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Updated: 12 min 48 sec ago

Bachmann saw 'coyotes smuggling an illegal alien' on her border trip

7 hours 31 min ago

Rep. Michele Bachmann, after a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, writes that she saw someone smuggled across the Rio Grande, "in broad daylight," and that the illegal-immigration situation is worse than she'd imagined.

In a newsletter report on her trip, she says:

"I knew that the border crisis was serious, but nothing could have prepared me for just how bad this situation truly is."

She blames the problems on the Obama administration.

She notes:

While the popular media narrative has been to focus on the children who came here alone, it is only a small fraction of the growing problem along the southern border.

My heart breaks for the unaccompanied children, but officials told us that 80 percent of the people entering the country illegally are not women and children—they are males over the age of 14.

She says she took cell phone video of an apparent human smuggling operation; her video is included in a post on Breitbart.com.

In press interviews Nienstedt says he's 'not gay' or 'anti-gay'

8 hours 59 min ago
Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop Nienstedt’s interviews with several local reporters are being published. In the PiPress Elizabeth Mohr writes, “He said, as he has in the past, that when he was appointed archbishop in 2008 he thought the issue of clergy abuse was being properly handled. Nienstedt said he relied on assurances from his predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn, and former Vicar General Kevin McDonough, who was the chief point person on priest sexual abuse and continued in that role from 2008 to 2013 as ‘delegate for safe environment.’ ” Buses are big. There’s a lot of room under them.

In the Strib, Jean Hopfensperger writes, “The archbishop denied that he was a homosexual or engaged in homosexual acts. ‘I’m not gay,’ he said. ‘And I’m not anti-gay.’ … When asked why Catholic priests and seminarians alleged he had same-sex attraction, Nienstedt responded, ‘I have no idea.’ ”

With MPR’s Madeleine Baran, we get this: “When asked if he thinks people will be able to trust him and continue following him in the wake of the scandal, Nienstedt said is confident that many will. ‘Well, I read all my mail and all my emails that I get, and there is decidedly a group of people who have lost trust,’ he said. ‘But I think there's more than that number of people who have told me, 'Hang in there, you're doing a good job, we're going to get through this and be in a better place.' So I think you're getting one side of the story, but I see both sides of the story. And I believe that what we're going to do in the next few months is going to convince people that we're on the right track.’ " That sounds a lot like the classic, “Let’s move on” defense.

Another road that needs a lot of work. The AP says, “Minnesota officials have hired a contractor to start stabilizing a highway closed by flood and mudslide damage. The Minnesota Department of Transportation [says] … GeoStabilization International of Grand Junction, Colorado, has begun work on Highway 19. The east-west route that crosses near Minneapolis has been closed since June. Department officials say it's expected to reopen to traffic by fall. The contractor will start from Henderson and Highway 169 on a process called soil nailing. It involves the insertion of reinforcing bars into the exposed soil.”

Inevitably … WDIO-TV in Duluth reports, “The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to replace Tim Scannell as county attorney following his conviction Friday on two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. … Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken was appointed as interim attorney.”

Contributions for the family of slain Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick have already passed $10,000. Joe Lindberg of the PiPress says, “As of Thursday afternoon, the fundraiser on the GoFundMe site had amassed more than $10,000 from more than 300 people. It was created about 7 p.m. Wednesday — it shows no signs of slowing down.”

The suspect in Patrick’s killing is still in the hospital. The Strib team of Pat Pheifer, James Walsh and Paul Walsh report, “Along with revealing the [serious] condition of 39-year-old Brian Fitch Sr., St. Paul police also identified the woman who was with the longtime criminal during his arrest in St. Paul and also wounded as Kelly Lee Hardy. Authorities have yet to explain the relationship between the two or whether she is suspected of committing a crime.

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The Mighty Pipers will share St. Paul’s Lowertown stadium. Frederick Melo of the PiPress says, “St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Hamline President Linda Hanson on Wednesday unveiled a 25-year partnership agreement between the city of St. Paul and the state's oldest private university. … Over the course of the 25-year lease agreement, the university will pay roughly $1.5 million into the ballpark, with $500,000 devoted to clubhouse construction and the remainder flowing into the ballpark's general construction budget.” That’s getting close to the city’s tab for emergency street work.

Target went outside for a new CEO. Kavita Kumar of the Strib says, “Target Corp. on Thursday named Brian Cornell, a senior executive at PepsiCo Inc., to be its new chief executive, becoming the first outsider to lead the nation’s fourth-largest retailer. Cornell, 55, will also become the chairman of the Minneapolis-based company’s board, a role played by all of Target’s previous CEOs. … Faye Landes with Cowen and Co., noted that Cornell is a good presenter and is rare among retail CEOs in that he attended business school.”

Finally … she’s still giving. Our Favorite Congresswoman is hip deep in immigration, uh, reform. At Talking Points Memo, Catherine Thompson writes, “Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) suggested Wednesday that the U.S. government could subject thousands of unaccompanied migrant children crossing the Texas-Mexico border to ‘medical experimentation.’ … Bachmann went on to suggest that putting migrant children into the foster care system would offer hospitals more subjects to use for medical research … .” The Dr. Mengele overtone I believe qualifies that one for Godwin’s Law.

   

Last chance to join MinnPost during our summer member drive

9 hours 42 min ago

4:15 pm update: We now have 83 new sustainers and 62 one-time donations. And permission to reprint this new comment: 

You've been providing excellent & varied coverage of MN since you started. I don't know what I'd do without the Daily Glean to start off my news day. – David and Mary Zuhn

2 pm update: We now have 79 new sustainers and 60 one-time donations. And two new comments: 

I like the in-depth approach done with integrity. – Diane Naas

Great news coverage, accurate, with a fresh style.Rod and Nancy Maeker

Noon update: Today, July 31, is the last day of our summer member drive.

Procrastinators, join now! Show your support for independent, nonprofit journalism, and help keep MinnPost sustainable for many years to come.

We'll be updating our numbers and reprinting new comments throughout the day and into the evening. 

As of noon, we have 75 new sustainers and 56 one-time donations.

Help us reach our summer goal. Become a sustaining member today!

Plus these new comments, reprinted with permission:

I read it online daily in FL and MN. – Barbara Winthrop, St. Paul

We appreciate the great reporting! – Joel and Teresa Anderson, St. Paul

I support MinnPost because of the accuracy of the news and news that addresses Minnesota values. – Ann Redmond, Bloomington

Great information on local and national issues. – Ben Wasscher, Plymouth

Thanks for keeping me well informed. – Denny Fitzpatrick, Grand Marais

After felony convictions, Cook County Attorney Scannell removed from office

10 hours 23 min ago

The Cook County Board voted unanimously today to remove County Attorney Tim Scannell from office, after his felony conviction of sex crimes with an underage girl.

The board appointed Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken to replace Scannell, who was not seeking re-election in November.

The Duluth News Tribune notes that the county does not have specific rules for ousting an elected official, but advice from an attorney hired as a consultant led them to make today's vote.

Scannell was convicted last week of two counts of fourth degree criminal sexual conduct for activities in 2012 with a 17-year-old girl.

Against the über-presidency: Minnesota Republicans vote to sue Obama

11 hours 51 min ago

“It’s tough for the legislative body to, one, pass laws in the first place, but then once they’re enacted, you’ve got an executive that might ignore parts of the law,” he said. “Well how does Congress respond? What authority do we have? It’s kind of a gray area in a lot of respects, but I think all presidents, there’s been more of a creep over time of more exertion outside of their ability under the Constitution.”

Could it succeed?Rep. John Kline

“While members of Congress have sued the president many times in the past, this is the first time where we’ve done in what I think is the right way,” he said. “We’re going to come together and vote in the House, and so the House can bring suit with standing, and it will be interesting to see it unfold.”

“I think it’s certainly a warning to any future president to stick within the bounds of the Constitution,” Paulsen said. “So this all kind of blends together, where Congress kind of pushes back against the president, no matter who is the president.”

Bachmann: defund and impeach lower-level officials

Bachmann voted to authorize the lawsuit, but she takes a fairly dim view on its overall usefulness. She said it’s unlikely to give House members the resolution they want — it’s possible the case won’t have standing in court, she said, and even if it does, the courts could take a long time to decide the case.

