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Minnesota's carbon-cutting plan should maximize efficiency and renewable-energy development

3 hours 30 min ago

Four dozen Minnesota leaders and citizens came together Tuesday for a public hearing at the State Office Building to show support for responsible national limits on carbon pollution from coal-burning power plants — the biggest source of global-warming pollution. The resulting message was loud and clear: Minnesotans strongly support the president’s Clean Power Plan and want to see Minnesota continue to grow our clean-energy economy by cutting carbon pollution. In attendance were Sen. John Marty, St. Louis Park City Council Member Jake Spano, and staff from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as well as representatives from the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. Betty McCollum. 

The week prior, I had the pleasure of attending the Clean Energy Economy Summit, where Gov. Mark Dayton called on hundreds of policy and business leaders to outline a plan for Minnesota to eliminate coal from the state’s energy portfolio. As the governor said, “Clean air is the most important legacy we can leave for our children.”

Dayton’s comments and the citizens’ hearing come just weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposal for the first-ever national carbon pollution standards from power plants — an essential step toward protecting public health from the harmful effects of climate change.

In Minnesota, power plants are responsible for 33 percent of the carbon pollution that is endangering our health and driving climate change. Although the nation has set responsible limits on mercury, arsenic, and soot pollution, there are no limits on carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants. It is time to close this dangerous loophole.

We are already witnessing the impacts of climate change firsthand. Minnesota is the third-fastest-warming state. Heavy downpours have increased by 37 percent in the Midwest, and Minnesota has seen four 1-in-1,000 year floods in less than 10 years. According to Bob Johnson of the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, extreme weather events have made Minnesota one of the top three states in the nation in catastrophic losses, increasing homeowner premiums in Minnesota by almost 270 percent.

Under the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. can cut power plant carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, resulting in huge benefits for our health and economy. A report by the Harvard School of Public Health and Syracuse University reports that carbon pollution standards that reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants will also cut emissions of other dangerous power plant pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide. The EPA estimates that through the carbon standards we can avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks annually by 2030.

The new safeguards will also give states flexibility to implement plans that increase energy efficiency, improve resiliency and grow clean energy jobs. The EPA has initiated a 120-day comment period and will be working with states and stakeholders to refine and improve the proposal before finalizing it in June 2015. States will need to develop and submit to the EPA their state plan for how to meet these guidelines by June 2016.

Polls already show strong that a huge majority of Americans support the Clean Power Plan. According to a June 2014 poll by Washington Post-ABC News: 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Democrats support strong state-level limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

Minnesota has already begun to take strong steps toward cutting carbon pollution. Every electric utility is meeting its share of Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard — generating at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from new renewable energy by the year 2025. Even better news is that cutting carbon strengthens Minnesota’s economy. Minnesota's clean energy sector now employs more than 14,000 people working for 1,000 different companies, according to data released at the Clean Energy Economy Summit.

Now is the time for responsible action that supports Minnesota’s successful work to cut carbon pollution. As Minnesota develops its State Implementation Plan, I call on the governor to ensure that Minnesota continues its strong leadership on carbon reduction by developing a plan that will maximize the amount of new efficiency and renewable energy development in our state.

Alexis Williams is a policy associate at Fresh Energy and works to advance global warming solutions by promoting state and national policy to reduce carbon pollution, generate clean energy jobs and improve human health.

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Bachmann considering 2016 presidential run

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 9:49pm

It’s undignified to beg, but … please, please, please. Scott Conroy of Real Clear Politics reports, “Though set to retire from the U.S. House after her term expires at the end of this year, Michele Bachmann may not be done with electoral politics. The Minnesota congresswoman and 2012 Republican presidential candidate told RealClearPolitics on Tuesday that she is considering a second White House run. Bachmann made the revelation during an interview, in which she was asked for her view on whether any Republican women might seek the Oval Office in 2016. ‘The only thing that the media has speculated on is that it’s going to be various men that are running’, she replied. ‘They haven’t speculated, for instance, that I’m going to run. What if I decide to run? And there’s a chance I could run.'” The only way this news could get better is if she ran with Denny Hecker.

Apparently he had other obligations. Brett Neely of MPR reports, “Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak was among the CEOs who declined to attend a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday about the tax implications of mergers structured as ‘corporate inversions’ in which an American company moves its legal address overseas. … Republicans say any action on inversions should be in the context of an overhaul of the tax code and shouldn’t be used to punish companies.”

In the Owatonna People’s Press, Al Strain reports, “After seeing the lowest unemployment rates since 2013 in May, the jobless rate increased slightly in southern Minnesota communities in June. Labor force participation rates were the highest they've been since December and many communities even added jobs, according to figures from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. However, the number of people without jobs also increased. In Owatonna, the unemployment rate went from 3.9 percent in May to 4.4 percent in June.”

There’s no point counting on Congress to do something. Allison Sherry of the Strib writes, “Minnesota refugee resettlement organizations are increasingly panicked that the surge of unaccompanied kids from Central America streaming across the border will siphon federal dollars away from the 4,000 refugees and asylum-seekers that arrive on the state’s doorstep every year.”

Kids. Dave Chanen and Pat Pfeifer of the Strib say, “The adult son of Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has been charged with damaging a tree and a horse trail at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve near Delano. Ryan James Stanek, 21, is charged with three counts of criminal damage to property, including a first-degree felony charge.”

Why Wisconsin is the Florida of the Midwest:  Ariel Cheung of the Appleton (WI) Post Crescent reports, “After a regular Lingerie Night attendee at Eager Beaver Bar was charged last week with attempting to kidnap a bartender, the weekly event was discontinued. The bar's owner, Christina Coon, said Lingerie Night, at which bartenders served customers while dressed only in underwear, was stopped in light of allegations against Dennis L. Mitchell, 45, of Appleton. Police said Mitchell ran up to the bartender as she walked to her vehicle on July 10 and tried to put a plastic bag over her head.”

The Governor wants the new insurance rates out on Oct.1. Says Jackie Crosby in the Strib, “Election-year politics are shining a spotlight on health insurance rates, with Gov. Mark Dayton now asking the state’s insurance plans to voluntarily agree to release them on Oct. 1. Republicans have pressed for release of the 2015 health insurance rates before the November election, even though there’s no requirement that insurers do so until open enrollment starts on Nov. 15. Minnesota had the lowest insurance rates in the nation in the first year under the federal health law, but some Republicans suspect that rates will go up.” Because they never went up before MNsure, right?

The trial of Cook County attorney Tim Scannell has begun. This is the prosecutor who was badly wounded in that courthouse shooting by a guy he had convicted of preying on underage girls … and now is accused of the same thing himself. Dan Kraker and Tom Crann at MPR did a Q&A on the basics of the case.

Q: What kind of impact has this case had on Cook County and Grand Marais?

A: It's been huge. First, the 2011 shooting was enormous news and rocked the small town. Scannell survived, but the shooter, Dan Schlienz, later died in jail. Moreover, that case brought to the surface what had long been a simmering issue in Grand Marais, how older men would sexually pursue teenage girls, and how for years law enforcement couldn't get anyone to talk about it.”

Willmar brother of Flight 17 victim has message of forgiveness

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 3:56pm

Later in this column is a note that the television show “Fargo” has been renewed for another season. It will no doubt once again play on how East and West Coast-ers believe corn-fed Midwesterners behave. While it’s all in good fun, it’s too bad they don’t write about people like Drew Ryder of Willmar. Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune writes about how Ryder has already forgiven the people who shot down the plane carrying his brother and sister-in-law, Arien and Yvonne Rider, as they were traveling from the Netherlands to their native Australia on Malaysia Airlines flight 17. The jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard. Now Ryder is on his way to Australia for a memorial service for his family. Ryder, who was born and raised in Australia and moved to Willmar seven years ago to start his business, Feedlogic, does not want answers or retribution. Forgiveness is a core component of his faith. Ryder said the details of the crash aren’t important to him. Lange writes that Ryder said his family is more concerned with “issues of the spirit, not the body” and having a faith that’s “completely infiltrated in your life.” His hope is that his message of forgiveness softens some hearts in Eastern Europe.

Local Duluth employers AAR and Cirrus Aircraft are growing and they have had to recruit airframe and power plant mechanics to come to Minnesota to work. They may not have to recruit as hard now that Lake Superior College’s aviation maintenance program has been approved, writes Jana Hollingsworth of the Duluth News Tribune. The Federal Aviation Administration signed off on the 103-credit lab-intensive training program last week, she reports. The college expects more than 20 students will enroll this year.

The Mankato Free Press has issued its obligatory “Welcome Vikings pre-season training” group of stories. In this one, Tim Krohn reports that nearby businesses like Massad's Mediterranean Grille and Weggy's on Campus are anxious for the influx of customers. "We see an average of 30 to 40 percent increase in business," said Weggies owner Steve Wegman. "It's fun having the coaches and players come in — you feel like a little kid again, even though they're half my age."

