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How immigrants in the Twin Cities build the economy — and revitalize neighborhoods

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 3:31pm

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Tibetan immigrant Ngawang Dakpa towered above the center of his small arts-and-gifts shop in Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market, acknowledging his customers’ presence with a nod and a soft smile.

Meditation tools, singing bowls and hand-sewn rugs covered the walls of the Tibet Arts & Gifts shop Dakpa established nine years ago, while dresses, skirts, scarves, jackets, silver and stone jewelry imported from India and Nepal were available elsewhere in the little shop. 

Dakpa is among 5,700 immigrants who own small businesses in the Twin Cities area, as documented in a recent study conducted by the New York City-based researchers at Fiscal Policy Institute, which partnered with the Americas Society/Council of the Americas group. 

Beyond identifying the sheer number of foreign-born business owners, the 41-page report, “Bringing Vitality to Main Street: How Immigrant Small Businesses Help Local Economies Grow,” also uncovers surprising facts about immigrant-owned small businesses in the U.S. Among other things:  

  • Immigrants nationwide make up 28 percent of Main Street business owners.
  • Immigrants own 53 percent of grocery stores, 38 percent of restaurants, 58 percent of dry cleaners, 61 percent of gas stations, 45 percent of nail salons, 43 percent of liquor stores and 32 percent of both jewelry and clothing stores in the U.S.
  • From 2000-2013, Immigrants accounted for 48 percent of the overall growth of business ownership in the nation.
  • Between 2000 and 2013, the total number of U.S.-born Main Street business owners declined by 30,000, while immigrant Main Street business owners increased by 90,000.

The Twin Cities, Philadelphia and Nashville served as case studies for the report, which punctuates the role immigrant businesses have played in the economic growth in neighborhoods that have seen decades of population decline.


In Minneapolis and other cities, “these businesses helped re-establish a commercial base for neighborhoods that were in disrepair, giving them new character and a critical economic boost,” states the report.

In 1950 for instance, Minneapolis housed a total population of 519,000, according to the report. By 1990, that number had plummeted by nearly 30 percent — 368,000. But the flow of immigrants and refugees from Africa, Asia and Latin America over the past two decades has helped boost the city’s population to more than 400,000.

The Twin Cities metro area has been transformed in recent decades due to the refugee resettlement program, which permits refugees escaping war and persecution in their native counties to make a home in the United States.  

A 2013 Minnesota Department of Health record, the most recent data available, shows that more than 2,000 refugees resettled in Minnesota that year, with the largest number coming from Somalia and Iraq.

Midtown Global Market in case study

Midtown Global Market now sits along Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. In the 1990s, however, this area was a magnet for crime and prostitution.

Before Midtown Global Market became what it is, in 2006, it was a retail and distribution center for Sears Roebuck and Company. In 1994, the center was closed, and the 1.2-million-square-foot property “had become a dangerous island of urban decay,” according to the report.  

“It was not an area most Twin City residents wanted to visit, and its presence cast a pall on the surrounding neighborhood along Lake Street, one of the most ethnically and racially diverse in the city,” the report states. 

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim HirsiMubarek Lolo, owner and operator at Awash Market on in St. Paul, arrived in the U.S. in 1994, when he was 10.

Today the global market has some 40 stores and stands — and remains a vibrant commercial landmark and a destination for those with an eye for ethnically and culturally diverse foods, arts and crafts.

The Neighborhood Development Center provides business classes and consulting service for store owners. 

“We work with people who don’t have access to other classes and programs,” Becky George, Midtown Global Market Program Manager, states in the report. “We have classes in Oromo, English, Spanish, Hmong, Somali, and maybe Farsi.”

The report adds: “The Neighborhood Development Center also has a loan program, providing start-up capital or enabling business owners to invest in a new refrigerator or a new product idea, with an average loan of $16,000.”

‘We take the risk to establish businesses’

The report was no shock Dakpa, the Tibet Arts & Gifts owner: “I’m not surprised that immigrants are doing well in small businesses. We take the risk to establish businesses and to contribute to the local economy.”

Mubarek Lolo, owner and operator at Awash Market on St. Paul’s University Avenue, is an immigrant from Ethiopia, who arrived in the U.S. in 1994. He was 10 years old. 

Lolo’s parents owned retail stores while in Ethiopia. Today at Awash Market, the 28-year-old University of Minnesota-Duluth graduate caters his East African communities’ ethnic-based food products. 

And within Awash Market, which was opened last year, he’s subleased spaces for other entrepreneurs: A space for mobile serves, a space for an Islamic bookstore and another for Muslim women’s traditional attire.

“We have this business drive,” Lolo said of the immigrant communities. “We’re hiring, we’re providing economic opportunities to communities and we’re contributing in the society that we live in — and we feel like we’re part of it.” 

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

Missing anchor a drag for Mall of America

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 3:29pm

When Bloomingdale’s at the Mall of America closed nearly three years ago, there were ambitious expectations for remaking the anchor’s space, including a plan for multiple “fashion-forward” retailers—a new niche for the mall. Today, those expectations are mostly unrealized.

Bloomingdale’s 210,000-square-foot space has been taken up by only one such retailer, Forever 21, which sits mostly in new basement square footage created by MOA after the department store closed, says Alison Kaplan, Mpls.St.Paul magazine senior editor for shopping and style, who has chronicled the local retail scene since 2000.


L.L. Bean leased about 15 percent of the Bloomingdale’s for its first Twin Cities store, while the mall is devoting nearly a third to an exhibit center. Kaplan believes well less than half of the space is currently generating revenue for the mall’s owners, Triple Five Group.

“The lesson learned is you probably don’t want to make sweeping announcements about your leasing plans” before you have tenants, says Kaplan. She says the exhibit space “feels temporary,” but L.L. Bean and Forever 21 seem to be working out.

MOA did not make an executive available for interview, but Kaplan says Maureen Bausch, MOA’s recently departed executive vice president of business development, was unconcerned about the Bloomingdale’s void, telling Kaplan that “finding a retailer to fill a space is never the issue. It’s timing.”

Still, “these department store spaces are a challenge to repurpose,” Kaplan explains. That can’t be good news for MOA, which hosts troubled Sears in one of its three other anchor spots (Macy’s and Nordstrom hold down the remaining two). Bausch told Kaplan Sears wants to keep that store open.

Kaplan suggests MOA’s design, which isolates the four anchors from pedestrian circulation more than in most malls, may be hindering the leasing of the Bloomingdale’s space. MOA is also soliciting tenants for phase II (opening later this year), which Kaplan says has no department store space; and planning phase III, for which Kaplan says management told her it hoped to attract a new-to-town department store.

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Hail Mary: Why some religious scholars say prayers are wasted on the Super Bowl

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 3:27pm
Center for Investigative Reporting Center for Investigative Reporting

When fans pray during Super Bowl XLIX, will Satan be guiding their lips?

Baptist theologian David Jones won’t go that far. But he says new survey results showing that most Americans believe “God rewards athletes who have faith” reflect a distorted view of Christianity.

“If your team doesn’t win, then the Bible’s not true, right?” he asked. “The way people would affirm the notion you can pray for your sports team, and that’s supposed to have an effect, that’s outside the boundaries of what Christians would view as biblical teaching.”

Jones is an associate dean at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and is a prominent critic of the idea that Christian faith can bring material success. But with the Super Bowl approaching, he and other religion scholars seem to be in the minority.

Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey [PDF] showing that 53 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.” This was up from 48 percent in 2014.

That belief, which says faith can produce worldly success, goes by names such as “prosperity gospel,” “gospel of success” or “health and wealth” gospel. Evangelists such as Oral Roberts and Joel Osteen helped popularize it. And it’s become endemic to many people’s understanding of Christian thought, according to Jones’ 2010 book, “Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ?”

But it’s dismissed as heresy across a spectrum of traditional U.S. Christian thinkers, including mainline progressives, conservative evangelicals and secular academic scholars of religion.

“This is as profoundly an unscriptural interpretation of Jesus that exists,” University of California, Riverside professor Reza Aslan said during a speech last summer. He’s written about what historical evidence tells us about the lives of Jesus and Muhammad and argues that rejecting material success is indisputably at the heart of Jesus’ message.

Jones says the prosperity gospel gained momentum during the early 20th century, when leaders of the positive thinking movement wed their ideas to Christianity to gain broader acceptance.

As evidence that the two philosophies are a bad marriage, Jones notes that Jesus and the apostle Paul were material failures.

Jesus is “wandering around without a home, without a fixed income,” Jones said. “He lived an austere life. Paul as well: He spent time in prison, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked. If good Christians are blessed with wealth and health because they are followers of God, we would expect Paul and Jesus to have at least half of that.”

Jones did not address the question of whether Jesus might have led the disciples to victory over the New England Patriots or Seattle Seahawks. And his teachings don’t offer much solace for a fan in desperate need of a first down.

Who might have created the widespread impulse to cajole the maker of the universe into helping a team score, other than the maker of the universe?

For that fan, William Lane Craig, a philosophy professor at the conservative Talbot School of Theology in suburban Los Angeles, offers more inclusive guidance. One might call it the gospel of “it couldn’t hurt.”

Last year, following a Public Religion Research Institute survey result claiming 55 percent of football fans see supernatural forces at work in their sport, Craig suggested fans might as well try prayer to help their team win the Super Bowl.

“Nothing happens without either God’s direct will or at least his permission of that event,” he told Christianity Today. “That includes every fumble, every catch, every run.”

This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick. Matt Smith can be reached at msmith@cironline.org.

MN Blog Cabin Roundup, 1/30

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 3:24pm
Analysis: Lots of cheap apartments next to expensive apartments

from streets.mn by Nick Magrino

The following analysis is not highly scientific. I generally picked the cheapest unit I could find in the new buildings and, with the old ones, picked what I could find. Many older buildings do not have easy to find websites, and some newer buildings do not list rents up front. Craigslist was prowled, but I was safe. This does not impact the findings of the study, which are significant.