Rep. Michele Bachmann

House members should do more to respond to Obama, Bachmann said. Congress has the power of the purse, so she said lawmakers could defund sections of the government that carry out administrative actions Republicans believe to be improper, she said.

Bachmann also suggested the House consider impeaching members of the Obama administration who oversee those actions, but not Obama himself. She said it’s implausible to imagine the Senate removing Obama even if the House passes articles of impeachment, so House members should look to impeach officials under him instead (the impeachment process — the House impeaches and the Senate convicts and removes — is the same for lower-level officials as it is for the president).

“What would be most effective to rein in a lawless president would be to defund his initiatives and bring about impeachment proceedings against lower-level federal officials,” she said. “I don’t believe we should bring about impeachment against the president of the United States, because we do not have the power of removal.”

Lawsuit turns political
Support MinnPost by becoming a sustaining member today.Rep. Erik Paulsen

“Certainly Democrats have made it a stunt by raising money, or using it as a political issue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s political at all. If it’s political, Republicans would have acted on it right after the last election. But I think [leadership has] been much more measured in terms of the response.”

Immigrant-rights group in Minneapolis to protest child-deportation policy

12 hours 20 min ago

There'll be a gathering in Minneapolis today to protest the deportation of Central American children who are crossing the U.S. border.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee is organizing the 5 p.m. protest at Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis. The group says it wants the U.S. to  "provide these children protection, family reunification and legal status, not detention and deportation."

Drug-related and political problems in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — much of it, they say, caused by U.S. policies — have caused children to seek refuge in the U.S.

"We oppose militarization, detention and deportation. These are not solutions. We demand immediate legalization, and family reunification, and an end to the repressive and exploitative U.S. government policies that provoked this crisis," the group says in a statement announcing the protest.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee says it is an "all-volunteer grassroots activist group organizing since 2006 for legalization and full equality for all regardless of immigration status."

Why Thursday's Lynx game against Phoenix is the most important of the season

12 hours 58 min ago

The run started here.

The Phoenix Mercury initiated its 16-game winning streak June 15 at the Target Center, a convincing 80-72 victory over a Minnesota Lynx team with Seimone Augustus slowed by left knee bursitis and Rebekkah Brunson in street clothes. The Lynx had beaten the Mercury 14 consecutive times going back to the 2011 playoffs, and this loss remains the only one by the Lynx at home this season.

Augustus couldn’t play at all three days later in Phoenix. That’s when Brittany Griner, the Mercury’s 6-foot-8 center from Baylor, posted her best game in two seasons as a pro, a 27-point, 18-rebound domination as Phoenix pulled away at the end to win, 92-79. Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve guessed the Lynx might have lost by 40 if Maya Moore hadn’t scored 36 points herself.

No one has beaten the Mercury since. Phoenix’s streak is the second-longest in WNBA history, trailing only the 18 straight by Los Angeles in 2001. The 22-3 Mercury are unquestionable the WNBA’s best team, playing with an efficiency and confidence not seen since the 10-0 start by the Lynx, the defending league champion, in 2012.

So Thursday night’s Mercury-Lynx matchup at the Target Center, with the 20-6 Lynx finally at full strength, shapes up as the WNBA’s game of the year.

The implications run deep. The Lynx, 2 ½ games behind the Mercury in the Western Conference standings with eight to play, must overtake Phoenix to ensure home court advantage throughout the playoffs. If not, the Lynx, who are 11-1 at the Target Center, will only be guaranteed home court in the first round. Winning a best-of-three Western Conference final from the Mercury without home court won’t be easy; Phoenix is the only team in the WNBA whose home record (12-1) is better than Minnesota’s.

 With Augustus finally healthy and Brunson back strong after missing most of the season with right knee surgery, the Lynx — winners of seven straight — appear much better equipped to deal with the Mercury this time.

“They’re the talk of the town, the talk of the league, with how great they’re playing. More power to them,” said Lynx center Janel McCarville. “But we’re not far behind them in that aspect. We have all the confidence in the world that we can play with them and beat them.” 

WNBABrittney Griner

But how? The Mercury lead the WNBA in scoring (85.88 points per game), defense (74.48 points allowed), field goal percentage (.499) and point differential (plus-11.4) while ranking just behind San Antonio in 3-point shooting (.376).

First-year Coach Sandy Brondello committed the Mercury — a high-scoring, up-tempo team keyed by tempermental guard Diana Taurasi — to defense. The result: Phoenix’s stingiest defensive numbers since the league switched to a 24-second shot clock in 2006.

And Griner, pushed around as a rookie last season, matured into the force everyone expected from a No. 1 overall pick. She now leads the league (by far) in blocks at 3.88 per game while averaging 15.6 points and 8 rebounds. Griner has more blocks by herself than seven other teams.

“Health has a lot to do with it,” Reeve said. “The growth of Brittany Griner. The overall mood of Diana Taurasi. Sandy Brondello says (Taurasi) is playing the best basketball of her career. That says a lot, because she wasn’t bad before this year.”

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Brondello shifting Taurasi back to point guard from shooting guard in June cost Taurasi some points on her scoring average —17.6 per game, sixth-best in the league and down from her career 20.3 mark. But Taurasi leads the league in assists at six per game while showing more self-control and leadership than last season, when she incurred a league-high nine technical fouls and twice drew one-game suspensions. Lynx fans certainly remember Game 1 of last year’s Western Conference finals, when Taurasi kissed Augustus on the cheek after the two bumped twice and had to be separated by an official. Both were called for personal fouls.

“People call her a bully on the floor,” said Augustus, who knows Taurasi from their AAU days as well as two gold medal-winning turns with the U.S. Olympic Team. “If you allow her to ram you, push you, talk trash to you, get in your head, then she’s going to have the edge. If you try to stay cool, stay within your system. … That’s always been great with us. We’ve always stayed within our team system. She was never able to get in Maya’s head or my head, whoever was guarding her, with her antics.”

WNBADiana Taurasi

The other Mercury starters all average in double figures, and the team shot 50 percent or better from the field in each of its last seven games, a league record.

“Overall, their starters have just a great deal of comfort with one another and the things that they’re running,” Reeve said. “If you try to take something away, they’re very adept at trying to find something else, just like we are. Defensively, they’re different in what Griner is giving them, their behind-the-defense mindset. They know if they get beat, there’s B.G. to block a shot or change a shot.”

Because Phoenix can turn any off-target shot or turnover into a fast-break basket, the Lynx must limit offensive sloppiness.

Brunson’s return bolsters the defense and the rebounding while giving the Lynx a more physical defender to put on Griner than McCarville, who isn’t quick enough, or the rookie Damiris Dantas. Defense enabled the Lynx to sweep seven games from Phoenix last season, five in the regular season plus two in the best-of-three Western Conference final.

“It’s not a secret what’s been our main weapon,” Moore said. “We want to make it as hard as possible for teams to score. Make it tough on them. But it’s also sharing the ball on offense, taking care of it, getting good quality looks so that our offense doesn’t set up their offense in any way. I’m confident we can do that.” 

This ought to be a beauty, especially with a sellout crowd expected. Too bad Fox Sports North, ESPN2 and NBA-TV chose not to televise it.

From Fukushima fallout to retreating ice: 10 great New Yorker pieces now outside paywall

13 hours 1 min ago
CC/Flickr/Maureen McLaughlinYear after year, New Yorker writers are well represented in the "Best American Science and Nature Writing" annuals.

Since The New Yorker's announcement of a summer-long relaxation of its paywall policies — allowing open access to all content published since 2007 — the blogosphere has been abuzz with read-it-while-it's-free advice on the magazine's best coverage of sports, business, food and other subjects.

Strangely, there's been no similar attempt as yet (and as far as I know) to nominate standouts in the magazine's exemplary long-form coverage of  environmental and natural science subjects.

It was The New Yorker, after all, that brought us Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in serial form in 1962. In the same way that work changed forever the way we think of pesticides, and of ecosystems, Bill McKibben's "The End of Nature" and Elizabeth Kolbert's "Field Notes From a Catastrophe" would, decades later, reshape public awareness of global warming and its threats.

Year after year, New Yorker writers are well represented in the "Best American Science and Nature Writing" annuals — a fair measure, I think, not only of content quality but also of the magazine's steady, above-average emphasis on these topics. As a longtime fan, I'm delighted to be able to share some personal favorites today.