Over in Waseca, Josh Moniz of the Free Press writes of a man who believed his girlfriend was in league with the devil. Michael Seys, 36, of Mankato, followed her around for a while and the two returned to their room at the Lake Aire Motel in Waseca. She didn’t want any more confrontation so she left. When she returned, Seys had allegedly taken lighter fluid to her $600 computer and set it ablaze in the room’s shower. She called the cops and now Seys faces charges of felony third-degree arson, gross misdemeanor fourth-degree arson and gross misdemeanor third-degree criminal damage to property.

The state Legislature gave local government the ability to raise some taxes, so that’s just what Duluth did Monday night, assessing a half-percent tax on hotel rooms and food and beverage purchases in the city, according to the Duluth News Tribune. The “half-and-half” tax is a reinstatement of a hospitality tax that expired in 2012.  “The new tax is expected to generate $1.4 million annually,” said Peg Spehar, the city’s chief financial officer, in a previous News Tribune report.

After deciding last week that they didn’t like the idea of a home for the homeless in the city, the Moorhead City Council voted Monday to give their seal of approval to the project. As Eric Burgess of the Fargo Forum points out, the council’s resolution means nothing. Churches United owns the property and it is zoned for an apartment building. Councilmembers said they voted against it before because their constituents were against it. When news broke of their decision, they heard from many in their wards and four council members reversed their decisions. The 41-unit apartment building will be on Moorhead’s north side and will help those who have nowhere to live.

When you don’t know much about a man, you grab what information you can. Former Winona mayor John Latsch was an important figure in Winona’s early days. He was instrumental in setting aside tens of thousands of acres for public use and city leaders want to celebrate his contribution, but unfortunately they know little about him. There are only a couple photos of him, and in one, he wears a bow tie. That’s good enough for Mary Farrell, the Visit Winona visitor services coordinator, writes Abby Eisenberg of the Winona Daily News. As part of the city’s week-long John Latsch Day celebrations, she is organizing a run at the Guinness Book of World Records record of number of people wearing a bow tie at the same time. The magic number is 850, but organizers hope to have more than 1,000 bow tie-wearing John Latsch fans at Levee Park Saturday afternoon for a group photo.

FX has given the go-ahead to the producers of “Fargo” to start planning a second season. According to a report from TheWrap.com that appeared in the Fargo Forum, executive producer Noah Hawley will set the series in 1979. The new season will take Keith Carradine’s character of Lou Solverson and show him as a 33-year-old newly arrived home from Vietnam. (No word yet on why he’s newly arrived when the Vietnam War ended in 1975, or why he’s 33 when most vets ended their service in their early or mid-20s). None of the actors who appeared in the first season of “Fargo” will return. Like the first season, the show will be shot in Canada. While much of the first-season action was set in Bemidji and Duluth, the second season will be set in Fargo, Luverne and Sioux Falls. While much of the action will occur in winter, Hawley said some of the episodes might feature warmer days. “Believe me, we would do ‘Fargo’ in Honolulu if we could get away with it, but we can't,” he said.

St. Paul's Ford plant site: one year until it's ready for sale

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 3:26pm

Now that St. Paul's Ford plant buildings have been torn down and environmental studies continue on the prime 125-acre site near the Mississippi River, officials expect the marketing of the property to begin in one year.

Ford closed the plant in 2011 after nearly 100 years of production, and demolition of the buildings began last summer.

Mayor Chris Coleman held a media event at the Highland Park site Tuesday and said the city will continue in an active role as Ford begins looking for a master developer.

“Looking ahead, this site will go on the national stage in search of a developer to recast it into a 21st Century Community,” Coleman said. “Ultimately, when the site is complete, it should demonstrate that we can connect people through multiple-forms of transit, that community energy needs can be met on site, and that jobs, people and green space can interact to create a vibrant and livable place to work and live. But we need to help attract the right developer by doing some of the legwork ahead of going to market.”

Over the next year, the city plans for the site include:

  • Zoning Research and Analysis: The city will initiate work to rezone the site to guide future use and design. New zoning for the site must be carefully evaluated by the city, key stakeholders, the real estate community and the public. Public meetings to review zoning priorities for the site will begin in October of this year, with work expected to be completed by early 2016.
  • Jobs and Employment Workgroup: A jobs and employment working group will evaluate potential employment at the site and how to reflect the changing patterns of the 21st Century work force. Partners to help the city identify neighborhood friendly employers include GreaterMSP, Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), and Saint Paul Building and Construction Trades Council.
  • Energy and Sustainability Study: The city will complete an energy and sustainability study, evaluating how renewable energy resources as well as energy efficient technologies can help achieve a site with a minimal energy use profile. The McKnight Foundation provided funding to the city to hire an energy consultant team to evaluate options for renewable, on-site generation. The study will be conducted by Copenhagen-based Ramboll Energy and will serve this site as well as provide findings to inform and inspire other communities. Additional assistance is being provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. The study is expected to be ready by summer 2015.
  • Transportation Planning: Ongoing transportation planning will address a multi-modal approach for residents to move between living, learning, working and recreating in the community. This will include discussions about linking to existing mass transit opportunities, such as bus and light rail, with walkable and bikeable elements. Transportation options will be evaluated in concert with the zoning study and will be coordinated with other transportation planning efforts currently underway, such as the Riverview Corridor study currently underway.
  • Ongoing Public Communications: Regular updates will be provided on a special section of the city’s website, as well as via the city’s Facebook page and Twitter handle. The city also announced a new monthly e-newsletter, Saint Paul’s 21st Century Community, that can help subscribers track progress on the site. The newsletter’s first edition will be in August 2014 and people are invited to subscribe here.

Steve Perry out as editor of Politics in Minnesota after restructuring

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 3:18pm

Steve Perry is no longer editor of Politics in Minnesota, following changes instituted after its parent company's recent bankruptcy proceedings.

Perry, a long-time Twin Cities journalist who previously had worked two stints as City Pages' editor and was editor of the Minnesota Independent, was let go as part of a restructuring, said Steve Jahn, PIM's vice-president and publisher. A reporter position was also dropped.

"We simplified the product line," Jahn said.

Perry had been editor of PIM since fall of 2009.

Dolan Co., the owner of Politics in Minnesota and other publications and professional services, filed for bankruptcy protection in March but emerged less than three months later in June.

Dolan's publications in the Twin Cities market also include Finance and Commerce, Legal Ledger and Minnesota Lawyer.

Minnesota AG sues company operating two for-profit colleges

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 2:58pm

The AP story says, “Minnesota's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against two colleges, accusing the schools of misleading criminal justice students about their ability to land a job in their field and about transferring credits to other institutions.    Attorney General Lori Swanson said Tuesday the Minnesota School of Business and Globe University try to attract prospective students who want to become police officers, but don't offer the educational requirements to become a licensed police officer under Minnesota law.” I would expect a comment from Rep. John Kline.  

Al Franken will not debate at the State Fair. Mike Mulcahy of MPR says, “DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s campaign has declined an MPR News invitation to debate his Republican and Independence Party opponents at the Minnesota State Fair. State Fair debates have been a tradition for MPR for 20 years. … A Franken spokeswoman didn’t give a reason for the decision to decline the invitation.”

We’re No. 5! At MPR Sasha Aslainian says, “An annual report on the well-being of the nation's children again ranks Minnesota among the states that best care for their youngest citizens while offering a worrisome reminder of significant inequality. The KIDS COUNT data book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota ranks Minnesota 5th overall in the nation. But the report found the state also has some of the worst disparities in the country, with nearly half of Minnesota's black children living in poverty.”

And Northfield’s No. 2! Via WCCO-TV: “Northfield, Minnesota, was just named the second best small town in the country, according to newly released rankings. The town, which houses St. Olaf and Carleton colleges, ranked among the best locales ‘that inspire both creativity and activity,’ and which ‘offer unhurried atmospheres, authentic character and characters, cultural gems, fantastic outdoor settings and the uncommon ability to change lifestyles, shift points of view and nourish souls with simple pleasures.’ ” (Los Alamos, New Mexico, was No. 1)

From the AP, we have the closing argument phase of “I’ve Been Defamed!” watch. “Attorney John Borger told jurors that [Jesse] Ventura failed to prove his claim that Kyle made up an account of punching Ventura in a California bar in 2006 after he said Ventura made remarks insulting Navy SEALs. And Borger said Ventura didn't show he suffered financially because of the book.”

For the Strib, Randy Furst says, “[Judge] Kyle said, if they decide that defamation occurred, they then have to determine how large an award the former governor should receive. … He said if they had questions, they should write him a note, ‘and make sure it’s good penmanship.' " Or, you know, just text him.

Speaking of legal cases with legs … Anne Jungen of the LaCrosse Tribune reports, “A Minnesota man imprisoned for life for murdering a father and son at their downtown La Crosse camera store wants a new trial, arguing biased jurors decided his fate. Nine of the 12 jurors who served during Jeffrey Lepsch’s July 2013 trial were prejudiced because they believed he was guilty before they heard the case or found police more credible than other witnesses, according to a motion filed in La Crosse County Circuit Court.”

Here’s MPR’s Paul Huttner on the latest State of the Climate report: “June came in as the hottest June on record globally. That marks two consecutive hottest months on record globally after May also came in as the hottest on record. The recent hot streak now places 2014 as the 3rd warmest year on record globally with the first half of 2014 now  in the books. … Temperatures here are running a good 2 to 4 degrees cooler than average in Minnesota so far this year. In fact,  the Upper Midwest is the coolest place on earth relative to average so far this year. Check out the map from NOAA. While the vast majority of the planet is bathed in red so far in 2014, Minnesota is the epicenter for cool blue hues.”