Faceless no more: Tribute bike ride organizers honor those who died doing what they loved

from RedCurrent by Tesha M. Christensen

“We want to spread awareness that cyclists aren’t a statistic or a faceless obstacle on the road,” said Stephenson. “They’re people, like anybody else, and they have stories and passions. Marcus was one such person, and one of his passions was biking. His love for bikes brought him, along with his passion for the culinary arts, to our city, and that moved us. So the ride is about telling stories like Marcus’. It’s about paying tribute to people who ride bikes who’ve fallen while doing something they love. It’s about revealing the humanity behind the cyclist stereotype.”

Learning on a beautiful spring day at Auschwitz-Birkenau

from Thoughts Towards a Better World by Dick Bernard

May 4, 2000, my 60th birthday, was spent at Auschwitz-Birkenau with a group of about 40 Christians and Jews from Temple Israel and Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis MN.

Grandpa’s camera: a life in pictures

from Stubble by Tom Johnson

Stubble: Who was your grandfather?

Matt: Paul Scharfencamp was my grandpa on my mom’s side of the family. He was a Staff Sergeant in WWII, a civilian pilot, a truck driver, an avid hunter, husband to my Grandma Verna for 42 years, a father of eight children, and a man who enjoyed photography. He passed away in 1989 at the age of 68. I was seven years old.

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

89.3 the Current faces backlash over DJ firing

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 1:01pm
Minnesota Public RadioBarb Abney

The Current's current issues: The Strib’s Chris Riemenschneider writes about what he calls MPR’s 89.3 The Current’s “troubled week.” “Minnesota Public Radio’s modern/indie-rock outlet went from a familial fortress to a broken home in the time it took the news to spread on social media — about as long as a Ramones song. Predictably, the station’s abrupt firing of the working mom [DJ Barb Abney] and well-liked music-scene personality was met with boos. The breadth and fervor of the backlash, however, was surprising.” He adds, by way of advice, “Don’t be so corporate. Nixing Abney came off as a cutthroat move that didn’t look right for a community-oriented nonprofit. Worse, MPR reps issued a formal decree to volunteers on what to tell listeners about the move — corporate-spin PR that could have come from the Clear Channel playbook. Sample line: ‘Please refrain from making any disparaging comments about MPR, the Current, Jade or Barb, on social media or any other outlets.’” Telling anything related to MPR not to be so corporate is like telling a squirrel not to chew nuts. It’s a DNA thing.

At The Daily Beast Ted Gioia gives Bob Dylan’s new CD — covering Frank Sinatra non-hits  a favorable review. “Despite all the incongruities, this album succeeds—but does so on its own terms. The performances are almost painfully heartfelt and direct. Recall that Bob Dylan’s biggest-selling hit singles include very few love songs. In fact, when he did sing about relationships during his youth, Dylan was better at soliciting sex (‘Lay Lady Lay’) or breaking up (‘Don't Think Twice, It's All Right’).  He was the least lovey-dovey of the singer-songwriters of his day. But now, under the guise (perhaps a disguise?) of a supposed tribute album, Dylan exposes a raw emotional vulnerability that jumps out at the listener. You can’t do this stuff with Auto-Tune.”

Uh, oh. Stephen Tellier at KSTP-TV tells us, “How fast do you drive on the highway? Do you push the speed limit by five, or maybe 10, miles per hour? Right now, in Minnesota, certain highway speeding tickets won't go on your driving record. The law, often referred to as the Dimler Amendment, states that speeding convictions that are less than ten miles per hour above the speed limit in a 55 miles per hour zone, or less than five miles per hour above the speed limit in a 60 miles per hour zone, are not kept on the driver's record. But a new Minnesota Department of Transportation report said that's putting public safety at risk. The findings could prompt a change in that law, which would potentially impact thousands of Minnesota drivers, most of whom have never heard of the law in question.” How about we concentrate on the drunk and distracted crowd?


Here’s KARE-TV’s Trisha Volpe on the coming court fight over what to do with sex offenders. “More than 700 civilly committed sex offenders are suing the state in a class action federal lawsuit that alleges, among other things, that it is unfair and unconstitutional to keep them locked up indefinitely. They also allege the program does not provide adequate treatment. … The MSOP's population was 703 as of Oct. 1, 2014. According to the Department of Human Services the cost per day per client is $341. That amounts to more than $124,000 per year to house and treat each client.”

Good luck with this. The AP reports, “A projected budget shortfall could force the Minnesota Zoo to go beyond layoffs and close some of its exhibits this year. Officials say the zoo is facing a budget crisis due to declining attendance and increased costs. A spokeswoman says the zoo is now asking lawmakers for $1.5 million in emergency funds.”

These kids are how old? The AP says, “Four middle school students are facing criminal charges after authorities say they recorded themselves at a so-called sex party that took place at a Brown Deer [Wisconsin] home during winter break. Police were called to Brown Deer Middle School earlier this month after a student told a staff member about the gathering and videos recorded by partygoers. Four students were arrested by police after questioning and police have recommended they be charged with first- and second-degree sexual assault of a child.” 

According to Tom Webb at the PiPress, the farm land bubble is still expanding. “Steve Taff understands the coffee shop chatter in rural Minnesota, that weakening crop prices have finally ended a 20-year-long boom in the price of farmland. ‘The buzz is, people are saying “Ooooh, the market is down, prices are down,”’said Taff, an associate professor in applied economics at the University of Minnesota. ‘And the data is saying, “no.” Those numbers say that Minnesota farmland prices rose again last year — up 5 percent — to a record median price of $5,440 an acre. A decade ago, the median price was $1,637 an acre.”

This is two weeks old, so my apologies. But the Chicago Tribune editorial board has weighed in on us trying to re-brand ourselves “The North.” “The problem is that geographic terms, like most nicknames, aren't easy to popularize. They are more likely to be imposed by others than self-declared. No kid ever said, ‘Call me Peanut,’ and no one in Rockford ever asked that the city, 85 miles to the northwest of Chicago, be labeled here as ‘downstate.’ … Minnesota's regional identity is already firmly established. The dialect Minnesotans speak is Upper Midwest, and that's the region's ID in weather forecasts when meteorologists predict a foot of snow … in April. So good luck with your marketing campaign, Minnesotans. But don't feel you need to rush off. That's our Midwestern hospitality talking.”

A couple of women who I’m guessing aren’t exactly your average get-a-life football fans offer up a drinking/eating game for watching the Super Bowl Sunday. At City Pages, Tatiana Craine and Jessica Armbruster write, “A drinking game. Sports and binge drinking go together like football players and models. Get everyone, football fanatics or not, to play along. …

Fill up your plate with carbs during any super patriotic speeches about America accented with fade-outs to the flag and fighter jets. …

Drink every time someone stifles a laugh at your party when announcers talk about ‘tight ends.’ …

Pour yourself a new drink every time they show a topless man with the body of Santa Claus covered in paint. Right on, dude. This is your Christmas and Halloween, and you're living the dream. …

Take a shot and give some side-eye if Katy Perry manages to diss Taylor Swift during her performance (it's rumored they are fighting over some lame ex-boyfriend. Meow!)”

When Love comes to town

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 11:04am

These are curiously hard times for Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love.

The 2014-15 season was supposed to be when he cemented his status as one of the elite players in the NBA. After six seasons of establishing himself as the second-best player in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love was joining Lebron James and Kyrie Irving as part of a new “Big Three” who would dominate the league with their complementary skills and dazzling star power, just as the Miami triumvirate of Lebron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had done in winning two NBA championships.

It hasn’t happened. If the season were to end today, Cleveland wouldn’t even enjoy home court advantage in the playoffs in the weaker Eastern Conference. And alongside first-year Cavs head coach David Blatt, Love is frequently cited as the cause of his team’s disappointing performance thus far.

Consider that when the starting lineups and reserves were announced for the annual NBA All Star Game this week, Lebron, Irving, Bosh and Wade all made the Eastern Conference team. Love was the lone member of either edition of Lebron’s “Big Three” to be omitted.

Love’s reputation has taken such a hit this season that even the NBA’s least successful franchise, the Timberwolves, feel free to downplay his exploits and mock his status on the cusp of his first trip back to Target Center Saturday night since being traded to Cleveland last summer.

In an interview I did with Wolves coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders earlier this month, Saunders took a couple of passive-aggressive shots at Love’s tenure in Minnesota. First, he stated that the Wolves (current record, 8-37) are closer to a championship now than they were a year ago, because they now possess “a guy with the potential to be a top five player, having a player with the ability to create shots for himself.” This was in prideful reference to Andrew Wiggins, the primary bounty garnered by Flip in the Love trade.

Later in the interview, Saunders again made a reference to Love’s inability to create his own shot, noting that “Love’s three-point shooting has gone down because he’s not playing with [Ricky] Rubio. For all the criticism that Rubio doesn’t score — hey, as I told Kevin last summer, ‘six or seven of your three-pointers you are getting you ain’t getting anywhere else, because Rubio is finding you.’”

This week, the Wolves’ marketing team got into the act. After not being able to sell out Saturday’s game—despite the arrival of Love and an appearance by Lebron—they decided to hype the contest with humor, at Love’s expense. In a video titled #TheReturn, they heralded the game as a chance to watch the return of….Mike Miller in a Cleveland uniform.

A polarizing legacy

Love has provided plenty of ammunition for all of this. His time in Minnesota is renowned for the incredible numbers he amassed as an individual player, though wins and amiability were in much shorter supply.

Precious few moments during his half-dozen years were free of drama. As a rookie there were questions about his ability to co-exist on a front line with another dominant low-post player, Al Jefferson. (Alas, Jefferson was traded before Love had a chance to showcase his outside shooting.) During his second and third seasons, he toiled for a coach, Kurt Rambis, who denigrated his talent and was clueless about how to deploy him (along with myriad other blind spots). It wasn’t until Love grabbed 30 rebounds against the Knicks — the first time it had been accomplished in 28 years — that he was even assured a spot in the starting lineup.