And trust me, I'm doing you a favor, because this magazine of fine, up-to-the-minute journalism has a glitchy online persona. Indeed, its open-archive offer is designed to attract and hold new readers while the digital platform (and paywall policies) are rebuilt.

Meanwhile, nonpayers can access any article published in the last six and a half years as long as they can find it, and that won't be easy. No issue-by-issue browsing allowed, for starters, and then there's the strikingly unadvanced search tool, with a single field for text entry and no narrowing options for, say, publication year. You can search for everything written by "elizabeth kolbert"  — not a bad idea — but everything written about her will be returned as well.

So I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it — just use Google's advanced search page, specifying www.newyorker.com in the Site field and adding date-range limiters, etc., to your heart's content. But for starters, have a look at these 10 gems, freshest first:

A Valuable Reputation: After Tyrone Hayes said that a chemical was harmful, its maker pursued him. By Rachel Aviv, Feb. 10, 2014. A nuanced, complex profile of the atrazine researcher whose work linking the herbicide to frog deformities got him famously invited and then disinvited from keynoting a 2006 program sponsored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which denied being pressured by the agribusiness giant Syngenta.

Hayes has devoted the past fifteen years to studying atrazine, and during that time scientists around the world have expanded on his findings, suggesting that the herbicide is associated with birth defects in humans as well as in animals. The company documents show that, while Hayes was studying atrazine, Syngenta was studying him, as he had long suspected. Syngenta’s public-relations team had drafted a list of four goals. The first was “discredit Hayes.” In a spiral-bound notebook, Syngenta’s communications manager, Sherry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his initials, wrote that the company could “prevent citing of TH data by revealing him as noncredible.” He was a frequent topic of conversation at company meetings. Syngenta looked for ways to “exploit Hayes’ faults/problems.” “If TH involved in scandal, enviros will drop him,” Ford wrote. 

Recall of the Wild: The quest to engineer a world before humans. Elizabeth Kolbert, December 24, 2012. An intriguing and frequently funny look at Dutch efforts to recreate extinct ecosystems, after a fashion, for dubious reasons.

The biologists set about stocking the Oostvaardersplassen with the sorts of animals that would have inhabited the region in prehistoric times—had it not at that point been underwater. In many cases, the animals had been exterminated, so they had to settle for the next best thing. For example, in place of the aurochs, a large and now extinct bovine, they brought in Heck cattle, a variety specially bred by Nazi scientists. (More on the Nazis later.) The cattle grazed and multiplied. So did the red deer, which were trucked in from Scotland, and the horses, which were imported from Poland, and the foxes and the geese and the egrets. In fact, the large mammals reproduced so prolifically that they formed what could, with a certain amount of squinting, be said to resemble the great migratory herds of Africa; the German magazine Der Spiegelhas called the Oostvaardersplassen “the Serengeti behind the dikes.” Visitors now pay up to forty-five dollars each to take safari-like tours of the park. These are especially popular in the fall, during rutting season.

When the Earth Moved: What happened to the environmental movement? By Nicholas Lehman, April 15, 2013. A book review that, like so many in this magazine, ranges far beyond the new title in talking about its topic.

Throughout the nineteen-seventies, mostly during the Republican Administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Congress passed one environmental bill after another, establishing national controls on air and water pollution. And most of the familiar big green groups are, in their current form, offspring of Earth Day. Dozens of colleges and universities instituted environmental-studies programs, and even many small newspapers created full-time environmental beats.

Then, forty years after Earth Day, in the summer of 2010, the environmental movement suffered a humiliating defeat as unexpected as the success of Earth Day had been. The Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, announced that he would not bring to a vote a bill meant to address the greatest environmental problem of our time—global warming. The movement had poured years of effort into the bill, which involved a complicated system for limiting carbon emissions. Now it was dead, and there has been no significant environmental legislation since. Indeed, one could argue that there has been no major environmental legislation since 1990, when President George H. W. Bush signed a bill aimed at reducing acid rain. Today’s environmental movement is vastly bigger, richer, and better connected than it was in 1970. It’s also vastly less successful. What went wrong?

The Artificial Leaf: Daniel Nocera's vision for sustainable energy. By David Owen, May 14, 2012. One of our more thoughtful contrarians on renewable energy explores manmade  photosynthesis technology and points out that where it's needed most isn't where you think.

The people who contact him about buying the device are usually denizens of what Nocera calls “the legacy world”—the fortunate minority of the earth’s population which historically has enjoyed most of the considerable benefits of burning fossil fuels. These are not the people he views as the target users of his technology, at least in the near term. Since the early eighties, he has focussed on the non-legacy world—the billions of impoverished people who have little or no access to modern fuels or to any electricity grid. “If there’s one thing that’s unique to the technology development I’ve done, it’s been doing science with the super-poor in mind,” he told me. His emphasis is largely humanitarian; it also arises from his belief, as a scientist, that the only way to meet the world’s projected energy needs without causing intolerable environmental harm will be to work, in effect, from the bottom up—an approach that’s very different from the ones that dominate energy research.

Crunch: Building a better apple.  By John Seabrook, November 21, 2011. How the new apple variety SweeTango made its way from development in Minnesota to Manhattan produce counters.

In its débutante season, supplies were so limited that few New Yorkers got to taste it; this year, there were three times as many nationwide. Tweets from SweeTango’s Twitter account and posts on its Facebook page tracked the apple’s progress from Minnesota, where it was bred, to stores around the country. Like Honeycrisp, SweeTango has much larger cells than other apples, and when you bite into it the cells shatter, rather than cleaving along the cell walls, as is the case with most popular apples. The bursting of the cells fills your mouth with juice.

Chunks of SweeTango snap off in your mouth with a loud cracking sound. Although a crisp texture is the single most prized quality in an apple—even more desirable than taste, according to one study—crispness is more a matter of acoustics than of mouthfeel. Vibrations pass along the lower jaw and set the cochlea trembling. Biting into a really crisp apple, one feels, in the words of Edward Bunyard, the author of “The Anatomy of Dessert,” “a certain joy in crashing through living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days.” But, no matter how celebrated its parents, any new apple in the Big Apple is going to face a tough crowd.

The Fallout: Seven months later, Japan's nuclear predicament. By Evan Osnos, October 17, 2011. Still the best single article you're likely to find on the tsunami at the Fukushima nuclear power stations and its cascading consequences.

In the imagination, tsunamis are a single towering wave, but often they arrive in a crescendo, which is a cruel fact. After the first wave, survivors in Japan ventured down to the water’s edge to survey who could be saved, only to be swept away by the second. In all, twenty thousand people died or disappeared along a stretch of the Japanese coast greater than the distance from New York to Providence.

At the plant, the first wave arrived at 3:27 P.M., but it did not overtop a thirty-three-foot concrete seawall. Eight minutes later, the second wave appeared: a churning white mass of water, four stories tall, that leaped over sixty thousand concrete blocks and barriers—designed to defend against typhoons, not tsunamis—and advanced toward the reactors. First, the water approached the turbine buildings, which had been built with large shutters facing the sea. It burst through the closed shutters and swamped the buildings. Inside, the plant’s emergency diesel generators, each the size of an eighteen-wheeler, were stored on the ground floor and in the basements. They were destroyed, and two workers who had been sent underground to check for leaks were killed. The water hurled pickup trucks pinwheeling end over end into delicate pipes and equipment, and it swamped the campus in roiling brown pools, fifteen feet deep, leaving the nuclear reactors protruding like boulders in a river. And then it recoiled into the sea.

The Gulf War: Were there any heroes in the BP oil disaster? By Raffi Khatchadourian, March 14, 2011. A deeply reported retrospective that may surprise you with its conclusion that the Gulf of Mexico suffered less harm, and recovered more quickly, than many media accounts suggested.

The old saying has it that oil and water don’t mix, but every day the world’s oceans absorb colossal amounts of oil. When hydrocarbons flow into the sea—whether from spills, or leaky ships, or natural seeps—experts call them “petroleum input.” The world’s total petroleum input is thought to be about three hundred and eighty million gallons per year—a quantity similar to the catastrophic Gulf War spill—with a fifth of it happening in American waters. Much of the input off the United States comes from natural seeps. Some of the largest of those are in the Gulf of Mexico, which is thought to absorb more than fifty million gallons of oil annually.

