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Updated: 13 min 54 sec ago

Minneapolis cabbies Uber-mad about regulation reform

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 12:31pm

The taxi revolution is upon Minneapolis. Says Eric Roper of the Strib, “The city’s taxicab industry is growing increasingly frustrated with a City Council effort to legalize app-based transportation companies like Lyft and UberX. … The city is hoping to hear back from the state’s insurance commissioner and several insurance trade groups, which are reviewing UberX’s insurance policy.” The taxi types are mad the city may allow the online mega-players to nearly self-regulate. "All you guys are worth millions, so we trust you. And you guys aren’t worth millions so we don’t trust you," sums up one cabbie.

Speaking of apps … . Dan Browning of the Strib says, “ … Mayo [Clinic] has ambitious plans to push its expertise out to 200 million people, and one of its first steps toward that goal is a new service called 'Better' that was built around a mobile app developed in Silicon Valley. The service will allow users to tap Mayo’s knowledge bank and symptom checker at no cost. For $49.99 a month, a family — from elderly grandparents to grandkids — could get round-the-clock access to Better’s professional personal health care assistants and Mayo’s own nurses.” Covered by ObamaCare?

Guess after decades of withdrawals, deposits are needed … . Jennifer Vogel of MPR says, “Just northwest of the Twin Cities, in the bedroom communities of St. Michael, Albertville and Hanover, something unusual is happening. A pump is taking water from the jointly run treatment plant and rather than sending it to people's homes and faucets, it's injecting it into the ground at a rate of 300 gallons a minute. The pumping won't stop until 100 million gallons of treated drinking water have been stowed in an aquifer beneath the cities.”

If it's Wednesday, Minneapolis is banning … . Curtis Gilbert of MPR reports, “At least once a week, first-term Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson buys lunch at Spicy Touch Indian Grill in the city's downtown skyway. He likes the food, but hates what lands in the garbage can. ‘Usually when I come in here, when it's really busy during lunch hours, I'll actually see a little tower of Styrofoam containers coming out of the trash bin, because you just can't fit that many in there,’ Johnson said." Johnson wants to ban such containers, has 100 cities have done. I believe the angry white male radio guys call all this, “hellhole, nanny-state socialism.”

Meanwhile in OldSchoolWorld, you wait in your vehicle because of that which fuels your vehicle. Bill McAuliffe of the Strib says, “Canadian Pacific (CP) freight trains, which Buffalo residents believe are longer and more numerous than ever thanks to the North Dakota oil boom, have increasingly been blocking intersections, cutting off the city’s north side from its south side and sending drivers scrambling sometimes out of town to find an open crossing. ... In November, two of the city’s three crossings were blocked for 16 hours overnight by a train that had stalled due to mechanical problems … .”

As far as I can tell, there are no fracking fluids involved … . A Marketwatch story says, “Minnesota Power, an ALLETE Company , this week applied to state and federal regulators for permits to build the 500-kilovolt Great Northern Transmission Line from the Minnesota-Manitoba border to an electric substation on the Mesabi Iron Range.”

This time they mean it … . Amy Forliti at the AP tells us, “A man who was 17 when prosecutors say he raped and killed a teenage girl won't be eligible for release from prison. The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court decision that gave Tony Roman Nose a chance to seek parole. The justices reinstated his original sentence of life without release.”

In the confluence of medicine/business … . Stribber Jeffrey Meitrodt reports, “MNsure announced this morning that it is turning to Deloitte Consulting to finish and repair its troubled health insurance exchange. Deloitte, which came close in 2012 to winning the job of building MNsure’s website, will present plans for moving the online marketplace forward this afternoon during MNsure’s board of directors meeting in St. Paul. MNsure officials said Deloitte will earn $4.95 million on an initial nine-month contract.”

Rob Hubbard at the PiPress has a belief that Joshua Bell is just what the Minnesota Orchestra needs. Reviewing last evening’s performance he says, “Could violinist Joshua Bell be the one who got the Minnesota Orchestra playing again? That's only conjecture, but when the orchestra's locked-out musicians announced they were hanging out their own shingle with a subscription concert series that featured Bell among the soloists, contract negotiations really heated up. … But there was nothing uneven about Bell's performance. He seemed as electrified as the audience ... Soon, he and Vanska were both dancing animatedly … .” Quite the word picture.

Who's giving big to Minnesota gubernatorial campaigns?

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 12:05pm

Who gave how much to whom?

That’s one of the games political junkies play when candidates file with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board.

For the 2014’s first quarter, gubernatorial campaigns feature bold-faced names, big contribution amounts, and some trends.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton collected $169,961 in cash and in-kind contributions, much from donors affiliated with the arts:

  • Bruce Coppock, president St Paul Chamber Orchestra, donated $1,000
  • Tom Hoch, president of the Hennepin Theater Trust, donated $500.
  • Garrison Keillor had an in-kind contribution of $3,000 for hosting a fundraiser, plus $1,000 in a cash contribution.
  • Ruth Huss, an arts philanthropist  gave the maximum of $4,000.

Dayton’s list of donors also includes Marilyn Nelson of Carlson Companies, who gave $1,000 and John Noseworthy, CEO of  Mayo Clinic, who also gave $1,000.

Wheelock Whitney is a well-known Republican who himself ran for governor. He’s also a Dayton family friend. He gave $750.

And speaking of family, the Dayton list includes a number of donors surnamed Dayton, including Lucy Dayton of Helena Montana who gave the maximum of $4,000. H. William Walter and Judy Walter of Minneapolis, and Matthew Walter of Edina also gave $4,000.

For this cycle, six donors gave the Dayton campaign the maximum contribution, including Wayzata's Edison Spencer.

On the Republican side, businessman Scott Honour raised the most of all candidates, including Dayton, with receipts $251,071.01, including a $50,000 personal loan.

Hnour had the most donors (seven) giving the $4,000 maximum: St. Peter’s Laurie Davis and Mitch Davis; Jack Helms from Edina; Wayzata’s Patrick Hughes; Connie Hayes and Doug Hayes of Los Angeles; and Jonathan Chan of Singapore. 

Former Eighth District congressman Chip Cravaack gave the Honour campaign his donor list for an in-kind contribution valued at $824.50

Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson raised $32,027. One donor, Brandy Darcy of Wayzata gave the $4,000 maximum contribution. 

Former State Rep. Marty Seifert raised $64,127. His list contains two maximum contributions, each from prominent Republican donors Joan and Bob Cummins.

State Rep. Kurt Zellers raised  $91,407.14 with no maximum contributors.  His list includes a representation of political insiders: GOP consultant Elam Baer gave $500 as did former Gov. Tim Pawlenty chief of staff Bob Schroeder. Pawlenty’s communication director Brian McClung gave $550.

State Sen. Dave Thompson raised $67, 066.07 and was second among Republicans in donors who gave the maximum. Four donors contributed $4,000: Ashley and Brenton Hayden of Minnetonka; Ian McDonald of Lakeville; and Gary Polzin of Northfield. Timothy Pearson of Lakeville contributed $3,950 to the Thompson campaign.

A final candidate, Rob Farnsworth, took in $3,335.

GOP Senate hopeful McFadden reports $600,000 raised; $1.8 million in the bank

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 11:47am

Businessman Mike McFadden, perhaps the top contender for the GOP nomination to run against U.S. Sen. Al Franken, reported this week that his campaign raised $600,000 in the first quarter.

The campaign said it has raised $2.85 million since last May and has $1.8 million on hand.

Franken, who is seeking reelection after his narrow recount victory over Norm Coleman six years ago, had earlier reported raising $2.7 million during the first quarter, with $5.9 million in cash on hand.

Among the other candidates seeking the GOP endorsement are Chris Dahlberg of Duluth, a St. Louis County commissioner, state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka and state Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen.

McFadden, who is, so far, the best-funded of the Republican candidates, said in a statement:

"Our consistent fundraising progress proves once again that we are the only candidate who will have the funds to defeat Sen. Franken in November."

