card “helps bond the consumer to an airline,” explains Harteveldt, while also creating “incremental revenue when the airline sells miles to the bank” to distribute to its credit card holders.

Exploit the hometown advantage: Sun Country’s radio ads emphasize, “You go with Minnesotans, you come home with Minnesotans.” It may be a rather provincial marketing tactic, but it’s an acknowledgement that SY’s passenger business rises and falls at MSP.

“Marketing in New York and L.A., you get lost,” explains Fredericksen. “We find it’s much more productive to spend our dollars and efforts here at home.”

In a market where Northwest Airlines never was considered a customer service innovator, Sun Country has long traded on its neighborly vibe. “We have a core employee group,” says Fredericksen, “with an awful lot of 20-year veterans. They know our secret is treating people well. Our flight attendants are the best, as are our gate agents.

“Our owners have exerted their family’s values,” he continues. “Everything revolves around the customer.”

And there’s always the weather: “It’s a unique market,” says Leonard, “because there’s this intense need to leave in winter.”

Turbulence ahead?

Sun Country faces two major short-term challenges at MSP. One is the emergence of the ultra-low-cost carriers. Spirit has become an aggressive competitor at major hub airports, including MSP. Its quick growth has filled up Terminal 2 and necessitated Spirit’s relocation to Terminal 1 next January.

The ultra-low-cost carriers (Frontier Airlines is in the process of converting to one, say industry observers) offer fares often less than $50 one way, but they charge fees for everything from using their website to issuing a boarding pass, carrying on a bag or getting assistance at the airport. For frugal, self-reliant travelers (and last-minute business travelers), the savings are real. And Spirit has an operating cost advantage over SY.

“They have grown the market with pricing strategies,” says Fredericksen. “We compete in many core winter markets.”

“Spirit’s customer is our customer base,” says Jake Yockers, a Sun Country pilot since 1990 and spokesman for the airline’s unit of the Air Line Pilots Association.

Sun Country reported a $4 million operating loss for the period 3Q13 to 2Q14, compared to a $17 million profit in the period a year prior. It saw revenues rise nearly 8 percent, but operating costs jumped 13.6 percent.

The chart below make manifest that Sun Country’s greatest overhead advantage is sub-industry-standard wages.

Jay Salmen attributes some of the labor cost disparity to using pilot hours more efficiently than other carriers do, as well as a relative lack of overnight layovers.

Still, it’s undeniable that Sun Country crews also work for lower wages than at other carriers. “The employees have made significant sacrifices time and time again to keep Sun Country flying,” says an industry executive familiar with the airline. “Sun Country would not exist if not for them.” The question is for how long the carrier’s union workforce will remain so accommodating.

Yockers says SY pilot wages have been stagnant since 1990. Flight attendant wages are “well below industry standard,” says Joe Battaglia, business agent for Teamsters Local 120, which represents Sun Country’s 350 flight attendants. Both unions are in federal mediation, but both say they see signs of progress and hope to have new contracts negotiated before year’s end.

CEO John Fredericksen declined to comment on the company’s labor situation.

“The employees have always been here for Sun Country,” says Yockers. “Most employees don’t like their airline. We do.”

To grow or no?

The unanswered question: What is ownership’s strategy for Sun Country? The airline is adding two aircraft late this year and will secure one of the vacated Spirit gates at Terminal 2 by winter.

“I’ve been in fairly aggressive discussions with the Metropolitan Airports Commissioners to expand Terminal 2. I’m seeing some progress on that,” says Fredericksen. “The terminal is full. We’re incurring delays on flights and it’s affecting our growth strategies.”

Asked about those strategies, however, Fredericksen turns vague.

“I don’t get a sense of a long-range strategy,” says Yockers. “There’s no capital investment. They seem to be doing this all on cash flow.”

In July, chairman Marty Davis told the Star Tribune, “We’re comfortable with the size the airline is now.”