The first two of Love’s three seasons with Rick Adelman were waylaid by injuries, the first befalling Rubio and the second his own slew of physical misfortunes that caused him to play only 18 games while posting the worst stats of his career. That 2012-13 season also featured Love’s unfortunate interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, in which he ripped just about everybody associated with the franchise, from the owner to the general manager to, less directly, his teammates.

Much of the rancor behind the Yahoo interview stemmed from Love wanting a five-year maximum contract — a length permitted to only one player per franchise under the collective bargaining agreement — and being rebuffed. Instead, he and the team agreed on a four-year deal with an option for Love to declare himself an unrestricted free agent after three seasons. It was a slap in the face that could be perceived as the Wolves front office — then David Kahn working with owner Glen Taylor — pushing Love prematurely out the door.

Love’s ability to opt out was the dominant subtext of the entire 2013-14 season in Minnesota. It was widely (and correctly) assumed that if the Wolves once again failed to make the playoffs, Love was gone. As early as six weeks before the end of the season, rumors were prevalent that Love had informed the team that he was indeed ready to move on.

Fortune finally smiled on the Wolves when Cleveland once again won the lottery rights to the top overall pick in the NBA draft, followed by Lebron’s dramatic decision to return to his hometown franchise. Those things combined to create the situation where Minnesota landed Wiggins, the Cavs’ top pick. Although the package also included forwards Anthony Bennett and Thad Young, subsequent events have demonstrated that the deal will be remembered primarily as a Love-for-Wiggins exchange.

Anyone who reads this column knows that the above recounting is enormously abridged; that the details and drama surrounding Love’s Minnesota tenure have been copiously recorded, debated and hung out to dry.

As for his legacy here, there are things Love did in Minnesota that will be recounted for generations. He scored more than 50 points, grabbed more than 30 rebounds and consistently put up eye-popping numbers that rivaled the exploits of the game’s greatest current players.

If you want Love as a Timberwolf in a nutshell, look at his penultimate season here, the 2013-14 campaign. He finished fourth in scoring, third in rebounding, and third — behind only MVP Kevin Durant and multiple former MVP Lebron James — in Player Efficiency Rating, the most widely regarded metric for overall excellence. Yet for the sixth straight season he was in Minnesota, the Wolves not only failed to make the playoffs, but lost more games than they won.

Problems in Cleveland

Going to the Cavs was supposed to change all that. At the very least the trade would provide new, compelling evidence on a hotly-debated topic:
Was Love held back by the ineptitude of the Wolves franchise, or was the problem his own style and skill set, which produces great individual numbers without enabling great team performances?

Right now the easy answer to that question seems to be that Love has been overrated because of his gaudy statistics. The Cavs own a record of 27-20, the highest winning percentage of any NBA squad Love has played for, but the evidence shows that he is hardly the cause of whatever success the team is having, and may in fact be dragging them down.

According to the “on/off court” measure at Basketball-reference.com, the Cavs are 2.8 points better per 100 possessions in the 1592 minutes Love plays compared to the 671 minutes he sits. But that is dramatically worse than any of the other top five players in minutes on the Cavs roster. All Stars James and Irving improve the team by 14.5 and 12.4 points per 100 possessions, respectively. For Tristan Thompson it is 6.4 points; for Shawn Marion, 5.4 points.

As one who has frequently defended Love against the charge that he is a great guy to have on your fantasy team but a corrosive player in terms of stylistic team chemistry, I maintain that Love is being misused on offense and has only himself to blame his failure to improve on defense.

In Minnesota, Love proved that he was a matchup nightmare for opponents to guard and could frustrate defenses in innumerable ways. He could, and did, take larger forwards out on the perimeter and burn them with three-pointers. He could, and did, take smaller forward down beneath the baskets for layups and putbacks. He could, and did, routinely frustrate traps and double-teams with pinpoint passes.

In Cleveland, however, Love rarely gets the opportunity to break down opponents in this fashion, because he is so obviously the third-or-fourth wheel in an offense where he is seldom featured. Compared to last season, his shot attempts have dropped from 18.5 to 13.2 per game, his free throws from 8.1 to 5.3, his assists 4.4 to 2.3, his usage rate from 28.8 to 22.0.

In terms of frequency of shots per minute, Love is the fourth option in Cleveland’s offense, an absurd development for a player who averaged 21.1 points per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 56.5 during his time in Minnesota. Right now, Lebron leads the team in shots per minute; Irving is second, and the shooting guard slot in the form of either Dion Waiters (since traded to Oklahoma City) or J.R. Smith (acquired from New York at the time Waiters was dealt) in third.

Compounding the problem is the fact that too many of Love’s touches are occurring out on the perimeter. One of the game great rebounders — he has ranked among the top three in total rebounds the past three seasons he has been healthy — is making three-pointers a bigger part of his shot selection than at any point in his career. While this continues a trend that began in Minnesota, the Wolves had few options from long range. By contrast, both J.R. Smith and Irving launch more treys per minute than Love, and Lebron is jacking up 4.7 of them per 36 minutes compared to Love’s 4.9. Meanwhile, Love’s offensive rebounding percentage is a career-low 7.1, less than half of what it was during his peak seasons for that discipline early in his career.

All that said, Cleveland is not underperforming because they misuse Love on offense. The Cavs offensive rating (points scored per possession) ranks fifth in the NBA. Cleveland’s defense (points allowed per possession) is a woeful 25th of the 30 NBA teams. And Love remains a subpar defender, highlighted by his stubborn refusal to even pretend to protect the rim.

According to the stats page at nba.com, the Cavs are the second-worst team in the NBA at protecting the rim (behind only, yes, the Wolves), yielding a 54.8 percent conversion rate on shots right at the basket. Personally, Love is yielding 55.2 percent and has given up 4.1 baskets per game at the rim, the 13th highest total in the league.

Dig a little deeper into the data and a very familiar pattern emerges. Theoretically, Love is not hurting his team’s defensive efficiency. The Cavs actually yield 1.4 more points per 100 possessions when he sits compared to when he plays. But a lot of that has to do with Love’s disinclination to foul — he is averaging a measly 2.1 fouls per game this season, right around his career mark.

This column has discussed the pros and cons of not fouling quite often during Love’s tenure in Minnesota. Not fouling raises a team’s defensive efficiency but also enables opponents to attack the rim with impunity. It should also be noted that the best defense of all is being in position to deter shots at the rim without needing to foul. Love doesn’t do that well. And when he gets in a position where he has to foul to avoid the basket, he shies away and gambles that the opponent will miss the shot.

It is thus not coincidence that Cleveland allows the fewest free throws per field goal attempt of any NBA team, a distinction held by Minnesota a year ago. When your team is 2nd worst in preventing made baskets at the rim and 25th in overall defensive efficiency, maybe it is time to stand your ground. It certainly explains why the Cavs have started winning after acquiring rim protector Timofey Mozkov — a mediocre player in nearly every other aspect of the game — in a trade from Denver.

Love at a crossroads

With Love being cited as one of the reasons for Cleveland’s relatively disappointing season thus far, there is talk about whether or not he will remain in Cleveland or exercise that option Minnesota originally provided and declare free agency. 

To me, it is a no-brainer: Love needs to do what he should have done in the last off-season — work tirelessly on his defensive fundamentals and use some of that enormous grit he displays in rebounding on the dirty job of rim protection. If you can’t win with Lebron James as your teammate, it is time to start checking yourself, regardless of how you are being used, or misused, on offense. 

Meanwhile, a little context is in order. Love is only 26 years old, entering what should be the peak years of his career. One would imagine that sooner or later, the Cavs will figure it out. Their current eight-game winning streak indicates they are enmeshed in that process already. Kevin Love is no fool. Expect a better second half from him this year, and all star games in seasons to come.  

Romney won't run for president in 2016

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 11:02am

Mitt Romney told his inner circle that he has decided not to run for president in 2016. He hasn't made a public statement but word of his decision is flying around. Here's the New York Times version.

Romney made the decision, which he didn't quite say was final and unalterable, after consultations with his top advisors. Here's how that went, according to the Times:

In a more than four-hour meeting last week, Mr. Romney’s top staff members and trusted advisers from 2012 relayed a sobering reality — they supported Mr. Romney and thought he would be the best president, but they did not necessarily encourage a third run.

One by one, loyal supporters talked about surveying their troops from 2012, and finding that the enthusiasm and support were just not there. Some Iowa precinct leaders were not coming back, and even in New Hampshire — where Mr. Romney had won the primary — the mood was described at best as “cautiously optimistic.” The situation with donors was also going to be an uphill climb.

This strikes me as good news for Romney and his family, and also for Jeb Bush who will be that much closer to being the consensus choice of the establishment wing of the Republican Party.

Sorry about your losing campaign — now pay up

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:48am

WASHINGTON — Long after the votes are tallied and the winners declared, political campaigns’ treasurers keep busy with a different tally: adding up the campaign’s debts and figuring out some way to pay for it all.

Campaign debt is by no means rare or limited to candidates of one party. And it can go on for a long time — there is no legal requirement mandating when and how candidates pay down their debt. For example, Newt Gingrich filed a report Thursday showing him $4.6 million in the hole for his 2012 run. Still, before a candidate can officially close out their campaign, the debts must be resolved.

With end-of-year campaign finance reports due to the Federal Election Commission this weekend, we’ll get an update on the outstanding debts leftover for a handful of Minnesota candidates, ranging from a few thousand dollars in invoices to big loans from self-funding candidates.

McFadden looks for savings

Campaigns have many strategies for paying down their debt, from traditional fundraising appeals to making personal loans to renting out campaign supporter email lists to other candidates.