New owner Glen Taylor: less liberal Star Tribune ahead

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:46am

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, MinnPost’s Britt Robson sat down with new Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor to talk about the purchase. Robson has interviewed Taylor many times over the years about the Minnesota Timberwolves, Taylor’s NBA team, often getting remarkably candid responses. This piece is no different; Taylor, a former state senator, says the Star Tribune, which fellow Republicans criticize as liberal, will “have better balance,” aided by veteran staffers retiring though the shift has been ongoing and would’ve happened even if he hadn’t bought the paper.

A new owner acknowledging political changes at the state’s largest daily will likely send tremors through Minnesota’s political and journalistic establishment (including the Strib’s newsroom), and for that reason we have not edited Taylor’s remarks, however lengthy.

One change we did make is splitting the interview into two parts. The second will run Thursday, and cover the backstory of how Taylor’s solo purchase came to be.

MinnPost: I know I always bring this up when we talk, but you once said that your primary training to be owner of the Timberwolves came not from your other businesses but from your time in politics as a state senator at the Legislature. Is the Star Tribune purchase and the media business similar in that sense, that it is a high-profile field?

GT: Yes, this is definitely high profile. So when I looked at buying the paper and I wrote down the good and the bad, one of the bad things was the same thing I know about politics: You have to take a stand sometimes. And the media takes a stand. Sometimes the story being reported — though true, and though accurate — is not very favorable to a group of people or a company or something like that. So all of a sudden, I find myself in that position.

Let’s just use the example of some corporation and it does something that is unfavorable. And a story gets written about it. Well, I’m sure the corporation would say, “Well, Glen Taylor, keep the gol-darned story out of the paper.”

And my answer — and it gets back to what you were just saying, in a way — is that you never can keep something quiet in politics.

But I look at this at some point in time and I know that Glen is the owner, not the publisher, he’s not on the board. Probably he is going to make a phone call at some point to somebody who is relevant in this state. And Glen is going to have to tell them, “The story is out there. It is going to be done. If we don’t do it somebody else will. But I am going to make sure that the story is done accurately.”

I mean, I do have that responsibility in the ownership that it is accurate. And somebody else from out of state might not care so much if it is accurate; they might care that it is a little more sensational. 

MP: But what you are saying, and I agree with you, is that you will probably be in a position at some point where you are going to have to injure your friends.

GT: But it is going to happen to them anyway. Somebody will do the story.

MP: Okay. Another topic. You are a bedrock Republican.

GT: No. 

MP: Less so now?

GT [quietly]: I am a Republican. I don’t know about bedrock.

MP: Well maybe I am dating myself with that description. By the old standards, you used to be a fundamental, old-school Republican. 

GT: I have always said that I am a moderate Republican. I think I was then, when I was in the Legislature, and I think I am today.

MP: Fair enough. But even moderate Republicans will occasionally kvetch about the ‘liberal media.’

GT: Yep.

MP: The Star Tribune is regarded as a liberal newspaper, rightly or wrongly, and probably less so now than ten years ago. Will that change under you in any way shape or form?

GT: I think the answer is yes. But I think the answer is yes whether I buy it or don’t buy it. Everything changes, and some people are going to say, “Well it is, because you bought it, that it changed.”

I would say back to them, “No. You are going to have new hires. You are going to have new people. There are going to be changes in seniority. You have got to be responsible to your readership.” And I think it has already been changing, and I have been a longtime reader of the paper.

Will it change because of the ownership of Glen Taylor? Yeah. To say it won’t wouldn’t be accurate. But it isn’t like Glen Taylor is going to come in there on day one and say, “I’m going to fire people” and do all sorts of things. I am going to say — and I have already told them this — that first of all it has got to be fair and it has got to be accurate.

I think it is important in the paper — and this is where I don’t know for sure, I think the paper is responsible for reporting both sides. I don’t think you can say if you are the news — and I think the news does this too much — that “this happened, but we are only going to show you the picture from this side. There is another picture from this side but we choose not to tell you about that.”

I think that’s an inaccurate picture. And it is my expectation that we be accurate.

I think that you divide that down. The news part has to be accurate, fair, consistent, and show this and that. [Taylor holds his hands up to indicate “both sides.”] I don’t know that they always do that. I don’t know that any media does. But I would challenge them to do the best job.

Now, there is another part called the editorial. I was asked this question, and it was probably like “Are you going to read every editorial?” and this kind of stuff. And I said, “No, I don’t expect that I am going to agree with every editorial that comes out of the paper. But I want good thought put into it, I want accuracy put into it, and I want a position stated. It doesn’t have to be my position. But it has to be logical and put together well.”

Now I can kind of say that, and where that will take us, and if it changes, I guess we will see. But I don’t plan on going in and firing and that kind of stuff. I just think we’ll have good discussions on this. Do we do that now, are we doing that?

I’ve seen some of the new reporters and I think there is a little bit more of a balance. But I think traditionally, some of the reporters that have been hired and they have been there for a long time, I don’t know how you are ever going to change those people and what they write, but through time itself, some of those people will retire.

And that’s where the decision is made, who are the people you hire to replace those people? And if that person is from the old school and thinks that my job is to make or show one viewpoint, well then whose else do you have on the paper that is giving the other side?

There are a number of ways to balance it. Individuals can say I want to give you both sides, or you can have the pros and cons [each giving their side]. My thought is that you are more likely to find two different reporters, one not seeing it from one side and the other not seeing it from the other side, and both of them reporting.

[It is similar to] when we talk about politics; there are two ways of coming up with a solution. Now, if you recall my way in politics — I never thought that, say, [former Senate Majority Leader] Roger Moe, was a Democrat who was evil and had evil principles. I just saw that Roger represented an environment as he saw it and the group of people who elected him saw it.

We both wanted better education and to take care of the disadvantaged. But now, how you do that [is the issue]. I might have said let the education decisions be made by the school board. I like that philosophy. I just think having those decisions closer to home is better, because people are going to keep track of them and throw members of the school board out. And maybe Roger thought that was too inconsistent having each school board make the decisions and so let’s [set policy] at the state level and we’ll have more consistency.

Now, is there a right and a wrong in there? Well, there are different ways of doing it, but I don’t know if that is right or wrong. But it is my principle and as a Republican I am going to say that I like having people closer to the situation making the decisions. It is just my philosophy that the further away people get the more they think they are supreme and can do better.

So I don’t know if that answers where you were going.

MP: Now what about conflicts of interest, which are going to be inevitable? You are a player in this state, and what you do makes news.

GT: Give me an example of what you mean?

MP: A business decision that you would rather keep private is uncovered by one of your reporters at the Star Tribune and the reporter wants to write about it.

GT: Okay. Ah, I think I have thought about that, and I don’t think that I, just knowing Glen Taylor, is going to tell that reporter to stop. If the leadership at the [Star] Tribune tells that person not to do it because they got the information wrongly or in confidence — like, “How did you learn about that?” “Well, I was at a meeting and Glen Taylor said it.” “Well, were you there as a reporter or as an employee?” — that type of stuff.

My sense is that — see, I’m not going to change with the sports guys at all. They’ve got their job to do and they are going to tell me that we crapped up.

MP: With the Timberwolves you are used to that.

GT [with a polite laugh]: Yeah, I am used to that. I don’t think I would change [opinion or behavior on the example], but that is a good question. I think I should never say never. Because I have a tendency wherever I’m at, don’t just do it if it is hurtful to a person. It is like saying that somebody stole something within the company — boy you better know where you are getting that and why you want [to report] it.

So I think your question is a good one, and I think my answer has to be that I have to let society go on and the bad stuff has to be in there with the good stuff. I knew that before I bought the paper and that is just the way it is going to be. But I have to be a little cautious because I don’t know what kind of situation might [come up].