Fredericksen confirms that “our growth plan is incremental” and that the airline is not seeking a capital infusion. Though he can’t explain why his owners bought Sun Country or what their long-term plans are for it, he says, “They’re the kind of people who invest for the long term. They’re not in this to flip the company, I know that.”

And although the employee base would like to see Sun Country grow, industry insiders are skeptical.

“They’ve got the right airplane [the 737], they’ve got a good cost structure, a cooperative labor environment and a general decline in nonstop service from their primary competitor [Delta],” says ex-CEO Banmiller. “They don’t need to grow; they need to keep doing what they’re doing.”

In essence, keep flying under the radar. “It’s a niche carrier. As long as it remains a niche carrier, it’ll do fine,” says Leonard. “If it wants to grow larger, Delta and others will have their say.”

Ultimately, commercial aviation is a volatile business, one in which Salmen recommends owners and execs tread cautiously. “I don’t think the airline business over the long haul is a good business. You have both high cost of capital and expensive labor, which usually doesn’t work.

“In the end,” Salmen concludes, “Sun Country owns very few assets. So really they are only as good as their last quarter.”

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Chronic pain sufferers find prescription painkillers ineffective for long-term relief, survey reports

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 8:14am

Creative Commons/johnofhammondHydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from codeine.

A recent survey conducted by the Center for Public Advocacy at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation reports that Americans with chronic pain do not find long-term relief from the use of prescription painkillers. The online survey polled 1,006 people who suffer from chronic pain; it was commissioned by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and conducted by Minneapolis-based Q Market Research. Its findings are included in a report entitled “Chronic Pain in America: Consequences, Treatments and Addiction.” [PDF]  

The most popularly prescribed opioid drugs, including fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone, are highly addictive and can lead to abuse, overdose and even death, said Hazelden Betty Ford chronic pain and addiction specialist Peter Przekop, D.O, Ph.D. Research studies have shown that the effectiveness of these drugs is limited, he added. Long-term use is ill advised.

“ There have been many studies on this topic,” Przekop said. “These drugs work for about three months, and then they no longer stop pain. When the brain is constantly being influenced by opioids, the changes that occur in the brain actually increase pain, leading to feelings of hopelessness and desperation.”

Chronic pain is a significant issue in the United States, Przekop said. Some 100 million Americans report daily, unrelenting pain. “About 25 to 30 percent of people in our country have chronic pain. Mainstream treatments aren’t doing well, and they are extraordinarily expensive. We spend $600 billion as a country each year on chronic pain.”

Hazelden Betty Ford FoundationDr. Peter Przekop

Are there effective alternatives? Przekop advocates drug-free chronic pain treatment that focuses on treating the cause rather than the symptom of pain with a combination of therapy, exercise and Qigong, an ancient Chinese health-care system that combines movement, breathing and meditation. This program of restoring normal brain function, called neurocognitive enhancement, is employed by Przekop and his colleagues at the chronic pain program at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif.  

A year after treatment, some 73 percent of patients are pain-free and drug-free, Przekop said. “Chronic pain and addiction change people’s brains. We look for the underlying cause of the pain. We treat the brain, not just the pain.” 

Unlikely addict

In 2002, when pain caused by fibromyalgia and migraines grew to be more than she could handle, Jennifer Matesa made an appointment at a pain clinic in her hometown of Pittsburgh. Over the course of her six-year treatment, Matesa, 50, a blogger (“Guinevere Gets Sober”) and free-lance writer, was prescribed a variety of painkillers, including morphine, oxycodone and sentinel.

Over time, the medications became less effective, Matesa said. Her addiction grew out of control. 

“I wasn’t treating my pain properly,” Matesa said. “When you take an opioid painkiller every day for more than a couple of weeks, your body eventually becomes dependent. I was dealing with physical dependence and psychological addiction. I needed the painkillers to live my life, but I didn’t consider myself an addict. To me, addicts were people who shot up and got wasted. I wasn’t doing that. I was just raising my kid and holding down a job and spending time with my husband and doing my best to lead a responsible life.” 

