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Gingrich’s take on U.S. history and ‘isolationism’? It’s a mess

Fri, 07/03/2015 - 7:00am

Newt Gingrich was once an actual historian. Has a Ph.D in history (although, for purposes of this post, it might be worth mentioning that it was in European history; his PhD was on "Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945–1960"). He taught history (also geography) before becoming a full-time politician and now a grey eminence of the Right.

But after all these years in politics, his academic skills are sadly diminished and his historical discussions have been subordinated to his political diatribes.

Still, I'm grateful to him for deciding to honor the imminent Fourth of July holiday with an essay on the Founding Fathers (mostly because it provides me this opportunity to fulminate on a pet semantic peeve of mine, namely the universal abuse of the word "isolationist" to promote war-mongering.)

Former U.S. House Speaker Gingrich's Thursday op-ed essay for the Washington Post was titled "Five Myths About the Founding Fathers." The five myths he chooses to rebut are all pretty stupid, in my view. None of them particularly resonates as something that most Americans think is true of the Founding Fathers as a generality.

Then, having constructed a straw myth, Gingrich burns each one down by demonstrating that at least one or two of the Founders said at least one or two things to contradict the (non)-Myth that all the Founders felt a certain way. It turns out that in all five cases, the Founders felt the way Gingrich feels. I won't bore you with all of the Gingrich myths, only one because, as I mentioned, it gives me a chance to call attention to the very common, virtually universal, misuse of the word "isolationist."

Myth No. 3 that Gingrich explodes is: "The founders were isolationists."

I can't say that I know anyone who, when they think about the Founders, says one of their next thoughts is "bunch of isolationists."

What Gingrich really wants to say is that Ron Paul is an isolationist who "calls for America to withdraw from its traditional role as a global power." Gingrich disagrees with Paul and argues that the Founders would too (but this is pretty silly because in the time of the Founders the United States had no "traditional role as a global power” and no real clear collective position on the benfits of global powerdom).

But Gingrich apparently thinks that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (the three he discusses in that passage) would agree with him. Go ahead and click through to the Gingrich essay if you like and you'll see that he evinces more evidence that Washington, Franklin and Jefferson were leery of things like "entangling" (Jefferson) or "permanent" (Washington) alliances than evidence to the contrary.

It's a mess. The Post should be embarrassed to have run such a poorly argued piece. Gingrich's main point is that he is not an isolationist and he was in the mood to take a shot at Ron Paul. But my main point is that Gingrich and pretty much everyone else (often of a neoconservative hue) who uses the word "isolationist" to disparage those who disagree with their desire to perpetuate a permanent state of war has decided to use the "i" word to mean something that it doesn't mean.

Dictionary.com defines "isolationism" (accurately, in my view) as:

"The policy or doctrine of isolating one's country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, international agreements, etc., seeking to devote the entire efforts of one's country to its own advancement and remain at peace by avoiding foreign entanglements and responsibilities." Alternatively:

"A policy of nonparticipation in or withdrawal from international affairs."

There is no one of any influence in the United States who resembles an "isolationist" when the word is correctly defined.

There are many people (I consider myself one) who are skeptical whether it is in the interest of the United States to enter every military conflict that the neocons can dream up, suspicious that these adventures often turn out not to work as well as the promoters of perma-war tend to promise and leery of whether in every corner of the globe there are conflicts that threaten to harm the United States or its often-invoked-but-seldom-defined "vital interests."

There's room for argument over this. But to call these poor, deluded peaceniks "isolationists" is just agenda-driven propaganda-peddling by loaded and inaccurate word choice.

The United States is a member — in fact the leading member — of the United Nations, NATO and the Organization of American States. An "isolationist" (please glance back at the actual definition) would favor withdrawal from them all. No one of any influence in U.S. foreign-policy circles does.

A proper " isolationist" would say that it's none of the United States' business who has a nuclear weapon. But the argument in U.S. policy circles doesn't include this idea. On the contrary, the argument is between those who want to bomb or invade or overthrow the government of Iran (presumably, as Gingrich apparently believes, just as George Washington would have done) and those (including the current occupant of Washington's old presidential post) who prefer to assemble a large coalition of allies and seek to limit the Iranian nuclear program through negotiation, although never repudiating the option of bombing if nothing else works.

To call that second camp "isolationist" is inaccurate, or, in Gingrich's case, either dishonest or divorced from any real understanding of what the word means. But those with PhD's in history probably do know what the word means. They also know that the word "isolationist" sounds weeny and wrong to American ears, so at the risk of their intellectual honesty, they often throw it around when anyone tries to make the case that the next great effort (I feel like like saying "imperialist effort" but that might cross the line into the same kind of language abuse I'm condemning here) to dictate the behavior of foreign nations might turn out to be a bad idea.

A small addendum

During my (very enjoyable) years of fulminating for MinnPost readers, I made it a small tradition to write a piece around the Fourth of July arguing (well, really, demonstrating) that the Second of July in 1776 should be the day we celebrate. I think I may have neglected this duty for a few years, and now I've wasted my July 4 celebration fulminating about Gingrich and isolationism instead. If you missed the umpteem previous iterations of the July 2 essay, here's one of the old ones. Whether you buy it or not (although the argument for July 4 is spectacularly weak), have a lovely holiday.

With Sano call-up, Twins bring on a slugger

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 3:16pm
CC/Flickr/Allan FosterSano's power combined with lots of walks would be enough to make Sano an outstanding overall player even with a batting average in the .250 range and little defensive value.

Miguel Sano is on his way to the majors and the 22-year-old top prospect will make his MLB debut at designated hitter rather than third base, stepping into a position that has been horribly unproductive for the Twins this season. Six players have started at least one game at DH for the Twins — led by Kennys Vargas with 29 and Torii Hunter and Eduardo Nunez with 11 each — and they’ve combined to hit .250/.305/.357 with five homers to rank second-worst in the league.

Vargas was the Opening Day starter following a strong rookie showing, but hit just .245/.277/.365 with five homers and an ugly 48/7 K/BB ratio in 47 games and has been sent to Double-A after previously being demoted to Triple-A. Oswaldo Arcia hasn’t hit enough in Rochester to convince the Twins he’s worth letting out of the doghouse and Josmil Pinto has been sidelined by with a concussion, so Sano is getting the call three weeks after fellow elite prospect Byron Buxton.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2009 for a record $3.15 million, Sano’s immense power potential was evident from Day 1. He’s topped an .850 OPS in all five seasons as a pro despite being very young for each level of competition, including hitting .274/.374/.544 with 15 homers and 18 doubles in 66 games at Double-A this year after missing all of 2014 following Tommy John elbow surgery.

And those extremely impressive Double-A numbers include a terrible April, as Sano struggled to get back on track offensively and defensively. However, since May 1 he’s hit .315/.400/.601 with 11 homers, 16 doubles, and 28 walks in 48 games. That’s incredible production for a 22-year-old coming off a lost season and why, despite questions about his long-term ability to remain at third base defensively, the Twins feel Sano is ready to make an impact with his bat alone.

Even focusing strictly on his bat Sano is far from flawless. He strikes out a ton, whiffing 149 times in 133 games at Double-A, and as a result his career batting average is a modest .278. Of course, struggling to make consistent contact often comes with the territory for big-time power hitters and Sano balances the strikeouts with lots of walks. That’s an important distinction, because it means Sano has shown patience and the ability to work deep counts rather than being a free-swinger.

Cutting down at least somewhat on the strikeouts to keep his batting average closer to .300 than .200 and maintaining a good walk rate are keys to his development, but make no mistake about it: Power is the one tool around which his career will revolve. Sano is a massive human being at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, looking the part of a prototypical middle-of-the-order slugger, and he’s averaged 35 homers per 150 games in the minors.

Three years ago as a teenager at low Single-A he led the Midwest League with 28 homers. Two years ago as a 20-year-old playing at high Single-A and Double-A his 34 homers were the most by any Twins minor leaguer in three decades. This season, as a 22-year-old at Double-A coming back from elbow surgery and a year of lost development, his 15 homers in 58 games ranked second in the Southern League.

Sano has 40-homer potential, which is saying something considering Harmon Killebrew is the only player in Twins history to hit more than 35 homers. That type of power combined with lots of walks would be enough to make Sano an outstanding overall player even with a batting average in the .250 range and little defensive value. Getting into the .280 range and contributing positively defensively — at third base or elsewhere — could make him an MVP-caliber monster.

For now the Twins simply need Sano to be better offensively than a group of DHs that combined for a .662 OPS and are willing to put him into a role that takes defense out of the equation save for what figures to be spot starts in the field. Trevor Plouffe will remain the Twins’ starting third baseman, Sano will try to establish himself as an impact bat at age 22, and they’ll worry about where he winds up defensively and how well he plays there later.