Approximately twenty thousand oil spills are reported in America every year. Most of them are small and do not attract much attention; only a tiny fraction cost more than a million dollars to clean up. An economy based on oil must be prepared to deal with large amounts of pollution, and over many decades this country has evolved a way to respond to spills. “There is no plan,” one politician took to saying as the response progressed last summer. But there was a plan. Its origins dated back to the first major industrial oil spill at sea: the collision of a tanker called the Torrey Canyon against Pollard Rock, off the coast of England, in 1967.

Hearth Surgery: The quest for a stove that can save the world. By Burkhard Bilger, December 21, 2009. A look at the "small but fanatical world of stovemakers" devoted to producing inexpensive, safer, cleaner cooking and heating devices for the world's poor.

 A map of the world’s poor is easy to make, Jacob Moss, a Stove Camper who works for the Environmental Protection Agency and started its Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, told me. Just follow the smoke. About half the world’s population cooks with gas, kerosene, or electricity, while the other half burns wood, coal, dung, or other solid fuels. To the first group, a roaring hearth has become a luxury—a thing for camping trips and Christmas parties. To the second group, it’s a necessity. To the first group, a kitchen is an arsenal of specialized appliances. To the second, it’s just a place to build a fire.

Clean air, according to the E.P.A., contains less than fifteen micrograms of fine particles per cubic metre. Five times that amount will set off a smoke alarm. Three hundred times as much—roughly what an open fire produces—will slowly kill you. Wood smoke, as sweet as it smells, is a caustic swirl of chemical agents, including benzene, butadiene, styrene, formaldehyde, dioxin, and methylene chloride. Every leaf or husk adds its own compounds to the fire, producing a fume so corrosive that it can consume a piece of untreated steel in less than a year. The effect on the body is similar. Indoor smoke kills a million and a half people annually, according to the World Health Organization. It causes or compounds a long list of debilities—pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, cataracts, cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, and low birth weight—and has been implicated in a number of others, including tuberculosis, low I.Q., and cleft palate, among other deformities.

The Ice Retreat: Global warming and the Adélie penguin. By Fen Montaigne, also December 21, 2009. One very close-up measure of the consequences of the Antarctic's retreating ice sheets.

Studies of Adélie bones buried under layers of guano have shown that penguins have nested on Litchfield Island since at least the sixteenth century. When Fraser first arrived in the region, in 1974, as a graduate student, the island’s penguin rookery had nine hundred breeding pairs. Over the years, the number of Adélies had fallen to a few dozen breeding pairs, and a census conducted earlier that season by a birding team that Fraser led indicated that the rookery was on the verge of disappearing.

Still, he was not prepared for the scene that greeted him on Litchfield’s southern shore: only five Adélie nests remained, containing seven fluffy chicks—no taller than a man’s hand—and eleven adult Adélies, which reached a person’s knee. They were huddled on an oval-shaped patch of stones, twenty-five feet across at its widest point.

 “The poles are very sensitive barometers of warming, and what we’re looking at here on the Antarctic Peninsula is an entire ecosystem that is changing,” Fraser said. “And it’s not changing in hundreds of years—it’s changing in thirty to fifty years. To me, this is foretelling the future across major parts of the planet.”

Swingers: Bonobos are celebrated as peace-loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated. Are they? By Ian Parker, July 30, 2007.  An award-winning look at one of our primate cousins, sometimes described as a kinder, gentler, randier chimpanzee.

This pop image of the bonobo—equal parts dolphin, Dalai Lama, and Warren Beatty—has flourished largely in the absence of the animal itself, which was recognized as a species less than a century ago. Two hundred or so bonobos are kept in captivity around the world; but, despite being one of just four species of great ape, along with orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees, the wild bonobo has received comparatively little scientific scrutiny. It is one of the oddities of the bonobo world—and a source of frustration to some—that Frans de Waal, of Emory University, the high-profile Dutch primatologist and writer, who is the most frequently quoted authority on the species, has never seen a wild bonobo.

Attempts to study bonobos in their habitat began only in the nineteen-seventies, and those efforts have always been intermittent, because of geography and politics. Wild bonobos, which are endangered (estimates of their number range from six thousand to a hundred thousand), keep themselves out of view, in dense and inaccessible rain forests, and only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, in the past decade, more than three million people have died in civil and regional conflicts. For several years around the turn of the millennium, when fighting in Congo was at its most intense, field observation of bonobos came to a halt. In recent years, however, some Congolese and overseas observers have returned to the forest, and to the hot, damp work of sneaking up on reticent apes. 

Honour, Seifert, Zellers should release tax returns

13 hours 28 min ago
politics.mn CC/Flickr/Mike ChaputBy voluntarily releasing his tax returns, Dayton started a new level of public transparency, one that Johnson and Nicollett agreed should be followed.

The Star Tribune just posted another very interesting story about candidates for statewide office releasing their tax returns for public examination. Candidates for political office in Minnesota are not required by law to release their personal income tax returns.

As noted in the Star Tribune story, Gov. Mark Dayton has released his tax returns every year since 2010. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Independence Party’s Hannah Nicollet both released their tax returns.

I wrote last November that while candidates are not required to release their tax returns, it’s a smart move by the candidates for governor to do so, because the incumbent governor has done it for years. A candidate refusing to release their tax returns will provide their opponents with political fodder to be used against them during the campaign. Get ready for repeated questions, such as “what are you hiding?”, if the returns are not released. Not releasing your tax returns will be a distraction – if you don’t want scrutiny, don’t run for office.

On the flip-side, Minnesota campaign laws don’t require the release of income tax returns, so why should candidates for statewide office burden themselves with an extra requirement? Because, it just makes sense – especially when your main opponent is voluntarily releasing their returns.

The Star Tribune’s story about Dayton, Johnson and Nicollet releasing their tax returns, noted “other candidates’ tax information is not expected to be immediately forthcoming.”:

Republican Scott Honour’s campaign said he would release his tax information eventually. Republican Kurt Zellers’ campaign said he would release his but not until after the August 12 primary, because that contest will take the campaign and candidate’s energy.

Honour did release his tax returns last year, but hasn’t released them for this year. Last year Kurt Zellers released a summary of his tax returns and Marty Seifert declined to release his tax returns.

By voluntarily releasing his tax returns, Dayton started a new level of public transparency, one that Johnson and Nicollett agreed should be followed. I’ll repeat what I wrote in earlier this year: to prevent future questions and distracts, Honour, Seifert and Zellers should do the same and release their tax returns before the primary, as their fellow candidates have all done.

This post was written by Michael Brodkorb and originally published on politics.mn – an inside view of Minnesota politics. Follow politics.mn on Twitter: @politicsdotmn.

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

Style wars: it's not policy differences defining GOP governor candidates

13 hours 35 min ago

Video of the MPR candidate roundtable courtesy of the UpTake.

Now we know: It’s the pragmatist, the populist, the battle-proven, and the outsider.

Otherwise known as Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert, Kurt Zellers and Scott Honour, the men vying to be the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota drew plenty of distinctions in their personalities — if not their policies — in their first big debate Wednesday.

The four participated in an hour-long roundtable on Minnesota Public Radio, the first of several get-togethers prior to the August 12 primary. They offered voters an indication of their governing style, even while making it clear that the substance of their policies would be very similar. 

“We’re all Republicans,” Zellers observed.  “We’re not going to go off on a tangent.”

On improving the economy, for example, all four agreed the state should cut taxes and regulations. But how they got there revealed much about themselves, and the personas of their campaigns.  

Former Speaker of the House Zellers relived former battles, recounting his work to reduce the growth of the state budget in 2011 and 2012. 

Seifert, showing a populist edge often employed by former Gov. Jesse Ventura, responded, "I would have vetoed the budget that Kurt Zellers passed."

Honour replied like a man who is used to running the show, and described a budget plan that would immediately reduce ten percent of the state’s administrative costs.

Johnson acknowledged that there are political realities, and said he’d do a top to bottom audit of the state budget, starting with the human services budget.  