MP: Well they are tough uncomfortable decisions. Let’s say some branch of Taylor Corporation, or maybe even a supplier, is doing something wrong. And you are already in the process of fixing that, of making that right again. And the Star Tribune finds out about the wrongdoing and wants to report on that. Now if you don’t let the paper do its work, isn’t that a double standard that prevents you from reporting on any other corporation?

GT: I think I know the answer to that. I think if you do something wrong, you do try and keep it from the media — I always do. But once the media finds out, I have learned that you never try and stop it. So I am pretty sure here that I would let it go. Now people might say, “Why, because you are just a good guy?” No. It is because I think I have learned that you can’t really stop the media.

MP: The cover up is always worse than the crime?

GT: That’s right. I am pretty clear at that. I know that I am aware of things that my company and other companies have done wrong that have never gotten to the surface. They were cleaned up and put away and nobody ever got harmed, but when it came out, we would have to explain it.

I don’t think I am going to change that way. I am not going to try and get it out there. But on the other hand, I think I have learned if it is going to come out, that maybe the best you can do is say to the reporter, “You might give me 24 hours notice so that I can prepare a response.”

I have always said to my employees, “If you make a mistake, if you want to be a leader, lead them on an honest path.” People know that leaders will make mistakes. If the leader stands up and says, “I have made a mistake. I am taking us down the wrong road. We are going to backtrack a little bit and go down a different road,” the people will accept this because they know they are being led by an honest human being and they like being led by a human being who knows he is not perfect. So I always felt like you should never let your pride get in the way of admitting that you have made a mistake.

So I think I know how I would handle it. If I did it, I did it. I would like time to respond but if I don’t get it, I just have to move faster.

Former Duluth Mayor Bergson gets 20 days in jail for third DWI

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:43am

Herb Bergson, a former mayor of Duluth, was sentenced to 20 days in jail this week in Wisconsin for his third drunk-driving conviction.

Bergson had served four years as Duluth's mayor, from 2003-2007. During his time as mayor of Duluth, Bergson was known for working to end homelessness. 

He's a former police officer who'd also been mayor of Superior, Wis., in the 1980s.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that under a plea agreement, a Wisconsin judge stayed a one-year jail sentence and ordered Bergson to serve 20 days in jail, complete treatment and pay a $1,872 fine. Bergson's first drunk-driving offense came in 2005, when he was Duluth's mayor. His second came in May 2012; he served 22 days in jail earlier this year for that.

The door is opened to reopening Nicollet Avenue at Lake St.

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

It might once again be possible to travel south on Nicollet Avenue from downtown Minneapolis to Richfield without jogging around the Kmart at Lake Street.

It was nearly 40 years ago when Nicollet was blocked just north of Lake Street to allow Kmart to build a store on two adjacent blocks with surface parking.

And so it has been until this week when the new Lake and Nicollet Redevelopment Project was given preliminary approval by the Minneapolis City Council Community Development and Regulatory Services Committee.

This opens the door to developers and opens up the possibility of reopening Nicollet. Also in the seven-block project area is proposed access to 35W from Lake Street and revitalization of the commercial district.

But before anything happens, the two landowners and two tenants on the land must agree.

“The only way that they [Kmart] could have a store in a different location that would allow the street [Nicollet] to run through, is if they say we like your proposal, or the developers proposal, and we’re going to move into a new store that sits in a different way on the site,” said David Frank, director of transit development for Minneapolis.

“If they don’t like the proposal and they don’t like the plan, they stay in their store the way it is and we can’t have our street,” said Frank.

The property under the Kmart is owned by the Kadish family, who are not local and who regard the land as an investment, according to Frank, who said any decision to sell the land would probably be a business decision. Kmart has a lease for the store that runs through 2053.

The land under the grocery store adjacent to the Kmart is owned by John Leighton with Jerry’s Foods, based in the Twin Cities, holding a lease for the store. The food store has about three more years before the lease expires, according to Frank.

When the Kmart store opened in 1977, the company had strict rules for the size of building (this one is 80,000 square feet) and the number of surface parking spots. The guidelines did not allow for parking ramps or parking that would require customers to cross a street to access the store.

Today the rules are different. The store needs to be on one floor, but it could be built above or below a parking ramp, according to Max Bulbin, director of real estate and leasing for Kmart.

“It doesn’t work to have that giant piece of land,” said Bulbin speaking to reporters on a conference call from company headquarters in Hoffman Estates in the Chicago area.

'Long and tough process'

“We’re really looking to the city for direction,” said Bulbin, who added that he would like to see Nicollet Avenue reopen and a new Kmart in the same neighborhood but thinks it could be a “long and tough process.”

The store currently employs 100 people and pays $1 million in sales and employment taxes annually.

“We’ve enjoyed a longstanding relationship with our customers in nearby neighborhoods,” Tom Manke, district manager for the Lake Street Kmart. Manke said that he supports establishment of the Redevelopment District, but that uncertainty about the future is hurting sales and employee morale.

The Redevelopment Project calls for retail on both sides of the reopened Nicollet Avenue, a mix of housing options, parking ramps and a small park along the west side of Nicollet Avenue leading to the Midtown Greenway. A variety of public finance options are available for developers.

City of Minneapolis

LEAPs Act calls for sea change in thinking about language skills and teaching

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:21am
CC/Flickr/Brian SmithConventional wisdom has held that students must learn English before they can conquer academics.

Right now, the fate of Minnesota children who are learning English depends on where and how they end up in school. The least fortunate languish, falling years behind in classrooms where lessons are spooled out in a language they can’t understand.

Because conventional wisdom has held that students must learn English before they can conquer academics, others attend school in pull-out classrooms. By the time they are “mainstreamed,” they, too, can be years behind.

And it’s no small problem. Over the last two decades the number of Minnesota English language learners, or ELLs in education jargon, has grown by more than 300 percent [PDF]. There are now 65,000 enrolled in schools here, 50,000 more than 20 years ago.

Perhaps, then, the most revolutionary piece of legislation expected to emerge from the state Capitol in coming weeks is a long-sought package of reforms laying out strategies proven to bring ELL students to grade level reliably and quickly. 

Its provisions merit dissection [PDF],  but the most important aspect of the bill is the sea change it calls on educators, policymakers, higher ed and employers to make.

Seeing multilingualism as a big asset

Right now, many perceive the fact that a student is acquiring English as a deficit that needs fixing. ELL advocates, by contrast, insist that Minnesota’s prosperity rests on seeing multilingualism as a tremendous asset.

In fact, if the Learning for English Academic Proficiency and Success Act or LEAPS Act, is passed into law this year as expected, all Minnesota high schools graduates who are assessed as fluent in more than one language will receive a special seal on their diploma.

“That’s a signal to higher ed and to businesses,” said Mary Cecconi, executive director of Parents United. “This person can cross cultures.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Minnesota ranks 15th nationwide in terms of the number of languages spoken by its students. A multilingual workforce without an achievement gap would put the state at a major advantage.

“The focus for far too long has been on the wrong indicators,” Cecconi added. “We need to understand that our job is to teach them content.”

In short: No more waiting for a child to conquer English to begin instruction in math, literacy, science or any other subject. And no longer is the goal acculturation. 

A new expectationRep. Carlos Mariani

“It sets the expectation in state law that ELL services be delivered in a way that looks like the home language of the learner,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani, the St. Paul DFLer who has been incubating the policy for years along with Sen. Patricia Torres-Ray, DFL-Minneapolis. “I’m pretty proud of it.”

Last year, ELL students lagged 20 percentage points behind the state’s 79 percent high school graduation rate. Only 28 percent of ELL students scored proficient in math on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), vs. 61 percent of all students.

Just 17 recent passed reading tests, vs. 58 percent overall. And 12 percent were deemed proficient in science, vs. 53 percent of all students.

During the special session of 2003 then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature balanced the budget in part by making a series of cuts to education. Some $11 million was pared from the ELL funding stream by reducing the number of years students could receive services from seven to five.