A selective guide to 4th of July festivals, parades and fireworks around Minnesota

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 3:00pm
Creative Commons/Jon DeJongMinneapolis Parks host a riverfront fireworks celebration at dark on Saturday.

As you may have heard, the United States celebrates its 239th birthday on Saturday, July 4.

Because Independence Day falls on a Saturday this year, many businesses and government offices will take Friday off for the holiday. And though mail will be delivered on Friday, it won't Saturday. Also, Metro Transit buses and trains will run on a reduced schedule Friday.

More important, there will be festivals, parades and fireworks in communities across Minnesota to honor the founding of the country. Here's a sampling: 

• After years at the state Capitol or Harriet Island, St. Paul's fireworks show will be Saturday at the new Saints ballpark in Lowertown. The minor league baseball team has a game that night and the fireworks will go off afterwards, at about 10 p.m. Those not at the game can see the show from around the area, and officials are suggesting Mounds Regional Park or Lower Landing Park as good viewing spots.

• St. Paul's St. Anthony Park neighborhood has an 11 a.m. parade Saturday with a daylong schedule of events in Langford Park.

• The Hmong community holds its annual Freedom Celebration and Sports Festival Saturday and Sunday at Como Park in St. Paul. It's billed as the country's biggest Hmong festival.

• Minneapolis Parks will host a riverfront fireworks celebration at dark; the Stone Arch Bridge, Gold Medal Park and downtown rooftop restaurants are suggested for prime viewing. 

• In Edina, there's a 10 a.m. parade behind City Hall, and then there's a concert and fireworks at Rosland Park at dusk.

• Brainerd has a corn-on-the-cob feed at noon, a 4 p.m. parade, music starting at 6:30 p.m. in the high school parking lot, followed by fireworks at 10:15 p.m.

• Taste of Minnesota, the food and music festival that ran for years in St. Paul, returns to Waconia this year, Thursday through Sunday.

• Duluth has an event Saturday at Bayfront Festival Park, with music starting at 4:30 p.m. and culminating with fireworks at 10:10 p.m.

Could legalized fireworks be more bucks for Minnesota's boom?

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 2:52pm
CC/Flickr/Steve SnodgrassA report from 2011 says Minnesota would collect about $3 million in tax revenue if legalization occurred.

The billboards lining major highways near the state border with Wisconsin are testament to the fact that dollars flow out of state for more than Sunday liquor. Fireworks are big business this time of year, but it all lands in the Dairy State or the Dakotas.

Rep. Jason Rarick

Freshman Rep. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City) introduced a bill this past legislative session to legalize aerial and explosive fireworks. The bill had an information committee hearing, and Rarick plans to pursue the effort more aggressively in future sessions. His reasoning? Economics.

“If you drive around on the Fourth of July, you’ll see people shooting off fireworks everywhere even though they’re illegal,” Rarick said. “That means Minnesota is losing out on sales tax and jobs.”

A report from 2011 says the state would collect about $3 million in tax revenue if legalization occurred. Rarick says newer estimates put that number even higher, perhaps as much as $5 million, meaning tens of millions in revenue and profits are up for grabs.

His proposal would open a short window — from about the beginning of June to shortly after Independence Day — to allow sales of Class C fireworks, which are limited to 75 grams of pyrotechnic composition mixture in a single tube. North Dakota has a similar fireworks window.


A similar 2012 bill, sponsored by former Rep. John Kriesel, passed the House and Senate before being vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton over concerns from the state’s fire marshal.

Rarick says he wants to work with concerned parties to add more safety provisions to the bill, such as requiring places that sell fireworks to offer videos that show how to properly handle the products—something that many stores offer.

The prospect of legal fireworks is attracting business interest, too.

Jerry Breyer, owner of Generous Jerry’s fireworks stores in North Dakota, said a substantial number of his customers are crossing the border to get more bang for their buck.

“We get a lot of Minnesota traffic,” he says. “They don’t want to shoot off the little stuff, so they drive to get stuff that works.” He suggested If bottle rockets are allowed in the state, it might even suction off some North Dakota trade—that state forbids the unpredictable explosives.

MN Blog Cabin Roundup, 7/2

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 2:48pm
Americans: You Actually Live In A Free Country

from Thoughtful Bastards by Paul Udstrand

We’ve had some exciting and tragic events over the last few weeks here in the United States of America. A few weeks ago a white racist gunman murdered 7 black people in a North Carolina Church, that was tragic. However, that massacre was followed by a final recognition around the country that Confederate Flag flying above many Southern State Houses is a symbol of racism that has no business pretending to represent American sentiments. Now those flags are finally coming down in many places.

Another historic blow for liberty has been a Supreme Court decision establishing that Gay and Lesbian couples have a nationwide right to get married.

Responding to Gay Marriage

from Fundamentally Reformed by Bob Hayton

Should we be against “gay marriage” in the civil arena? In light of developments and where we are now at, many Christians would say “of course!” But it isn’t as easy as that.

On this question I have been moved (in a humane way) by the desire of two people for mutual connection and a permanent relationship, and especially about their need for legal status when it comes to end of life scenarios and other important concerns. Some thought “civil unions” was a way to permit this and yet hold marriage for one man and woman, as it has always been. But that solution no longer is viable, it would seem. 

Six reasons riding a bike is the best

from Biking in Mpls by Lindsey Wallace

There are so many benefits to riding a bike. It’s easy to explain all of these reasons to someone, to appeal with well researched arguments including statistics on health gained, CO2 reduced, and money saved. But, while I love the fact that biking is so beneficial in so many ways, laying out all the reasons doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. The true reason I love biking so much is the pure, unadulterated joy it brings me. It’s that childhood rush of feeling free and invincible and like you can take on anything. That said, the other reasons are pretty compelling too. Let’s explore them.

Who to trust: your home inspector or the seller

from the Structure Tech Home Inspection Blog by Reuben Saltzman

I don’t get involved in real estate negotiations a whole lot; it’s not my job, it’s none of my business, and I’m not qualified to do so.  As a home inspector, my job is to inspect the home, report on its condition, and make recommendations.  Nevertheless, I try to provide the best service that I can to my clients, and part of that involves standing behind my recommendations and findings.  I frequently tell my clients that if some other party comes in behind me and disputes my findings, or says that I’m wrong about something I reported on, to please let me know about it.

If I’m wrong, I want to know about it.  It’s a learning opportunity.  I have no problem making a mistake, but I DO have a problem with making the same mistake again.  When I make a mistake or I hear about other inspectors in my company making a mistake, I educate everyone else in my company to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  I send out an internal company newsletter every month, and it’s pretty rare for me to not have any recent mistakes to talk about.  I’ve made a LOT of them, and my goal is to have the inspectors in my company not make the same ones.

If I’m right, I want the opportunity to defend myself.  I’ve gotta admit, part of that is just plain old pride.  I take a lot of pride in my work, and I hate the idea of any of my clients thinking to themselves that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Commuter Chainmail: Small Business Holds Dice, Protects Against Swords

from Stubble by Tom Johnson

Stubble: Are you a regular chainmail supplier for your friends? Seems like an interesting business to be in.

Joel: Every so often people ask me to make stuff for them. It’s commission-based. I make a little bit of money off of it, but not too much. This piece would take around 10 hours and I usually charge around $15/hour, so $150 for a dice pouch of this size. This is almost done, I just need to do the cord after this row.

Sisters Who Farm: Eger Women Help Launch Weekly Nokomis Farmers Market

from RedCurrent by Tesha M. Christensen

Sisters Heidi and Andrea Eger of Radicle Heart organic farm haven’t stopped to think about whether they’re bucking the trend by being two young women operating their own farm.

They are, however, aware that they’re part of a generation of new farmers within an ever growing group of young people who recognize the damage that has been done to the Earth in the recent past and who want to reverse that damage.

The legend of Paul Bunyan

from Squeaky Green Machine by Heidi Van Heel

Paul Bunyan and Babe his blue ox are fairly legendary here. I’m not sure where I heard it, but growing up I knew that Paul Bunyan was a lumberjack who could “out saw, out chop, out talk, out roll a log or climb a tree faster than any other logger.” I was amazed to think that our 10,000 lakes were made from Paul and Babe’s footprints as they walked across the state, and the rivers from dragging his ax when he was too tired to carry it. When I set about Googling, I learned that there was a lot more to the legend of Paul Bunyan. First off, Paul Bunyan is not unique to Minnesota!