Perhaps nothing revealed the gaps in style rather than substance more than the candidates’ approach to MNsure — the Republicans’ number one talking point when it comes to criticizing the Dayton administration. All want to dismantle it, but each offered a different shade of gray when it comes to how their administrations would approach doing so.

“What I have said I would do is, number one, apply for a waiver from Obamacare,” said Johnson, the lawyer and the technician. 

“I am the only one that’s calling for the elimination of MNSure,” said Honour, the executive. 

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Zellers offered another war story.  “I fought against it from ever becoming a law,” he said.  

Don’t sweat the details, was Seifert’s advice.  “We need to start talking about health care, not about insurance companies and policies.” 

And so it went: On transportation, education, and right-to-work policies for state employees. Notably, almost as if pre-arranged, the four candidates paired off, two-by-two, for the obligatory pecking order, with Seifert taking on Zellers, Honour taking on Johnson.

On the issue of right-to-work, for example, Zellers said he’d advocate “paycheck protection," which would prohibit unions for state employees from automatically deducting union dues.    

“There's a better chance of me having hair than a DFL controlled Senate in passing right to work,” responded the bald-as-Ventura Seifert. 

Johnson also acknowledged the challenge of changing union requirements for state workers with a DFL Senate. To which Honour responded, “Jeff, you have a defeatist attitude here.”

Johnson’s comeback: "There's a difference between having a defeatist attitude and being honest with everyone."

So here’s a little test.  Each candidate was asked to summarize his credentials to take on Mark Dayton.  Which candidate gave which response?

A. “I’m the only one that faced off against Mark Dayton and won.”

B. “I was endorsed by the most active, engaged Republicans because they see me as having the best chance to beat Mark Dayton.”

C. “I’m the only candidate with the full Minnesota life experience.” 

D. “I’m the only candidate with business experience.”

The Answers: Kurt Zellers, Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert, Scott Honour. And if you didn't figure it out, don't worry. There are still several more debates before the primary. 

At the Walker: First-person stories of Minnesota Muslims

13 hours 52 min ago
Courtesy of Islamic Resource GroupOfficer Abdiwahab Ali of the Minneapolis Police Department is featured in "Tracks in the Snow: The Minnesota Muslim Experience," opening at the Walker Thursday.

Starting tonight at the Walker, a traveling exhibit will share the first-person stories of Minnesota Muslims, a deep-rooted and growing part of the state’s community. Muslims were among the earliest immigrants to Minnesota; we now have the largest Somali Muslim population in the United States, and the first Muslim congressman. “Tracks in the Snow: The Minnesota Muslim Experience since 1880” is meant as a bridge-builder. It opens tonight (Thursdays at the Walker are free, thank you, Target) and continues through next Thursday, Aug. 8. The Walker and Islamic Resource Group will host a public reception there on Saturday, Aug. 2, from 1–4 p.m.

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Olga Viso, the Walker’s executive director, and Ragamala Dance’s Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy were all at the White House on Monday to congratulate dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones on his new National Medal for the Arts, which was awarded by President Obama. Both Viso and Ranee are members of the National Council on the Arts, which advises the National Endowment for the Arts. Jones has had a long relationship with the Walker. Next Thursday, Aug. 7, Ragamala’s new dance with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, “Song of the Jasmine,” which had its world premiere at the Walker, will have its New York premiere, the start of a tour that will take them from Chicago to India and back to Minnesota. At times it seems that everything in the arts is connected.

Some people buy season tickets; some don’t. If you’re in the latter category, this is a good week. Single tickets for all shows in Park Square Theatre’s 2014–15 season go on sale today (Thursday, July 31). You can buy online, over the phone (651-291-7005), or in person at the theater’s 7th Place entrance in St. Paul, where they’re throwing a party with lemonade, purple cupcakes (in honor of “The Color Purple,” which opens Jan. 16), a prize wheel, and tours of the new Andy Boss Thrust Stage. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., $38 tickets are on sale for $28 in person or over the phone only. Tickets for “The Color Purple” will be $38 during these two hours.

On Tuesday, single tickets to all Minnesota Orchestra performances through Nov. 1 went on sale, including the Gala Benefit Concert on Sept. 5 with soprano Renée Fleming, the season opener Sept. 26, 27, and 28 (Barber’s Cello Concerto, Mahler’s “Resurrection”), October’s Strauss Celebration, “Out of This World with Christopher Lloyd” on Halloween night, and more. Here’s the concert calendar. On Monday at 11 a.m., you can buy single tickets to the Schubert Club’s International Artist Series, the annual lineup of heavy hitters. That’s also when single tickets go on sale to the sixth year of the exquisite chamber ensemble Accordo, and this time you can make specific seating requests for the concerts at Christ Church Lutheran.

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Here’s a Good Question for our friends at WCCO: How many theater companies have gotten their start at the Fringe? Walking Shadow is one. It just announced its 10th anniversary season – three plays, all regional premieres.  Sept. 26 – Oct. 11: “Gabriel” by Moira Buffini. A naked young man washes up on the mine-filled Guernsey beach during the German occupation. Savior or something else? Nov. 26 – Dec. 20: “The Whale” by Samuel D. Hunter. A 600-pound recluse reaches out to his long-estranged daughter. Feb. 6 – 28, 2015: “The Coward” by Nick Jones. A manly comedy about manly honor, played by a company of women. Season tickets here.

Tickets go on sale at noon today for the next season of “A Prairie Home Companion,” which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. The 2014 season opener on Sept. 20 is a live broadcast from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, followed by the annual Meatloaf Supper and Street Dance.

For artists: Take a survey, have a say in a potential live/work facility in Hastings in the Mississippi River Valley. The Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council (HPAAC) has contracted with Artspace to determine artists’ interest in living and working there. (For you city mice, Hastings is a scant 20 minutes from downtown St. Paul.) Artspace specializes in developing affordable space for artists. Their Minnesota projects include the Northern Warehouse and Tilsner Artists’ Cooperatives in St. Paul, Grain Belt Studios and Artspace Jackson Flats in Minneapolis, and the Kaddatz Artist Lofts in Fergus Falls.

The Picks

Tonight at Studio Z: Steve Kenny’s “All Originals Jazz Series” continues with Red Planet, the very fine trio with Dean Magraw on guitar, Chris Bates on bass and Jay Epstein on drums. The music varies from spacey to rock-star (when Magraw lets loose), from Hendrix to Coltrane to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10), also at the door. Here’s the rest of the series lineup, which continues through Sept. 11 and features Twin Cities jazz ensembles playing their own compositions, some brand-new.

Friday at the Ted Mann: YMM’s Summer Grand Finale Concert. Works by Wagner, Glazunov, and Tchaikovsky performed by future members of the Minnesota Orchestra, if they all have their way. 7 p.m. Free. If you missed yesterday’s story about the Young Musicians of Minnesota, here it is. (A nice thing about the new media is it never gets tossed into the recycling.)

The Weekend

Opens Friday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theater: Eric Rohmer’s “A Summer’s Tale.” France. Summer. The sea. France. Beautiful young French people. Love. Complications. Sun and sand. Did we say France? The new HD restoration of Rohmer’s 1996 film is here through Thursday, Aug. 7. In French. FMI, trailer and tickets ($6–$8.50).

Friday at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota: Prudence Johnson and Dean Magraw. It’s hard to imagine a lovelier evening than a summer one spent in the old Carnegie library in Zumbrota, hearing Prudence Johnson sing and Dean Magraw play guitar. 8 p.m. Tickets online or by phone at 507-732-7616 ($20 advance, $22 day of show). Dean Magraw twice in one week is not too much.

At the Weisman: “Trains that Passed in the Night: The Photographs of O. Winston Link.” During the 1950s, Brooklyn native and commercial photographer Link recorded the final years of the last major railroad in America to operate exclusively with steam power. His black-and-white photos are on display at WAM through Feb. 8. Free. FMI.

Sunday at Brit’s Pub: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” by the Actors Theater of Minnesota. Three guys in tights perform all 37 plays in 97 minutes, outside on the rooftop garden. 6 p.m. Free. Also next Sunday (Aug. 10), same time, same place.