Jennifer Matesa

As her addiction intensified, Matesa had a harder time keeping her life running normally. Her body was showing side effects of the drugs — her weight plummeted, her menstrual periods stopped and she lost density in her bones. Her family knew that she was suffering but did not know how to help her.

In 2008, exhausted by the stress of her addiction, Matesa hired a private physician to manage her outpatient detox program. When she graduated from the two-month program, she was off painkillers. Part of the process was going through withdrawal.

“In the cold weather, I was shivering and had restless legs and goose bumps,” she recalled. “I wanted to get fit again, so bought a stationary bike and tried to exercise, but I had so little physical fitness that it was everything I could do just to drag myself around a few blocks in my neighborhood.”

Matesa had a relapse in 2010, but she’s been sober since, building up her fitness level and treating her pain with nutritional therapy, proper sleep, meditation and exercise.

Women especially vulnerable

Women are particularly vulnerable to prescription painkiller abuse, she said: “So often, we carry the weight of the world on our backs. That reveals itself as physical pain in our bodies.” The number of women addicted to painkillers is rising dramatically, Matesa added: “Between 1999 and 2010, painkiller addiction has shot up 400 percent among women. In the United States, about 18 women die each day of prescription painkiller overdose.”

Source: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

In the hope of helping others heal from addiction and relieve their pain without medication, Matesa wrote a book titled “The Recovering Body: Physical and Spiritual Fitness for Living Clean and Sober,” about her experience with addiction and her journey to healing. It was published this fall by Hazelden.  

Matesa’s new prescription for a sober, healthy life is simple. “I try to be gentle with myself,” she said. “Sometimes I run two miles. Sometimes I don’t. I get outside. I spend time with my family. I run with my dog and walk her twice a day. I do heavy gardening. I try to stay as physically fit as I can. I try to maintain a conversation with my body and my brain. I try not to give into self-pity or ego. By healing myself, I heal the pain.” 

Source: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

MinnPost silent auction is off to a lively start

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 8:10am

More than 100 bids have been placed since MinnPost’s 7th Anniversary online auction went live Wednesday morning.

These bids total $4,620, bringing us a third of the way to our $13,000 silent auction goal.

Interest has been broad, with more than 50 items receiving at least one bid, and 13 more being “watched” by someone considering a bid.

Check out these terrific items to bid on. Some have been bid on, some not yet.

The auction will be open until 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 6, the evening of our 7th anniversary party at Solera in downtown Minneapolis. You do not need to be a ticketholder (or attend the party) to bid on auction items. Join the auction remotely by logging into this website.

If you're already a ticketholder for the event, simply log in to start bidding. You will be able to continue bidding at the anniversary party by linking your past online bids to your phone when you check in at Solera. BidPal Personal Shoppers will be on-hand to assist.

Thanks for your bids, and thanks for supporting MinnPost.

Register and start bidding now!  Order party tickets today!

Franken pulls in cash from 50 states, McFadden from 44

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 5:49am

I’m not sure there’s any actual news here. But the numbers are impressive. Abby Simons and Glenn Howatt of the Strib say, “[Al] Franken managed to tap donors in all 50 states, with more than a third of his $18 million war chest coming from donors giving more than $200. [Mike] McFadden got donors giving more than that amount in 44 states, with those contributions making up a little more than half of $6.5 million total. … Among Franken’s top contributors were Garrison Keillor, author and host of ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ and ‘MacGyver’ star Richard Dean Anderson. McFadden’s top contributors were largely in business, including Slumberland CEO Ken Larson and Best Buy founder and chairman emeritus Richard Schulze.”

The GOP response to the DFL’s outrage over the GOP’s “drunk driving” mailer? Tim Pugmire at MPR says: “State GOP officials said the law ‘weakens penalties for people convicted of causing catastrophic damage to other people while driving drunk and lets them back on the road a whole year sooner.’ The [press] release also accused the DFL of using ‘sensational imagery’ and ‘disgusting content’ in mailings against Republican candidates. GOP leaders said the DFL mailings depict a candidate holding a weapon and breaking into a home, a clenched fist in front of a cowering child and a person sharpening a straight razor.” 