At the same time, the number of immigrants enrolling in Minnesota schools was mushrooming. Skyrocketing in particular was the population of refugees whose backgrounds do not include exposure to formal education. Not only do they not speak English, they typically have no exposure to literacy or numeracy in their home languages.

“With home language proficiency, you’re building on those building blocks in the brain of the child,” said Mariani. “So when you supply another language the architecture is there.”

The measure builds on last year’s World’s Best Workforce legislation, a series of provisions that establish a cradle-to-career pipeline that seeks to keep Minnesota’s economy competitive by ratcheting up dramatically the number of students who are poised to finish college.

Culturally responsive teaching

To that end, this year’s LEAP Act directs schools to adopt culturally responsive teaching practices and to ensure students are literate in at least their home language by third grade, a critical juncture. The Minnesota Department of Education’s Regional Centers of Excellence, established last year in the workforce legislation, will supply resources to districts without strong ELL programs.

It also includes provisions requiring teachers and administrators to expand their understanding of how to serve ELL students most effectively and directs teacher colleges to include ELL strategies in their curricula. And when staffing bilingual programs, districts must give priority to native speakers.

Far from being received as one more set of mandates educators must cope with, teachers are expected to welcome the changes. Response to a survey of ELL teachers by the state’s largest teachers union, Education Minnesota, about the key concepts was highly favorable, Mariani said.

A number of school and civic leaders have already been working to promote the value of a multicultural education.

A third of St. Paul pupils are ELL students

St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) Superintendent Valeria Silva has received national recognition for her ELL programming. One third of pupils in St. Paul, the largest district in the state, are ELL students.

Minneapolis Public Schools are working to expand a promising program for students who arrived here weeks or months ago and may have had little exposure to schools, let alone English.

And former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, now the head of the education data trust Generation Next, has spoken compellingly for years about the hunger among the city’s employers for workers whose skill set includes being able to cross cultures.

These are examples of the shift Cecconi talks of. “Right now, we look at an [ELL] child and say, ‘Oh, the poor kid, let’s teach them English,” she said. “You learn the culture by learning the language. And they are living in a world where they can navigate two languages.”

The LEAP Act is included in both the House and Senate omnibus bills. Next week, when lawmakers come back from their mid-session recess, the legislation will be taken up by conference committees.

While Mariani is hopeful that he measure will return intact, there are fears within the education sector that the committees will not be willing to fund everything in the bills.

“This is not a change you are going to see next year,” said Cecconi. “This is a societal change.”

Dennis Nguyen, former GOP secretary-of-state candidate, joins Jobs Coalition board

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:18am

Dennis Nguyen, a businessman who withdrew suddenly from the state secretary of state's race last month, has joined the board of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition.

Nguyen had been the GOP's presumed nominee in the race, where DFLer Mark Ritchie is not seeking re-election. But in March Nguyen dropped out of the race, citing family and work reasons.

The week before his withdrawal there were published reports that Nguyen was a regular at strip clubs.

The Minnesota Jobs Coalition is a conservative nonprofit pushing a jobs-creation agenda. Ben Golnik, its chairman, said of  Nguyen:

"Dennis is a proven business leader who has worked to create thousands of jobs and knows what it will take to get Minnesota back on the path to a sound fiscal future. In his role, Dennis will help us grow our outreach efforts as we continue to focus on the important issues of jobs and the economy in Minnesota."

Five reasons you probably shouldn’t attend a Christian Seder

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:58am
Theoblogy CC/Flickr/Dara SkolnickJesus didn’t eat horseradish or sip salt water.

It’s Passover, and lots of Christians — especially evangelicals — are attending Passover Seder dinners. But they’re not traditional Seder dinners, with Jews. No, they’re a co-opted rite, sometimes hosted by a “messianic” Jew, and sometimes just by Christians who’ve read a Wikipedia entry.

I’ve been to a Seder for the past couple years. My family and I have been hosted by Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, a sometime contributor to this blog, and a dear friend. In his role as director of the religious studies program at St. Cloud State University, Joseph has hosted Seder dinners for Christian students — at the Lutheran campus ministry for instance — but the difference is that he’s really Jewish. He’s a rabbi. He’s not playacting. This is really his thing.

Many Christians, particularly evangelicals, are drawn to primitive Christianity. They want to follow Jesus like those first Christians did, before Constantine and Charlemagne mucked everything up with Christendom. I personally think that’s a noble goal, and I’m not totally averse to it. However, having a Seder meal at your church or Christian college is not the way to do here. Here’s why:

1) We know very little about Jesus’ Passover meal. The Gospels themselves equivocate on the meal — either it took place on Passover, or on the night before Passover. In the Synoptics (and Paul), there is bread and wine, but in John only a cup into which both Judas and Jesus dipped their hands. Bread and wine, blessed and passed, was common for any Sabbath meal with family or friends. The Passover meal in the first century surely featured meat, but there’s no mention of that in the Gospels or Paul.

2) The Seder meal as we know it developed well after Jesus lived. Before 70 CE, Passover was a festival celebrated by going to Jerusalem, to the temple. That’s why Jesus and the disciples went there. It wasn’t until after the temple was razed that modern, rabbinic Judaism was born, and along with it the practices and rites we know now as synagogue worship and home-based practices like the Seder dinner. In other words, Jesus didn’t eat horseradish or sip salt water.

3) Early Christian eucharistic meals were not patterned after the Seder, but after the Greco-Roman symposium meal. At a symposium, family and friends would gather for a meal to discuss philosophy, the gods, government, and the like. Social distinctions were temporarily ignored; men and women ate together. The eucharistic meal in the early church took this concept and amplified it, even allowing slaves to join the company.

4) The early church often met for eucharist in cemeteries. In the Roman world, friends and relatives of a deceased person would meet at the person’s grace in the necropolis on the 3rd and 30th day after death and have a feast on the sarcophagus. The party was called a refrigerium, meaning “refreshment” for the dead, and the top of the sarcophagus even had a hole to pore food and wine into the casket. Early Christians, often persecuted for gathering together, took up this practice because Roman officials had so much respect for the dead that the church could meet unmolested in the cemetery. So successful was this rite, that Christians began celebrating the anniversaries of martyrs by meeting at their graves and having an all-night party — one of the only times when women were allowed to be out past dark in the ancient world. The practice was still common in the late 4th century, so much that both Ambrose and Augustine preached against it, but to no avail.

5) How would you feel if a rabbi or imam performed a mock baptism? That’d be pretty weird, right? That’s pretty much how it is when Christians take a practice that is central to Judaism and attempt to recreate it with Christian meaning. Virtually every Jew I’ve ever asked about this finds the practice offensive.

So, if you want to recreate an early church practice, pack a lunch and bottle of wine and go have a party in a cemetery. Or hold a Greek symposium, inviting people who come from different races and classes than you. That’d be a great way to be true to the early church, without stepping on the practice of another religion.

This post was written by Tony Jones and originally published on the Theoblogy. Follow him on Twitter: @jonestony

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Congressional fundraising: Nolan bounces back, big leads for Kline, Paulsen

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:29am

Huge gap in pollution exposure by race surprises U of M researchers

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:04am

By now you probably know that people of color nationwide have, among other things, higher rates of unemployment, poverty and educational disparity compared to white people.

University of MinnesotaJulian Marshall

Here is one more fact to add to the list: People of color are also exposed to nearly 40 percent more polluted air than whites, according to a University of Minnesota study released Tuesday.

The study looks at the differences in pollution exposure by race, income, education and other categories throughout the country, said Julian Marshall, the study’s lead researcher and a civil-engineering associate professor at the University of Minnesota.   

“The main ones are race and income, and they both matter,” Marshall said in an interview. “In our findings, however, race matters more than income.”

The study, “National patterns in environmental injustice and inequality: Outdoor NO2 air pollution in the United States,” found that people of color are exposed to 38 percent more outdoor nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which comes from vehicle exhaust and power plants, than whites.