Memorable Geneva, Minnesota

from Minnesota Prairie Roots by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

RECENTLY I STOPPED in Geneva. That would be in Minnesota, not Switzerland, population hovering around 555. Or, if you have a sense of humor, 100,000. Someone scrawled that number onto a sign marking entry to this Freeborn County community just off Interstate 35 north of Albert Lea.

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

Why some experts are taking the 4th of July terror alert seriously

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 2:34pm

Happy 4th. Another holiday. Another government alert about the possibility of a terror attack by Islamic extremists.

Should you care? 

Such warnings are a fact of life in the first years of the 21st century, and increasingly they seem to elicit little more than a collective shrug. This recent tally confirms what many people already suspected: Since the Sept. 11 attacks nearly 14 years ago, almost twice as many people have been killed in the U.S. by anti-government, white supremacist or other domestic attackers than by Muslim militants. We’ve just lived through the sorry example of Charleston.

In any case, the numbers are small. If you spend a moment with this spreadsheet compiled by RedEye Chicago, you’ll see that the tally of people who died since 2002 in terror attacks inspired by events in the Middle East – 26 — roughly equals the number of black men who were shot to death in Chicago last month.

So, is this latest warning from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI just an exercise in fear-mongering? Or bureaucratic butt-covering?

Not necessarily. The numbers are an important part of our recent history, but they don’t tell the full story. As much as most of us would like all lives to matter equally in our country, they don’t. Among other things, we don’t treat attacks by terrorists (particularly the Middle East variety) like other violence, and we don’t treat terrorism deaths like other deaths.

For all of the electronic snooping the government does, most of us can agree that intelligence gathering and analysis is an inherently slippery business. It’s difficult for us to judge how serious any threat is, because we don’t have access to the same information.

But as this Christian Science Monitor piece notes, there are reasons some experts are taking this one seriously.

A spokesman for the Islamic State has urged attacks during Ramadan, and just last week, more than 60 people died in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. Those killed in Tunisia were primarily foreign tourists, mostly British.

France in particular has been on alert, even before the attack in January on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. But there is simply too much activity and too many people to keep tabs on them all. If another Sept. 11 attack, in all its complexity, seems unlikely, individuals or small groups can still cause a lot of mayhem.

Islamic State extremists, who burst onto the scene a year ago in Syria and Iraq, have recently suffered some setbacks – particularly at the hands of Kurdish forces. This analysis published by Al Jazeera provides a feel for the complexity of that battle. And another perhaps-not-quite-so-extreme Syrian rebel group gave the Islamic State a taste of its own medicine this week, releasing a video of 18 IS fighters being executed

But as the attacks last week in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe show, the Islamic State seems increasingly interested in inspiring violence beyond Syria and Iraq. Russia’s Caucasus region might also be a target

The Internet has revolutionized recruitment of individuals – in Minnesota, the rest of the U.S., Europe and throughout the world. In response, European countries are forming a special police unit to take down social media sites used by Islamic State figures.

But experience and logic both suggest that the occasional attacker still will slip through. So even if nothing happens to mar this holiday (and odds are that nothing will happen), it only makes sense to assume that there will be more successful terror attacks in the Middle East, in Europe — and in the United States.

That’s important because those who inspire the attacks and those who carry them out (often dying in the process) count on the act having an impact disproportionate to the casualty toll. Plus, the target – like a Fourth of July celebration — is crucial.

The toll in the Sept. 11 attacks was horrific in and of itself, but the impact was magnified by the nature of the targets. Then, ask yourself whether the deaths of four people in Boston two years ago in April would’ve received all the attention they did if they hadn’t been victims of terrorism, and the target hadn’t been the Boston Marathon. 

What to do? Several things, perhaps.

•  Make sure you prevent the big one. You can be sure government agencies are trying to do just that. If nothing else, there is far too much to lose politically and bureaucratically for them to let their guard down.

•  Don’t be surprised when you hear of the next attack in the U.S. It almost certainly will happen. It’s a sign of the times. Chances are it won’t change the U.S. or its policies. Instead, countries can hurt themselves by over-reacting – like attacking Iraq because of a plot hatched in Afghanistan.

•  Keep the toll in perspective. Innocent people probably will die, which is horrible. But it’s also horrible when innocent people die on the streets of Chicago, in a Charleston church  – or Baghdad or Damascus. If we did value all these lives equally, it might help blunt the impact of terrorism. It could also make the United States a better place.

A look back at Minnesota’s 1933 bank holiday

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 2:21pm

Greece’s temporary bank closures — not to speak of its on-again, off-again negotiations over its debt and what to do about it — has been causing distress for the country’s people, who face limits on the amount of cash they can withdraw from their ATMs. The bank closures, ordered by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, came after efforts to renegotiate the massive Greek debt with European creditors reached a stalemate. On Sunday the Greeks will vote in a national referendum on whether to accept the creditors' terms for a bailout deal.


Eighty-two years ago, Minnesotans faced similar distress when this state’s banks were closed in March 1933. Like today’s Greece, Minnesota was caught up in a nationwide financial crisis that was crippling the country’s economy.

In 1933, as the Great Depression deepened, financial pressures on U.S. banks intensified. Bank withdrawals mushroomed as depositors feared that their local financial institutions might fail. Faced with the prospect of a major run on their banks, states began ordering what were euphemistically known as bank “holidays.” Michigan, on Feb. 14, was the first to close its banks. In a ripple effect, the holidays quickly spread from one state to another.

Coincided with Inauguration Day

The ripple reached Minnesota on March 4, the day Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated as president in Washington.

In an effort to bolster local consumer confidence, the Minneapolis Journal maintained that the state-ordered bank holiday did not reflect on the solvency of Minnesota’s banks. Rather it was forced on Minnesota by the action of other states, according to the Journal. “With banks in New York and Chicago closed and Minnesota banks open, the outside world would have promptly withdrawn all its Minnesota deposits to meet its emergency needs, while Minnesota banks would have been powerless to protect their cash reserves.”

Courtesy of the Hennepin County Public LibraryMinneapolis Journal, March 4, 1933, Saturday evening headlines

To lighten a somber mood, the Journal commented on the “laughter and myriad of jokes” that accompanied the bank closing. It also reported that “In downtown Minneapolis trade contracted immediately upon the closing of the banks but not nearly to the extent to which businessmen had feared,” the paper reported.

Extended nationwide the next day

On March 5, the day after Minnesota closed its bank, newly installed President Roosevelt extended the bank holiday to the entire country. Here, as elsewhere, the bank shutdowns had an uneven impact. Many lower-income and working-class people who relied on cash to meet their daily needs were in desperate straits. But Minnesotans with charge accounts at the local department stores could use their accounts to purchase what they needed. In St. Paul, an ad for Shunemann’s Department Store asked: “Caught Short of Cash in the Bank Holiday? Your Charge Account Will Tide You Over.” The ad went on to tell consumers they could even purchase streetcar tokens from Shunemanns and charge them to their store account.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical SocietyNorthwestern National Bank, circa 1933

Even for the well off, the enforced holiday was a source of inconvenience. On the University of Minnesota campus, Walter Myers, an assistant professor of finance, had a run in with one of his colleagues over the bank holiday, according to the Minnesota Daily. On Saturday, March 4, the colleague burst into Myers' office, waiving an accusing finger at him. “Friday night, you told me the banks were in no danger of closing,” the colleague told Myers angrily. “Now I am left with only 20 cents in my pocket. “Well,” replied Myers, “at least you can say I am consistent. I am in the same boat myself.”

During the first weekend in March, life in Minnesota went on more or less normally despite the national financial crisis. People who had a few dollars to spend could find some escape at the movies. At the State Theater in downtown Minneapolis, Buster Crabbe was starring in "King of the Jungle" with Frances Dee. The ad for the State showed a bare-chested Buster nuzzling Frances. At the Century, a very young Cary Grant was appearing in "Women Accused." Soon he would be paired with Mae West in one of the big hits of 1933, "She Done Him Wrong."

Less than a week after the bank holiday took effect, money began to circulate more freely as the Roosevelt administration started allowing banks to reopen on a limited basis. The immediate financial crisis may have eased in Minnesota in 1933, but this state and the rest of the country faced more serious economic problems as the Great Depression continued to worsen. That history has ominous implications for Greece in 2015.

An earlier version of this story appeared in the OLLI Scholar, published by Osher LifeLong Institute at the University of Minnesota, in 2010.  

League of Minnesota Cities gets a new president and a new executive director

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 2:14pm

Steve Nasby, the Windom City Administrator, has been elected president of the League of Minnesota Cities, which provides more than 800 member cities with advocacy and training.

Nasby has worked in Windom since 2006; before that he worked in Iowa City.

The League also has hired David Unmacht as executive director, replacing Jim Miller, who retires this summer after 22 years as head of the organization.