Another look at Collin Peterson’s predicament in the Seventh District. Says Steve Karnowski at the AP, “Farm Bureau has had a good working relationship with Westrom as a legislator, but there's no guarantee he would get a seat on the Agriculture Committee, [president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Kevin] Paap said. But Peterson would be in a strong position to oversee how the farm bill is implemented, he said. [Torrey] Westrom discounted the significance of losing Peterson's seniority. He said he'd fight for a seat on the committee and would wield influence as a member of as a member of the majority.”

For The Hill, Cristina Marcos writes, “Peterson is still in a better position than many other Democratic incumbents this cycle, and nonpartisan handicappers give him a slight edge. A KSTP survey from early October found that 50 percent of voters supported Peterson over 41 percent for Westrom. But a mid-October internal poll from Westrom's campaign found Westrom ahead by 1 point, with 13 percent undecided. [Peterson campaign spokeswoman Allison] Myhre declined to provide internal polling numbers for Peterson's campaign but said the Westrom survey was ‘certainly not reflective of our polling.’ Still, the margin this year could be much closer than the last election cycle. Even as Romney won 54 percent of the district's vote, Peterson sailed to re-election with 60 percent.”

When this campaign is all over maybe we can back to the serious task of talking stadiums. Tim Nelson at MPR says, “United Properties says pro soccer is an option for a site it may develop near the Minneapolis Farmers Market — a sign that the Minnesota Vikings may have a serious rival in their bid to bring Major League Soccer to their new home in Downtown East. ‘We are very early in the process,’ a United Properties spokeswoman said. The acknowledgement by the commercial real estate developer comes less than a week after Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber told the Chicago Tribune that his league hoped to expand to Minneapolis soon.” Well then the commissioner better get his tuckus up here and do some photo-opping with local legislators.

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So whos lying about those MNsure rate hikes? MPR’s Catharine Richert rules … inconclusive. “With advice from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health care think-tank based in Washington that is a leading voice on the nuances of the federal health care law, PoliGraph ran more than 50 scenarios to test the truth of the Dayton administration's 4.5 percent claim. … The Dayton administration isn't technically wrong when it says MNsure insurance rates will increase by an average of 4.5 percent between 2014 and 2015. But that's an overly simplistic take on an extremely complicated set of facts.” Check out MinnPost's analysis of the MNsure numbers here and here

And on the pro-pot watch: Tim Pugmire (again) says, “The group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care asked five candidates for a commitment to expand the state’s new medical marijuana law next year to include more patients. Republican candidate Jeff Johnson, Hannah Nicollet of the Independence Party, Libertarian Party candidate Chris Holbrook and Chris Wright of the Grassroots Party all signed the pledge. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton did not.”

Sen. Jeff Hayden’s troubles aren’t going away. Alejandra Matos of the Strib reports, “Scrutiny of Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, intensified Thursday after new revelations that he took a trip to New York in 2012 using money from a state-funded organization that serves the city’s low-income residents. Community Action of Minneapolis paid $749 for airfare to New York for Hayden and his wife, Terri, according to records obtained by the Star Tribune. The revelation appears to contradict Hayden’s earlier statements that he paid for all of his own expenses relating to the group. Hayden has a seat on the board, but appointed his wife to serve on his behalf.”

Congratulations Ms. Harvala. Stribber Kim McGuire says, “Most teachers don’t show up for work expecting to be handed $25,000. Neither did Angela Harvala, a fifth-grade teacher in Princeton, Minn. But that’s exactly what happened Thursday. In a surprise ceremony, Harvala was awarded the National Milken Educator Award, a prize often referred to as the ‘Oscars for Teachers.’ With it comes a $25,000 cash prize and acknowledgment that Harvala is one of the best teachers in the nation.”