“The Colbert Bump” goes local: In the Strib Laurie Hertzel says, “A second debut novelist got the ‘Colbert bump’ last night on the ‘The Colbert Report’ — this time it was St. Paul author Stephan Eirik Clark, who teaches at Augsburg College. His novel, ‘Sweetness No. 9’ — which will be published Aug. 19 — was recommended on the show by novelist Edan Lepucki. Overnight, his book shot up from being unlisted on Powell's Books best-seller list, to number three.”

A great outdoorsman … Paul Walsh of the Strib writes, “A longtime big game guide in far northern Minnesota is facing jail time after admitting to years of poaching bears and deer … . Keith R. Slick, 33, of Baudette, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Lake of the Woods County District Court to 90 days in jail for various misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, including: transporting a big game animal, lending/borrowing a bear license, two counts of taking/possessing an over-limit of bear and failing to register a bear.” Nice going, Slick.

Mayor Hodges nominates Spencer Cronk to be Minneapolis City Coordinator

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:04pm
Spencer Cronk

Minneapolis Mayor Betsey Hodges says she wants Spencer Cronk, currently the state's Administration Department Commissioner, to be the new Minneapolis City Coordinator.

Cronk has been state commissioner since 2011 and has been busy lately with the state Capitol renovation, along with other administrative duties.

The nomination must be approved by the City Council; a public hearing will be held before the vote.

Paul Aasen had been the most recent city coordinator under former Mayor R.T. Rybak, but Hodges said after taking office that while Aasen had done good work, she wanted a new face in the job.

Hodges said in a statement today:

“Spencer Cronk is an energetic, collaborative and visionary leader with expertise in running complex organizations in the public and nonprofit sectors. Spencer is also an innovator who has produced strong results in aligning and streamlining services, managing performance and using data creatively. His skills, experience, energy, and broad set of relationships position him well to lead our efforts to continue to run the city well.”

His state commissioner job also includes heading state property, purchasing, fleet, demographic analysis and risk management divisions, which include nearly 500 employees and cover more than $2 billion in state purchasing and $166 million in capital appropriations.

Before coming to the state, he was executive director of Organizational Development and senior advisor for the Department of Small Business Services for New York City, under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program, explained

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:43am

Last week, inside a federal courtroom in St. Paul, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank heard several days of testimony from a team of experts appointed to review how the state administers its Minnesota Sex Offender Program — the subject of a class action lawsuit that has raised numerous questions about the program’s constitutionality.

Specifically, the hearing was called to determine whether one of MSOP’s patients, a 24-year-old offender named Eric Terhaar, should be released from the program. The state is opposing Terhaar’s release, saying he needs a more time in MSOP before reintegrating into society.

Frank is expected to make a ruling within the next few weeks on the fate of Terhaar, a ruling that could pave the way for other MSOP clients to be released. Before that happens, though, here’s what you need to know about Minnesota’s complicated system for treating sex offenders — and why it’s become such a hot button issue:

So what exactly is the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program? The program — often referred to simply as MSOP — opened in Moose Lake in 1995 as a high-security treatment program for sex offenders who are believed to be dangerous or have a “sexual psychopathic personalities.” A typical “client” in the program might show a lack of remorse for their actions or seem likely to reoffend. The treatment is administered by the state Department of Human Services. 

Why are sex offenders in MSOP called “clients”? In short: because they can’t be called prisoners. In fact, most — but not all — people in MSOP have completed prison sentences for sex offenses, and have been sent to MSOP for continued treatment through a process called “civil commitment.”

So what is “civil commitment”? When a sex offender nears the end of their prison sentence in Minnesota, the Department of Corrections puts them through a screening process, referring those who may be appropriate for commitment to county attorneys. County attorneys then determine whether to file a petition for commitment with the district courts, where a judge makes the final call.

What kind of treatment do people receive at MSOP? The program includes three “phases” of treatment for clients. Most of the individuals in the program are in the first phase of treatment, which focuses on adjusting clients to the rules of the program and treatment basics. Only in the second phase of treatment do clients detail their sexual history. The third stage of treatment takes place at another MSOP facility, in St. Peter. Clients are allowed to take supervised excursions into the community. If they do well, the client can petition a special review board to go into a program known as Community Preparation Services (CPS). As the name suggests, CPS is supposed to prepare clients to go back into the community. Clients get certain privileges there, including college-level classes and the ability to move around freely — under supervision — in a facility just outside the razor wire.

How many people are in the program? As of June 30, there were 697 clients receiving treatment in MSOP. That’s a dramatic increase from 2000, when the program only treated about 150 offenders. Today, Minnesota commits more sex offenders per capita than any other state with a similar program.

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Why so many? The large increase in the number of people civilly committed to MSOP can be traced back to a single event: The 2003 abduction and murder of North Dakota college student Dru Sjodin, who was killed by Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a sex offender who had just completed a 23-year prison sentence. Her murder horrified the public and alarmed politicians, who subsequently cracked down on sex offender confinement in Minnesota.

How are offenders released from the program? Treatment in the program is “indefinite,” and MSOP technically does not have authority to let anyone out. Clients must petition the Supreme Court Appeal Panel — commonly called the “SCAP process” — before they can either move to CPS or be discharged from their commitment altogether. As of June 30, 26 clients have successfully petitioned to move into the final phase of treatment, but the panel has never granted anyone permanent release from the program.

Wait, so nobody has ever gotten out of MSOP? Not unconditionally. One person, Clarence Opheim, was provisionally released from the program in 2012, but is still under the state watch in a halfway house. Opheim first went to prison in 1988 for molesting an 11-year-old boy, and later admitted to molesting 29 children.

How much does the program cost taxpayers? The program will cost about $81 million during the 2015 fiscal year. It costs about $120,000 per offender for housing and treatment each year — or about three times what it costs to house the average prison inmate in Minnesota.

Why is everyone talking about this now? MSOP is under intense scrutiny thanks to a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all clients in the program. The suit alleges that MSOP unconstitutionally confines clients receiving treatment — with no hope of ever getting out. In a February ruling, using words like “draconian” and “broken,” Judge Frank raised questions about MSOP's constitutionality and asked legislators to address his concerns during the 2014 session. Legislators failed to come up with a plan to fix the program, so Frank and a four-person panel of experts are reviewing each case of civil commitment in the state. The panel is also putting together a broader report on the program due out at the end of the summer.

Who is Eric Terhaar? Terhaar is likely to be the first person ever fully released from the program, and represents a particularly vexing part of the program: 52 MSOP clients who have never been charged as adults as sex offenders. Terhaar’s offenses — which include the rape of his sister when he was 10 — all occurred before the age of 15. When the expert panel reviewed Terhaar’s case, it recommended him for unconditional release, saying he’s not a danger to the public. They also said people like Terhaar should never have been committed to MSOP alongside serial rapists and child molesters. Not only should the treatment of juvenile offenses be different from an adult’s treatment, they say, but juveniles’ likelihood of re-offending as an adult is much lower. Frank is expected to make a ruling on his case, and that of the only woman locked in MSOP, Rhonda Bailey, in the next few weeks. 

Can’t the Legislature do something to fix the situation? The state Senate passed a bill in 2013 that would have put only the most dangerous offenders in the program, while others would be placed in a less restricted environment. It also established a two-step hearing process that would determine if commitment is needed and, if necessary, the terms of that commitment. But the proposal stalled last session in the state House, where all 134 members are up for re-election this fall. Republicans and Democrats butted heads over a solution, and without buy-in from both parties during at contentious election season, the Democrats who control the House didn’t want to expose themselves to campaign attacks over releasing sex offenders.

Why is the issue so political? It probably goes without saying that sex offenders are a highly stigmatized group, and the release of an offender into a new community — even under intense supervision — brings up issues of public safety. And while it’s up to the Supreme Court Appeal Panel to grant releases to offenders, the Department of Human Services can oppose any release. Because DHS is overseen by a commissioner appointed by the governor, it would be easy to pin any movement of an offender on a political administration. For example, late last year, Republican gubernatorial candidates criticized Gov. Mark Dayton over the proposed transfer of six men from the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter to a less restrictive facility in Cambridge. Those plans were ultimately suspended.

Can a federal judge simply release someone from the program? There’s some disagreement about what power the federal court has to release Terhaar — or any other offender from the program. Dan Gustafson, the attorney representing clients in MSOP, said the court could declare Terhaar’s confinement unconstitutional, which would force the state’s hand in petitioning for his release. Nathan Brennaman, an attorney for the state, however, believes the court only has the authority to grant injunctive relief and call on the state to make system-wide changes to the program.

Could the lawsuit lead to someone dangerous getting out of MSOP? Not likely. As the experts testified in court last week, the people they are looking to release are those that are particularly vulnerable or unlikely to offend. That includes offenders with only no adult criminal history, the elderly (MSOP has clients as old as 92) and developmentally disabled clients who may struggle with treatment.