Another option is to try to negotiate payment terms with vendors.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden’s campaign manager Carl Kuhl said that’s part of what he’s been doing. After his unsuccessful bid for election, McFadden had invoices from fundraising consultants, legal counsel, online advertisers, banks, caterers and others totaling nearly $140,000. Kuhl said the campaign has been scrutinizing that list to weed out payments the campaign had made previously or bills that were double-counted, and to make sure fundraising consultants, for example, were only getting credit for the donors they actually attracted.

Kuhl said the campaign, which finished the cycle with only $62,000 on hand, has been working to assess its final debt tally before finding ways to pay for it. 

Even so, he anticipates closing out the campaign's debt quickly, possibly as soon as the next filing period in April. That process could be delayed by an FEC complaint against a pair of its vendors.  (Democratic groups have accused some Republican vendors of illegal coordination. McFadden’s campaign, and others using the vendors, can’t close down until the complaint has been settled.)

“Whether it's a close-out report or the quarterly report, our intention is to have this all wrapped up,” he said. “We will have it done. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

The forgivable personal loan

For wealthy candidates, the bulk of debt owed by a campaign is often to the candidate themself.

In Minnesota, 8th District Republican candidate Stewart Mills lent his campaign $360,000 for which his campaign hasn’t reimbursed him, and likely won’t. Candidates who self-fund don’t have to reimburse themselves — and many don't, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of 2010 races — so none of these candidates need to ask donors for cash, unless they have other debt.

Mills, whose stake in his family’s Fleet Farm retail chain is worth millions of dollars, owed three campaign vendors nearly $17,000, a sum he reported paying off in his year-end filing on Thursday. The campaign has less than $300 in its bank account. A message left with Mills’ secretary Thursday was not returned.

Mills wasn’t the only Minnesotan to self-fund: challengers in the 1st District (Jim Hagedorn, $23,000), 2nd District (Mike Obermueller, $32,500), 3rd District (Sharon Sund, $10,500) and 4th District (Sharna Wahlgren, $51,900) all made sizable personal loans to their campaigns.

Of course, candidates can pay themselves back. Rhonda Sivarajah lent her campaign $170,000 before August's 6th District Republican primary. At the time, she had more than $190,000 on-hand. When she filed her next FEC report in October, she had paid off the loan, and her bank account was nearly emptied out.

Easier for winners

For a winning candidate, the fundraising game is significantly easier.

Take Rep. Tom Emmer — the 6th Distric winner had more than $210,000 in unpaid expenses after his first congressional campaign, the most among successful candidates in Minnesota. Most of that is owed to fundraising and media consultants or advertising companies.

David FitzSimmons, Emmer’s campaign coordinator and chief of staff, blamed part of that on the costs of starting up a campaign — building a team of consultants and advisers and a fundraising network that existing members already had set up — while competing in a contested endorsement process and primary election before even getting to the general. Incoming House freshman are also expected to pay for some of the transitional costs that go into being elected, such as flying to D.C. for new member orientation in November.

Emmer has apparently recognized the need to pay that debt down quickly — in the three weeks immediately following the election, traditionally a quiet period for fundraising wherein four Minnesotans raised $200 or less, he brought in $23,000. FitzSimmons said the plan is to for the campaign to be debt-free well before the heavy lifting of a re-election campaign begins.

In all, Emmer’s campaign wasn’t an incredibly expensive one — he spent $1.8 million on his race last year, which was less than what the two other Minnesota Republicans, Reps. Erik Paulsen ($2.5 million) and John Kline ($2.9 million), spent on their races. Even retired Rep. Michele Bachmann, whom Emmer replaced, spent more than he did during the cycle ($2.2 million, of which $585,000 went toward her presidential campaign’s outstanding debt and legal fees).

“The expense-side is incredibly minimal right now, so we’re able to raise in excess of where we’re at,” FitzSimmons said. “We plan on, after the first quarter [ending March 31], being above the black line.”

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry

Drone detection system tested at Target Field during All-Star Game

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:20am

A New York Times article says that a sophisticated drone detection system was tested over Target Field in downtown Minneapolis during the MLB All-Star Game in July.

The story says security officials used a covert radar detection program brought in by the Department of Homeland Security which detected several small, commercial drones flying in the area. "Some were similar to the quadcopter that crashed on the White House lawn Monday," the story said.

Even using the expensive system, though, officials at Target Field were unable to stop the drones from flying into the stadium. Because of that, MLB decided not to use the system in the playoffs last fall.

The story says it's not known which, if any, drone-detection system will be used Sunday at the Super Bowl.

The way engineers rate city streets is rapidly evolving. That's a good thing.

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:15am

Anyone who’s ever handed out grades knows how difficult it is. I did this for years, teaching geography around the Twin Cities, and readily admit that grades can sometimes be a bit arbitrary.

But if assigning value to students is a challenge, imagine giving grades to city streets. More and more transportation engineers are struggling to evaluate our roads as they rethink one of the key performance measures called “level of service” (LOS).

The engineering origins of LOS

A while back, I did my best to explain the complexities of street and highway design manuals and the role they play in creating our built environment. Today I want to dive into the detail of performance measurement that I learned about recently at a webinar (my least favorite neologism) hosted by the advocacy organization Transit for Livable Communities.

As Peter Koonce, an engineer in Portland, Oregon, explained during the session, the idea of assigning letter grades to streets emerged during the 1950s as traffic engineering was developing its disciplinary foundations. Broadly speaking, civil engineering is split up into a few different fields, like structural engineering or geo-engineering. In most of these fields, the art and science of the profession is devoted to designs that will ward off failures like the infamous collapse of the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

But when it comes to designing a city street, what exactly constitutes a “failure”?

Answering that difficult question is how the “level of service” (LOS) concept was born. Initially designed for freeways, LOS began playing a huge role in the ubiquitous Highway Capacity Manual that shapes how we build our urban streets. Transportation departments began measuring the amount of delay at specific intersections, and grading on an A-F letter scale. For example, an ‘A’ grade was defined as “traffic flows at or above the posted speed limit and all motorists have complete mobility between lanes.” Likewise, any intersection where drivers have to wait more than 80 seconds during rush hour is marked “LOS-F,” a failure.

Courtesy Kittelson and Associates, Inc.

“The number one problem with the highway capacity manual is how it’s been applied,” Peter Koonce explained during the talk. “The manual is really designed in a way to provide people with less delay, [and adopts] the perspective that we could move away from congestion. But it results in sprawl, in all its various aspects.”

Once you have the grading scale in place, many of the principles of traffic engineering unfold. To design a system with as few failures as possible, through the years engineers have made valiant efforts to create a congestion-free city, widening roads and increasing traffic speeds. But in recent years, as the high economic and livability costs of the LOS-driven system have become more apparent, some transportation and public works departments are starting to question the grade-based foundation of the system.

Looking at Lexington Parkway through LOS-colored glasses

If you zoom in a real-world example, you can start to see how this works. The intersection of Lexington and Randolph in St. Paul has seen a lot of change over the years. About a decade ago, it was "traffic calmed" from a dangerous 4-lane design into a 3-lane street. And then a popular grocery store was built at the intersection, which has increased the number of cars on the corner. Today plans are in the works to completely reconstruct the street; the only question is how.

Dave Pasuik has spent years serving on the Macalester-Groveland Transportation Committee, the local neighborhood group. He’s upset about Ramsey County’s proposals to widen the street in the name of safety.

“There are tons of ways to make an intersection safe without making it bigger,” Pasuik told me this week. “Making any intersection safe for pedestrians, first you have to slow down the traffic, maybe restrict some turning at that intersections, and use the available space to build pedestrian islands so that people can stop and be safe crossing the street.”

Source: Portland ReportBike lane barrier separation types

The intersection is just one example, but it turns out that how you measure success or failure is hugely important for thinking about design decisions. There are devilish details: Do you give the street a grade based only on the rush-hour peak, or average it out over longer periods of time? Do you count the delay for each vehicle equally, or count the delay per person? (That would dramatically change the way that bus delays fit into the picture.)

The problem is that improving the LOS grade comes with a lot of tradeoffs. In many cases almost impossible to improve grades for drivers without decreasing safety and quality of life in the neighborhood.

“Stand on the corner and watch the cars, you realize that walking is not safe,” Pasuik told me. “To propose widening the street, for me that says you’re using something strange to make your reasoning.”

What would a holistic Level of Service look like? 

The details of the “level of service” concept rest on perception. The 80-second grading standard evolved out of surveys where drivers were asked how much delay is acceptable. But applying the same principles to other modes involves shifting perspectives, and getting out from behind the windshield. And beginning in the 2010 version of the Highway Capacity Manual, federal traffic engineers did exactly that, using video cameras and surveys to give grades to the various qualities of sidewalks and bike lanes.

“[The grades] are trying to give engineers an objective way to measure those tradeoffs,” Nick Foster, a planner from Boise, Idaho, explained during the recent seminar. “It is perception-based. They took videos at bicyclists or pedestrian eye level, and showed them to people around the country, and asked how satisfied they would be if they were in that situation.”

And so for the first time, engineers have developed grading standards that go beyond the driver's seat. A lot of details remain to be worked out, though, especially when giving grades for rapidly evolving bike lanes. For example, a recent study out of Portland revealed that bicyclists give surprisingly high marks to protected bike lanes (especially the ones with those little white plastic bollards beside them).

MinnPost photo by Bill LindekeA cycle track with plastic bollards in the South Loop of Chicago.

And in some places, most notably New York City, they’ve moved toward scrapping the LOS grading scale altogether, focus on mobility rather than congestion as a holistic way of designing streets. But for most engineers, the LOS grades are still important because they’re easily understood by lots of people, from traffic engineers to engaged citizens like Pasuik.

“Today, we fail to consider the completeness of the system,” Peter Koonce explained. “If all we’re doing is using automobile delay as our sole measure from which to base our transportation investments, it’s not going to get us to improve the bike or pedestrian environment.”

For cities, changing the grading system remains a crucial task. The corner of Lexington and Randolph will be a good test of how well St. Paul and Ramsey County are doing at evaluating our city streets. And in a few years, you’ll be able to stand on the brand new street corner for yourself. Feel free to be honest, and grade it however you like.