One way to look at it is that it can only get better from here. Elizabeth Mohr of the PiPress says, “The emotional high of the new Four Firkins' grand opening in Oakdale was quickly tempered by a calculated burglary. Surveillance video from earlier this month showed three people broke into the craft beer retail store, which had celebrated its grand opening the previous day. … [Owner Jason] Alvey said the three burglars made off with ‘a substantial amount of property,’ but he declined to say exactly what or what it was worth.”                                                                    

Want to make a difference? Ranked choice gives voters more power at the polls

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 5:00am
CC/Flickr/Bill Roehl

"... it would be silly not to acknowledge that some voters are more likely to vote if they believe that their vote might actually make the difference ... .” 

Hear, hear! Eric Black’s Oct. 6 “How the two big parties got an iron grip on power—and turned off voters” makes some important observations about the grim condition of our democracy, particularly low turnout and voter disenchantment with our first-past-the-post, plurality winner-take-all election system.

Polls have shown that at least 40 percent of Americans now identify as independent voters, and a Gallup poll last month found that a majority — 58 percent — believe there should be a third major political party.

Nastier campaigning than everJeanne Massey

It’s striking — and gravely concerning — that while an increasing majority of Americans are eager for a new way of politicking, with more choice, substantive debates and issue-based campaigns, our elections have become nastier and more polarizing than ever. Our system is clearly on the wrong track. It’s hard to blame the average voter for giving up on politics when candidates show no interest in talking to them about important issues, instead spewing vitriol at them about how awful their opponent is.

That’s why FairVote Minnesota advocates for ranked-choice voting: a sensible, proven yet powerful election reform that has the ability to transform politics for the better.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) revolutionized the way Minneapolis voters participate and engage with candidates — and it can bring the same kind of civility to politics across our state and nation. Until we change the rules of the game, as we did in Minneapolis and St. Paul, we can expect only the same old outcome: voter frustration, distrust and disengagement.

More choice and more power

The idea behind RCV is to give voters more choice and more power in their democracy. If voters get to hear from a diverse array of candidates representing a broad range of ideas, they’re more likely to find common ground. Being able to rank preferences instead of voting for only one candidate, voters can go to the ballot box confident that following their conscience won’t be a wasted effort.

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Voters can take heart in knowing that their vote will continue to count even if their first-choice candidate isn’t the ultimate winner. That helps encourage citizens to engage, free from worry that their vote doesn’t matter or that it might help elect the candidate they like the least. With RCV, every vote matters — including those whose first choice may not be from one of the two “major” political parties. To win, candidates must reach beyond their base to seek second- and third-choice votes.

The end result? Candidates winning by consensus. And voters knowing, with certainty, that the winner has secured the broadest base of support possible from across the political spectrum, not just his or her own base — and in the case of multiple-winner elections, that the winners will directly represent more voters. All that an election built on positive campaigns and issue-based, civil discussions creates an entirely new landscape. It’s one we’ve found voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul appreciate, understand, and enjoy — and now residents in communities across Minnesota, from Crystal to Red Wing to Duluth, are taking a close look at how RCV could benefit their communities.

Another important step is passing a “local options” bill at the Minnesota Legislature. This measure, which unfortunately met a premature end last session, would simply allow municipalities to decide for themselves whether they want to implement RCV in their communities. It contains no mandates or requirements. As awareness of RCV grows, we’re hopeful about the bill’s chances this year.

We know voters are turned off by the failures of our current election system, and no one person, party, candidate or other factor is to blame. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sometimes, “the way things have always been done” just doesn’t make sense anymore.

Now that we’ve realized there’s a big problem with our elections, let’s take a more serious look at ranked-choice voting. In countries and cities around the world, voters have been successfully using the system for years to ensure better participation and representation. Right here in Minneapolis and St. Paul, RCV is already paying dividends — and it doesn’t have to stop there.

Jeanne Massey is the executive director of FairVote Minnesota.

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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.)