Unmacht, who starts Aug. 1 as the group's top staffer, is now a senior vice president at Springsted, a public sector advisory firm. He'd previously been county administrator for Scott County, deputy county administrator for Dakota County, city manager for Prior Lake, and city administrator for Belle Plaine. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and business administration from Wartburg College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Drake University.

DNR finds gold in Iron Range state forest

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 1:44pm
Creative Commons/essayruLake Vermilion

We’re gonna be rich! For the Forum News Service, John Myers writes, “The DNR reported significant gold findings on state forest land across an area from Cook to near Babbitt, along the historic Vermilion Iron Range. … The DNR didn't find the mother lode — at least not that they're saying — but found lots of gold "grains" across the area, including several hot spots with so-called ‘pristine’ deposits. By far the highest concentrations were found on state land south of Soudan and north of Embarrass. … Before you dig out your shovel and pick, however, know that the vast majority of the gold grains were less than 100 microns, barely visible to the naked eye.”

Lake Calhoun to remain Lake Calhoun. MPR’s Riham Feshir reports: “The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board denied a proposal Wednesday to drape Lake Calhoun signs with black cloth on the anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg. … The board denied Commissioner Brad Bourn's request to add a resolution to the meeting's agenda. The resolution also requested support to rename the lake.”

The artist formerly available on Spotify. “Prince, the mercurial artist best known for his ’80s-era hits, will not stream 4 u,” Variety’s Todd Spangler reports. “The artist, among the industry’s top-selling acts, is removing his music catalog from ‘all streaming services,’ according to Spotify in a notice that appeared Wednesday on Prince’s page on the service. … Prince’s music also has been pulled Rdio and is unavailable on Apple Music, which launched earlier this week.”

On Indpendence Day weekend, St. Paul joins the growing Sunday beer freedom movement. MPR’s Jon Collins reports: “Taprooms in St. Paul will be able to sell their beer in growlers on Sundays starting on July 5. The Legislature voted earlier this year to let taprooms sell the 64-ounce jugs of beer even though liquor stores aren't allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays. … At least five taprooms in the city plan to be open for the first Sunday of sales. Burning Brothers Brewing's taproom manager Hannah Hautman is hoping that sometimes slow Sunday business will pick up due to the Sunday growler sales.”

In other news…

Your daily Walker: “Scott Walker’s Hard Right Turn in Iowa May Hurt Him Elsewhere” [New York Times]

Cargill chops its pork division. [Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal]

Ever wanted to dig through Twins Manager Paul Molitor’s high school yearbook? Well, here you go. [Pioneer Press]

Congrats to Minnesota teachers Leif Carlson and Peter Bohacek! They received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. [Star Tribune]

Sally Jo Sorensen rounds up selected Minnesota Republican politicians’ social-media reactions to the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision. [Bluestem Prairie]

Why the Hubbards bought the rights to broadcast the Trump-owned Miss USA pageant

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 1:22pm

Among the many advantages of being an “independently/family­-owned” operation is that your shareholders are pretty much the folks standing around your barbecue grill. You’re not worrying about indignant voices from people you’ve never heard of.

Case in point: With GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump getting buried under a mountain of media invective (while simultaneously getting boosted in the polls) for calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “drug dealers,” family­-owned Hubbard Broadcasting here in the Twin Cities jumped in and snagged the rights to next week’s Trump­-owned Miss USA pageant for its REELZ channel — backlash against Trump be damned.

Trump's beauty pageant, staged in Baton Rouge, was jettisoned by the Spanish-­language Univision after his rallying-call remarks to likely primary voters. (Trump, being Trump, then announced a $500 million suit against the network.)

Cutting to the business opportunity floating in front of the Hubbards: The TV rights to the pageant were suddenly available, probably for a whole lot less than Univision was paying.

Stanley E. Hubbard — the eldest son of well­-known Hubbard operation patriarch Stanley S. Hubbard — runs the REELZ cable channel. He handled the deal, which was concluded Wednesday.

Assuming he got the rights for a song, the question of advertiser support for a “product” owned by Trump, with Trump’s name all over it, not to mention the guy doubling-­down on his “rapists” assertion in subsequent interviews, had to be the source of an enhanced level of trepidation.

How many more advertisers are likely to bail before the pageant airs July 12?

Says Hubbard: “Look, as for Trump, and let me say I couldn’t disagree more with what he said. He is not going to make a profit off what we’re paying for this. Heck, I doubt our licensing fee would cover the cost of the television production.”

Hubbard’s basic argument is that this is a longstanding “great TV event” — with substantial Hispanic involvement in terms of both talent and viewers — as well as a production of importance to the organizers in Baton Rouge and the young women involved. As he sees it, “One guy opening his mouth and saying a lot of dumb things” shouldn’t create a lot of collateral damage among people who have no control over him.

“Do I worry about viewers? Sure I do. I always do. Do I worry about advertisers? Sure I do. That’s part of the business. But we’re talking a week-and-a-half here. Most of the ad agencies in New York are going to be closed for the long holiday weekend, and even after that I wish you luck getting anyone in Manhattan on the phone next week.”

Point being, Hubbard is betting a lot of advertisers won’t be able to yank ads for Miss USA between now and showtime.

But even if everyone does, Hubbard says, “We’ll be in business the day after. I’m not going to get into the numbers, but your assumption that we paid very little here would be correct. If had to pay a million dollars to license the show, we wouldn’t have done it. But we didn’t pay anywhere near that. Moreover, if all we can do is run [Public Service Announcements] and promos for Reelz’s other programming, we’ll be just fine. I know a lot charities who’ll be delighted to have us run their PSA during the Miss USA pageant.”

The Hubbard family’s connection to traditional Republican politics is well known. Reelz wandered into a storm several years ago when it picked up “The Kennedys” mini-series after several other not “independently owned” networks passed on it, officially because of “historical inaccuracies” about the much mythologized clan. (Don’t get young Stan’s dad going on the Camelot myth.) 

“Even that wasn’t about politics,” says Stan. “People said it was. But it wasn’t. It was about TV. And it was good. We won four Emmys for ‘The Kennedys.’ It was good TV.”

He adds, for emphasis, “Being privately owned, there are a lot of things we can do [that] you can’t do within the corporate, regulatory sphere.”

Bernie Sanders draws 600 at campaign event in Rochester

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 12:27pm

Long-shot Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, fresh from a big campaign stop in Madison, Wisconsin, appeared in Rochester this morning to an overflow crowd of about 600.

Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who's challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, drew nearly 10,000 people in Madison Wednesday night.

The smaller turnout did fill up the space at Rochester's International Event Center. Sanders had attracted several thousands of people to the American Indian Center in Minneapolis on May 31, his first campaign visit to Minnesota.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin says Sanders talked this morning about finding ways for middle-class and blue-collar workers share in the nation's wealth. And while he's seen as an underdog in the race, the paper said "his focus on issues such as income inequality and the need to combat climate change will ignite the party's liberal base."

New William Mitchell Dean Mark Gordon will head merged Mitchell-Hamline law school

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 11:33am
Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon has started work as president and dean of the William Mitchell College of Law, replacing Eric Janus, who has returned to the school's faculty.

Gordon, has been president of Defiance College, a private Ohio liberal-arts college, for the past six years.

He will become president and dean of the new Mitchell-Hamline School of Law, when that pending merger is complete, expected to be completed in December.

Gordon said: "I think there is a tremendous tradition at Mitchell and at Hamline that I am honored to be able to carry on, but I also think people are really poised to think in some pretty creative ways, and I can’t wait to get started."

He said he's looking forward to the merger: "It takes two really, really strong institutions which have tremendous individual strengths and puts them together in a way so that, as one, we’re going to be able to compete on a national level in a way that neither institution could do separately."

Gordon has also been dean of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and was an associate professor in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, general deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and an aide to former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Gordon graduated magna cum laude with a juris doctor from Harvard Law School. He holds a master’s degree in international affairs and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University.

Summer in the city: Invasion of the teenage tree people

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 10:46am

Summertime and the livin’ is easy in South Minneapolis, where many of the teens have been practicing the fine art of hammocking – or 'mocking, as the kids say – since early spring. At all times of day and night, bat kids in their portable vinyl caves can be seen hanging amid the tall pines of Lake Harriet’s Rose and Peace Gardens, among other favorite hangs.


“Hang.” That, along with “chill” and “relax,” is the word used most by the ‘mockers to describe their attraction to the non-activity of whiling away hours in the trees, talking with their friends, and listening to music, the birds, water fountains, and rain. Because of easy bike access to a multitude of nearby lakes, creeks, and the Mississippi River, Minneapolis is particularly fertile ground for a full-on ‘mocking craze, and right on cue, area sporting goods stores tell Minnpost they can’t keep hammocks in stock this summer.