Austin residents think the new Spam Museum is going to look like an Ikea

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:12am

Designs for a new downtown building for Hormel's Spam Museum have been given preliminary approval, and city officials in Austin, Minn., are happy to see the popular attraction moving into the city's core.

The museum has been located in an old Kmart building in town, but is now closed pending the move. It's scheduled to open in the new 14,000-square-foot building on Main Street in April, 2016.

The Austin Daily Herald's story about the plan approval, though, elicited some sneers from locals, worried about how the new building will fit in with the rest of downtown.

(This is the city that saw much public outcry against a proposed new city logo last year, leading to the dumping of the idea. Many didn't like the way the logo was designed to look a tin of Spam.)

One commenter in the Austin paper said the museum plan, with its blue accents, looks like an IKEA store.

"It does not even attempt to match the surrounding architecture. The old building would have fit in nicely here," wrote another.

And: "Just what I feared. The 1960's-inspired designs are all the rage these days. Unfortunately, they'll likely age just as badly this time around as they did the first time. It appears very little continuity or inspiration was used from the surrounding buildings, nor from the buildings that were lost in the fire. What a shame."

But there were design defenders, including:

"You can blend old and new successfully, and I feel this has been accomplished. Sorry there are so many of you writing who don't appreciate the initial picture. I think you will all be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Try to keep your mind open citizens of Austin. Things aren't as bad as you are making it out to be."

Hodges begins national leadership program in Colorado

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 9:49am

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges begins a national leadership program today in Colorado.

She's one of 24 "young" political leaders selected for this year's class of the Rodel Fellowship program, part of the Aspen Institute. (The "young" leaders can be 25-50.)

Also in this Rodel class is Minnesota state Rep. Tara Mack of Apple Valley.

The Rodel program says it:

"seeks to enhance our democracy by identifying and bringing together the nation's most promising young political leaders to explore, through study and conversation, the underlying values and principles of western democracy, the relationship between individuals and their community, and the responsibilities of public leadership; to support and inspire political leaders committed to sustaining the vision of a political system based on thoughtful and civil bipartisan dialogue; and to help America's brightest young leaders achieve their fullest potential in public service."

The program runs 18-24 months, with three seminars within the U.S. The first, today through Monday, is at the Aspen Institute’s Aspen, Colorado campus. All costs associated with the seminars are paid for by the Rodel Foundations and the Aspen Institute, both nonprofit organizations.

Said Hodges in a statement:

"I am eager to spend time over the next eighteen months in dialogue with a bipartisan group of leaders from across the country. The opportunity to engage in thoughtful consideration of and spirited debate about how our political systems operate is an opportunity to bring fresh thinking and an across-the-aisle spirit back home to Minneapolis."

  •  Others, besides Hodges and Mack, in this, the tenth Rodel Fellowship class:
  • California state Assemblyman Rob Bonta
  • South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg
  • Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley
  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley
  • North Dakota public service commissioner Julie Fedorchak
  • Nevada state Sen. Aaron Ford
  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
  • Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman
  • St. Louis city treasurer Tishaura Jones
  • North Carolina state Rep. Grier Martin
  • South Carolina state Sen. Shane Massey
  • Providence city councilwoman Sabina Matos
  • California state Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen
  • Alaska House majority leader Lance Pruitt
  • Florida agriculture commissioner/former Congressman Adam Putnam
  • Missouri state Rep. Todd Richardson
  • Arkansas state Rep. Warwick Sabin,
  • Michigan Senate president pro tem Tonya Schuitmaker
  • Maryland state Sen. Chris Shank
  • Dallas school board president Miguel Solis
  • Colorado state treasurer Walker Stapleton
  • Oregon state Rep. Jennifer Williamson

One issue that can bring liberals, conservatives and libertarians together at the state Capitol

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 9:28am

It was a sight not often seen at the state Capitol. Standing together Thursday morning were such unlikely allies as Rep. Jerry Hertaus, R-Greenfield; Rep. Ray Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis; Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis; Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville; and the Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor at New Salem Baptist Church.

There were Democrats and Republicans; libertarians and liberals; conservatives, ex-cons, county attorneys, white people and black people.

What brought this odd group together is a push to restore voting rights to 47,000 people who live in Minnesota but are unable to vote because they have felony convictions. Under current Minnesota law, felons can’t vote when they leave prison, but must wait until all elements of their sentences — parole, probation or conditional release — have been fulfilled.

The bill the group would like to see pass would change that. It would restore voting rights to felons upon the completion of their prison terms.

Given the huge cross section of legislators pushing for the change, it seems that it will be a slam-dunk to pass. But, of course, nothing is certain at the Legislature. And there is this reality: The push to make the change has been going on for a decade.

So why might the outcome be different this time?

There was another startling moment at Thursday morning’s news event announcing the new push. Over time, even legislators can change their minds. 

Hall, the senator from Burnsville, is one of the most consistently conservative voices in St. Paul. But in the last year, he said he’s changed his mind on the issue. “I talked to a lot of people and started looking at this from a different perspective,’’ Hall said. “Historically, when you look at who the felons were a long time ago, well, they typically were hard, hard people. Today, so many of the people we’re talking about were involved in drug offenses. They made mistakes, they served their time.’’ 

Hall said it’s not only the felons who are impacted by the law that takes away voting rights. It’s the families of those who aren't allowed to vote. “When their father can’t vote, even their kids feel that there is something different about them,’’ Hall said. “That’s just not right.’’

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion

On Thursday, all sorts of statements were made for why convicted felons, who have served their prison time, should be allowed to vote, ranging from passionate statements about forgiveness to logical statements about economics.

Recall the charges of voter fraud surrounding the Senate race between Al Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman in 2008? A now-defunct organization, Minnesota Majority, insisted that it had uncovered large numbers of individuals who had voted illegally in that race.

Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman said his office spent more than $100,000 investigating those charges. In the end, there were 28 cases of cases of people who shouldn't have voted. Those cases involved people who had been released from prison but didn't know that they did not have the right to vote. After the dust had settled, those who had fraudulently voted were sentenced to community service.

“It was all a waste of time,’’ said Freeman. “That money, that time, could have been spent on important public safety issues.’’

As it stands, said Freeman, there is no “bright line’’ separating those who are eligible to vote and those who aren’t. Simply returning the right to vote to those who leave prison would create the bright line.

Freeman isn’t alone in believing it’s time for a change in law. Who can vote, who can’t, isn’t just a metro problem. According to statistics compiled by Restore the Vote, the organization that has worked doggedly to change the law, 65 percent of the 47,000 who aren’t allowed to vote live outside Hennepin and Ramsey Counties. The racial breakdown looks like this, according to Restore the Vote: 69 per cent of those who can’t vote under current law are white, 19 per cent are black, 6 per cent are Hispanic and 5.8 per cent are Native American.

Again this session, legislators will hear powerful testimony about the scar that current law inflicts. They’ll hear from people such as Jason Sole, who, as a young man in Illinois, was a three-time felon. Now 36, Sole is married, the father of three, an assistant professor at Metropolitan State University, a taxpayer, a national expert/speaker/consultant on a variety of social issues. And yet he still can’t vote in Minnesota. “I will not be eligible to vote until 2026,’’ said Sole. “Every November, I’m reminded I’m not a full citizen.’’

McAfee, the Baptist preacher and longtime civil rights activist, gave a mini-sermon that had conservatives and progressives in the group all but saying amen. “There’s no religion I know of that teaches perpetual punishment,’’ McAfee said. “From a Biblical standpoint we know that all of us have sinned and fallen short.’’

Champion is the lead on the Senate fight, while a man who is his political, racial and geographic opposite, Tony Cornish, will lead on the House side.

'Gertrude Stein and a Companion': a wonderful play, perfectly staged

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 9:14am

What a love story it is, and it is a love story. On now at the Jungle, Win Wells’ “Gertrude Stein and a Companion” is a play that bolsters one’s faith in all sorts of things: the power of language; the importance of kindness, affection and commitment; the value of art in our lives, especially if one has a good eye. Maybe even the possibility of an afterlife, since it begins with Stein’s death, then moves back and forth in time. “Dead is dead,” Stein says matter-of-factly, but is it? We want to believe that love lasts forever, and here we safely can.

Claudia Wilkens is towering and magnificent as Gertrude, Barbara Kingsley sharp-tongued and birdlike as Alice B. Toklas, her “companion” of many years in their Paris apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus, where paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec crowded and climbed the walls, and artists, poets, intellectuals and writers including Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped by. In the play, we never see the paintings – they’re on the invisible fourth wall that divides us from the stage – but watch for a quick and delightful scene where Gertrude and Alice are choosing one to sell, their heads bobbing up and down as if looking them over one by one.

Wells dipped often into Stein’s oblique and idiosyncratic use of language, and Wilkens makes Stein’s repetition and mirror-like sentences sound almost normal. We hear of the women’s lives, their famous friends, the challenge of getting Gertrude’s writings published, World War I; two Jews, they stayed put in Paris, with Germans billeted in their apartment. This is the eighth time in Jungle history that Wilkens and Kingsley have played the pair, and they might as well be married, they’re so easy in their roles and with each other. It’s a wonderful play, not too long, thoroughly enjoyable, perfectly staged and lit, and here long enough there’s no excuse not to go. FMI and tickets ($25-$43). Through March 8.


Both the Star Tribune and the Business Journal have given us glimpses into what might happen with the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s $10 million facelift: Still formal at the south end, wilder at the north. Better access all around and improved stormwater management. “Spoonbridge and Cherry” stays as is, but the Cowles Conservatory may undergo major changes. You can view six renderings at the Business Journal’s site.