Plan Ahead

Minnesota History Center-led tours tend to sell out (like the Midcentury Modern Tour on Saturday, Aug. 9 – curses!). So we’re alerting you early to the Cass Gilbert Home and Building Tour on Saturday, Aug. 23 ($30–$35) and From Pig’s Eye to Summit – St. Paul’s Brewing History by Bus on Saturday, Sept. 6 and 20 ($30-$35). From stately homes to hops, the History Center has it covered.

Suspect in cop killing in custody after shootout with police

16 hours 37 min ago

It was tragic day in St. Paul. After the slaying of a Mendota Heights police officer and the ensuing manhunt, KSTP-TV’s Megan Matthews reports, “St. Paul Police say they received a tip that Brian Fitch Sr. may be in the area of Rice Street and Sycamore Street in St. Paul. Officers responded to the area and spotted Fitch driving. Authorities say Fitch recognized one of the unmarked squad cars and made a U-turn. One of the squad cars was able to pull in front of Fitch's car to stop him. As an officer got out of his squad car, Fitch opened fire, according to St. Paul Police. Officers fired back, shooting Fitch several times. Fitch is in the hospital.” A female companion was also shot.

KMSP-TV’s Tom Lyden reports, “Brian George Fitch Sr. was one of the most wanted men in Minnesota, and had been residing in the St. Paul and West St. Paul area while on supervised probation. Fitch Sr. was declared a wanted fugitive on June 2, and warrant for his arrest was issued by the Department of Corrections following a probation violation related to a burglary case out of Washington County. It remains unknown how he violated his patrol, but he would have known that he was looking at 3 years in prison for that violation before Patrick walked up to his window. The 39-year-old has a huge rap sheet that includes assault, escape, burglary, theft, assault and terroristic threats. He also had a warrant out of Washington County for failing to pay child support.”

PiPress columnist Ruben Rosario writes, “So far this year, according to the site, [Officer Scott] Patrick is the first peace officer in Minnesota and the 64th in the U.S. killed in the line of duty, a 7 percent increase in such deaths over last year. He is the 27th officer killed by gunfire, a 50 percent increase compared with 2013. There have been 28 auto-related deaths, a 17 percent spike. May was the deadliest month so far, with 18 line-of-duty fatalities. California has accounted for the most such deaths with eight, followed by Texas with four and four other states and Puerto Rico, tied with three.”

In other news, Archbishop Nienstedt sort of spoke to some of the press yesterday, but mostly released a column he wrote, declaring that he will not resign. His predicament long ago became a national story. In The New York Times, Michael Paulson says, “He did not directly address accusations that he himself had had inappropriate sexual relationships with adult men, other than to say that he commissioned an investigation ‘because I had nothing to hide and wanted to be vindicated from false allegations, as anyone would.’”

Catholic World News reports, rather daintily, “The archbishop says that he has always sought to be honest with the faithful of the Minnesota archdiocese, and that his administrative team has worked to give top priority to the victims of sexual abuse. He argues that he and his staff are now better prepared to handle the abuse issue in the future.”

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There’ll be some expensive road work up by Virginia. Dan Kraker of MPR says, “Every day, 10,000 cars zip along Highway 53, one of the Iron Range’s most vital transportation arteries. Just a few hundred feet from the roadway, between Virginia and Eveleth, hidden by a strip of trees, the earth falls away into a mammoth mine pit, where four-story tall trucks scrape red ore out of the ground. The proximity of the road to the excavation site points to the need to move the highway away from the expanding mine — a project that could cost more than $400 million.”

That Strib story about Circus Juventas and how unhappy they are with the city of St. Paul and how they want to move out to the toney western suburbs? Nothing to it, says the circus boss. MPR’s Marianne Combs says, “[Circus Juventas Founder and Executive Director Dan] Butler blames an article in Saturday’s Star Tribune, which he says wrongly portrayed his company’s relationship with the city of St. Paul. ‘The tone of the article, based on the headline, was completely inaccurate,’ said Butler. ‘The online version said ‘Fighting with St. Paul, Circus Juventas hunts for new home. ‘That means two things; we have a bad relationship with St. Paul and secondly, that we’re leaving –  and that can’t be farther from the truth.’”

Also from MPR, Tim Pugmire files a story off the on-air debate between GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Honour, Marty Seifert, Jeff Johnson and Kurt Zellers. “There was some additional friction when Zellers boasted that he passed a two-year budget in 2011 that “cut the size of government by 6 percent” and “reduced the cost of government by 8 percent.” That budget also ended a state government shutdown. Seifert took exception with Zellers and his numbers. ‘I would have vetoed the budget that Kurt Zellers passed in 2011,’ Seifert said. ‘It did not downsize government enough. It did not reform government enough. It borrowed from tobacco bonds. It borrowed from the schools. I would have vetoed the budget and returned it to the Legislature. I would have vetoed the stadium bill that also passed.’

And a couple more Jesse Ventura items. Steve Karnowski of the AP reports on the matter of who is on the hook for the $1.8 million jury award. “Attorney John Borger, who represented Kyle in her capacity as executor of Chris Kyle's estate, said Tuesday that insurance won't cover everything. He said it will cover the $500,000 awarded for defamation, but not the $1.3 million for unjust enrichment. ‘All of that comes directly from money that Taya and Chris received from royalties or whatever assets the estate may have,’ he said.”

And in the Strib, columnist Jon Tevlin writes, “Ventura seemed genuinely hurt that the brotherhood of frogmen and SEALs had turned against him. But it was suggested in court, and I believe it to be true, that he was harmed far less by the fistfight anecdote than by the fact he was suing the widow of a dead SEAL. Not cool.”

Ventura verdict sends message to writers: Be careful

17 hours 42 min ago

It wasn’t the longest libel trial in history, but it certainly felt that way. After three weeks, Jesse Ventura, whom the late “American Sniper” and former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle referred to in his best-selling autobiography as “Scruff Face,” convinced eight jurors that Kyle made up a story about a fight in a California bar. Kyle claimed he punched the former governor after Ventura said that he “hated America,” that the Navy SEALS “were killing men and women and children and murdering,” and that they “deserved to lose a few” in the war in Iraq. Ventura said the encounter never happened and that Kyle’s account made Ventura sound like a traitor, undermined his career as a professional gadfly and raconteur, and destroyed his reputation among the SEAL community. Although Kyle never identified “Scruff Face” in the book itself, he subsequently told interviewers that he was referring to Ventura.

Jane Kirtley

So Ventura did what any red-blooded American public figure would do: He sued. He sought millions of dollars in damages, not only for Kyle’s alleged defamation, but also for the author’s misappropriation of Ventura’s name and image to promote the book. To top it off, Ventura added a claim for “unjust enrichment.” He argued that proceeds from the book sales, as well as from the sale of the film rights, belonged to him because Kyle’s book would never have taken off without that story about the bar fight.

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As a public figure, Ventura had a tough battle ahead of him. He had to convince the jury that Kyle’s story had hurt his reputation among right-thinking people – in this case, his former comrades, the SEALS. In addition, he bore the burden of proving that what Kyle had written was false and that Kyle either made it all up or acted recklessly when he recounted the story. This “actual malice” standard was first articulated 50 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan, and was intended to promote debate and discussion about matters of public concern, and to short circuit frivolous suits by public figures who can’t take legitimate criticism. The high court’s ruling permits writers to make factual errors and still be protected from liability, as long as the mistake was made in good faith. 

Mindset and motivation are critical

Under the Sullivan standard, the writer’s mindset and motivation are critical. Libel defendants are usually grilled on the witness stand about what steps they took to verify what they wrote and whether they checked with the subject of the story to get his side. But in this case, the author was no longer available, because Kyle was killed in a shooting at a gun range in Texas about a year after Ventura filed his suit in 2012. Although the jury did see a video deposition of Kyle’s testimony taken before his death, most of the evidence about what happened in the bar came from Ventura himself and from a parade of witnesses produced by the attorneys for both sides.

That’s standard procedure in a libel case when the facts are in dispute. But as in Kurosawa’s classic Japanese film, "Rashomon," the accounts differed wildly. This is not surprising when the alleged incident occurred years ago and many of the observers admitted that they were under the influence of alcohol at the time. But if the evidence was inconclusive, Ventura would lose his case.