While campers and college campuses have been into ‘mocking since at least 2009, and the occasional hipster or hippie hammock encampment has dotted the Rose Gardens’ mini-forests over the years, the high schoolers and middle schoolers of South Minneapolis have taken to it with a collective zeal that’s growing weekly, and sure to prove inspiring to urban adventurers of all ages.

Call it One Afternoon in the Summer of the Teenage Tree People, in words and photos:

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Isaiah Williams, Rachel Dering, Chloe Feddersen, Vaughn Hill (foreground), Minneapolis. “It’s just gotten really popular,” said Dering. “It’s private, and it’s pretty, and it’s really easy to get to because it’s by my house. And this is good because the trees are really close together.” “It’s separate; it’s like what people do when they don’t have a house to hang out in. You just come and chill,” said Williams. “Pretty much everyone I know does this," said Hill. "When people want to do something but they don’t know what they want to do, you can kind of just hang out and say you’re doing something, I guess. I’ve got my bike and my backpack and my hammock and I’m good.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Tess Lynville and Paulina Delmont, Minneapolis. “I like being with my friends and hanging in trees is cool, and you can swing and listen to music and it’s just really fun,” said Lynville. “It’s good to be with your friends in a circle, because you can all see each other and we’re not always on our phones all the time. Sometimes when you come to the Rose Gardens, there’s just hammocks on every tree, and it’s so cool to see. I like to do it at Lake Nokomis, and Lake Calhoun, too.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Skylar Tupper and Hannah Oscarson, Minneapolis. “You can sleep in them, which is really awesome, and you can do it alone sometimes, too,” said Oscarson. “There’s something really nice about hanging from a tree that’s really comfortable,” said Tupper. “I started doing it a lot last summer, biking to various locations. I like Lake of the Isles a lot, and I’ve done it under a bridge hanging over the river. That was a fun one. I don’t know about other places, but when I tell friends from the suburbs that we go hammocking a lot, they say, ‘Oh, that’s really weird.’ So I think it’s more of a city thing.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Andrew Nystrom, Minneapolis. “I got my hammock at the beginning of summer, and I do it because it’s really relaxing. Kind of following the trend a little bit; a lot of my friends have 'em. We think it’s pretty cool. It’s fun to try and find new places to set 'em up. Like, I found a sick place in my backyard last weekend. My friends and I go to Pearl Park a lot; there’s a little square with nice trees there. Down the road here there’s some good trees, and underneath the Bryant walking bridge, a lot of kids go under that. That’s really fun.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Jim Biltz and Andy Frame, Minneapolis. “All our friends do this. This is our favorite spot,” said Frame.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Elizabeth Nieves and Olivia Fischer, Minneapolis. “We just started this year. It’s something different. Instead of hanging out at someone’s house, you can hang in the trees,” said Fischer.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Eric McCabe, Minneapolis. “I’ve been hammocking for a month or two. It’s really fun, because you just set it up and then you feel like you’re just floating in the air. It kind of gives you a sense of thinking, ‘Wow, these trees are here.’ You don’t really notice 'em, but when you hammock, you do.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Hanna Garzon, Minneapolis. “We try to hammock once or twice a week. The city is so loud, and when you come and hammock, it’s so peaceful and quiet and you really get to enjoy nature.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Simon Richards (top right), Markie Bayer (in white shirt, front), William Sanders (center, in black shirt) and crew. “It’s chill vibes here, and a good place to come to be one with nature. It’s good to be so high,” said Richards. “It’s like an activity, but we’re not doing anything,” said Bayer. “At first I saw people doing it by the lake, and I wondered what that was, but now it’s just go with the flow,” said Sanders. “Like, if my friend gets one, I’m gonna try and get one. If I see him on a ‘mock, I want a ‘mock, and someone sees me with a ‘mock, they want a ‘mock. It’s a great wave in the city. We’re teenagers. Instead of rotting our brains inside, we’re outside. Chill vibe.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Stella Jass, Max Johanns, Sarah Simons, Minneapolis. “It’s nice to do at the end of a long day. Like, I ice skate every day, so it’s really tiring and this is really relaxing,” said Jass. “It’s kind of like self-medication, I guess. It’s a good way to meditate, internally,” said Johanns. “It’s good bonding time and it’s super cool when people stack their hammocks on top of each other and when you’re at the top,” said Simons.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Charlie Becker, Edina. “I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half. It’s a nice invention. It’s portable. I’ve camped in the Boundary Waters in this, and slept outside in it for four days. This is just an exceptional tree. There’s not many trees you can do this in.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Emily McNaughton and Abby Oscarson, Minneapolis. “It’s comfortable and relaxing and a good place to meet your friends and you can just go wherever you want,” said McNaughton. “There are trees everywhere, so you can be wherever you want,” said Oscarson.

MinnPost photo by Jim WalshMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

MinnPost aims to set new membership record in final day of summer campaign

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 10:31am

Thanks to strong momentum throughout the week, we enter the final day of our Summer Member Drive poised to set a new record for total membership!

So far, we have received $10,321 this drive from 141 generous donors, including 61 first-time and 51 returning members. Thank you!

We’re looking to go out with a bang today and finish the drive with more than 2,400 member households, crossing that threshold for the first time ever. We only need a few more donations to get us there, and with your help we can do it!

What better way to prepare to celebrate Independence Day than by making a gift in support of independent journalism?


Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to tell us why they decided to support MinnPost during this drive. The comments below are published with permission. 

I get a different take on the news from MinnPost than I do from the local paper.Barbara Dennis, St. Paul

Best regional coverage ever. Gives me another reason to love being a Minnesotan. Topics are relevant and reporters are extremely good writers.Mary Quain, Minnetonka

There's always a headline that catches my eye. Most always I find it worth the "click." Love the use of hyper-links for additional information.David Garron, St. Paul

You do great work! You're the future of journalism in MN.Daniel Maurer, St. Paul

We dropped the Star/Trib after 35 years due to diminished quality and content. While we have recently subscribed to the online version of the NYT, MinnPost has very well filled our need for local news. Thanks.Pamela Schutjer, Saint Paul

MinnPost's original content is a refreshing alternative to the rehashed newsfeeds and shallow coverage of other sites. I find rich articles about local issues that matter to me.Bruce Tanquist, Minneapolis

Good writing about current and important topics is worth supporting!Ray Lewis, Circle Pines

You provide thoughtful, timely news and analysis about important issues in Minnesota that are often not covered well in other media.Arthur Himmelman, Minneapolis

Humphrey School training first cohort of charter-oversight pros

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 10:20am
Aaliyah Hodges

Aaliyah Hodge started school in New York City, where geography is pretty much destiny. Her family lived in a struggling neighborhood, so she went to a failing school. Kids were expected to do poorly, and did.

For a student who couldn’t pick up and move, the only path to one of the city’s selective and successful high schools was to test in. So several times a year Hodge's mother would wake her at 5 a.m. to take one train and then another, followed by a trip through a tunnel, to a facility where, lack of breakfast notwithstanding, she would sharpen her No. 2 pencil and move up a notch.

The cycle was interrupted by the family’s move to Minnesota, where Hodge channeled that early determination into becoming an academic star in St. Louis Park schools. By the time she graduated from high school, she had accumulated two years of college credit.

Her third year at the University of Minnesota was her first as a master’s candidate. She found her way to the program through Joe Nathan, who operates the Center for School Change in St. Paul, which works both in the charter sector and on strengthening programs that allow students to earn college credits while still in high school.

A year from now, at the ripe old age of 21, Hodge will become one of the first three people in the country to obtain a graduate degree specifically designed to prepare her to work in charter school accountability.

A role in a brand new arena

Yep, that’s right. Hodge is headed not for law school or Teach for America or some other swashbuckling social-justice concern but for a role in a more or less brand new arena of administrative oversight. Someone, she says, needs to stomp out the low expectations that greeted her in kindergarten.

“Certain schools limit kids’ options from the time they are born,” says Hodge. “You track certain kids for success, you track certain kids for failure. And there’s no one overseeing whether it’s fair or not.”

Hodge is one of three fellows in a program recently launched by the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs for students pursuing a master’s in public policy. Established in conjunction with the Chicago-based National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the program is the first of its kind anywhere.

If it is successful, and if other states follow Minnesota’s lead and begin requiring the groups that issue the independent schools’ charters to be accountable for their performance, the program could be copied by other universities, says NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond.

Until now, no prep programs

“In this country we have all kinds of university programs to train people in areas that are highly specialized, such as being a principal or superintendent,” he says. “Until now there were none that prepared people to work in this new, more autonomous, less regulated, less centralized realm of public chartering.”