The Sculpture Garden opened in 1988 and was expanded to 11 acres in the early 1990s, making it the largest garden of its type in the country. While checking facts, we stumbled on this fascinating document, available online: “Parks, Lakes, Trails and So Much More: An Overview of the Histories of MPRB Properties.” Do you have questions about the city’s park system? Like, for example, why Beard’s Plaisance is called Beard’s Plaisance and what Plaisance means? Want to know more about your neighborhood park? Find answers here.

TPT has been recognized for effective use of Legacy Amendment funding for “MN Original,” its award-winning weekly art series about Minnesota’s artists and creative community, now in its sixth season. We have often praised the series here for documenting our arts scene so thoroughly and so engagingly, and we couldn’t be happier that Conservation Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts have applauded how it’s spending our money. If you missed Sunday’s episode, or any episode, you can visit the website.

Have you ever wanted to spend Friday night at a museum? Starting Feb. 20, you can. The MIA will stay open until 9 p.m. on Fridays as well as Thursdays, making it the first museum in the Twin Cities to offer regular Friday-night hours. (As far as we know; please correct us if we’re wrong.) The new extended hours start the same week as “The Habsburgs” exhibit waltzes into town. Correction: the Science Museum tells us they have long been open on Thursday and Friday nights until 9 p.m. Any more out there? Yes: the American Swedish Institute was open until 9 p.m. Fridays last summer and might repeat that this summer. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, they’ll be open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. 

See moon rocks, moon dust and moon dirt with your very own eyes. Starting Feb. 5, the Bell Museum will have lunar samples on display. On loan from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, encased in a Lucite disk, they were collected by Apollo astronauts more than 40 years ago. (Has it really been that long since humans walked on the moon? Sadly, yes.) Hours: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 5; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 7 and 14; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 8 and 15; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 16. On Feb. 14, the Bell’s Saturday with a Scientist program will feature Calvin Alexander, a professor from the U’s Department of Earth Sciences, curator of meteorites at the U, and part of the original Apollo Lunar Sample team. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free with museum admission.

The weekend and a bit beyond

Opens tonight (Friday, Jan. 30) at Mixed Blood in Minneapolis: Mu Theatre Arts’ production of David Henry Hwang’s “FOB.” This Obie winner from the early days of the Asian American theater movement explores the relationships and conflicts between established American-born Chinese (ABC) and fresh off the boat (FOB) newcomers in the 1980s. It toured Chinese restaurants in Minnesota last year and moves into Mixed Blood for 11 performances. Randy Reyes directs and stars. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($22/$10). Through Feb. 15.

Tonight at the Illusion in Minneapolis: Transatlantic Love Affair’s “These Old Shoes.” Surrounded by moving boxes and a grandfather clock, an old man learns to say goodbye as the time approaches to leave his lifelong home for a retirement community. Conceived and directed by Diogo Lopes, created by the ensemble, inspired by stories from their own families, this 2013 Fringe Festival hit has been revised and expanded. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($17/$22, weekends $18/$25). Through Feb. 14. Tonight’s show is preceded by a Bulleit Frontier whiskey tasting in the lobby.

Saturday and Sunday at MCAD in Minneapolis: “Beyond the Buzz: New Forms, Realities, and Environments in Digital Fabrication.” Work by 26 local, national, and international artists who are using 3D printing, 3D mapping, 3D modeling and other digital fabrication techniques. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, noon – 5 p.m. Sunday. Monday-Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Through March 1. Free.

Monday and Tuesday at the Trylon in Minneapolis: “The Manchurian Candidate.” Are you going to the new opera in March? Whet your appetite with this 1962 thriller directed by John Frankenheimer. Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, and Angela Lansbury star. 7 and 9:30 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($8).

Tuesday at Macalester’s Mairs Concert Hall in St. Paul: Patrice Michaels: presents “Intersection: Jazz Meets Classical Song.” A U of M grad, Michaels is considered one of the finest American sopranos of her generation, a virtuoso who moves fluidly from opera to the recital stage, performs around the world and has made dozens of recordings. Her latest, “Intersection,” is a two-disc meeting of blues, ragtime ballads and art songs by Tibor Harsanyi, Laurie Altman, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and more, plus a new suite (“Neighborhood Music”) written for her by Minnesota composer Randy Bauer. Listen to samples here. This is a big-deal concert, part of Macalester’s under-the-radar New Music Series (past guests have included Bill Frisell, Maria Schneider, the string quartet ETHEL and Theo Bleckmann), and it’s free. In the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, 130 Macalester St. 7:30 p.m. No tickets, no reservations; first-come, first-served.

Save the date

Tuesdays in March at the Walker in Minneapolis: Insights 2015 Design Lecture Series. Co-presented by the Walker and AIGA Minnesota, this annual series brings leading designers from around the world to share the thinking, methods, and processes behind their work, with examples. We’re especially interested in opening night, “Minnesota Design: A Celebration.” Our many achievements include the world’s quietest room, the Honeycrisp apple and the sticky note. March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31. FMI and tickets (individual and series available; $24-$100).

Survey reveals large gaps between scientists and general public on climate change, vaccination and evolution

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 8:57am

The general public and scientists sharply disagree on several high profile science-related issues, including climate change, genetically modified foods and human evolution, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

"There is a disconnect between the way in which the public perceives the state of science and science's position on a variety of issues, and the way in which the scientific community ... looks at the state of science," said Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in a teleconference with reporters. "That's a cause of concern."

The public and the scientists do agree on a few things, though — including fracking for oil and natural gas (large majorities in both groups oppose it) and a belief that the U.S. is not doing a good job at teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in elementary and secondary schools.

The survey was conducted last year in collaboration with AAAS. Its findings are based on the responses from a telephone survey of 2,002 American adults and an online survey of 3,748 U.S.-based members of AAAS. The margin of error for this survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the general public and 1.7 percentage points for the scientists.

Key findings

The biggest disagreement between the scientists and the general public was on the safety of eating genetically modified foods. There was a 51-point gap between the two groups, with 88 percent of the scientists believing such foods were safe and 37 percent of the public saying they weren’t. This issue appears to illustrate how the public often has a mistaken view of what the scientific consensus is on an issue, for 67 percent of the polled members of the pubic said they believed that scientists have yet to develop a clear understanding of the health risks posed by such foods.

Other major splits between the public and the scientists involved using animals in research (favored by 89 percent of the scientists, but only 37 percent of the general public) and whether climate change is mostly due to human activity (87 percent of the scientists agreed, compared to 50 percent of the public). (Note: The consensus among climate scientists is much higher: 97 percent.)

A belief in evolution also revealed a major schism: 98 percent of the scientists said humans have evolved over time, compared with 65 percent of the general public.

On the issue of whether childhood vaccines should be mandatory, the gap was slightly narrower, with 86 percent of the scientists and 68 percent of the public favoring the idea. (The survey also found that, among the public, younger adults are less supportive of mandatory vaccination than older generations. Some 37 percent of adults under age 50 believed parents should not have to vaccinate their children, compared with 22 percent of those aged 50 and older.) 

Topics of agreement

On two issues, the scientists and the public were in remarkably close agreement, however. When it came to favoring increased use of fracking, only 39 percent of the scientists and 31 percent of the general public favored the idea. And similar percentages of both groups — 68 percent of scientists and 64 percent of the general public — believed the space station has been a good investment for the United States.

The scientists and the general public also agreed on some broader issues. Both groups, for example, were critical of the way STEM education is taught in K-12 classrooms. Only 16 percent of the scientists and 29 percent of the public said U.S. STEM education is above average or the best in the world. Indeed, almost half of the scientists (46 percent) and almost a third of the public (29 percent) ranked U.S. STEM education as below average when compared with other industrialized countries.

Among the scientists, 75 percent cited poor STEM education as a major factor in the public’s limited knowledge about science.

Political differences

Public views on the survey’s 13 specific issues sometimes, but not always, revealed a strong partisan divide. For example, 66 percent of the Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) said that science has exerted a mostly positive effect on the environment, but so did 61 percent of Democrats (and Democratic-leaning independents).

But on the issue of whether climate change is occurring and whether human activities are the primary factor behind that change, Republicans and Democrats were sharply divided. Seventy-one percent of Democrats said the Earth’s warming was mostly due to human activity, compared to 27 percent of Republicans.

Also, while 61 percent of the general-public adults in this survey said government funding is essential for scientific progress, another Pew Research Center report released earlier this month found that Republicans are less inclined to make “supporting scientific research” a top priority for Congress and the President in the coming year.

A more downbeat mood

The public and the scientists questioned for this latest survey also agreed on giving the country high marks for its past scientific achievements. But both groups were less upbeat about science and its impact on society than they were in 2009, when Pew Research conducted a similar survey. The researchers explain:

Among the public, perceptions of the scientific enterprise and its contribution to society, while still largely positive, are a little less rosy than five years ago. Fewer citizens see U.S. scientific contributions as top tier compared with other nations. And, while most adults see positive contributions of science on life overall and on the quality of health care, food and the environment, there is a slight rise in negative views in each area. Similarly, most citizens say government investment in research pays off in the long run, but slightly more are skeptical about the benefits of government spending today than in 2009. While the change is modest on several of these measures, the share expressing negative views on each is slightly larger today than in 2009.

Scientists’ views have moved in the same direction. Though scientists hold mostly positive assessments of the state of science and their scientific specialty today, they are less sanguine than they were in 2009 when Pew Research conducted a previous survey of AAAS members. The downturn is shared widely among AAAS scientists regardless of discipline and employment sector.

You can read the full report on the survey at the Pew Research Center’s website.

Alliance formed to improve care for high-risk, low-income patients with mental illness

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 8:47am

These days, most physicians and health plans believe in the power of integrative care, or the use of enhanced physician communication combined with electronic medical records to ensure coordinated and effective treatment for patients across medical systems.

But for many people with serious and chronic mental illness, cross-system integrated care has seemed just out of reach.

This winter, a new alliance of five Twin Cities community mental health providers has come together to form the Minnesota Community Healthcare Network (MCHN), a health information exchange that will link the medical records of the more than 22,000 patients they serve and provide secure access to those records for health-care providers and emergency personnel around the state.