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations are also higher for low-income groups than for those with higher incomes. Likewise, the level of nitrogen dioxide is higher among people with less than a high school education compared to those with a high school education or above.   

To Marshall, some of the reasons that race “really matters” in the study is that when he looked at the exposure gap between high-income Hispanic and low-income white groups, nitrogen dioxide concentrations were higher among high-income Hispanics.   

“We were quite surprised to find such a large disparity between whites and nonwhites related to air pollution,” Marshall said. “Especially the fact that this difference is throughout the U.S., even in cities and states in the Midwest.”

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the Twin Cities, as in most cities, are higher near downtowns and areas with major highways. And Minnesota is among the top 15 states in the nation with the largest exposure gaps between people of color and whites. New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois top the list.

Video abstract: environmental justice in NO2 air pollution in the United States

Air pollution health risks

The study found that the health implications of the exposure gaps between nonwhites and whites are alarming.

For instance, the study states:

Breathing NO2 is linked to asthma symptoms and heart disease. The researchers studied NO2 levels in urban areas across the country and compared specific areas within the cities based on populations defined in the U.S. Census as “nonwhite” or “white.”

The health impacts from the difference in levels between whites and nonwhites found in the study are substantial. For example, researchers estimate that if nonwhites breathed the lower NO2 levels experienced by whites, it would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease alone among nonwhites each year.

The Environmental Protection Agency has added NO2 to its main list of air pollutants to monitor. The list includes ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and lead.  

Air pollution remains the world’s biggest environmental health risk, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In a report published last month, WHO said 7 million people worldwide died in 2012 as a result of pollution exposure.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi.

2014 Campaign Finance Dashboard

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:04am

MinnPost is tracking fundraising totals for candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House in 2014. The data below represents the latest information on file with the FEC and Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Note: Total amount raised is the amount raised by candidates for the entire 2014 election cycle.

Mass DNA sweep in privacy-loving France: Why no backlash?

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:42am

PARIS – The French fiercely protect their right to privacy – so much so that the country has famously been butting heads with American Internet giants like Google to protect French users from potential intrusions into their private lives.

But when it comes to criminality, the views are much laxer. In a move that would be sure to provoke anger in the US and raise tough constitutional questions, police are asking more than 500 males at a private Roman Catholic high school to submit to DNA testing to help find a rapist.

Because of its scale – this is the first-ever sweep of a school – the action has garnered national attention, along with some concerns about civil rights violations, especially of children. But the school and its student body have largely submitted to the investigation without further fuss.

Isabelle Wekstein, a lawyer and expert on media privacy, says that although the French cherish their privacy, this case doesn’t seem to have produced mass outcry, most likely because of its criminal context. This is not about the paparazzi or the life of the president, but of a perpetrator and a child victim. “This has to be put in the context of the rape,” she says. “I can understand it if this is the only way for the police to do their job.”

All the male students and employees at Fenelon-Notre Dame in La Rochelle, on the western coast of France, have been asked to provide police with DNA samples by Wednesday in an effort to solve the rape of a 16-year-old student. The girl was raped in a bathroom on the premises this fall, and with the lights turned off she couldn't identity the perpetrator. All other efforts to find him have failed.

"Nobody has objected, and the samples have been taken in a calm and orderly fashion," local prosecutor Isabelle Pagenelle told reporters. "To say this is a first does not automatically mean it is not a legitimate operation.… We have nothing to go on except the DNA.”

Europe has more comprehensive privacy laws than the US, and France very actively investigates breaches. “France takes data privacy very seriously,” says Pascale Gelly, founder of Paris-based Cabinet Gelly, which specializes in privacy law. 

France has made headlines for its confrontations with Google over the company’s data storage methods. Privacy is so ingrained in the culture that this winter, when French President François Hollande was photographed late at night on a motorbike, amid swirling accusations that he was having an affair, many asked whether this was the nation’s business at all.

This way of thinking is unimaginable for many Americans, whose president’s personal life is considered a matter of national interest. But a blanket DNA search – even a voluntary one – would raise fears about violations of civil rights and the Fourth Amendment’s protection against search and seizure in the absence of a probable cause.

The French have shown more willingness to provide information when it comes to criminality. Such sweeps are not common, but this is not the first to have been ordered here. Similar tests for unsolved rape and murder have led to widespread DNA testing. According to the Associated Press, France’s DNA database has rapidly expanded since its creation in the late 1990s, growing to 2 million profiles today.

Still, this case has caused some pause, especially because it involves children. “Massive testing will always raise privacy issues, and that's good because it’s always important to [ask] the question, ‘Is it proportionate or not?’” says Ms. Gelly.

Both the students and their parents must give consent to the testing, and authorities say the DNA samples will be destroyed after the analysis. But Ms. Pagenelle raised concern among lawyers by saying that those who refuse the test will be considered suspects. For Joseph Cohen-Sabban, a French lawyer, this goes against the rights of the citizens.

“Refusing the DNA sample is a right when you are not in custody,” he says. “However, the prosecutor indicated that the person who refuses to submit to this test could be taken to the police station, and the refusal may arouse suspicions, which could lead to custody.”

Even so, students and employees of the private school have expressed eagerness to help solve a crime that affected one of their own. “This happened during the school day in a confined space,” Chantal Devaux, the school’s director, told French media. “The decision to take such a large sample was made because it was the only way to advance the investigation.”

“The lack of public reactions was a surprise,” says Mr. Cohen-Sabban. “But, at the same time, the circumstances and the stakes of this crime can explain this silence.”

Is it all downhill (cognitively speaking) after age 24?

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:40am

Thought you had until at least age 50 to worry about your brain slowing down?

Well, think again (and quickly, if you can). For according to a new Canadian study, our cognitive motor skills — the ability of our brain to process and then react to new information — peaks at age 24.

After then, it’s apparently all downhill.

“Among the general public, people tend to think of middle age as being roughly 45 years of age, after which there are obvious age-related declines in cognitive-motor functioning,” write the authors of the study. “Once ‘over the hill,’ experience and wisdom, the consolation prizes of age, are hoped to be sufficient to either attenuate this decline or at least compensate for it indirectly. Aging research has shown that this general conception is incorrect. There is much evidence that memory and speed on a variety of cognitive tasks may peak much earlier."

Oh, dear.

‘A ruthless war game’

For the study, which was published online this week in the journal PLoS One, researchers at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver analyzed thousands of hours of stored data from the performance records of 3,305 StarCraft2 players, aged 16 to 44. The game is described in an accompanying press release as  “a ruthless competitive intergalactic computer war game that players often undertake to win serious money.”

StarCraft2 “brings several important advantages to the study of aging,” according to the study’s authors. It’s played in real time, for example, a factor that requires players to act and make decisions quickly. It’s also played by people of various ages and skill levels — and for sustained periods of time.

Using complex statistical modeling, the researchers figured out how long all the players took to react to the moves of their opponents. (This is one of the first scientific studies to use such “big data.”) They then compared the performances at different ages.

A matter of milliseconds

The analysis revealed, as the press release notes, “an earlier-than-expected slippery slope into old age.”

“After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance,” states Joe Thompson, the lead author of the study and a psychology doctoral student, in the press release. “This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill.”

The decline is small in absolute numbers. In fact, it can be measured in milliseconds. On average, a 39-year-old in the study reacted 150 milliseconds (.15 seconds) slower than a 24-year-old.

But that’s still a significant difference, says Thompson and his colleagues. In relative terms, the study found that for each 15 years of age, cognitive speed dropped by 15 percent — and, again, no matter what the player’s skill level.

In other words, experience did not make up for the decline in cognitive motor skills.

Adaptive strategies

Something else did, however. “Older players, though slower, seem to compensate by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players, enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss,” says Thompson.

The older players relied much more heavily on keyboard shortcuts, for example, to implement their strategic decisions. 