That’s the first of the whys: That as pressure mounts for more lackluster charters to begin producing the outcomes of the sector’s standouts, it’s increasingly important to not just shuffle a traditional school administrator into an oversight position.

By way of example, Richmond cites Los Angeles Unified School District, which has an entire staff that oversees numerous charters. “They’ve only been able to look down the hall and say, ‘Is there anyone in the Title I office who can do this work?” he says. “It’s not like when you go to hire a lawyer and there are law schools.

“There is a very strong demand around the country from charter authorizing officials for good people. There is no question that these first three individuals and those that come after them are going to have multiple job opportunities.”

Home to the nation’s first charter schools, Minnesota several years ago passed an unprecedented law holding the organizations that issue charters responsible for schools’ performance. Numerous authorizers got out of the business, while those that stayed increasingly articulated expectations for schools.

Role of the authorizer

The authorizer’s job is totally different from that of, say, a state regulator. Schools must report to the authorizer on their fiscal health, for example, but they also need to demonstrate progress on the standards set when they were given the green light to begin recruiting students.

At the same time, legislation that would require authorizers to close schools that don’t get good outcomes is gaining traction here and elsewhere.

When NACSA began looking for a university to host the fellows, Richmond was convinced a public-policy program would be a better fit than a traditional school of education.

As it happens, Richmond is a Humphrey alum. His experience told him that a graduate school of public policy would attract students who are entrepreneurial yet want to end up in the public sector.

And the approach made sense to Laura Bloomberg, the associate dean at Humphrey who will oversee the fellows’ studies. “I don’t think a lot of people come to Humphrey thinking, ‘I want to be an authorizer,’ ” she explains. “They do come thinking, ‘I want to do better policy,’ whether that’s education policy or transportation policy or climate policy.”

And there is the fact that the program is located in a state where, because of the new accountability laws, authorizers have developed the capacity to work with schools to better outcomes.

“The idea that they can be run by the people in the school is the piece that has the power to change kids’ lives,” says Richmond. “The authorizer is the entity that on a daily basis decides how much freedom or regulation that school is going to experience.”

As the kick-off to her fellowship, Hodge is spending the summer working with Audubon Center of the Northwoods’ authorizing department. So far the experience stands in sharp contrast to the years her mother spent trying to get her into a classroom where she could soar.

“A lot of times the people who these policies affect are not in the room when the laws are made,” says Hodge. “I’m one of those students charter schools were set up to reach.”

Waukesha wins Wisconsin DNR support in bid to export water from Great Lakes basin

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 10:15am
CC/Flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVMMuch of Waukesha’s municipal drinking-water supply is drawn from deep, sandstone aquifers where the water unfortunately contains high levels of radium, a carcinogen that is difficult to remove.

The Waukesha Water Utility’s campaign to stick a giant straw into Lake Michigan has won a critical endorsement from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, hastening the first critical test of a 2008 ban on exporting water from the Great Lakes to places beyond their basin.

It’s hardly a new idea; Waukesha has had its eye on the lake for decades. And it’s not that the city wants a whole lot of water – perhaps 10.1 million gallons a day, on average, by mid-century. It will even give most of it back, treated.

But if it succeeds in staking this claim, based on a narrow-sounding exception in the rule against out-of-basin diversions, Waukesha will become the first municipality entirely outside the basin to be granted rights to Great Lakes water. And that will set a precedent that hundreds of other communities across eight states and two Canadian provinces could point to and say:

Hey, what about us?

The surface of the Waukesha case is simple and even sympathetic. Much of the municipal drinking-water supply is drawn from deep, sandstone aquifers where the water unfortunately contains high levels of radium, a carcinogen that is difficult to remove.

The city has been under state or federal orders to bring its drinking water into compliance with safety standards on radium since at least 2003, and since 2006 it has been missing deadlines for doing so.

Indeed, Waukesha has already said it will miss the current deadline, which is June 2018, even if it wins the necessary approvals to build the new system, which would take some time and cost more than $200 million.

Approval might take some time, too: Signoff is required from each of the eight states of the Great Lakes Compact – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and also, practically speaking, from the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which have considerable influence but no actual vote in the matter.

Limits on diversion

Out-of-basin transfers have become difficult since 1986, when U.S. law required replacement of diverted water, and almost impossible since Congress approved the compact and its new rules in 2008.

However, those rules allow an exception to be made for a community that meets certain tests, the chief ones being these:

  • It must be situated in a county that is at least partly within the basin – the so-called “straddling” requirement.
  • It must lack “reasonable” means of meeting demand for potable water by tapping other sources, or by cutting consumption through conservation measures.
  • It must agree to return to the basin as much treated water as it takes out, less an allowance for certain “consumptive” uses like beverage bottling and evaporation from lawn sprinklers.
  • The overall plan must not endanger water quality or quantity or ecosystem integrity in the Great Lakes basin.

Although Waukesha’s contentions on all but the first point are challenged by opponents of the diversion, last Thursday’s DNR announcement gives it Wisconsin’s tentative blessing on all points. Also, an official conclusion that tapping available alternatives (inland lakes, additional shallow aquifers) could carry worse environmental impacts.

Why the basin matters

As every Minnesota schoolchild learns, the Great Lakes are the world’s largest body of interconnected lakes and hold one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater, by volume. Far fewer folks understand that the lakes occupy a basin that, relative to their surface area, is quite small.

For instance, in the Milwaukee/Waukesha region the “subcontinental divide” that forms the basin boundary, sending this raindrop to Lake Michigan and that one toward the Mississippi River, is within a dozen miles of the lake’s shoreline in places; Waukesha is about a mile and a half to the west of the boundary.

U.S. EPAIn this map showing counties in and bordering the Great Lakes’ basins, Waukesha County is highlighted in orange.

To understand why this matters, picture your average large lake as an ounce of water puddled in the middle of a dinner plate. By comparison, the Great Lakes are an ounce of water in a shot glass.

Imagine putting both “basins” on the deck in a gentle rain and you can see the problem: The shot glass captures far less precipitation relative to surface area (or volume),  which means that whatever water is removed takes far longer to replace.

That limiting reality hasn’t stopped decades of talk – mostly fanciful, given the huge construction and/or transport costs – of sending Great Lakes water to parched California, or to profligate Kuwait.

But it has moved policymakers and governments to draw a line against diversions across the basin boundary – the line that Waukesha now proposes to test with its claim of exceptionality.

Interestingly, the line’s particulars may have been drawn with just this battle in mind. Five years ago, in an interview with the Great Lakes Echo, Noah Hall of the Wayne State University Law school and the Great Lakes Law blog said:

Waukesha, Waukesha. When we were drafting and negotiating the Compact, it was very clear that if the Compact made it impossible for Waukesha to divert water it wasn’t going to pass; and if it made it too easy it wasn’t going to pass.

What people wanted was exactly what I think we got: a very, very little open window to give Waukesha some possibility of getting a Great Lakes diversion, but it won’t be easy and it shouldn’t be easy.

Pugnacious, irascible, unreasonableWisconsin DNRWaukesha proposes to receive Lake Michigan water through a new pipeline from the city of Oak Creek, which already gets its water from the lake, and return treated wastewater via the Root River.

As Peter Annin notes in his fine book, “The Great Lakes Water Wars,” Waukesha has been displaying a “pugnacious, irascible and unreasonable” stance on its water needs, and a covetous eye for Lake Michigan, for decades — starting with a bid to share in Chicago’s withdrawals.

When Congress voted in 1986 to require that out-of-basin transfers be returned volume for volume, Waukesha sought to be exempted for withdrawals of 20 million gallons daily, about twice what it now seeks. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered it to meet radium standards, it sued first, then settled.

No wonder there’s a certain level of suspicion about the current proposal, the supposed lack of alternatives and the DNR’s supportive findings.

A coalition of regional environmental groups told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they will commission a new engineering analysis to challenge Waukesha’s bid in a public-comment period that runs through Aug. 28.

The arguments are likely to parallel those raised in a 2013 analysis funded by the National Wildlife Federation and prepared by Jim Nichols, a hydrogeologist and former director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Michigan Water Science Center. Among its points:

  • Waukesha’s forecasts of future demand reflect a dramatic planned expansion of the water utility’s service area to suburbs that are not now on city water (reported elsewhere as an 80 percent increase in system size).
  • The forecasts assume residential usage rates that are higher than any reported in Waukesha for the previous 10 years, and do not reflect historical trends of declining residential usage that other U.S. cities have experienced.
  • While Waukesha has had some success with conservation measures aimed at industrial users, and has reduced residential consumption somewhat with lawn-watering restrictions and unit pricing that rises with consumption, much more water could be saved with, say, an aggressive program of conversion to low-flow toilets.
  • Known groundwater resources, both the aquifers already being pumped for the Waukesha system and others not yet in use, are sufficient to meet predicted demand, and without adverse impact on waters in the Great Lakes basin (although impacts on other Wisconsin waters are less clear, because of flaws in modeling used to make Waukesha’s case).
What's next

The Wisconsin DNR expects to reach its final decisions in September. I asked the Minnesota DNR how it would handle the referral under the Compact and Julie Ekman, manager of the conservation assistance and regulation section, replied:

We have not yet established how we will handle this. Although, I can envision that we will connect with our sister agencies to assess their interest in reviewing the project.

We are upstream from this project, so there won’t be physical impacts to the Great Lakes basin that lies within Minnesota. This fact might have implications for the extent of review conducted. But I can’t say that for sure yet.

$341 million, the easy way: How Southwest light rail (sort of) got its budget back on track

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 9:50am

In the end, what were going to be painful cuts in the Southwest Light Rail project turned out not to be so painful after all.

Not that removing $250 million from the project budget didn’t take some sacrifice by the six cities along the line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. But in a plan finalized Wednesday, only one of the proposed 17 stations was eliminated — the Mitchell Road station in Eden Prairie — while another at Town Center was deferred. In addition, a number of parking ramps became surface lots, a significant bike bridge in Minneapolis was lost, the number of light rail cars was reduced and money for art, station furnishings and landscaping was reduced.

Yet compared to what had been on the table over the past two months to get the project budget back to around $1.65 billion, the final recommendations by the project’s Corridor Management Committee kept far more than it cut.

What was cut, what was kept

What was preserved? All of the stations in Minneapolis that had once been suggested as targets: Royalston, Van White and Penn Avenue. All will remain in the project. An elevator and stair connection from Lake Street to the tracks below was kept. And a seemingly inevitable plan to chop the final two stations at the end of the line in Eden Prairie to capture the needed savings was altered. The line will now end at Eden Prairie’s Southwest Station, near an existing transit center.

Minneapolis opposed any station cuts within the city, arguing that they create the best opportunities to offer meaningful transit connections to North Minneapolis. Eden Prairie wanted the line to reach Southwest because it provide access to more jobs and residents and it can better handle additional parking and bus service than would a terminus at Town Center.

“With that combination of changes, the core functionality of the line is preserved,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. “We’re gonna have a successful line once it is up and running.”

Wednesday’s vote caps a two month process triggered by an updated budget released April 27, an update that pegged the cost of Southwest LRT just shy of $2 billion. That unwelcome news caused Gov. Mark Dayton to question the validity of the project, and to order reviews of the project itself, its budget and the capabilities of the Southwest Project Office staff. Now, after those reviews have been completed, the new project scope is expected to be adopted by the Metropolitan Council when it meets July 8.

Metropolitan CouncilIn a plan finalized Wednesday, only one of the proposed 17 stations was eliminated — the Mitchell Road station in Eden Prairie — while another at Town Center was deferred.Cities pitch in to reach goal

How did the members of the Corridor Management Committee, made up of elected officials from the six communities along the route, accomplish what was thought impossible a week ago: reach the Southwest Station while maintaining other amenities — and still cut $341 million from the budget?

By not cutting $341 million. The proposed cuts actually leave the project short of the goal — to match the previous budget of $1.65 billion — by some $80 million. To get to that target, the elected officials engaged in some budgetary sleight-of-hand in ways that will increase the money that will come from the federal government. For example, the rail right-of-way owned by Hennepin County now will be counted as a $30 million “contribution,” which will beget matching dollars from the federal government.

McLaughlin, in a move that he compared to a public radio pledge drive, then asked the cities along the line to commit to contributions to cover the final budget amount. Since each added local dollar would be matched by the feds under a planned 50 percent federal participation, each city’s contribution would essentially be counted as double the dollar value.

Hennepin County went first, offering $5 million from an environmental mitigation fund, plus an additional $3 million. Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens then offered to donate property worth $3 million; Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider said his city could find $2 million; Hopkins City Council Member Jason Gadd offered $500,000; and St. Louis Park City Council Member Jake Spano suggested the city could contribute “a couple million dollars.” Edina Mayor James Hovland didn’t specify an amount, but offered a motion that all cities would work with their city councils and make specific commitments to the budget fund by July 31.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanEden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens, center, and Met Council Member Jennifer Munt, right, shown following Wednesday's meeting.

“It might have been an easier math problem to cut the line at Golden Triangle or at Town Center,” Spano said. “It would have been easier from a math standpoint. But we here in the room don’t believe that’s in the best interest of the project. We believe getting the line to Southwest is important.”

The only city opting out of this municipal passing of the hat was Minneapolis. Speaking for Mayor Betsy Hodges, who wasn’t in attendance, policy director Peter Wagenius said the city has contributed enough by giving up the Cedar Lake Trail bike overpass, and by acquiescing on the co-locating of freight and light rail in the Kenilworth Channel.

“The package that has been developed, including the deletion of the bike bridge for the Cedar Lake Trail, is something the mayor can support,” Wagenius said after the meeting. “But we just wanted there to be no confusion that when both Eden Prairie and Minneapolis are making huge contributions — financial and otherwise — there isn’t going to be a cash contribution on top of that.”

The committee kept the projected 2040 ridership well above 30,000 per weekday — coming in at 34,074 — and maintained other measurements to retain the project’s current rating of medium-high by the Federal Transit Administration. A drop in the rating might have pushed the line down the list among projects competing for federal dollars.

“We have not compromised our position with the federal government at all,” McLaughlin said.

After the meeting, Adam Duininck — who chairs both the Corridor Management Committee and the Met Council — said the budget cutting was difficult but worthwhile. “It’s been a challenge but I also think it was an opportunity for us as a region to show that when we have these big challenges in front of us we can come together and work through them. It could have been a really unproductive conversation, it could have ground this project to a halt. But what you saw was people stepping up and responding and being forward looking.”

Dayton's support expected

What now? If the Met Council approves the new project scope next week as expected, the staff will present the new numbers to the FTA to make sure it is still something the feds will support. And because the cuts were reduced in scope, only Eden Prairie and Hennepin County must repeat the municipal consent process. Elected leaders of both governments said they expect consent to be granted. Minneapolis, which had the most-contested municipal consent process last fall, will not need to repeat the process.

And what about Dayton, who voiced skepticism about the project just a few months ago? Duininck said he has been briefing the governor about the project changes. “I think he’ll continue to support the project,” Duininck said. “I think he’ll see the reductions we made as being responsible and making sense.”

Metropolitan Council

The final money issue is the last piece of local funding not yet committed — the state’s 10 percent share set at $160 million. That was called into question in April when the Legislature not only failed to add the final $120 million of its share, but cut nearly $30 million that had been appropriated in 2013.

Duininck said the Met Council and the cities on the line still hope to persuade the Legislature to be a partner. But when the staff presents the updated budget to the FTA later this month, it will include the use of “certificates of participation” as a possible replacement of the state contribution. Those are financing mechanisms that are sold to investors and repaid over time with revenue — perhaps from future state appropriations, perhaps from a part of the Met Council’s regular motor vehicle sales tax revenue.

“The plan is to not use them until next year and we hope to not use them ever at all,” Duininck said. “But it is an important mechanism to show that we can, if need be, provide a state share.”  

Dayton appoints two new MNsure board members

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 9:47am

Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed Edgardo Rodriguez and Martha Eaves to the MNsure board. They'll serve four-year terms on the seven-member board that manages and operates the embattled state health care exchange.

Eaves replaces Thompson Aderinkomi as the board's representative of consumers eligible for individual coverage; Rodriguez replaces Brian Beutner as the board representative of small employers.

MNsure has faced numerous cost and service problems during its first two years and lacked adequate controls, according to the Legislative Auditor.

The governor's office says this about the two new board members:

Rodriguez, Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) Business Consultant – was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Mr. Rodriguez graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a B.S. in Business Administration and received his CPA from the University of New York. Mr. Rodriguez served as a public accountant for Price Waterhouse in New York, and was president of the Venezuelan Food Division International Multifoods Corporation for over 30 years. He has also served on the board at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Chicano Latino Affairs Council. 

Eaves, retired attorney, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) – served as an attorney for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services for 37 years. Ms. Eaves helped to establish Project HOPE (Homeless Outreach Prevention and Education) to help prevent homelessness by giving free legal advice to homeless, or near homeless, people living in Ramsey County. This program has since become a national model. Ms. Eaves serves as a volunteer tutor for first graders at Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary School in St. Paul. She also volunteers for East Side/Neighborhood House where she reviews cases on behalf of families who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and have a mental illness, medical condition, or a co-occurring substance use disorder.