If health providers have access to a patient’s full health history, integrative care proponents believe, patients will receive the best possible health care.

“Integrated and coordinated care is important for everyone,” said Grace Tangjerd Schmitt, MCHN chair and president of St. Paul community mental health provider Guild Incorporated. “If you go to a heart specialist, you are going to hope that your cardiologist will coordinate any care and treatment that they prescribe with your primary physician. The same goes for a person with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who’s been seen in a hospital’s psychiatric department.”

Clients served by the five MCHN organizations — Guild Incorporated; Canvas Health; Mental Health Resources, Inc.; RESOURCE, Inc.; and Touchstone Mental Health — often face complex health problems that impact their housing, health and lifestyle choices, Schmitt explained. They are sometimes seen by a patchwork of providers who have limited access to their medical records, creating opportunities for unintentional error.

Illustrating the need

To explain the importance of coordinated care for people with serious mental illness, Schmitt tells the story of Charles, a 40-year-old African-American man with a history of seizures, psychosis and major depression. A client of Guild Incorporated, Charles, who has completed a high school degree and barber training, has experienced homelessness on and off since 2004.

Photo by Jen KellyGrace Tangjerd Schmitt

Charles’ Guild Incorporated case manager worked with him to find an apartment, a primary care doctor and pharmacy. When a recent psychotic episode landed Charles in a hospital psych department, physicians there were unable to access his medical records, and Charles was unable to fully explain his health history. Unaware that he was a Guild client, workers at the hospital prescribed antipsychotic medications that were different from the medications Charles had been taking before his episode.

When Charles was finally discharged from the hospital, he and his Guild Incorporated nurse had to spend hours untangling the efforts of the well-intentioned hospital physicians.

“Everyone at the hospital had Charles’ best interests in mind,” Schmitt said, “but without access to his medical records, they weren’t working from the same playbook as we were.”

If everyone — from the EMTs in the ambulance to the nurses and physicians in the hospital — had access to his complex medical history, Charles would have had better care at a lower cost, Schmitt said.

Improved health, better efficiency

“The opportunity that our alliance is excited about is the potential for improved health and quality of life for the population we serve,” she said “We know we can use this health information exchange to reduce waste and increase efficiency in our systems.”

Automating and linking patient records from all five agencies will require months of work and many thousands of dollars. The alliance has been awarded a $567,597 State Innovation Model (SIM) grant from the Minnesota Department of Health  to complete the project. The target completion date is March 2016.

“By that time, we should have all the processes in place for sharing information to support continuity of care,” Schmitt said. “Once we’ve got our system up and running, a hospital could query a health information exchange with the name of a patient like Charles and learn that in fact he is being served by our team. We will be able to securely share health information across systems.”

Schmitt and her fellow MCHN members are excited by this project’s potential. They see it as a great equalizer, an opportunity for patients facing serious mental illness to get the same quality of care as other Minnesotans.

“Some people are saying that the blockbuster drug of the century is patient engagement,” Schmitt said. “When patients are engaged in their health care, when their physicians are aware of their histories, patient outcomes will be better and they will be able to live healthier lives. At MCHN, we want people with serious mental illness to have the same opportunity to be engaged in their health care and have the same positive outcomes.” 

Cops want lawmakers to impose strict limits on body cam footage

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 5:49am

Well, if we’re going to have to fight to see the footage what’s the point? Another AP story says, “Minnesota lawmakers waded Thursday into a thorny debate over access to footage caught on police body cameras, which aim to increase trust but have raised privacy concerns. A police-backed proposal to put strict limits on who sees body camera videos was introduced in the House. A Senate version isn’t far behind, but even those most involved in the debate warn it’s a complex issue that may need more than one legislative session to solve.”

As you might expect the liberal OpenSecrets blog doesn't have much patience with the campaign to repeal that medical device tax. Clark Mindock writes, “A number of Democrats are on board for the repeal too. In fact, the tax is anything but a wedge partisan issue. But the bipartisanship may not have much to do with ideology: Republican lawmakers heading the effort have clear ties to the medical device industry and so do many of the Democrats who have signed on as cosponsors to the repeal. … In the nonpresidential 2014 cycle, donations dropped back down to $6.3 million, about the same level as in 2010. The top recipient that cycle was Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) who has sponsored several versions of legislation to knock out the tax and took in $92,549 from the industry. … Democrats received money from the medical device industry in 2014. Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, both of Minnesota, came out on top of that list with $47,249 and $39,900 respectively.”

Speaking of Sen. Franken: Michael McAuliff at The Huffington Post writes, “With a bevy of fellow senators and natural gas industry experts angling to jack up profits by boosting gas exports, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) had a reminder for them in a Senate hearing Thursday: You didn't build that gas boom — taxpayers did. … ‘We're hearing senators talk about discoveries of reserves of natural gas in their states as if this is just a discovery that happened out of nowhere,’ Franken said. ‘This is because of the taxpayers doing investments in research into three-dimensional microseismic imaging, done in Sandia National Labs.’”

It’s been too long since we last had a story about “The Chairman.” Allison Sherry of the Strib reports, “Minnesota’s Republican party was fined another $26,000 this week by the Federal Elections Commission for failing to disclose almost $250,000 in receipts, payments and debts from 2009 to 2011. This is the second large fine levied on the state party in four years. In 2011, the Commission fined the party $170,000 for misrepresenting its debts during the same time period. A second case was opened up in 2012 after the party’s former Chairman Anthony Sutton resigned and his then-finance chair alerted the party treasurer there were another $249,000 in invoices in Sutton’s office that had not been reported to the feds during their first investigation.” He was another guy who was reliably great copy.

What was he going to say, really? The AP tells us, “A Minnesota man is pleading guilty to charges tied to a failed coup in the West African nation of Gambia. Forty-six-year-old Papa Faal of Brooklyn Park pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts. Faal admitted in court he bought semiautomatic rifles in Minnesota, broke them down, and hid them in barrels that were shipped to Gambia. Faal, a U.S. citizen of Gambian descent, said he participated in calls with others trying to overthrow Yahya Jammeh, president of the former British colony.”

Save the tullibee! In the Strib Jim Umhoeffer writes, “When anglers land a prize walleye, northern, lake trout or muskie, they usually don’t think about the modest tullibee, an important prey species found farther down the chain. Yet as the tullibee goes, so goes our beloved game fish. ‘Tullibees are a great “canary in the mineshaft” species,’ said Peter Jacobson, a DNR habitat research group supervisor. ‘If you have tullibee in a lake, you know things are pretty good. If they are declining, you know something is wrong.’ Yet there is a significant decline in tullibee numbers, Jacobson said.”

The feds are staying busy. Stribber Randy Furst reports, “The talk around the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis has been that more criminal cases are showing up in federal courtrooms since Andy Luger was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for Minnesota in mid-February last year. New data obtained by the Star Tribune appear to bear that out. Overall indictments are up from 183 in 2013 to 303 in 2014, an increase of 66 percent. In addition, more defendants are being indicted, rising from 235 in 2013 to 495 in 2014, a 110 percent jump.”

Loan forgiveness for doctors working out-state is getting another run at the Capitol. Christopher Aadland of the Minnesota Daily says, “Since the start of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers have placed an emphasis on serving communities in greater Minnesota. Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, introduced a bill earlier this month to offer loan forgiveness to students who plan to work in rural areas in the state. The bill would expand an existing loan forgiveness program administered by the Minnesota Department of Health that has seen its funding shrink in recent years. Currently, Clausen said, the program only supports about 70 professionals during a four-year cycle. He said he’d like to see an additional 200 people added to the program while expanding the number of careers it supports.”

I keep telling Mom, “Just hang up on them!” The AP says, “Financial scammers who target elderly or vulnerable Minnesotans would face stiffer penalties under a law Gov. Mark Dayton included in his two-year budget proposal. The proposed law would tack on an additional $10,000 fine for consumer fraud crimes committed against vulnerable or older adults. That group could expand beyond seniors, but officials haven’t yet decided on specifics. Seniors make up about one-fifth of financial abuse victims nationwide.”

Good piece in Slate on Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Jamelle Bouie writes, “Unlike Mitt Romney—who was merely adopted by the world of racially polarized politics—Walker was born in it and molded by it. As MacGillis notes, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee is home to ‘profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, [and] a parallel-universe news media,’ that predate Walker, ‘but have enabled his ascent.’ If any candidate could run a rigid campaign of polarization — aimed at winning as many white voters as possible — it’s Walker. His language is already there. In his Iowa speech, he touted voter-identification laws and portrayed disadvantage as a pure product of personal failure.”

Also, this from The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart. “Walker’s rise is a reminder that among Republican primary voters, and especially Iowa-caucus goers, the market for ideological or even stylistic innovation, may be smaller than the media assumes. Because the most striking thing about Scott Walker’s speech at the Freedom Summit, and his emerging campaign message more generally, is how retro it is. Walker concedes nothing to the conventional wisdom about what the GOP must do to compete in a more culturally tolerant, ethnically diverse and economically insecure America. And the GOP faithful love it.” 

Minnesota is No. 1 … or is it?

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 5:00am
CC/Flickr/Keith CarverI don’t believe Minnesota is No. 1 just yet.

In last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama boasted that America’s younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. As a nation, he said, “our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before.”

Also last week, a Politico piece called "The States of Our Union" named Minnesota the best state in the nation (tied with New Hampshire), in part because of our public education system. Indeed, the Minnesota Department of Education recently noted that our graduation rate is the highest it’s been in a decade, with almost 80 percent of high school seniors graduating.

While it’s true that some statistics are hopeful, a different picture emerges when we examine all the data. And if we really want Minnesota to be No. 1 for everyone, we must take a closer look at how our public schools serve all students, not just some.