A new, potentially very serious blow to Obamacare law

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:38am

From the breaking news department:

The federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled that, in states that have declined to set up their own health care exchanges, Americans who have used federal exchanges to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act are not eligible for subsidies.

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It's only one court (although a very influential one) and it was a 2-1 ruling. Obviously this will have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. But, according to the NYTimes coverage, if the ruling holds up it "could cut off financial assistance for more than 4.5 million people who were found eligible for subsidized insurance in the federal exchange, or marketplace."

The liberal ThinkProgress site concentrates its coverage on the Republican origins of the two judges who formed the majority.

Border crisis: What's the plan to meet the needs of these children?

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:36am
Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood

Much of what we see and read from the Left is self-congratulatory and dismissive of legitimate concerns. Often, it’s boiled down into bumper sticker-sized graphics that appear on social media. Consider this one:

Let's give every internet meme a non-sequitur

The border crisis is a crisis for many reasons; the largest reason isn’t that it’s some horrible alien horde or invasion, though. The real reason it's a crisis is much more simple than that. Each one of the people coming across the border is arriving because they have specific needs that must be addressed. And in a lot of cases, they are coming to a place that is going to have a hell of a lot of trouble addressing those needs.

We’re hearing reports that the recent arrivals are getting dumped off in places like Nebraska. Let's think about this for a moment. The majority of these folks are coming from Central America, specifically places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

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Let’s assume that some of the new Nebraskans are from Guatemala, perhaps hailing from the Quiche region, which is west of Guatemala City and near Lake Atitlan. I was in this region many years ago, as a high schol exchange student. I saw what it was like — conditions there are pretty horrible and there's little question that the Guatemalan government, then and now, treated the Quiche Maya quite badly. There would be multiple reasons why children would go, or be sent, to el Norte. So, for the sake of argument, a 14-year-old girl from Quiche arrives. She might look something like this young lady.

The girl in that picture was in Mexico, hoping to get north. Say she gets here and the feds send her to Nebraska, bound for Omaha or Scottsbluff, or some place else. What is her condition upon arrival?

  • She might have the clothes on her back, if that
  • She would not have much of any formal schooling
  • She would not speak English
  • She would not speak Spanish, either; instead, she would speak a Mayan dialect, most likely Kaqchikel
  • The chances of finding someone who could speak to her in her native language in Nebraska is even more remote than the village she comes from
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Supposedly there are sponsors for this young woman. What if there aren't? If you are a social service official in Nebraska, how do you handle the case? Do you expect any help from the federal government? Would you get any? Or would you be on your own?

Suppose she stays, and you should assume she will stay, because there's not much chance she'll be sent back. She needs to go to school and would need to catch up to her peers. She's going to need education, health care, a place to live. For the sake of argument, we'll stipulate that she has a dream. Can she realize it if she's placed somewhere that doesn't have the resources? Can you just place her in an American high school and be done with it? This is going to happen to these children. It already is happening.

I am highly sympathetic to the plight of immigrants generally. I realize that the Know-Nothings didn't want my Bavarian ancestors coming over here in the 1850s, and that my Irish ancestors, who mostly came over a decade or more before that, were told that they need not apply. I am fortunate that I am a 4th/5th generation American, because I have never borne the brunt of prejudice as some of my ancestors did.

Still, it's important to ask if we have a plan for taking care of thousands of people who have nothing. And posting smart-ass internet memes isn't a plan.

This post was written by Mark Heuring and originally published on Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood.

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MPS school-board races: All the usual dynamics are missing

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:11am

In comparison to electoral cycles of the recent past, the 2014 Minneapolis School Board contest has been as cool as this year’s summer. Five seats — the majority on the nine-member board — are up for election, yet the usual dynamics are nowhere to be found.

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It feels like a watershed moment. On the one hand, the emerging community groups that have worked hard in recent years to crack the door open a little could come rushing in and breathe life into these most local of elections.

On the other, the seeming departure of the usual power poles could signal that school board contests will sink further into obscurity, neither drawing dynamic players nor igniting the imaginations of the electorate.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, which in the past had an outsized amount of control over the outcome, appears to have stepped way back. Thus far it has made no endorsements, something that typically would have happened last spring.

Indeed the “labor” candidate on this year’s ticket is backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has a laser-like focus on equity questions.

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A threatened wave of “outside reform” money has not materialized, nor have the candidates who were expected to run on it. Also mostly AWOL: community activists with deep ties to Minneapolis Public Schools who have pondered runs in years past.

Privately, many are blunt as to why not. The last decade has shown that board service chews up and spits out many of those who take it most seriously.

There’s plenty of speculation that organized support will appear after the primary winnows the field. But it’s also possible that this might end up being grassroots politics in its purest form — candidates seeking out and attempting, with a handshake and an elevator speech, to connect with voters.

Some at-large, some geographical

First the basics. The 2012 election completed a shift that added two seats to the board and began electing six members from geographic areas that correspond to Park and Recreation Board districts. The other three are elected in citywide “at-large” contests.

The rationale for tying two-thirds of the seats to geographic districts was to make school board members more accountable to specific pockets of voters. The jury is still out on whether this move was a good idea. Perhaps in the wake of this year’s election a local social scientist will be persuaded to take up the question.

Three of the five seats up for grabs this year are geographically based. In two of them candidates are running unopposed. Incumbent Jenny Arneson faces no challenger in District 1 in northeast Minneapolis. Said Ali is the only candidate in the south-central District 3, which encompasses Seward and Cedar-Riverside, among other neighborhoods.

A former MPS employee, Ali has been a constituent advocate for Sen. Amy Klobuchar. He was born in Somalia, and lived and studied in India for eight years before immigrating to the United States.

In District 5 in south Minneapolis teacher Nelson Inz is running against district advocate and parent Jay Larson. Both men have impressive rosters of supporters.

The remaining two seats are at-large. Incumbent Rebecca Gagnon is vying for a second term; the other seat is being vacated by outgoing Board Chair Richard Mammen.

Gagnon is one of seven candidates for the two seats. The Aug. 12 primary will narrow the field to four hopefuls who will go on to the November general election.

Highest profile: Don Samuels

The highest profile individual in the at-large contest — and possibly in the entire field — is former Council Member Don Samuels. Samuels’ 2013 mayoral candidacy generated a great deal of enthusiasm in education circles.

Before the citywide DFL endorsing convention in May, it was thought he might see board service — a full-time job, done well, with a paycheck only charitably described as a stipend — as a step down. He is married to Northside Achievement Zone President and CEO Sondra Samuels, which means his election would make the Samuels household something of an education power base.

A former SEIU political director, Iris Altamirano has a résumé that includes a stint weeding cotton in Texas as a child, registering voters on St. Paul’s west side and as immigrant-rights organizer. She and Larson have been visible fixtures at education events since the race kicked off in late winter.

Andrew Mink has been described as a “reform” candidate, possibly because he is a former Teach for America corps member. His campaign is not garnering the support among education policy advocates as the last supposed reformer, Josh Reimnitz, who has turned out to be anything but a firebrand.

The other three candidates in the at-large race are Doug Mann, Ira Jourdain and Soren Christian Sorensen. All three have relatively low public profiles. Mann has run for the board numerous times. Sorenson ran for a City Council seat in 2009. Jordain has long experience in social services.

In the past “down ballot” races such as school board, an endorsement from a local union – the L in DFL – was everything. Arneson, Ali, Inz, Gagnon and Altamirano have the DFL endorsement.

A generation ago both Minneapolis and St. Paul had political committees that vetted school board candidates. At least in Minneapolis, the members of this committee were DFLers. The notion was that good school board service requires a certain level of expertise that typically isn't asked of candidates running in races so far down the ballot.

Will citizens step up?

And so a really good question is: Will the citizenry step up to fill the void? Candidate forums so far this year have been very sparsely attended.

The bottom line is that if you care about the city schools you really ought to stop what you’re doing right now and put the next and last candidate forum on your calendar. At-large candidates — and will get to who that is momentarily — will talk about their positions on Wednesday, Aug. 6, at the Capri Theater at 2027 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis. Doors open at 6:00 p.m.; the forum begins at 6:30.

Child care and dinner will be provided, along with a school supply giveaway, but you must RSVP in advance.

Ballot optical scanner photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes and used under Creative Commons license.

Dayton calls for early release of 2015 MNsure rates, by Oct. 1 if possible

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 9:58am

Gov. Mark Dayton has asked the MNsure board to make all efforts to release the 2015 health insurance rates by Oct. 1, so families and businesses will have more time to make decisions on which plans to consider.

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The governor, though, said there are still some hoops to go through before that is possible, because of the state privacy laws.

Critics of MNsure and the Affordable Care Act have been calling for early release of the coming year's rates, because they believe they will be higher than this year. They wanted the information made public before Nov. 4, when Dayton is running for re-election.

And on Monday, Dayton had said release of the rate information before the election could be a problem:

"I think they are going to be so badly distorted for political purposes that I don't think they will shed any light for consumers," Dayton said, according to the Star Tribune. "I don't think it is going to shed any light on it. It is going to add a lot of heat to the lambasting that goes on."