The jury had to sort through the testimony to decide whom to believe. As hours stretched into days, it became clear that the case was not going to be a slam dunk for either side. Under the federal court rules, the verdict had to be unanimous, so even one holdout on any element of the required proof would mean a deadlocked jury and a mistrial. The jury sent Judge Richard Kyle a message on Monday saying just that. Kyle asked them to try one more time, and then separately met with the lawyers to ask them to agree to a “majority” verdict. 

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Something persuaded the lawyers to accept this option, even though, like the hero in “The Lady or the Tiger,” they couldn’t know what was going on behind the jury room door. Whether it was Judge Kyle’s powers of persuasion, pressure from their clients, or simply the desire to avoid having to try the case all over again, they agreed to accept an 8-2 verdict, which turned out to be in Ventura’s favor. The jury awarded him $500,000 in damages for the defamation claim, and $1.3 million for the unjust enrichment claim, which will have to be paid out of Kyle’s estate.

Based on his triumphant appearance on Wednesday morning, Ventura considers himself vindicated. He told the Star Tribune that he would have “permanently moved to Mexico” had he lost, because he would have had “nothing here to live for.”  That kind of rhetoric, for which Ventura was well known during his governorship, may have convinced the jurors that he was genuinely devastated by his supposed ostracism by the SEALS.

Reputation restored, monetary award

Ventura has said he was only after the truth, and he and his supporters are characterizing the verdict as an official pronouncement that Kyle was a liar. He is like many libel plaintiffs who insist that they go to trial because they have no other option and that it is the principle, not the money, that motivates them. Assuming no appeal – which seems unlikely – Ventura will walk away not only with his reputation restored, but with the additional consolation of a hefty monetary award.

Some would argue that this is exactly the way it should work, and that authors who aren’t able to prove their claims should be prepared to pay the price. But the U.S. Supreme Court in Sullivan feared that legitimate stories would go unreported if that price was a crippling damage award. The jury’s verdict may seem like a vindication to Ventura, but it reminds those who write about public figures, especially in the freewheeling world of the blogosphere, that they do so at their own risk. It’s a sobering way to mark the 50th anniversary of New York Times v. Sullivan.

Jane E. Kirtley is the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota. She also is the director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. 

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.)

School board's approval of $375,000 contract for Al Flowers-related group drawing questions

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 3:47pm

At its May 27 meeting, the Minneapolis School Board approved a budget of almost $550 million. Before their vote, board members were walked through a breakdown containing highlights of the financial package.

There were small pots money for programs ranging from support for girls interested in science to efforts to keep struggling learners in the classroom. There were modest funds for the hiring of additional teachers if enrollment grows in the fall. There was an item — the one-time expenditure of $5 million for English language learners — that sparked controversy because it was an 11th-hour addition. And another — $200,000 for the newly created Office of Black Male Student Achievement — that raised eyebrows among some who believe the amount to be too low.

CSI's logo

Curiously, there was no discussion of a $375,000 amendment to a contract issued to a group called the Community Standards Initiative (CSI), which aims to generate positive interactions and engagement between Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and its communities of color. Instead, that item was approved at the board’s previous meeting, with no public discussion. It was included in the consent agenda, which is supposed to contain items of routine, ongoing business that do not involve major budget or policy decisions.

(Other items on the same consent agenda included the purchase of fuel oil to top off district heating tanks, the purchase of literacy and science textbooks for fifth-graders and numerous student transportation contracts.)

CSI founder is Al Flowers

Over the last couple of days, the district’s dealings with CSI have been the subject of a quiet round of questioning among district insiders, one of whom brought it to MinnPost's attention. Why now? The group’s founder is community activist Al Flowers, a frequent critic of MPS whose name is in the headlines after an encounter with Minneapolis police over the weekend left him battered.

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The item passed as a part of the May 13 consent agenda brought the total the district will spend with CSI to $405,000. According to documents attached to the agenda the contract will run from June 19, 2014, to June 19, 2016.

According to the description of the contract contained in the consent agenda, CSI is a “niche or specialty” vendor that will provide “Deliverables set in the areas of Youth Development & Community Engagement, School Intervention and Health and Wellness.”

Despite having attended the vast majority of the board meetings over the last year, the author was unaware of the CSI contract until Monday.

The Saturday Flowers-police incident has sparked calls for an independent investigation, as well as more racial sensitivity within the Minneapolis Police Department. Flowers has appeared bruised and with a bloody eye in this publication and others. There are some members of the MPS community who, while unwilling to criticize Flowers, are asking about the size and nature of the CSI contract.

District representatives Wednesday referred questions about Flowers to Clarence Hightower, who is CSI’s fiscal agent and administrator. The group’s contracts with MPS are signed by Hightower. CSI materials circulating since the idea was announced are clearly marked with Flowers' name as author. 

Campaign to 'get back to good'

Here is what appears to be on the record so far. In August 2011, Flowers and several other community activists held a press conference in North Minneapolis announcing a campaign to “get back to good.”

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In April 2012, Hightower elaborated in a presentation to the school board on progress made by the group using two $15,000 grants from MPS and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. The idea, he explained, was to engage the city’s 87 neighborhoods, the park system and churches in “getting back to good.”

CSI would work on increasing student attendance and parental involvement. And it would field a “critical response team” that would work to “defuse tense situations,” “establish a ‘climate check’ ” and restore “positive behavior at the scene.”

More details would be forthcoming once the group had an idea how much funding MPS would be able to supply, Hightower told the board. His New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church served as fiscal agent for the program.

It’s unclear what happened in the intervening two years. According to planning materials [PDF] prepared by Flowers, CSI was to have launched in MPS in the spring of 2012 [PDF].

Facebook page appears inactive

In July of 2013 a Facebook page was created; it has garnered 28 likes and currently appears inactive. A bill that would have appropriated $350,000 for the effort failed to make it out of committee in the 2013 Legislature.

It is worth noting that at the April 2012 meeting a somewhat differently configured school board seemed delighted to hear that the community effort was in the works. Several said they were anxious to hear details.

The two contracts [PDF 1, PDF 2] between MPS and CSI list very specific activities and specify attendance goals and desired outcomes. Major activities include staging a number of community events, training students on conflict resolution and identifying students who would benefit from referral to mental health services.

The agreement includes funds to pay for several part-time positions, including a program manager and staff in each school. Payments will be made when the activities outlined have been performed.

Man dies of ebola virus just before planned return to Minnesota

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 1:58pm

More on the man who died from the ebola virus before his planned return to Minnesota. In The Daily Beast, Michael Daly writes, “Nigeria felt a chill from the hot zone when a 40-year-old man collapsed and died from the dread Ebola virus after flying there from Liberia. That hot zone chill now reaches America, with word that the same man was scheduled to fly to Minneapolis in time for an August 16 party celebrating the birthdays of two of his three young daughters.”

Heck, let him start tonight … The AP reports, “In one of their craziest scouting experiences, the Minnesota Twins have reached a deal with a 24-year-old pitching prospect who has thrown 100 mph fastballs but has never been drafted. Brandon Poulson was pitching earlier this month for the Healdsburg Prune Packers in a collegiate summer league. … Now, the Twins are about to give him $250,000. ‘It's a great story,’ Twins West Coast scouting supervisor Sean Johnson said Tuesday. ‘This kid came out of nowhere.’ " Hmmm, when was the last time anyone saw Sidd Finch?

The state Chamber of Commerce has a new interim president. Joe Lindberg at the PiPress says, “The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has named Bill Blazar interim president, according to a statement released Wednesday. Blazar will hold the position previously held by David Olson, the chamber's president for more than two decades who died this month after an 18-month fight with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.”

A couple more Ventura verdict reactions. First, from Bloomberg, Paul Barrett, who barely a month ago called the suit “dumb”, now writes, “I still think it’s a dumb case. Fair is fair, though, and Jesse Ventura won his defamation lawsuit against the estate of a celebrated Navy SEAL … Now, I suppose, Ventura could call skeptics, including me, the dummies, as he’s won almost $2 million and the ability to argue that his name has been cleared.”

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And from The New Yorker, from the writer who delivered arguably the essential profile of the deceased sniper, Chris Kyle. Says Nicholas Schmidle, “Ventura’s case seemed, at first, like a futile one: the credibility of a two-time Silver Star recipient pitched against that of a loudmouth former rival of Hulk Hogan with a penchant for conspiracy theories. … But one thing I learned about Kyle, apart from his military exploits and his generosity toward other veterans, was his propensity for embellishment. More than one person I spoke to remembered him telling a story about how he’d travelled to New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina and, in a bid to establish law and order, had set up a sniper position on the roof of the Superdome and shot numerous looters.”