Gaps persistBen Davis

As MinnCAN’s 2014 State of Minnesota Public Education report shows, in the class of 2013, 85 percent of white students graduated on time. Yet this figure drops to 59 percent for Latino students, 58 percent for black students, and 49 percent for Native American students. In other words, stubborn, nation-trailing achievement gaps persist in Minnesota.

This is the case not just for graduation rates, but also for measures of success across the K-12 continuum. In 2014, for example, 79 percent of white students were proficient on the fourth-grade reading MCA exams, compared to only 30 percent of Latino students, 29 percent of black students and 33 percent of Native American students. These proficiency gaps continue into the later grades, with eighth-grade MCA scores telling a similar story.

In fact, as MinnCAN’s report shows, we see significant gaps in every measure of academic achievement, from kindergarten readiness all the way up to college graduation rates.

My fellow Minnesotans, Politico may say we’re No. 1. But it’s time we become the best for all students.

OAS_AD("Middle");Spending more — and passing the buck

In pragmatic terms, remember that our state’s achievement gaps mean more taxes, as some students must take the same classes twice — once in high school and once as a remedial class in college. And our gaps mean Minnesota high schools graduate students who are not proficient in reading and math, effectively passing the buck to others.

More than that, these gaps mean we’re not helping all kids reach their full potential. And this despite changing-the-odds schools across the state proving that all kids — regardless of their background — can succeed.

I believe, as a state, we need to examine our own channels for equal opportunity and social mobility — for everyone — before we pat ourselves on the back over recent accolades that don’t tell the full picture.

There’s also some good news: During the 2015 legislative session, we can work together to pass smart policies that would improve opportunities for all Minnesotan kids.

Things we can do right away

We can, for example, ensure that our students’ No. 1 in-school factor for success — teachers — are the best that they can be. Let’s do this by guaranteeing that student teachers be placed with and learn best practices from highly effective veteran teachers, and by establishing more streamlined routes to Minnesota licensure for qualified teachers from other states. Both of these policies would help ensure that our students are taught by experts in their fields and that our teachers have clear paths to successful careers.

I don’t believe Minnesota is No. 1 just yet. But if we work to improve our public education and provide all Minnesota students the great teachers and schools they deserve, I believe we can certainly get there.

Ben Davis is an advocate and researcher working toward social justice, great schools, and education reform. He was previously a School Reform Blogging Fellow at MinnCAN: The Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now. 


If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Obama administration to request new funding for American Indian schools

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 5:27pm

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will request $1 billion in funding for American Indian education when it releases its budget next week, including millions for school construction desperately needed at schools like one in Minnesota.

The request is $150 million more than the Bureau of Indian Education’s budget for the current fiscal year, and if enacted, it would be the largest budget the program has seen since the stimulus package in 2009. The request includes $45 million for replacement school construction, a $25 million boost over this year’s number, though not nearly enough to address the problem of disrepair among Indian schools.

By government estimates, one-third of BIE’s 183 schools nationwide are in poor condition, and there are still two facilities on a 2004 list of schools that need to be replaced. Until recently, Congress and the Obama administration have put off addressing the problem. Congress appropriated $20 million for school construction last year, even though the administration had requested just $3.2 million. Before that, the administration had not requested school construction funding since 2010.

If enacted by Congress, Obama’s request for next year would close out the 2004 list of replacement schools, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said on a press call Thursday afternoon. Officials expect to release a new list of schools in need of replacement this spring or summer.

The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School on Minnesota’s Leech Lake Indian Reservation figures to be on that list. Housed in a used barn, it’s the only “poor” rated BIE school among the four in Minnesota, and tribal officials have long requested funds to replace it. Jewell, who visited the school last summer, highlighted it as indicative of those needing to be replaced around the country.

“The hallways are small, the building is freezing cold in the winter, it leaks, it smells and it certainly is not conducive to learning,” she said Thursday.

The budget request still needs to get through Congress, but administration officials said they expect the funding will receive bipartisan support. Minnesota lawmakers hailed the announcement on Thursday. Rep. Betty McCollum, the ranking Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee dealing with Indian Affairs spending, called it an “important recognition by the administration that BIE school construction funding needs tremendous improvement.”

Sen. Al Franken, who sits on both the Senate Indian Affairs and Education committees, said, “This new budget proposal from the Department of Interior is a sign that people are paying attention. These children deserve better, and I’m going to keep fighting for them.”

Officials said a visit to North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last year spurred Obama toward action on Indian schools, something Jewell said has been on her radar since she took over as secretary in 2013.

Still, $45 million won’t be enough to solve the department’s problems: government studies estimate it would take more than $1 billion to bring the system’s schools up to satisfactory levels. But Jewell said the request "was as far as we could reasonably go" to both fit within the overall budget and request funding for other BIE priorities.

“This is just step one in a multi-year approach that will go well beyond the Obama administration to transforming Indian education for the benefit of any children, frankly, for the next generation of Indian tribes and tribal leaders in this country,” Jewell said.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry

North Dakota's budget craters under falling oil prices

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:14pm

Someone didn’t plan for every contingency. Jennifer Brooks of the Strib says, “Oil prices have been cut in half, and so has North Dakota's budget. A drastic drop in the oil market has carved a $4 billion crater in the state's budget plans, according to the revised revenue forecast the state issued Thursday. Instead of $8.3 billion in revenue oil and tax revenue the state had expected to collect in the 2015-2017 budget cycle, the revised projection -- reflecting much lower oil prices and an increasing number of oil rigs suspending their operations -- is $4.2 billion. … The budget Gov. Jack Dalrymple unveiled in December hinged on oil selling for between $72 and $82 a barrel through 2015-2017 budget cycle. But as oil prices plummeted, so did the state's expectations.”

In the PiPress, Doug Belden writes, “The Minnesota Lottery narrowly escaped being reined in last session, and lawmakers are pushing again this year to stop the games’ expansion into online and other venues. Legislation passed the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform committee Wednesday that would require the Lottery to end online scratch-off games as well as ticket sales at gas pumps and ATM machines.” Dang! What’s a fella to do for four whole minutes while gasin’ up his rig? Contemplate the birdies?

I didn’t believe it when someone first told me about this. The West Central Tribune has a story by Tom Cherveny about the most unlikely of immigrants. “Thanks to Pacific Ocean breezes, temperatures on the islands of Micronesia do not fall below 70 degrees or rise above 90 degrees. ‘What would bring people in a place like that to a place like Minnesota, where I understand the temperature does get lower than 70 degrees?’ asked the Rev. Fran Hezel, a Jesuit priest. … Father Hezel spoke Jan. 19 to teachers from the region participating in a professional development day at the Lac qui Parle Valley Schools. The district currently serves more than 40 students from Micronesia in pre-K to high school classes, according to Lac qui Parle Valley Superintendent Renae Tostenson. There are nearly 200 Micronesians in Milan today.” Do we have an exchange program?

It was during the Kennedy administration the last time I had one of these. The PiPress story says, “The end is near for RyKrisp, the made-in-Minnesota rye cracker that once was a mainstay of dieters and Scandinavians. RyKrisp’s owner, ConAgra Foods, has notified employees that in March it will stop producing the hard cracker at the one and only production plant, which is in southeast Minneapolis. And then, after more than a century, RyKrisp will fade into history, a once-popular product that couldn’t survive changing consumer tastes.” Maybe if they slathered them in sea salt caramel chocolate?

Will Steger’s in the Duluth News Tribune today with a commentary on climate change. “In an unprecedented joint announcement, NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) announced that 2014 was the warmest year on record since recordkeeping began in 1880. This was a massive statement, one that has not been established lightly. Even accounting for chaotic weather patterns, volcanic eruptions, and solar heating, the NASA/NOAA report showed the Earth five times warmer now than it would be without greenhouse gases, which are caused by the burning of fossil fuels. … Let Gov. Mark Dayton and your state legislators know you support a clean-power plan for Minnesota. We have proven that strong public policy for renewable-energy standards works. Now we must continue our leadership position by seeking a higher renewable-energy goal so we can maintain a sustainable energy future for our state.”

Who’ll be the first to howl, “Nanny state!”? In the PiPress, David Montgomery says, “A Minnesota lawmaker wants to make it harder for parents to leave their children unvaccinated. Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, will introduce a bill today requiring parents to talk with a doctor about vaccines ‘and the diseases they prevent’ before they can opt out of immunizing their children.”

Directly related. Seth Borenstein of the AP reports, “The American public and U.S. scientists are light-years apart on science issues. And 98 percent of surveyed scientists say it's a problem that we don't know what they're talking about. Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use, and nuclear power than is the general public, according to matching polls of both the general public and the country's largest general science organization. Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.” Scientists? Are they on “American Idol” or “FoxNews”?

And then, after setting her cat on fire … . KARE-TV reports, “A Chaska man is charged with assault, terroristic threats and animal cruelty after police say he bit off a portion of his girlfriend's ear, threatened to kill her and previously strangled and dismembered her cat. … The charges state three week prior to this incident, [Michael Anthony] Trudeau allegedly lit the woman's cat on fire in the middle of her living room. When the cat was extinguished, Trudeau allegedly choked the animal with his hands until it died.” Somebody is way beyond anger management therapy.

City Pages’ Cory Zurowski v. Rep. John Kline: “Only months into his seventh term in Congress, Republican Rep. John Kline has already said he has every intention to seek reelection in 2016. It's the kind of forward thinking hubris afforded an incumbent who's greased the wheels of his political career on Capitol Hill to the tune of $15 million in special interest money. But Kline's deep political pockets, courtesy of corporate players like the University of Phoenix's Apollo Education Group, isn't intimidating enough to stop challengers from already lining up. … Earlier this week, Angie Craig, a 42-year-old medical device company executive and political candidate greenhorn, said she plans to mount a DFL challenge to the GOP incumbent in next year's Second Congressional District election. Craig, an Eagan resident, who's lived in Minnesota for a decade, joins Republican David Gerson, a two-time loser to Kline in the primaries, as heavy underdogs against an opponent, who's become the well-established and copiously financed lackey for the for-profit higher education industry … .”