But in a letter today to the MNsure Oversight Committee members, Dayton said:

If all the plans agree, the rate information will be made public around October 1, 2014 — 45 days before open enrollment begins. Last year, this same information was made public 25 days before open enrollment began.

"Making the rate information public before open enrollment begins would provide families and businesses additional time and information to help them make informed decisions regarding their health coverage options in 2015.

Under the process, the health insurance firms have already submitted initial proposed rates for 2015, which must now be formally reviewed.

After final rates are set, the state has to get consent from the health plans to transmit the data, still considered non-public at that point, to MNsure. Then the information will be formatted for use on MNsure's website, which was plagued with problems last year.

The governor said the Oct. 1 date could be changed, "if unforeseen complications develop."

He said the Commerce Commission must review the rates "to ensure Minnesotans continue to benefit from the lowest possible rates with each of the plans."

Complexity dogs mileage-fee concept

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 9:41am

It seemed like such a simple, smart idea at first. With fuel taxes paralyzed over decades of inflation, cars going farther on each gallon of gasoline (or none at all) and roads and bridges still deteriorating under traffic's wear and tear, why not switch user funding for this vital infrastructure from a levy at the pump to one based on miles driven?

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Proponents argued that it would be fair, adaptable to future automotive technologies and able to support other policy objectives such as reducing congestion, pollution and accidents. Pilot testing began in 2006 in Oregon, not coincidentally the first state to implement a user-pays principle for driving by assessing a gas tax back in 1919. After more trials, Oregon plans to roll out a live mileage fee system for up to 5,000 motorists next July.

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Minnesota authorized its own $5 million study of mileage fees in 2007 at the recommendation of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who opposed raising fuel taxes. Difficulties immediately surfaced as a first attempt at scoping the research was rejected and a second finally approved. Testing with 478 volunteer drivers from Wright County began in 2011 but was soon interrupted by a state government shutdown brought on by Minnesota's first Legislature fully controlled by conservatives in 40 years.

'Real world deployment'

The Minnesota Road Fee Test quietly wrapped up last year and now is gathering dust. Findings were mixed, some positive, some discouraging, but most of all the study pointed up the danged complexity of the whole concept. Here's the evaluation report's  list of "some of the activities expected to be present in a real world deployment" of mileage fees:

  • Scheduling appointments.
  • Capturing vehicle mileage.
  • Process user agreements.
  • Installing equipment.
  • Training drivers.
  • Preparing equipment kits.
  • Uninstalling equipment.
  • Processing on-site payment.
  • Receiving and documenting a service request.
  • Providing guidance for a known technical issue.
  • Providing guidance for a new technical issue.
  • Escalating issue to a specialist.
  • Generating and mailing paper invoices.
  • Processing payments received.
  • Managing late payments.
  • Developing and testing the application.
  • Developing operational procedures.
  • Establishing fees.
  • Managing data.
  • Managing hardware and software.
  • Developing messages to drivers.
  • Developing training materials.
  • Developing and maintaining a participant portal.
  • Coordinating across organizations.

Holy Moly, Rocky! That's a lollapalooza of flies in the ointment. And it doesn't even include actual problems uncovered by the test, including "hardware or software issues [that] hindered the system's ability to reliably capture trips" and the preference of 48 percent of participants polled afterward just to keep paying the fuel tax versus 37 percent who liked the newfangled plan and 15 percent who were too mystified by the entire exercise to offer an opinion.

Concerns about misuse of data

Using smartphone GPS technology, the system tracked 500,000 trips covering 4 million miles with 660 million data points. Interestingly, privacy, a hot issue in the wider mileage fee debate, wasn't a big concern for the self-selected participants. They believe "that they give up their privacy regularly (e.g., to mobile phone service providers). Instead, participants worried that their data would be vulnerable to access by wrongdoers (e.g., 'hackers') who would seek to misuse the information," the report noted.

And that ought to be a worry for any state that tries to rely on automated mileage tracking to assess user fees for roads, although I've not seen it addressed in reports from testing in Minnesota or Oregon. Even without any high-tech looting, more than 4 percent of the mileage bills sent to the Minnesota test participants — who got stipends for their service and reimbursement of state fuel taxes — went unpaid.

Another cash drain is the basic cost of collecting mileage fees, estimated at four times that for the old-fashioned way at the pump. University of Minnesota Prof. Zhirong Zhao, who made that estimate three years ago, added that improved technology could bring it down to just three times as much. I wonder. The Minnesota test went through eight software versions and three generations of hardware upgrades, boosting help line calls from participants — 175 or fewer of them active at any one time — to 4½ a day.

On top of all that, "challenges exist with the ability to collect fees from out-of-state drivers," the Minnesota report acknowledges.

To be sure, you can do some neat things with a GPS-powered mileage fee system. Fees can be tailored to peak congestion times and locations or to vehicle weights and emissions. One add-on in the Minnesota test was speed safety alerts transmitted to drivers both visually and audibly when they got too heavy on the gas pedal. The audible alerts worked best, researchers found, with average speed reductions of up to 9 miles per hour. 

Simplicity of current fuel tax noted

However, the report notes that "it may be wise to phase these elements in later, so as to not complicate the public acceptance issue." And complexity may be the biggest hurdle of all. Test participants who still preferred the fuel tax often cited its simplicity. "The current fuel tax requires very little thought and ... no work on the part of the driver," the report notes, stating the obvious.

Even overcoming technical difficulties, drivers' laziness, privacy concerns, system hackers and high costs won't push mileage fees into the end zone, though. Although a 25-member Minnesota policy task force issued several encouraging recommendations along with a call for further study, a minority report from three participants said the majority overstated the benefits of mileage fees, understated their shortcomings and made no compelling case for "wholesale changes" in the transportation funding structure, "which can in fact continue to serve the state well, probably for decades to come."

The dissenters represented important interest groups in any transportation policy discussion: the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Trucking Association and a rural county board. They said the equity problem with hybrid and electric vehicles can be solved with increased annual registration fees and motor vehicle sales taxes. 

Sounds simple to me. The hard part is, and will be, mustering the political will to keep those fuel taxes on the majority of motor vehicles in line with growing costs. And that's one problem even a technically perfect mileage fee system can't solve.

Conrad deFiebre is a Transportation Fellow at Minnesota 2020, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank based in St. Paul. This commentary originally appeared on its website.

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Pre-diabetes diagnosis has little value, say two experts

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 9:13am

Millions of people are being needlessly diagnosed with “pre-diabetes,” putting them at risk of receiving “unnecessary” medical treatment and creating “unsustainable burdens” for health care systems, according to a commentary published last week in the journal BMJ.

Written by Dr. Victor Montori, an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Dr. John Yudkin, an emeritus professor of medicine at University College London, the commentary describes the dubious origins of the “pre-diabetes” label and its unreliable role as a predictor of who will go on to develop diabetes.

“Pre-diabetes is an artificial category with virtually zero clinical relevance,” says Yudkin in a press statement released with the commentary. “There is no proven benefit of giving diabetes treatment drugs to people in this category before they develop diabetes, particularly since many of them would not go on to develop diabetes anyway.”

“Rather than turning healthy people into patients with pre-diabetes, we should use available resources to change the food, education, health, and economic policies that have driven [the obesity and diabetes] epidemic,” he and Montori write in their commentary.

Yet the “pre-diabetes” label has been attached to one-third of adults in the United States — and half of those living in China.

Changing the terms

As Yudkin and Montori point out, “pre-diabetes” is an umbrella term created in recent years to describe blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but below those that define diabetes.

The term was coined by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and is widely used in the United States and in global scientific literature. The World Health Organization, however, discourages its use, and urges the medical community to “move away from describing ‘pre-diabetes’ as a separate condition” — a position also shared by  the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Until the late 1990s, this intermediate category was known as “impaired glucose tolerance.” But testing required a long and laborious process for patients, and the results weren’t always reliable. About 30 percent of people diagnosed with impaired glucose tolerance had normal results when they were re-tested.

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In 1999, WHO officials altered the diagnostic criterion for diabetes to a fasting blood glucose level greater than or equal to 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The intermediate category was renamed “impaired fasting glucose” and defined as a fasting blood glucose level of 110-125 mg/dL.

This new test did away with the onerous glucose challenge test. But, in 2003, the ADA, acting on advice from its own expert committee, lowered the intermediate-level threshold to 100 mg/dL. That unilateral action raised concern among public health officials at WHO and elsewhere, who noted that the expanded category roughly doubled the number of people with impaired fasting glucose.

In 2009, a third test was developed. It measures how much of a blood protein called hemoglobin A1c is coated (or glycated) with sugar. The experts at WHO determined that people with levels of A1c greater than 6.5 percent could be diagnosed with diabetes. They also put the threshold for the intermediate category at 6.0 percent.

But a year later, the ADA reduced that threshold to 5.7 percent, “a decision not endorsed by any other group,” note Montori and Yudkin.

Half of all adults in China

What difference do those changes by the ADA make? Their lower thresholds mean that two to three times more people are being told they have impaired blood sugar metabolism — or “pre-diabetes.”

According to recent studies, under the ADA criteria, half of all adults in China would be diagnosed with “pre-diabetes.” That’s half a billion people in that country alone.