That finding suggests, says Thompson, “that our cognitive-motor capacities are not stable across our adulthood, but are constantly in flux, and that our day-to-day performance is a result of the constant interplay between change and adaptation.”

Thank goodness for that.

Unknown cause

Thompson and his colleagues didn’t investigate the biological causes of the decline, but they speculate that it may have something to do with a metabolic shift in the “ratios of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) to choline (Cho),” which begins in the brain during the early 20s.

PloS One is an open-access journal, so you can download and read the entire study at the journal’s website.

Crimeans find their new lives in Russia harder than expected

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:15am

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea – A month on from their referendum to join Russia, Crimeans ought to be looking north to the mainland with some satisfaction. Pro-Russia demonstrators in eastern Ukraine occupy government buildings across the region, making demands for Russian protection. Kiev is mobilizing troops to oust them, raising the possibility that Russia will respond with military intervention. But for Crimeans, now safely ensconced in Russia's embrace, all is now good. Right?

Well, maybe not.

Life on the Black Sea peninsula, for most if not all its residents, has been turned upside down, at least in the short term. Shopkeepers post prices in both Russian rubles and Ukrainian hryvnia, and have to resort to hand calculators to make change. Lawyers and judges complain that the legal system is all but paralyzed. And Crimea’s main economic engine, tourism, is in danger, as the turmoil spooks tour operators and new visa requirements make vacations more of a headache.

“The situation seems to be in suspended animation: not to one side, not to another side,” says Anton Zavalii, a doctor at a city hospital who is also studying for his doctoral degree. “Everyone is just waiting for something to happen and no one knows what it will be.”

With the business of the referendum out of the way, Moscow and its allies in the unrecognized government now running Crimea quickly turned toward bringing the peninsula into sync with the rest of Russia. They have been sanguine about the transition, insisting that by January 2015 the region will be fully integrated into Russia’s bureaucracies.

“Crimea has moved away from politics and is all focused on work now,” Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of Crimea’s parliament, was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying. “We are getting substantial financial aid and all financial questions are being solved.”

The realities, however, are proving challenging for the average Crimean. Long lines are appearing outside migration offices, as people rush to get Russian passports. Prices for goods such as meat, gasoline, and sugar have crept up by as much as 30 percent in some places.

The transition has also created questions for students and teachers: Will their Ukrainian diplomas be recognized under Russia’s higher educational system? Will teachers need to be re-certified under Russian teaching requirements? At one Simferopol university, political science students joked that they might have to become migrant laborers in Russia or work in a McDonald’s restaurant.

Legal limbo

More critically, Crimea's legal system has ground to a halt. “There is no law in Crimea right now,” says Yan Akhramovich, a Simferopol lawyer and member of the equivalent of the Ukrainian bar association.

“Ukrainian law doesn’t work because we’re now supposed to be part of Russia. Russian law doesn’t work because there are no Ukrainian lawyers here who know Russian law,” he says. “The courts don’t work. The judges can’t work.”

The legal limbo afflicting Crimea now is also highlighted by the question of citizenship. Many, if not most, local residents are seeking Russian citizenship; local authorities have opened special departments to handle the crush of demand.

For those who want to keep their Ukrainian citizenship, however, authorities have set up a byzantine process and a strict deadline of Apr. 18 to do so. Those who don’t meet the deadline automatically become Russian citizens.

Elizaveta Bogutskaya, a Simferopol interior designer who is an ethnic Russian, says that over the past few weeks she’s gone nearly every day to passport and migration offices, trying to clarify the process of how she can retain her Ukrainian passport and citizenship.

At one point, Ms. Bogutskaya, who has chronicled her bureaucratic adventures on her Facebook page, submitted an affidavit stating she was refusing Russian citizenship. In return, she received a receipt – absent any signs of authority – asking for her signature to acknowledge she was aware of the "potential legal consequences" of forgoing a Russian passport.

“I was born here, I was brought up here, I’ve lived here all my life, and now I’m a foreigner?” she says. “It’s like Alice in the looking glass around here.”

Which currency?

Even the simplest of daily tasks, handling money, had been thrown into disarray.

When Dr. Zavalii’s first university stipend following annexation finally arrived, several days late, he received it not in Ukrainian hryvnia on a debit card as he used to, but by lining up at the university bookkeeper’s office to get a thick stack of crisp, new Russian rubles, untouched by human hands.

He started trying to use the rubles around Simferopol. Taxi drivers looked baffled. Grocery store clerks were exasperated. No one knew exactly what to do with a currency that seemed to appear overnight. 

Bank ATMs around Simferopol work sporadically these days, with many bearing paper signs apologizing for “temporary inconvenience connected with implementing new regulations of the Russian Federation.” At many small shops, prices remain in hryvnia, despite the ruble's official introduction on March 24. At bigger supermarkets, goods display prices in both rubles and hryvnia, but cashiers only make change in hryvnia.

And the local economy is further troubled by the lack of a crucial import: tourists. Cruise ship operators are reportedly shunning the historic tourist cities of Yalta and Sevastopol. Russia’s notoriously problematic visa process is also making it harder for tourists. And tourists are less likely to visit a region seized by a country now purported to be instigating insurrections in another part of Ukraine.

“There’s no local industry or production here in Crimea. Tourism is overwhelmingly Crimea’s business. And this year it’s totally ruined,” said Said Seitumerov, who runs a restaurant in the historic district of Bakhchisaray, a town located about 20 miles south of Simferopol. 

Even for those who boycotted the referendum or outwardly oppose it, there’s a grim reality that the annexation isn’t going to be reversed, and that the task now lies in finding a way to deal with the new system – warts and all.

"The best thing you can say right now is at least there hasn’t been a war,” says Alim Azapov, a university student. “It all would be funny if it hadn't been so sad.”

They took our beers! Teamsters fight Sunday growler sales

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 5:20am

The shot-and-a-beer guys take a shot at your beers ... . The Strib's Jon Tevlin has a stemwinder on the Teamsters union torpedoing Sunday "growler" sales at brewpubs. Growlers are jugs that allow you to take brewpub product home, and though Teamsters typically don't work at brewpubs, the union says wholesalers will torpedo their contracts if Minnesota lawmakers approve the bill. That resonates in DFL-dominated St. Paul. The Teamsters aren't talking much to the brewers, and not at all to Tevlin (though they did to MPR's Tom Scheck, who broke the story last week). No one has talked to the Teamsters' bosses, who sound like the real jerks here. 

This kind of resolution is an all too rare thing. Dan Nienaber’s Mankato Free Press story on the return of the unjustly accused football coach says, “Fighting back tears and taking several breaks to regain his composure, former Minnesota State University head football coach Todd Hoffner announced he will return to his coaching position in Mankato. Hoffner, 47, who said he made his decision right before Tuesday's news conference, said he is going to resume his duties Wednesday in Mankato. … [Attorney Jim] Fleming wants Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson held accountable for the decision to pursue criminal charges.” MPR's Bob Collins unpacks all the bizarreness.

Talk about decades overdue … . MPR's Jon Collins says, “A redevelopment plan that could lead to the reopening of Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street in Minneapolis took another step forward on Tuesday with approval from a City Council committee. Neighborhood groups have long supported the effort to reopen the street but previous efforts to negotiate with landowners and Kmart, which holds a lease on the site until 2053, have petered out. The plan would allow the city to spearhead future development on the site.” However, there's no money yet and the city has tried this before.

But I thought the roads were unsubsidized ... . MPR's Dan Olson on cities' losing battle to fund pothole repairs, at least from dedicated funds. Despite $1.8 billion in direct taxes, "Minnesota this year is short $1.5 billion to properly fix and maintain the state's 144,000 mile road network, fifth largest in the country. ... Shoreview will get about $869,000 in state road money this year. 'That gets me about three-quarter miles of roadway reconstruction,'" says the city's public works boss.