Also … Steve Karnowski of the AP says, “The passage from the best-selling memoir ‘American Sniper’ that sparked former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's defamation lawsuit against author Chris Kyle will be removed, publisher HarperCollins said Wednesday.” That horse has been out of the barn so long it's already glue.

Ed Huyck of City Pages offers his choices for the best of The Fringe Festival. This sounds suitably fringy: "The company behind Fruit Fly and Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical takes on another prime target: Scientology. Xenu, Tom Cruise, and L. Ron Hubbard stand in line for mocking in this Obie Award-winning show. The tone promises to be similar to last year's rollicking hit, Shelly Bachberg, where a twisted version of American history came to life through the mind of a congresswoman eerily similar to Michele Bachmann.”

The U of M is on a mini-real-estate buying spree. In The Minnesota Daily Tyler Gieseke reports, “Some of the unused land behind TCF Bank Stadium could sprout more research buildings as the University of Minnesota continues a slow expansion beyond the eastern confines of its Minneapolis campus. At a meeting earlier this month, the Board of Regents approved the purchase of two properties near the University’s Biomedical Discovery District that could be used for research — an acquisition that follows the institution’s joint purchase earlier this year of the property where the Days Inn Hotel and the Tea House Chinese Restaurant now sit.”

Dang, I was going to really open up the family Yugo and let ‘er roar. But Tim Harlow of the Strib says, “Motorists who travel on Interstates 90 and 94 between New York and Washington state, here is your warning: police in 15 states, including Minnesota, will be out in force this weekend looking for speeders and drunk drivers and those who are not wearing seat belts or are engaging in distracted behaviors.”  

Summer member drive ends Thursday — please do your part!

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:56am

With about 36 hours left in MinnPost's summer member drive, we only need one new sustainer per hour to meet our goal of 100 new sustainers by July 31.

As of this morning we had 66 new sustainers plus 49 one-time donations. 

They're doing their part. Please do yours!

The comments below are reprinted with permission.

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"Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." (Louis Brandeis, Harpers Magazine, 1913) — Steve Miles, Minneapolis

Doing my part. Read all the time when I want the honest-to-goodness complete story. — Amy Beth Stenson Kujawski, St. Paul 

Good journalism should be supported so it keeps happening. — Ryan Olson, Minneapolis

I really appreciate MinnPost for its in-depth journalism and independent voice. Well worth supporting! — Ellen Bendewald, Minneapolis

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Walking historic Minneapolis — there’s an app for that

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:50am
Poking Around with Mary

Seldom have we known such a summer for strolling Twin Cities neighborhoods — enjoying the magnificent gardens, the unique architecture, the cool breezes, the friendliness of your own neighborhoods, and the stories of neighborhoods waiting to be explored.

Good news — there’s an app for that!

Check out the Minnesota Historical walking tour app now available for iPhone and Android users. The digital guide will enlighten your tour through the Marcy Holmes and Old Highland neighborhoods in North Minneapolis, home of the City of Lakes’ earliest residents.

Some background: The earliest residents of these neighborhoods were Native Americans for whom the waterfalls on the river were sacred. Father Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan priest, is credited with being the first European to see the falls in 1680. He was so taken with their beauty that he named them after his patron saint, St. Anthony of Padua.

The accounts of Father Hennepin helped make this a destination for adventurous travelers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The falls became the center for logging businesses so that by 1850 census records show the town of St. Anthony Falls with a population of 656. The first store was opened in 1847, at what is now Main Street and Second Avenue SE; the first frame houses were built in 1848 and the first school was opened in 1849.

Eventually the town of St Anthony Falls incorporated in 1855, and was later named St. Anthony. It merged with Minneapolis in 1872.  Fifth Street became the premier address in the city. It was home to flour manufacturers, lumbermen, merchants and other civic leaders who built the town of St. Anthony. The Old Highland neighborhood was originally part of the Fort Snelling Military Reservation, claimed for the US in 1809 by Zebulon Pike.

Start with the Old Highland neighborhood. The elegantly preserved neighborhoods feature Queen Anne and Victorian architecture built during Minneapolis during what is known as the “Golden Age.” Before venturing out you might want to start with the online walking tour designed by the Old Highland Neighborhood Association.

There you’ll find in-depth descriptions of 30 homes, their history, architectural features and the stories of former residents. You’ll find the stories of Ascension Church, built in 1890 and of the Ascension school, begun by three Sisters of St. Joseph in 1897, of the home of Vincent Schuler, founder of the Schuler Shoes Chain, of Frank Gross, the second Minneapolis Parks Commissioner (for whom the golf course is named), churches and homes of Norwegian and German immigrants, The list goes on…

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Moving right along, check out the Marcy-Holmes website. The site includes a published guide to the neighborhood, Hiding in Plain Sight by Penny Peterson.  Again you’ll find descriptions and stories of the history, the houses, the people – especially the “musings” of local residents.

Now that you’ve got the idea, take the new app as your guide as you walk the walk through the Mill City’s first neighborhoods. The Marcy Holmes section of the app features 24 historical sites while the Old Highland Neighborhood offers 29 featured sites.

The app is available free on the iTunes App Store and Google Play.

“Minneapolis Historical” was created by Preserve Minneapolis and the Old Highland Neighborhood Association with software developed by Cleveland State University. The project was funded with Legacy funds administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

This post was written by Mary Treacy and originally published on Poking Around with Mary.

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Bill Blazar to be interim president of Minnesota Chamber

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:42am

Bill Blazar, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's senior vice president of public affairs and business development, has been named interim president of the organization.

He'll fill in for David Olson, the long-time Chamber head who died earlier this month.

Blazar has been with the chamber since 1992. The group's board will plan the search process for a new president in August, at a planning retreat.

The chamber has 2,300 business members in the state.

Former St. Paul City Council Member Pat Roedler remembered as civic leader

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:39am

Pat Roedler, a feisty pipefitter, union leader and former St. Paul City Council member, died Tuesday of heart failure. He was 80.

Roedler, a proud West Side native, was appointed to the council in 1973 and served seven years.

The Pioneer Press story today has nice memories of Roedler from George Latimer, Ruby Hunt, John Manillo and others. Roedler's ex-wife, Pioneer Press City Editor Jackie Roedler, died in 1998.

A wake will be held Sunday at O'Halloran & Murphy, 575 Snelling Av., S., St. Paul. There will be a funeral Mass Monday, 9:30 a.m., at Assumption Church, in downtown St. Paul, with burial immediately after

Murphy Funeral Home on Sunday, August 3rd, from 4 to 8 p.m.  They are located at k.  On Monday, a Funeral Mass will start at 9:30 a.m. at Assumption Church on 7th St. in Downtown.  Burial will be at Fort Snelling immediately afterwards, followed by lunch at Fabulous Fern's, 400 Selby Av.

In recent years, Roedler presided over a weekly Friday lunch forum that included legislators, reporters and engaged civic members, and often featured speakers from various walks of life.

To honor the forum founder, the group will meet Friday at Burger Moe's, 242 W. 7th St., at 11:30 a.m.

Minimum wage in Minnesota rises Aug. 1 to $8 an hour at big companies

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:38am

Minnesota's minimum wage goes up Aug. 1, after a legislative change that sets in motion a series of increases in coming years.

Starting Friday, employees at large companies must be paid $8 an hour under the new law; that's up from the current state minimum of $6.15, although the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009.

For small employers, (under $500,000 in sales) must now pay $6.50 an hour, up from $5.25.

Going forward, the minimums will be:

Large employers:

  • $9 an hour on Aug. 1, 2015
  • $9.50 on Aug. 1, 2016

Small employers:

  • $7.25 on Aug. 1, 2015
  • $7.75 on Aug. 1, 2016

In January 2018, the rates will be indexed to inflation based on economic conditions.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who signed the legislation, said: "Raising the minimum wage will improve the lives of more than 325,000 hard-working Minnesotans. I thank the Legislature for recognizing the need to make work pay in Minnesota."