Here in the United States, the ADA criteria means that 35 percent of adults aged 20 and older — 50 percent of adults aged 65 or older — have pre-diabetes. That's about 86 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not predictive

But, as Montori and Yudkin explain in depth in their commentary, a pre-diabetes diagnosis offers little value. To begin with, research has shown that half of people identified with “impaired glucose tolerance” and about two-thirds of people identified with “impaired fasting glucose” will not have diabetes 10 years later. And there’s been no evidence to date that borderline A1c levels are any better at predicting who will and who won’t go on to develop diabetes.

Furthermore, treating people with “pre-diabetes” with either lifestyle interventions or drugs has been found, at best, to delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by only a few years rather than prevent it.

“The ADA recommends treating pre-diabetes with metformin, but the majority of people would receive absolutely no benefit,” says Yudkin in the press statement. “There are significant financial, social and emotional costs involved with labeling and treating people in this way. And a range of newer and more expensive drugs are being explored as treatments for ‘pre-diabetes.’ The main beneficiaries of such recommendations would be the drug manufacturers, whose available market suddenly leaps to include significant swathes of the population. This is particularly true in emerging economies such as China and India, where regulating the healthcare market is a significant challenge.”

“Healthy diet and physical activity remain the best ways to prevent and to tackle diabetes,” adds Montori in the press statement. “Unlike drugs, they are associated with incredibly positive effects in other aspects of life. We need to keep making efforts to increase the overall health of the population, by measures involving public policy rather than by labeling large sub-sections of the population as having an illness. This is not a problem to be solved at the bedside or in the doctor’s surgery, but rather by communities committed to the health of their citizens.”

You can read the commentary on the BMJ website. The commentary is part of an ongoing BMJ series on how the expanding definitions of disease and the increasing use of new diagnostic technologies are leading to overdiagnosis.

Strong stock market drives Minnesota public-pension-fund gains of 18.6% in fiscal year

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 9:06am

Minnesota's three big public pension systems showed gains of 18.6 percent for the fiscal year ending June 30, and now have assets of $49.2 billion.

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That's from the preliminary report that shows the investment returns from the State Board of Investment, which manages funds for the systems: the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), and the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA).

The annual gains report comes on the heels of a critical report last week from the Center of the American Experiment, which said major changes are needed to fully fund the pension systems, including switching new state employees to defined contribution plans, or 401ks plans.

The pension funds responded that unfunded liabilities in the plans have been dropping and they are making good progress in fulling funding the plans.

The preliminary fiscal year numbers, which must still be audited, show the three funds assets grew by $6.1 billion, officials said.

Pension reform legislation in recent years has added to the improvement in the funds' results; so has the stock market surge.

“Some public pension critics assert that state and local governments inflate investment return expectations to make them seem better funded than they are,” said Laurie Hacking, executive director of TRA. “Minnesota’s investments have far outperformed our 8.5 percent long-term target for the past 30 years."

Rapid pace of changing climate gets special emphasis in new status report

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 8:37am

The climate is changing more rapidly in today's world than at any time in modern civilization. ... If we look at it like we're trying to maintain an ideal weight, then we're continuing to see ourselves put more weight on from year to year.

Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as quoted in The Christian Science Monitor on Monday.

The "State of the Climate in 2013" report came out at the end of last week, offering a selection of global-warming superlatives of the most troubling kind for last year:

  • Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, whose records go back to 1958. (Yes, that's the greenhouse-gas measure from which the climate advocacy group 350.org derived its name, in reference to the level that many scientists have set as the maximum that a livable planet Earth can sustain).
  • Sea surface temperatures in the North Pacific were the warmest on record, in the absence so far of El Niño/La Niña influences.
  • Record high temperatures were recorded at 20-meter depths in the Arctic permafrost of Alaska.
  • Australia recorded its warmest year ever.

And though these measures mark extremities, they are not aberrations so much as notable examples of overall, continuing — and worsening — trends in the climate systems of a warming world, as documented in State of the Climate in 2013:

  • Depending on which of four international data sets is used, 2013 ranks as either the second warmest year record or the sixth, with the global average temperature somewhere between 0.2 and 0.21 degrees C. (o.36 to 0.38 F) above the average for the period 1981 to 2010.
  • Australia's hottest-ever year also saw Argentina record its second-warmest, and New Zealand its third-warmest. A weather station at the South Pole recorded its warmest temperature in a record going back to 1957.
  • Atmospheric CO2 went up 2.8 ppm to a global average of 395.3 for the year; in the Arctic, the 400 ppm mark was passed in the spring of 2012.
  • Arctic sea ice extent was the sixth lowest since observations began 25 years ago; all seven of the lowest measures of sea-ice extent have occurred in the last seven years; overall, the Arctic recorded its seventh-warmest year since the early 1900s.

One record-setting aberration also worth noting: Though 2013 was only slightly above normal in its number of tropical cyclones, Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia in November, generated the highest sustained wind speeds ever attributed to such storms — 196 miles per hour.

24-year, peer-reviewed series

"State of the Climate in 2013," the 24th report in an annual series, draws on the work of 425 scientists in 57 countries; their findings are published as a peer-reviewed paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. (The full 262-page report can be downloaded here.)

The observations by data center director Tom Karl that appear at the top of this piece have been quoted widely in coverage of the new report, and I think there's good reason for that.

This report marshals considerable evidence in support of the notion that the pace of climate change is not always or necessarily slow, although it can seem so when you read about projections of greenhouse-gas concentrations and temperature trends stretching out for decades, a century, or even longer.

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At the same time, Karl has touched on the great disconnect between our knowledge of the problem and its causes, and our willingness to take serious and concerted action to change course. When it comes to fossil-fueled global warming we are, metaphorically speaking, a community of morbidly obese people who understand exactly where our excess pounds came from, and  precisely what we need to do to take them off, and yet we think and talk and commiserate about all this at great length as we cut ourselves additional slices of banana cream pie.

Conservatism of science

Just before State of the Climate in 2013 came out, there was a National Research Council report that focused on the rapidity of warming trends in the Arctic and a process called "arctic amplification," which is driving a warming trend at twice the pace of the overall global trend.

National Climactic Data CenterGlobal surface temperatures of 2013 in terms of their departure from an average computed for the period 1981-2010; the region of central North America including Minnesota was actually cooler than average.

This got the attention of Bruce Melton, who writes about global warming at Truthout and elsewhere, and he made a point that I think is interesting to consider in the context of State of the Climate in 2013 and its distinguishing emphasis on the rapidity of change.

Melton argues that  the various forms of scientific consensus on global warming — the touchstones that serious-minded, concerned people are perpetually defending from assault by the braying denialist claques — are in fact conservative assessments that almost certainly understate the pace and impacts of global warming. Excerpts, lightly compressed:

Science is a conservative industry that classically understates fact. If a scientist is wrong in his or her published findings, the scholarly journals will think twice about publishing that scientist's work again. Science therefore systematically understates evidence.

The consensus process, like that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is even more conservative (underestimating) in their statements because of the large number of individual scientists who must agree on the consensus position.

Scientists are specialists. Almost all of them specialize in minute sectors of science as a whole. For large numbers of climate scientists to agree on a statement, they must be familiar with the leading edge of science that that statement discusses. In the highly compartmentalized world of research science, details of all disciplines are seldom understood by all. The consensus opinion is therefore constantly behind the leading edge of science. With a rapidly changing climate, this can be a problem.

In our old climate, we sort-of knew how it behaved. We had decades and even centuries of records to use to project changes into the future. But all of this historical data may be of much less use in the future as the baseline physics have now changed. Even more critical, the short term is now very important as tipping points may appear at any time.

Another interesting take turned up over at climatecentral.org, where Brian Kahn focused on State of the Climate in 2013's findings about rapid warming trends in surface sea temperatures, and on the implications for the next El Niño event.

With 2014 halfway over, there are no signs that the globe’s hot streak is ending. Data through May shows that this has been the planet’s fifth-warmest start to the year on record. Jessica Blunden, a scientist who works with  the National Climate Data Center, said that preliminary data show that June’s ocean temperatures were the hottest on record, a sign that 2014 is  on track to be one of the hottest years recorded.

Another factor tipping the scales in that direction is the impending El Niño, a climate phenomenon that usually boosts global temperatures. Other indicators like greenhouse gas emissions, Arctic sea ice and deep ocean heat are also likely to keep following suit.

A week earlier, Kahn's Climate Central colleague Andrea Thompson had this to say about the next Niño:

The latest update from the Climate Prediction Center, issued Thursday, finds that conditions still aren’t quite in place to declare a full-blown El Niño, though forecasters still expect one to emerge by the fall. If and when it does, it is expected to impact weather and climate across the world and could push 2014 or 2015 to be the hottest year on record.

While the atmospheric characteristics that indicate an El Niño have been evident intermittently, they have yet to firmly take hold. Ocean surface temperatures have also fluctuated, though there is still considerable heat below the surface to fuel an El Niño, said Michelle L’Heureux, a CPC meteorologist who helps put together the monthly outlooks.

The update, issued in conjunction with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, kept the chances of an El Niño being in place by later this summer and by fall to early winter at about the same as last month, 70 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

* * *

Bonus link: State of the Climate in 2013 offers an interactive map of extreme weather events and anomalies of the past three years, clickable by location and searchable by type and year, with attributions to El Niño/La Niña patterns where appropriate.

How ARTshare took shape: a Q&A with Damon Runnals

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 8:15am

The news broke last week about ARTshare, the Southern Theater’s new plan to bring the performing arts back to the historic theater, which suffered a financial crisis in 2011 that forced the layoffs of all but one employee and turned it from a presenter into a rental. That employee was Damon Runnals, now executive director, who has been working ever since to reboot a venue that has been part of the Twin Cities scene for more than a century.

ARTshare in a nutshell: The Southern will have 15 resident companies, all small theater and dance groups. Each will give 10 performances a year, in repertory, at the 200-seat theater beginning in January 2015. Starting today at 2 p.m., memberships will be sold to the public for $18/month, with a cap of 2,100 members, who can attend as many performances each month as they want. Each resident company will receive $11,000 per year from the Southern, with residencies lasting three years. They will pay production costs but no rental costs.

In a conversation Friday, Runnals took us behind the scenes of how ARTshare took shape, what he hopes to accomplish and how he made it through his darkest hour.

MinnPost: After more than three years, the performing arts are returning to the Southern. Congratulations.

Damon Runnals: Thank you very much. The response has been phenomenal. For a long time, in working on the program with some of the companies and my board, we all thought it was great, but we didn’t know what the response would be.

MP: Will you still rent the Southern at other times to other groups?

DR: Not really. The Momentum series will be happening here in 2015, and the Twin Cities Horror Festival, and that leaves almost no time for rentals. We have a couple of little things we’re going to try and slot in, but ultimately, renting out the Southern will not be an option in the future, certainly not in 2015. We’re not sure exactly where we’ll be in 2016. The schedule may change. The program may alter slightly.

MP: You’re a little like the Ordway, with several arts organizations sharing the same space. For a time before the Ordway’s Arts Partnership was formed, they had problems getting along. How will you handle conflicts that arise among your resident companies?

DR: We’ve tried to anticipate as many of the challenges as we can up front. We’ll be adding a staff member who will act as production director. That person will be the voice of the Southern in the space, and will help to mediate any challenges that companies working in repertory might run into. That’s one way we’re hopefully going to head off any major issues.

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I spent four years working in repertory at the Theatre at Monmouth in Maine, so I’m very familiar with how repertory can work well, and with some of the processes that need to be in place. Over the next six months, we’ll be holding meetings with the resident companies to talk and share best practices.

We’ll run into challenges, no doubt. But I think there’s been a real camaraderie amongst all the companies to make this work, and I think everybody is coming at it with a sense of patience that will lend itself to not jumping to conclusions and not trying to take an “it’s my show” attitude.

The values of collaboration and shared space have been baked into the program, and for lack of a better term, they’ve been hammered into the heads of the resident companies – that we’re either all going to succeed or we’re all going to fail, so the choices you make around this program affect everybody, and we need to constantly be vigilant on that front.

MP: Where did the idea for ARTshare come from? How did it happen?

DR: I had an idea in late 2009 or early 2010 to create a citywide program that was essentially Netflix Theater. I honestly cannot tell you where that spark came from, but I looked around and thought, “We have so many performing arts, why can’t I just pay a flat fee every month and see anything I want? That should exist. That should be here.”

I brought in a couple of folks – Noah Bremer and Joanna Harmon from Live Action Set – and a couple of other artists I work with, and we sat around in my living room and brainstormed how this could work. We talked about some of the benefits, we talked about some of the challenges, and at the end we all said, “Awesome idea, but a citywide program is just too big.”

I shelved that idea in early 2010, and then found myself a year and a half later in charge of the Southern, and when we started having conversations amongst the board of where we needed to go, knowing that the rental model was always going to be a short-term fix, I ended up pulling this idea back off the shelf and going, “Wait a minute – here’s a thought I had a couple years ago. We’ve got a space. We don’t make any art ourselves. We serve a bunch of groups that really need a space. What if we tried to figure out a way to make this work?”

Certain members of the board really liked the idea. Others were very skeptical. In September/October of 2011, it became a serious conversation at the Southern. At that point, I started taking it to colleagues who also run theater companies or dance companies, and saying, “Hey, what if this existed? What do you think?” Hours of conversation and input later, we got something on paper and started developing it. That was version #1. It went through three big versions before getting to the current iteration.

MP: So it took quite a while to develop.

DR: Yes. It’s been a two-and-a-half-year process. A solid two years have been very much behind the scenes. I would say that late fall/early winter of last year was when people started talking about it, and we started hearing the rumor and speculation going around. But we never officially announced it until this week.

MP: You’ve really created this model. You didn’t have anyplace in Los Angeles or New York or Chicago that you looked to, that had done this before you.

DR: I found out after I started brainstorming with some of the groups that Theater Wit in Chicago had started a similar model. And a theater in Portland or Seattle, I don’t remember exactly where, also has a membership model. But both of those organizations are producing organizations as well, like Park Square or the Jungle …

The Southern becomes unique in that we don’t make anything. We have always been a co-presentation facility. Where this model started to take shape was [when we asked], “How do we, like Northern Spark, become a platform for artists instead of absorbing a bunch of resources and becoming an institution?” There’s a lot to be said for traditional [institutions] – the Guthrie, the Cowles and the Walker are all fantastic organizations, but they have the resources to [do what they do]. The Southern is not in that position …

We are keeping a very flat, horizontal process. It’s much more like a co-op in operation, even though the resident companies do not own a piece of the program. They’ve had a large say and they will continue to have a large say in how we operate.

The Southern will not be adding tons of staff or resources. My goal is to think about an ecosystem and partnerships, and that’s why we’re working with TicketWorks as our front-of-house vendor. It’s why we’re working with Arts ink as our marketing and PR team. That keeps the Southern in position to be flexible, because … weathering events like [the 2008 recession] requires a vast amount of flexibility and adaptability, especially when you’re small. I’m terrified of creating too much permanent infrastructure in the face of the fact that things are constantly changing nowadays.

MP: How were the resident companies chosen?

DR: A lot of them came from my own personal network – people I’d worked with before who I felt were in a position to take a risk, as this program certainly is, and who maybe had reached a point in their business organizational career where they had hit a glass ceiling. Many of these groups can’t qualify for larger funding because they’re not big enough yet, but they can’t get bigger without some kind of investment. Almost all of them live project-to-project, and I wanted to help change that dynamic.

We thought about a mix of the groups that we’ve served in the past – movement, dance, theater, student work – and having a diverse representation. Main Street School of Performing Arts and Blue Water Theatre Company are both student groups. The last group that came on was the Independent Movement Group. Four independent choreographers … will be working together as a group.

MP: Did they all have to keep this under wraps until a certain time?

DR: Officially, yes, but we encouraged them to talk to people about it. We just asked that nothing go in writing or in digital form until we gave the OK.

MP: Will BALLS Cabaret continue on Saturday nights?

DR: Of course.

MP: Are you still the sole employee?

DR: Yes. We will add for sure one person in the production department next year. We are hoping, if we get to 2,100 members before January first, that we can add an additional part-time person to support my position.

MP: You’ve been holding down the fort for a long time. What was your darkest hour?

DR: In all honesty, my darkest hour was in mid-April [2011], after the $400,000 ask went out [the Southern announced that it needed to raise $400,000 by April 30 or close] and before we knew what we were going to do. I was thoroughly convinced that I wanted to be laid off like the rest of the staff and just be done with it – be done with the drama, be done with the challenge. I had already been there for three years, and there was constant talk about how we didn’t have any money, constant talk about furloughs, and I was exhausted.

I was going through the J.P. Shannon Leadership Institute program at the time, and I was coming home from our Thursday night session, and I had this revelation. I thought to myself, “If you can put a plan together to lay everyone off, which is going to happen anyway, but you stay on and run the theater and somehow get it out of debt, you essentially get a theater. You get a whole clean slate to work with. You get a really beautiful, amazing, historical, magical, spiritual place, and you get to be the steward.”

And I got home and told my wife I didn’t want to be laid off anymore. She was very happy, because we had just bought a house a month before and we were terrified of what was going to happen, and she said, “Go for it. Quick, give them a plan!”

It’s been three years since that moment. In April, I hit that three-year mark, and July 1 of 2011 is when I officially started with no staff left. Since then I’ve had challenges, but I’ve always felt we were going to re-emerge. I was confident that we were going to find a way to take care of our debts, work with McKnight to find a resolution, and then we were going to come back with a vengeance.

It’s been an uphill battle, but I could not have done it without the performing arts community. I couldn’t have done it without these companies that have helped us build this program.

Most people don’t realize it, but the Southern has existed for three years on 80 percent of its budget through rental money, 20 percent through individual contributions of less than $3,000, and zero grants and zero foundation dollars. So every artist that booked the Southern in the last three years kept us open. This community has chosen to keep the Southern around.

****

ARTshare memberships will go on sale at 2 p.m. today on the Southern’s website and in person at the Town Hall Brewery. Members will be asked to make a 12-month commitment of $18/month. 

After a rocky start, St. Cloud got its baseball team

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 8:13am

The St. Cloud Rox—a Northern League baseball team—fielded a successful franchise from 1946 until 1971, showcasing the passion for baseball in Stearns County.

A group of local businessmen led by Frank Murphy formed the St. Cloud Baseball Association in 1945 to bring minor league baseball to St. Cloud. Murphy was president of the Coca-Cola Bottling Works in St. Cloud and a member of many local organizations. Amateur baseball was popular in Stearns County, which had developed a reputation for fielding strong teams and skilled players. As a result, St. Cloud was the perfect place for a minor league team.

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The Association sold stock and commercial advertising to finance the team. It also united the business community behind the team. The St. Cloud Daily Times held a naming competition. "Rox" was the most popular suggestion. Murphy then gathered uniforms and equipment, but still had no players. The Rox finally obtained them through a working agreement with the Minneapolis Millers. Local baseball talent provided supplementary players. This meant the Millers would send players to the Rox for development and training.

Despite an uncertain beginning, the first Rox team was very successful, winning the 1946 Northern League title. The Northern League, a Class C baseball league, was composed of teams from the Upper Midwest and Canada. The Rox were part of the farm team system, with Major League parent clubs sending young players to Minor League teams for seasoning. The Rox became a Minor League affiliate of the San Francisco Giants in 1947. At different times, the Rox fielded players for the New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Minnesota Twins.

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In their twenty-five-year history, the Rox won eight regular season Northern League titles and two playoff titles. The team was one of the more successful franchises in the league. Sixty-one Rox members reached the major leagues after playing in St. Cloud, including Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, and Gaylord Perry.

St. Cloud citizens supported the team by providing housing for the players and attending games. The 1948 season saw a record attendance of 66,389. Fans continued to come out and support their team in the following years, but never to the same level as the 1948 season. The Rox played their home games at Municipal Stadium, located at 29th Avenue and Division Street in St. Cloud. The Association launched each season with a parade and banquet to welcome new players to St. Cloud. The Rox also inspired business-sponsored fan clubs like the Knot-hole Gang.

The St. Cloud Rox folded in 1971, along with the rest of the Northern League, after the number of teams fell to just four.

In 1997, the St. Cloud River Bats began play in the Northwoods League, comprised of towns in the Upper Midwest. The Northwoods League features primarily college and amateur players. In 2012, the River Bats changed their name to the Rox to bring back memories of the golden years of baseball in St. Cloud.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

Is the Tea Party changing its tune on Mike McFadden?

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 8:12am

The Minnesota Tea Party Alliance is warming to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden. Or at the very least, its leaders are no longer actively opposing him, as they did during the GOP endorsement process.

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Some history: After McFadden appeared at a Tea Party event in May, Jake Dusenberg, executive director of the Tea Party Alliance, took to Facebook to warn his followers: “Folks, Mike McFadden is bad news. He has dodged the tea party and conservative base. He's flip-flopped on multiple issues. And he is the establishment's choice for the Senate.” 

But in a recent email fundraising message, Tea Party Alliance president Jack Rogers opened the door (a crack) with regard to supporting McFadden. The email asks for contributions to defeat incumbent Democrat Al Franken, labeling him, “a radical 60s-style liberal.”  

Does that mean that Rogers, who supported Chris Dahlberg for the GOP endorsement and was openly dismissive of McFadden during the state Republican convention in May, has changed his mind?

“I am not for or against Michael,” he said. “But I don’t know what he stands for — or his principles — and that makes it hard for me to make a personal decision.”  

Rogers then added, “Let me make it perfectly clear: There are three men running for that office [in the primary]. Whichever one wins is the one I’m going to support and help to victory in November.”

GOP-endorsed candidate McFadden is facing state representative Jim Abeler and St. Paul teacher David Carlson in the August 12 primary. 

Rogers said the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance will not weigh in on the Senate race until after the primary. “The primary battle for the Senate is less important for us than the gubernatorial,” he said.  In that race, the Tea Party is backing endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson.  “One thing – Johnson is abiding by endorsement,” Rogers said.  “That’s the fine line of difference with McFadden.”

The MN Tea Party PAC reports just over $1,000 in cash on hand as of the end of May.  But money isn’t everything, Rogers points out.  

“We have no big money,” he said, though the group does boast an active membership of 4,500 statewide, most of them active in social media, and Rogers said he believes Tea Party support will make a critical difference in both the Senate and governor’s races.

Kluwe pushes Vikings to release full report on Priefer

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 6:00am

Chris Kluwe is proving himself an unrelenting force in his fight with the Vikings. Ben Goessling at ESPN writes, “He started a petition on Change.org, asking the Vikings to release the full 150-page report to the public. The team engaged another law firm to review the full report last week and released a 29-page summary of the investigation on Friday evening. In an interview on Saturday, however, Kluwe said the report contained inaccuracies about Priefer's conduct and called again for the Vikings to release the complete report. As of Monday afternoon, his petition had received about 900 digital signatures.”

What were the chances the Archdiocese was going to prevail on this one? Madeleine Baran at MPR reports, “A Ramsey County judge decided Monday to allow a clergy abuse lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona to go forward on claims of negligence. However, Judge John Van de North said he needed more information before he decided whether a claim that the church created a public nuisance should also go forward to a jury.”

Oh yeah, like that sounds good. Kim Ode of the Strib writes, “Banana Cream Pie. Turkey Stuffing and Gravy. S’mores. Clam and Bacon. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Want to hear more bratwurst flavors? Blueberry Cheddar. Peach Mango. Caramel Apple. Crab and Butter. We could go on. Whiskey Peppercorn. Sour Cream and Onion. Chili Cheese Jalapeño. OK, that’s 12, leaving 98 other brat flavors at Grundhofer’s Old-Fashion Meats in Hugo. Unless they’re sold out, which can happen when it comes to the bestselling brat in the joint, the one made with Gummi Bears.” My grandma would be appalled.

More good publicity for a local sports team: Berkeley Brean of WHEC-TV in Rochester, New York reports, “A new development in the ongoing federal gambling investigation in Rochester. A law enforcement source tells News10NBC that former [Rochester Americans] and Buffalo Sabres star Thomas Vanek is connected to the investigation tied to the Marina Restaurant and Bar in Charlotte. … Let's be clear: Thomas Vanek is not charged with any crime and he voluntarily came to the federal court building with his lawyer. But our law enforcement sources say he's connected to that gambling investigation.” Which kinda sound criminal, doesn't it?

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Isn’t this the description for pretty much every development? Frederick Melo of the PiPress writes, “Ford Motor Co.'s former Twin Cities Assembly Plant in Highland Park will become a livable ‘21st century community’ hosting a mix of homes, recreation and employment. That's the vision from the St. Paul mayor's office, which hopes to turn the nearly 150-acre river bluff campus into a model for urban redevelopment.”

The perils of campaigning? Bill Salisbury of the PiPress says, “Jeff Johnson, the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor, underwent surgery Monday morning at Maple Grove Hospital to repair a perforation in his stomach. His campaign reported he was resting at the hospital with his family. Earlier, he went to an urgent care clinic with abdominal pain, where doctors determined he needed surgery.”

Apparently they believe St. Thomas will do right by them. Christopher Magan’s PiPress story says, “Part-time professors at the University of St. Thomas overwhelmingly rejected efforts to unionize the school's nontenured faculty. The vote tally, counted Monday afternoon at the National Labor Relations Board in Minneapolis, was 136-84. More than 250 part-time and nontenured faculty members were eligible to vote in the election by mail-in ballot. St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan praised the outcome and said she is ready to continue addressing faculty members' concerns about pay and working conditions.”

It’ll “wrap up” by when? Tim Nelson of MPR says, “The Minnesota Department of Transportation on Monday launched an improvement project on Interstate 494 that will slow traffic and bring night and weekend lane closures through the fall. … The $86 million project is expected to wrap up by 2017.” We didn’t need those lanes, anyway.

He was truly a BMOC. Dennis Brackin of the Strib writes on the passing of Gopher football legend Bob McNamara. “He was presented with a ring when the Gophers golf team won the 2002 national title, his name is on an academic center for student-athletes and he was named an honorary football captain for the inaugural game at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009. He was that special to his beloved Gophers’ athletic program. McNamara, a standout running back and one of the most important financial backers in the history of the school’s athletic program, died Sunday night after a lengthy illness.”

Its been a tough run for area dogs. First that SWAT team assault in St. Paul where two pooches we’re gunned down. Now one in Minneapolis. City Pages’ Aaron Rupar says, “Sometime between 7 and 8 p.m. Friday, Paul Thomas Trott let his dogs out of the north Minneapolis home near Aldrich Avenue and 39th Avenue he shares with his partner, Josh Lyczkowski. Unbeknownst to both of them, the gate on their fence had been broken by a car theft suspect who had fled from cops through their yard shortly before, and the dogs, Tito and Vita, made their way into a nearby alley. In the alley, Tito — a nearly two-year-old, 120-pound Cane Corso — approached an officer who was still hunting for the car theft suspect. The officer ended up opening fire and killing Trott and Lyczkowski's beloved dog.”