The Six Months and a Day crowd just can’t catch a breakStribber Adam Belz says, “Snowbirds and high earners are discovering that they must do more than buy a condo in the Sun Belt and register a vehicle there, after a court decision last year reinforced the state’s ability to use any of more than two dozen criteria to determine who is a Minnesota resident. ‘People refer to it as Hotel Minnesota,’ said Matt Shea, a lawyer at Gray Plant Mooty. ‘You can come any time you like, but you can never leave.’”

There’s gold in them there ambulances. Christopher Snowbeck of the PiPress writes, “The federal Medicare health insurance program winds up paying the fare for many of the ambulance rides provided by the city of St. Paul. That's why the city in 2012 was one of the largest single recipients of the program's payments among non-hospital health care providers in Minnesota ... . Of more than 19,000 providers who in 2012 cared for Medicare patients in Minnesota, St. Paul's take of more than $2 million was the ninth-largest individual sum.”

This kid’s life just took a serious turn. The Strib's Mary Lynn Smith says, “A 19-year-old northwestern Minnesota man was arrested Tuesday and accused of shooting a sheriff’s deputy in the back during a traffic stop. Steven Anthony Henderson, whose last known address is Fertile, was being held in the Northwest Regional Corrections Center in Crookston after a two-hour manhunt involving more than 70 officers from a dozen law enforcement agencies, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.”

At least he got a picture … . Doug Smith of the Strib says, “When Andy Fronek went sturgeon fishing on the Rainy River for the first time last weekend, he thought it would be cool to catch a fish bigger than his kids, ages 9 and 11. ‘Instead, I caught one bigger than me,’ said Fronek, 41, of Eden Prairie. Fronek stands 5-feet-10. His monster sturgeon measured 5-11. It had a 29-inch girth. He caught the lunker on a gob of worms and fought it for 35 minutes.”

If only I could buy a growler on Sunday … . Michael Olson of MPR tells us, “A handful of Minnesota breweries have won 2014 World Beer Cup Awards. August Schell Brewing brought home two awards, one included a gold for their Vienna-Style Lager. Steel Toe Brewing won a gold for their Scotch Ale. Canal Park Brewing Co. Summit Brewing Co. and Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub also won awards this year.”

We’re #8 and #10. St. Paul beat Minneapolis by two slots in a list of “The 25 Greenest Cities.” Sreekar Jasthi of NerdWallet Finance says, “St. Paul, Minn. In addition to its great air quality and low rate of wasted fuel per commuter, St. Paul boasts more than 20 buildings that are certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ... Minneapolis, Minn. Much like its twin city St. Paul, Minneapolis offers great air quality and a relatively uncongested environment for transportation. With 92 miles of on-street bikeways and 85 miles of off-street paths, Minneapolis is one of the best biking cities in the nation.”

Safe Schools debate shows that we should watch our legislators in action, not just on the stump

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 5:00am

The quote "If you like sausages and law, you will sleep better if you never see them made," has been attributed to many different pundits and traditions. In this state of Spam, artisan sausages and delicious bratwurst, I never took the aphorism too seriously — until recently when I listened to the minority party speak for 12 hours in the House and six hours in the Senate against the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. Now, I think the Republicans need to apologize to sausage-makers across Minnesota.

I enjoy good legislative debate and am a great fan of the well-constructed persuasive argument. There are often multiple good solutions to complicated problems, and dialogue can meld those approaches together. But this is not what I saw. Virtually every speech I saw in person and online started with, "I am not in favor of bullying, but ..." and was given by people who knew that they had no chance of winning the vote. Almost every speech was given by a Republican, and as the late night debates droned on no other legislative business could be conducted.

You've most likely read coverage of the more inflammatory remarks where legislators said the bill that instructs school districts to be more proactive in preventing bullying is "fascist," "needs to be defeated like Hitler," and "smacks of George Orwell's 1984." While those statements were egregious, ideological claims, I was more offended by repetitive silly points, inferences from anecdotes, seat-of-the-pants remarks and misuse of facts that seem to characterize too many floor discussions.

Mean tone, wasted time

Let me share a statement made on the House floor. The member from rural northwestern Minnesota was concerned that the Governor's Task Force on Bullying may not have adequately represented his point of view. He asked Rep. Jim Davnie, the bill's main House author, how many members of the task force were from northern Minnesota. Davnie indicated that he did not know off the top of his head where the members were from, but he turned to his paperwork and replied, "There were members from St. Cloud, Bemidji and Duluth." His legislative colleague replied, "Duluth is NOT in northern Minnesota."

No, Duluth did not slide south with all the ice this winter. The House member just wanted to make a point in spite of the facts.

Lawmaking does not benefit from this kind of drivel, and the time available to effectively address Minnesota's problems is limited because of all the wasted time. Most people do not see this part of legislative sausage-making, and the journalists and others who see it every session become immune and rarely share the mean tone and the wasted time that plague so many legislative debates.

Share more footage of legislators in action

Just as health inspections, better labeling and consumer pressure improved the quality of sausage, there are measures that could improve the quality of legislative debate. As painful as it is, more of us have to watch what lawmakers toss in the legal sausage grinder; we need to share more footage of sitting legislators so they are judged not by their stump speeches and lawn signs but by their legislative behavior; we have to ask for more coverage of routine debates; and we have to vote like it matters.

When you bite into that Minnesota-made hot dog at the ballpark or fry up some Spam the way grandma did, you don't have to worry about the quality and reliability of the products because you know they were made of wholesome ingredients in a clean setting. Minnesotans should expect the same reliable process from those who grind the legal sausage at the State Capitol and make our laws.

Beth-Ann Bloom is a mom, genetic counselor and community volunteer from Woodbury. 

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Nearly 200 U of M professors object to Condoleezza Rice's inclusion in civil-rights lecture series

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 4:55pm
Condoleezza Rice

Nearly 200 University of Minnesota professors have joined the controversy over a scheduled speech on Thursday by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying in a public letter that they don't think the Humphrey School lecture series is an appropriate forum for her talk.

The speech at the university's Humphrey School of Public Affairs is part of the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series, which, this year, focuses on civil rights.

Students and others have been protesting the appearance of Rice, who was involved in many of the Bush administration's controversial human-rights decisions before and during the Iraq War, on such issues as prisoner renditions, torture, the detention of militants at Guantanamo Bay, and others.

The professors signing the letter say they support Rice's right to free speech, and would like to hear her talk about her foreign-policy decisions and experiences, but they don't feel the civil-rights lecture series is the right time or place.

OAS_AD("Middle");

"We aren't requesting that they rescind the invitation, but we're suggesting that the parameters of the invitation were not well thought through," said Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program at the University's Institute for Global Studies.

"We want to be on the record, in opposition not to her speaking, but of the framework of her presentation. And we hope [Humprey School] Dean [Eric] Schwartz, when he's introducing her, might take cues from the letter of the kinds of questions that he might ask."

Schwartz said Tuesday in a statement:

The Humphrey School welcomes the conversations this invitation has generated; we value public discussion and dialogue. We strongly believe that our School's namesake, Hubert Humphrey, would feel the same way. 

Dr. Rice is one of about 20 speakers of differing perspectives that the Humphrey School will have hosted over the course of the year to reflect on progress achieved and challenges ahead in this 50th anniversary year of the Civil Rights Act.

Another professor, who helped organize the letter but asked not to be named, said two issues prompted the protest letter:

  • The lecture series is focusing on civil rights this year, and she's not really a civil-rights expert, they said. She's famous for her foreign-policy work, which was very controversial.
  • And the website announcement of her speech identified her as a spreader of democracy around the world, which didn't ring true to the signers.

Says the letter:

While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights — the theme of this year's lecture series — is not central to her legacy. Indeed, as a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration, she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror.

Some organizers also said there was concern about her $150,000 speaking fee, which is being paid by private sources, not from university funds.

"That seems wildly inappropriate for any speaker, especially in a civil-rights/economic-justice situation," said the professor.