Dayton said the two: "will bring a broad array of experience and expertise to the MNsure Board. Their collective breadth of knowledge, and commitment to the successful development and delivery of Minnesota’s health care marketplace, will serve the best interests of all Minnesotans."

Minnesota crime drops to the lowest rate since The Beatles were bigger than Jesus

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 9:24am
.mp .chart {margin-bottom:0;} .mp .credit {margin: 0;} CC/Flickr/Tony WebsterCrime has been on a steady decline in Minnesota — and nationally — since the mid-1990s.

Minnesota’s crime index dropped again last year, this time to the lowest rate since 1966, according to statistics released Wednesday.


For some perspective, here are a few other things that happened in 1966: Minnesota got the go-ahead from the NHL to start a hockey franchise called the North Stars, Bob Dylan released the album “Blonde on Blonde” and John Lennon told a London newspaper The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”

Crime has been on a steady decline in Minnesota — and nationally — since the mid-1990s. At the same time, as MinnPost reported last week, the state’s imprisonment rate has jumped significantly since 2000. According to a recent report from The Brennan Center for Justice, incarceration played only a minor role in that crime decline.

Minnesota index crime rate, 1980–2014 Source: Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

The crime index rate — calculated as reported crimes per 100,000 Minnesotans — fell about 5 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to data released by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Index crime includes violent and property crimes such as homicide, robbery and burglary.

There were 82 total reported murders across the state last year, down from 111 in 2013 and 92 in 2012, according to the data. Twenty years ago, by comparison, there were 97 murders in Minneapolis alone, earning the city the unflattering moniker "Murderapolis." Law enforcement in Minnesota cleared 80 percent of the murder cases in 2014. Reports of rape stayed about the same.

The rates of burglary and larceny dropped 10 and 5 percent, respectively. The bureau began counting human trafficking for the first time in 2014, finding 38 reported cases last year. It also began tracking cargo theft; there was only one case of this in 2014. 

Police arrested 19,200 for selling or possessing drugs last year. The vast majority – 60 percent – were for marijuana-related offenses.

Minnesota drug arrests, 2014 Source: Bureau of Criminal Apprehension MP.highcharts.makeChart('.chart-crime-index', $.extend(true, {}, MP.highcharts.columnOptions, { legend: {enabled: false}, tooltip: { formatter: function() { return ''+ '' + this.x + ': ' + Highcharts.numberFormat(this.y,0,".",",") + ' index crimes per 100,000 Minnesotans'; } }, xAxis: { categories: ['1980', '1981', '1982', '1983', '1984', '1985', '1986', '1987', '1988', '1989', '1990', '1991', '1992', '1993', '1994', '1995', '1996', '1997', '1998', '1999', '2000', '2001', '2002', '2003', '2004', '2005', '2006', '2007', '2008', '2009', '2010', '2011', '2012', '2013', '2014'] }, yAxis: { title: {text: 'Index crimes per 100,000 people'} }, series: [{ name: 'Crime rate', color: '#0793AB', data: [4830, 4781, 4535, 4074, 3884, 4203, 4429, 4701, 4404, 4459, 4579, 4642, 4672, 4457, 4365, 4526, 4561, 4465, 4117, 3627, 3633, 3584, 3571, 3440, 3352, 3410, 3366, 3257, 3174, 2894, 2886, 2757, 2775, 2669, {y: 2532, color: '#FF6633'}] }] })); MP.highcharts.makeChart('.chart-drug-arrests', $.extend(true, {}, MP.highcharts.barOptions, { legend: {enabled: false}, xAxis: { categories: ['Marijuana', 'Opium/Cocaine', 'Other', 'Synthetics'] }, yAxis: { title: {text: 'Arrests'} }, tooltip: { formatter: function() { return '' + '' + this.x + ': ' + Highcharts.numberFormat(this.y, 0, ".", ",") + ' arrests'; } }, series: [{ name: 'Arrests', color: '#55307E', data: [11590, 1627, 4999, 987] }] }));

Drivers' antagonism toward cyclists termed 'classic prejudiced behavior'

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 9:02am

The Guardian ran an article on Wednesday about how the building of segregated bike lanes in London, Bristol and other British cities has shifted “the tone of the debate around cycling,” making it more “polarised and poisonous than ever.”

Recently, there have been several nasty incidents of cycling sabotage in Britain. Large tacks have been strewn across bike paths, causing flat tires and crashes.

Even more worrisome are the wires and fishing line that have been found strung — sometimes at neck level — between trees on woodland cycling paths.

Advantages outweigh perils

So far, these incidents remain rare, and they have not resulted in serious injuries. The main danger to cyclists  — both in Britain and here in the United States — is being hit by cars and other motor vehicles.

Yet, despite that danger, cycling “is both far safer than many people think — numerous studies have shown it is many times more likely to lengthen a lifespan through increased exercise than shorten it,” writes Guardian reporter Peter Walker.

As I noted here last year, European researchers have shown that even when factoring in exposure to air pollution and accidents, the positive health effects of cycling — specifically, the reduction in the overall burden of disease, such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes — are significant. Indeed, in Copenhagen, commuting to work by bicycle is associated with about a 40 percent reduction in the risk of premature death.

Cycling also reduces health-care costs — about $1,800 for each person who commutes at least three miles to work by bike, according to French researchers.

That’s a benefit to all of us, whether we cycle or not.

Unexplained anger

Still, although cycling is much healthier — both for our health and our pocketbooks — than many people realize, it’s also much more perilous than it needs to be, as Walker stresses in his article.

And a big reason for that has to do with the remarkable level of anger that many people harbor toward cyclists, both in Britain and in the United States.

Anger that, frankly, isn’t explained by the occasional bad behavior of a cyclist who, say, weaves between traffic or doesn’t stop at a red light.

As Walker points out, cyclists are rarely to blame for bike-car accidents. “An analysis of police statistics found a failure to stop at a red light or stop sign was a factor in just 2% of serious adult cycling incidents,” he writes. “[I]n contrast, drivers were deemed solely to blame about two-thirds of the time.”

“The average person on a bike is arguably no more likely to break a law then their peer in a car,” Walker adds. “However, when they do so it’s more obvious, less normalised. People notice a cyclist pedalling through a red light, whereas speeding — which 80% of drivers admit to doing regularly — is often ignored, despite the immeasurably greater human cost this causes.”

A sociological perspective

So, what does explain the intense hatred (and, yes, it often seems to reach that level) that many people freely express toward cyclists? Why are they, in Walker’s words, “demonised equally as both anarchic lawbreakers and smug, humourless killjoys, sausage thighs squeezed into unsightly DayGlo Lycra”?

Here’s the perspective that a sociologist gave him:

Rachel Aldred, a Westminster University sociologist who studies transport issues, argues that British cyclists suffer because, unlike in countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, bikes are seen as frivolous, compared with the serious, adult business of driving. She says: “It’s as if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing on the roads, almost like you’re playing in the street and getting in the way of the traffic, like you’re a child. There’s also this dual way you can be stigmatised as a cyclist — it was historically seen as something for people with no choice, but now it’s seen as something for people who have a choice. It’s a leisure or play thing that they shouldn’t be doing in this inappropriate place.”

Aldred has also studied the environment cyclists face on the road, and her findings are alarming. In a pioneering paper published this month she finds cyclists experience on average one “very scary” incident involving another road user every week. Female riders suffer disproportionately more, thought to be because drivers are less patient with their slower average speeds.

‘Textbook prejudice’

A psychologist offered Walker yet another perspective:

The debate around cycling occasionally bears comparison with the treatment of so-called societal outgroups, according to Dr. Ian Walker, a psychologist at Bath University. One of his experiments to research attitudes towards cyclists involved riding around his home town wearing a long brunette wig with an electronic distance gauge attached to his bike, to see whether drivers gave female cyclists more overtaking space than men. They did, even when the “woman” was 6 ft tall and, for the drivers who happened to look in their rearview mirror, surprisingly hairy.

“What you see in discourses about cycling is the absolute classic 1960s and 1970s social psychology of prejudice,” he explains. “It’s exactly those things that used to be done about minority ethnic groups and so on — the overgeneralisation of negative traits, under-representation of negative behaviours by one’s own group, that kind of thing. It’s just textbook prejudiced behaviour.”

Such research suggests that the out-of-proportion antagonism directed at cyclists will only abate when the numbers of cyclists on the road (or, better yet, on dedicated cycling paths) increases to some tipping point, and all those angry drivers realize that the cyclists whose lives they’re imperiling are their family members, friends and neighbors.

Let’s hope that time comes soon.

You can read Walker’s article on the Guardian’s website.