The letter includes specifics about Rice's record in the Bush administration:

Dr. Rice is welcome to speak on the University of Minnesota campus, but let's not ignore her record. As National Security Adviser in the critical period of 2001-05, Dr. Rice played a central role in the design and implementation of the Administration's policies, which legitimized the use of torture by redefining it to include only practices so severe as to induce organ failure. By this logic, "enhanced interrogation techniques" that had previously been defined as torture, such as waterboarding, were no longer defined as such and became standard practice in the War on Terror. Since the end of her tenure, Dr. Rice has defended the use of torture and has not publicly distanced herself from these decisions that violated both US and international law and resulted in severe violations of human rights.

Dr. Rice also supported the Administration's policy of rendition, whereby individuals were abducted and delivered by US authorities to "black sites" in third countries such as Egypt and Syria, countries that were known to subject prisoners to torture. This practice violated due process, since these individuals were detained without being given the opportunity to defend themselves. They were effectively found guilty without trial. And they were tortured. Since some detainees died while in custody, this practice was, in many circumstances, tantamount to authorizing extrajudicial execution.

University President Eric Kaler has said said that free-speech issues dictate that the speech must go on.

The letter and faculty members' signatures can be seen here.

Deputy shot near Perley; Duluth's top 10 snowiest winters

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 4:31pm

A Norman County deputy exchanged gunfire with a suspect during a traffic stop early Tuesday morning, leaving the deputy in the hospital with unspecified injuries, according to a report in the Fargo Forum. The Norman County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t released the name of the deputy or the extent of his injuries or the name of the suspect, citing the fluidity of the situation. “Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said an arrest took place about 10:40 a.m. not far from where the shooting occurred. He said the incident began about 8:30 a.m., when a Norman County Deputy made a traffic stop on County Road 39 east of Perley. At some point during the stop, the deputy and the driver of the car exchanged gunfire and the deputy was wounded, Bergquist said. The deputy, who is not being named, was taken to a Fargo hospital, according to Bergquist. Perley is located just east of the Red River and roughly 23 miles north of Moorhead on Highway 75.”

CC/Flickr/Jacob NorlundAt 118.1 inches (so far), this has been one of Duluth's snowiest winters.

Here’s another spring storm story, but the interesting thing about this one is the totals listed at the bottom of the storyAndrew Krueger of the Duluth News Tribune pulls out a standard snow story in advance of a predicted Wednesday storm. The area might get as much as a foot of snow, etc. At the bottom, though, is a list of the top 10 snowiest winters in Duluth. Here they are:

SNOWIEST WINTERS IN DULUTH

1. 1995-96, 135.4 inches

2. 1949-50, 131.8 inches

3. 2012-13, 129.4 inches

4. 1996-97, 128.2 inches

5. 1968-69, 121 inches

6. 1988-89, 119.1 inches

7. 2013-14, 118.1 inches (so far)

8. 1970-71, 116.9 inches

9. 1964-65, 110.8 inches

10. 2003-04, 109.9 inches

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Down in Rochester, the Rochester Tea Party Patriots celebrated its fifth year of tax-day protest in a subdued way, writes Heather J. Carlson of the Rochester Post Bulletin. “About 150 people gathered at the Eagles Club in Rochester on Monday night. Some sipped on beer while perusing a table of silent auction items that included books by conservative authors and a framed Adrian Peterson jersey. It's a far cry from the early tea party rallies outdoors that featured people toting picket signs railing against government bailouts and deficit spending. But while the signs are gone, the political anger remains. Rochester Tea Party Patriots member Mary Frances Burton said she turned out for the group's first tax day rally on April 15, 2009, at Silver Lake Park because of her frustration with the direction the country was headed. She has remained involved, with the goal of doing what she can to help get conservatives elected. ‘I believe in the principles of small government, less taxes, get rid of Obama and all of that,’ she said."  

Here's a story about summer allergies from Ryan Johnson of the Fargo Forum. “Load up on tissues and antihistamines now, Red River Valley allergy sufferers – it could be a long spring and summer,” he writes. Woei Yeang Eng, an allergy and asthma specialist with Sanford Health, predicts an intense start to allergy season. “ ‘In the past few years, we’ve seen allergy season coming gradually,” he said. “You start noticing little symptoms get worse, worse, worse. This year, probably we’re going to see a burst of allergy season because of the way that the weather’s going right now.’ " Linda Regan, a physician assistant at Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo, said the actual conditions will depend on temperatures and rainfall this year. Moisture can remove pollen from the air, but too much can lead to mold. If it’s a dry summer, she said, dust just adds to the air pollution, making for misery and irritation.

Some national reports have predicted it will be the worst allergy season in years, warning of high pollen counts and an intense first few weeks of spring because of the cold, wild winter. But Regan said that’s more likely to apply to other areas of the country, especially the Northeast, where heavy rains and snowfall could mean a bad time for allergy sufferers.

So this fire is a bad deal, but the takeaway has to be: A $75,000 mower? Kay Fate of the Rochester Post Bulletin writes, “Firefighters were called about 11:10 p.m. to the district's maintenance complex in the 10 block of 9 1/2 Street Southeast for a waterflow alarm. After searching the area, crews discovered a 1999 Jacobsen lawn tractor inside one of the buildings had caught fire, but was extinguished by the sprinkler system, said Larry Mueller, assistant fire marshal. Early investigation has led officials to believe the fire was started by an electrical spark in the tractor's ignition, he said. According to the report, the mower had been moved two days earlier, but hadn't been used at all Saturday. The building itself sustained "very minimal damage," Mueller said, but the loss was estimated at $75,000 for the tractor, which was destroyed. 

This story won’t win any Pulitzer Prizes, but the headline makes a guy stop and read: Man accused of driving go-kart while drunk. Trey Mexes of the Austin Daily Herald has the details:

AUSTIN — A 25-year-old Austin man is in jail after trying to drive a child-size go-kart while drunk early Sunday in northeast Austin.

Police Chief Brian Krueger said an officer nearly drove into the suspect on the go-kart, which was stopped on the side of the road ... at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

The suspect told police he was “testing out” the go-kart and was celebrating the Lao New Year. The Lao New Year was on April 12.

Police noticed the suspect appeared drunk. They later found he had a revoked driver’s license and arrested him. Krueger said the man had a blood alcohol level of .10, which is above Minnesota’s 0.08 limit.

The man was taken to the Mower County jail on a gross misdemeanor second-degree DUI, driving after revocation, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Police took the Razor brand go-kart into custody.

Dayton reports more cash than GOP rivals combined

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 3:04pm

Minnesota’s six Republican gubernatorial candidates together out-raised DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s campaign in 2014’s first three months. However, Dayton is still on a bigger pile of cash than his opponents combined.    

Here’s how the newly reported first quarter 2014 numbers break down:

Dayton raised $189,000, and has $733,114 cash on hand and unpaid bills of $1,700.

Collectively, gubernatorial Republicans raised $493,700 and have $462,180 in unpsent cash.

Businessman Scott Honour's campaign out-raised Dayton, receiving $236,075, including $50,000 Honour loaned to the campaign.  Honour's cash on hand is $13,693 more than the loan, or $63,693.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and former state Rep. Marty Seifert are nearly tied with each other in retained cash — Seifert leads the GOP field with $141,700, while Johnson has $139,000.  Seifert raised $64,127 during the quarter while Johnson raised $32,000. 

State Rep. Kurt Zellers took in $91,407, including a $20,000 personal loan.  His campaign has $79,777 cash on hand.

State Sen. Dave Thompson’s campaign took in $66,889, with $37,695 cash on hand and unpaid bills of  $27,000.

Hibbing teacher Rob Farnsworth raised $3,335, including a $500 personal loan, with cash on hand of $315.

Also of note: the Dayton campaign still has on its books $3.9 million in loans that Dayton made to the campaign during his successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign.