MinnPost

Syndicate content
Updated: 6 min 44 sec ago

Three candidates recommended for Hennepin County judgeship

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 4:52pm

The Commission on Judicial Selection has recommended three candidates for an open judge position in Hennepin County. Gov. Mark Dayton will now make the final selection to replace Judge Philip Bush, who retired.

The three are:

Michael K. Browne, director of Minneapolis' Office of Police Conduct Review. He's also been assistant director at the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, the Legal Affairs Manager at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the interim Director of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. He's an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas, School of Law and a former chair of the Jordan Area Community Council.

Tamar N. Gronvall is an Assistant Attorney General and Manager of Tax Litigation, Bankruptcy, and Education Divisions. She's also been an Assistant Attorney General for the Health Licensing Division and has been a volunteer refugee asylum attorney for Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. She's a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Law. 

Daniel S. Le has a law firm focusing small business/corporate, employment, family, residential/commercial real estate, and immigration matters. He had been a legal aid attorney with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services and a prosecutor in St. Paul. He's on the Board of Mu Performing Arts and  served on the MN Racial Fairness Committee, Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Page Education Senior Mentor Program and Mounds View Charter Commission.

The workarounds

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 4:16pm

When little things go wrong in life — a cell phone charger breaks, a door lock sticks — do you fix them, or do you develop elaborate work-arounds to avoid addressing the root problem? If you're in the latter camp, no need to be ashamed: we’re not lazy, we’re just seriously clever monkeys.

Senate budget seeks to bridge gulf between Dayton and GOP

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 4:15pm

In the negotiations to craft Minnesota’s next two-year budget, Democrats in control of the state Senate are casting themselves as the wise old sages of state government.

That was the dominant theme of a Friday morning press conference revealing the DFLers blueprint for a $42.7 billion budget, which will cut taxes less than Republicans in control of the House want and spend less than Gov. Mark Dayton wants. With a nearly $1.9 billion budget surplus to spend, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said the key ingredient in their budget is pumping $250 million into the state’s budget reserve to help provide a buffer from future budget deficits.

As he has many times since the 2015 session convened, Bakk offered a warning: The last time lawmakers had healthy budget surpluses, they gave them back in tax cuts and rebate checks. The decade that followed featured near-constant budget deficits.

Overall spending, 2016–17: House, Senate and Governor’s proposals The DFL Senate’s overall department spending target (excluding reserves and tax cuts) of $42.3 billion sits between the governor’s and House GOP proposals, though closer to the administration. Source: Minnesota Management and Budget, Minnesota GOP and Senate DFL

“There are only 39 of us in the Legislature that were here in the 1990s — when we cut taxes year, after year, after year — that were then here in the 2000s, when we managed deficits for more than a decade,” Bakk, a Democrat from Cook, said. “We want to make sure we don’t repeat some of the mistakes that were made. Everyone would like to spend more money, everybody would like to have a tax cut, but the budget is critically important to the deliver of all the services that our state and local governments provide.”

The $250 million Bakk proposes adding to the reserves is more than the $100 million Republicans are proposing to put away in the state’s rainy day fund, and far more than Dayton, who hasn’t proposed putting any money into the reserves this session. Bakk said their plan offers fiscal restraint and suggested Senate Democrats aren’t interested in “trading nickels” with Republicans in budget negotiations.

OAS_AD("Middle");

“We are laying out a proposal here that says, this is a budget that they should consider enacting into law. This is a good final product,” he said. “To get them there, there’s just a pretty significant educational process that has to happen, because they just weren’t here.”

The Senate DFL budget blueprint is the third and final piece needed to start negotiations, after House Republicans unveiled their budget targets earlier this week. Their plan included $1 billion in spending cutbacks and more than $2 billion in tax cuts. Dayton is proposing to spend nearly every penny of the surplus on childcare tax credits, universal pre-kindergarten education and college tuition freezes on campuses across the state.

Bakk said Senate Democrats are positioned somewhere in the middle of the other plans, even though their numbers align more closely with Dayton’s budget.

They want to spend an additional $555 million on early through postsecondary education, a number higher than what Republicans want but significantly lower than Dayton’s proposal. It wouldn’t fully fund the tuition freezes and universal pre-kindergarten education in the governor’s plan, but Bakk said they could accomplish smaller versions of those proposals in their target. “I don't think it’s sustainable going down the road to think that [Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system] and the University of Minnesota can come here every two years and say, ‘Give us X and we’ll freeze tuition,’” Bakk said.

2016–17 spending by category: Projected, GOP and Governor’s proposals The Senate’s budget proposal not only rejects the House GOP’s steep cuts to Human Services, it actually exceeds what the governor proposed for the department.

*The number reported for the House and Senate budgets is for "E-12 Education", the current name of the House committee, while the numbers for the the governor’s budget are taken from the "K-12 Education" line in the February forecast, so the numbers might not be exactly comparable.

Source: Minnesota Management and Budget, Minnesota GOP and Senate DFL

He said the Senate education plan will also likely include loan forgiveness for doctors who chose to set up shop in rural Minnesota, as well as their plan to reduce tuition at vocational schools to get more students into job-training programs.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, acknowledged their education target isn’t as high as some advocates — or even DFL senators — might have wanted. “I’m hopeful that throughout the end of the legislative process that that target in particular will continue to improve,” she said.

The Senate DFL tax committee has a $459 million target to hit, but Bakk made it clear they won’t be sending rebate checks out to Minnesotans. They will, however, consider lowering property taxes, and senators say they want to balance out some accounting shifts that were put in place in the past.

How to spend $43 billion Overall, Minnesota will take in about $43 billion in revenue, after reserves. Here's how the House, Senate and governor have proposed to allocate that money.

*The deficiency bill is $15 million in emergency spending for 2015 on the Minnesota Zoo, the St. Peter Security Hospital, Ebola preparedness and other areas. It was agreed to as part of the compromise on commissioner pay raises.

Source: Minnesota Management and Budget, Minnesota GOP and Senate DFL

“If there truly are one-time monies, we should use them for one-time expenses,” Senate Taxes Chairman Rod Skoe said. “They are probably more appropriate than some of the ongoing tax changes that could be problematic in the future.”

Senators aren’t financing a bonding bill in their budget, because Republicans have said they aren’t interested in passing a construction package this year. But Dayton plans to pitch an $850 million bonding bill this session, and there are already $30 million in additional costs related the ongoing Capitol restoration project that need to be covered, Bakk said. Bakk has directed Senate Capital Investment Chairman LeRoy Stumpf to craft a smaller bonding bill that could cover those costs as well as some “non-member specific” projects, like repairs at college campuses.

The Senate also has little appetite for a proposal from House Republicans to change MinnesotaCare, a state-based health care program for the working poor. Bakk pointed out that disagreements over the program led to a brief government shutdown in 2005. Republicans are trying to reduce government spending by about $1.1 billion, and much of that will be targeted in health and human services.

“If that’s where they find a majority of their savings, we are going to have a bumpy road,” Bakk said. “A lot of those people on the program are in rural Minnesota.”

Senate Republicans were quick to criticize the majority party for not trying to cut back on state expenses, like House Republicans did in their budget. “Keep in mind, these are the same politicians who are building themselves a new $90 million office building in St. Paul, and now they want you to start paying for it,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann said in a statement.

But Bakk’s continuing theme throughout the press conference was that surpluses have their risks, and even Democrats can have too healthy an appetite to spend them.

“You have to be careful that you don’t over commit,” he said. “We have a pretty strong economy right now in Minnesota, but it won’t hold indefinitely. We are probably closer to the next recession than we are away from the last one, and building up our budget reserves and having some discipline on spending will be important.”

//Overall budget chart MP.highcharts.makeChart('.overall-budget-chart', $.extend(true, {}, MP.highcharts.barOptions, { xAxis: { categories: ['House budget', 'Senate budget' , 'Governor’s budget'] }, yAxis: { labels: { formatter: function() { return '$' + this.value / 1000000000 + 'B' } }, title: { text: '' } }, legend: {enabled: false}, tooltip: { formatter: function() { return '' + '' + this.x + ': $' + Highcharts.numberFormat(this.y, 0,".",",") } }, series: [{ name: 'Total spending', data: [ {y: 39949000000, color: '#A1000F'},{y: 42272425000, color: '#0D57A0'}, {y: 42786255000, color: '#0793AB'}] }] })); //Category breakdown MP.highcharts.makeChart('.spending-category-chart', $.extend(true, {}, MP.highcharts.barOptions, { xAxis: { categories: ["Capital projects, grants & debt service","Environment, agriculture & econ. Development","Health and human services","Higher ed.","E-12 education","Public safety","State government","Taxes","Transportation"] }, yAxis: { labels: { formatter: function() { return '' + '$' + this.value / 1000000000 + 'B' } }, title: { text: '' } }, tooltip: { formatter: function() { return '' + '' + this.series.name + ', ' + this.x + ': $' + Highcharts.numberFormat(this.y, 0,".",",") } }, legend: { reversed: true }, series: [{ name: 'Governor’s budget', color: '#0793AB', data: [1602249000,769236000,13072844000,3180879000,17404393000,2155618000,1010060000,3358891000,244585000] }, { name: 'Senate budget', color: '#0D57A0', data: [1551719000,737635000,13112184000,3097530000,17059783000,2123509000,1010652000,3361341000,238072000] }, { name: 'House budget', color: '#A1000F', data: [1542719000,653062000,11622685000,2946000000,16866550000,2081450000,902638000,3242120000,133036000] }] })); //Allocation areas MP.highcharts.makeChart('.budget-allocations-chart', $.extend(true, {}, MP.highcharts.barOptions, { plotOptions: { series: { stacking: 'normal' } }, xAxis: { categories: ['GOP budget', 'Senate budget', 'Governor‘s budget'] }, yAxis: { labels: { formatter: function() { return '' + '$' + this.value / 1000000000 + 'B' } }, title: { text: '' }, plotLines : [{ value : 43000000000, color : '#e88e7b', dashStyle : 'shortdash', width : 2, label: { text: '$43 billion available', useHTML: true } }] }, legend: { reversed: true }, tooltip: { formatter: function() { return '' + '' + this.series.name + ', ' + this.x + ': $' + Highcharts.numberFormat(this.y, 0,".",",") } }, series: [{ name: 'Deficiency bill*', color: '#404040', data: [15000000] }, { name: 'Increased reserves', color: '#FBD341', data: [100000000,250000000] }, { name: 'TBD', color: '#55307E', data: [319000000,13500000,13000000] }, { name: 'Road maintenance', color: '#FF6633', data: [612000000] }, { name: 'Tax cuts', color: '#0793AB', data: [2000000000, 459800000,197160000] }, { name: 'Spending', color: '#32955D', data: [39949000000, 42272425000,42786255000] }] }));

Former WCCO-TV reporter Caroline Lowe ponders a new career

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 4:03pm
WCCOCaroline Lowe

Former WCCO-TV reporter Caroline Lowe, who worked at the station from 1977 to 2011 (after starting her career with KSTP-TV), is contemplating another career change. Since moving to San Luis Obispo, California to work for KSBY-TV in a combination managerial-reporting role, Lowe has finished most of the work to get a California private investigator license. 

In a recent Facebook post, she alluded to an idea about a website for cold cases. Viewers here will remember Lowe’s dogged pursuit of the Jodi Huisentruit story, the Minnesota-native and Mason City, Iowa TV anchor who disappeared in 1995 and was declared legally dead in 2001.

In a brief phone conversation, Lowe said she won’t finalize any plans until sometime in June, but that she’s been encouraged by friends watching the evolution of the fact-based media game to consider a number of possibilities. Among the more tantalizing ideas are a series of podcasts a la “Serial,” the startlingly successful podcast by the creators of This American Life, which dramatically told the story of a 1999 murder in Baltimore. At last count, episodes of Serial have been downloaded more than 65 million times.

“I want to get a cold case web site up, to at least let the families know their people have not been forgotten,” said Lowe. “At the very least I want that out there. My hope is to get that done by June. That’ll be 20 years since the Jodi Huisentruit disappearance.”

Obama talks drug war with David Simon

Among the fans of “The Wire,” routinely and deservedly cited as being one of the best television series ever produced, is a certain Barack Obama. A couple years back, the President was being interviewed for a podcast by Bill Simmons, of sports/entertainment online outlet Grantland, and the conversation turned to HBO’s classic story of cops, newspaper wretches, bad schools, politicians and the street culture of inner city Baltimore:

Bill Simmons: Settle an office debate. Best Wire character of all-time?
Obama: It’s got to be Omar, right? I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?

BS: We might break this down as like a March Madness bracket, and I think he’s going to be the no. 1 seed. [Laughter.] Everyone is in on Omar, it seems like.
Obama: He’s got to be the no. 1 seed. I mean, what a combination. And that was one of the best shows of all-time.

OAS_AD("Middle");

Sometime later, Obama elaborated, noting that of all the corruption swirling through the storylines, Omar Little, the gay street enforcer/avenging angel, was the only character who both had “a code” and lived by it. Aware of his influence on impressionable youth, the President quickly added that he was not exactly endorsing Omar as a role model.

Anyway, yesterday the President turned the tables on “Wire” creator David Simon, the ex­-Baltimore Sun newsman, asking Simon’s view of the country’s long and not­ exactly effective war on drugs.

A report on the meeting, from Jordan Charlton at TheWrap.com, includes this: “ ‘I’m a huge fan of The Wire,’ Obama opened the interview saying. ‘It’s one of the greatest not just television shows but pieces of art in the  last couple of decades.’ ”

The conversation with Simon, with the President conceding that the way we go about dealing with drugs is not smart, is well worth the 12 minutes of your time.

Late last year HBO released a remastered, Hi­Def set of “The Wire.” The original camera work, shot in the square 4:3 ratio for old­-style TVs was not, as most agree, it’s finest attribute. Compared to series like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones,” where great attention is paid to visual composition and detail, “The Wire” looks dated. 

Simon is not entirely pleased with the new spiffed­-up version, cleaned and converted to the more cinematic 16:9 ratio of modern flat panel sets, but understands the need to  keep it fresh for new audiences.

The aging — and ageless — Cuban revolution

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 4:02pm
Photo by Jonathan ScollFidel

At the entrance to Havana’s Museo de Bellas Artes I spot (and surreptitiously photograph) an unusual portrait of Fidel Castro. “Fidel,” as he is universally called, is depicted as the white-bearded octogenarian he is today, in a distinctly civilian shirt. 

The furrowed face is that of a patriarch, in three-quarter profile, hands clasped contemplatively below the chin. The expression is both philosophical and sternly judgmental. I hand over to you the revolution I have made, it says to his countrymen. We have traveled its road together, but what happens next is up to you. The eyes seem to stare beyond the viewer into the future.

The uncertainty of this future is apparent even to this casual American visitor. We are on a group tour, two dozen of us from Minnesota and Wisconsin,  to benefit the Wisconsin Land Conservancy. First impression: The country is poor. Our guide acknowledges Cuba’s problems. Our biggest sources of income, he tells us at the outset, are remittances from abroad and foreign tourism; the latter, he says, is regarded by Raúl Castro as “a necessary evil.”  

Cracks in the economy

Small cracks are evident in the communist economy. While the tourist hotels and tourism infrastructure as a whole are state-owned (our comfortable tour bus is made in China), privately owned restaurants, called “paladares,” are allowed in residences. A regulated market for private home sales now functions.

While the Cuban government can manage tourism and currency exchange rates to its advantage, other fundamental and long-term consequences of the Revolution may, for the present at least, be largely beyond its control.

Food is one example. There appears to be little food retailing to ordinary Cubans, and a ration system of imported food provides only part of the population’s needs. The towns and countryside have none of the colorful markets common throughout Latin America. Fresh vegetables are rare. In Havana, I walk over a mile from our hotel, through a tangle of back streets, to find only a single street vendor with a stem of low-grade bananas.

State control of agriculture and minimal wages are disincentives to production. While well-tended row and tree crops are evident on the outskirts of Havana, elsewhere farm fields are neglected and eroded. Many are overgrown with sicklebush (or “marabú” as it is known in Cuba), an invasive fast-spreading thorny tree. We see very little mechanization; horse-drawn carts with rubber tires are common even on major roads.

While our visit is too short to verify this, I suspect that many Cubans make dietary ends meet by the same “traditional” crops of the tropical poor in other lands:  manioc (cassava), taro, yams and other starchy root vegetables easily grown on poor soils outside one’s back door.

Changing demographics

An architect  tells us that as people abandon the countryside to seek work in Havana, the city has an acute shortage of housing. His slide presentation includes a worrisome demographic: There is a swelling cohort of what we would call “baby boomers” and a vastly shrunken population of younger people who must soon support them –  the result of wars, e.g., in Angola, emigration, and declining birthrates. Our guide recounts a rumor: The government has even considered importing young people from China or India to make up for the missing Cubans.

But age, in Cuba, does not mean loss of vitality. Cubans of all generations appear – to the visitor at least – as full of life and joie de vivre as the stereotypical oldsters of the Buena Vista Social Club. Cuba is a place of deep artistic creativity and visible excitement over the ending of its isolation.  As Americans, we feel welcome.

In Havana, a stranger spontaneously greets me on a street corner with “Obama … Good!”  There is an awareness of change, not only in relations with the United States,  but in the lives of ordinary citizens. To borrow from Régis Debray, one senses a revolution in the Revolution.

Pride despite hardships

For all of their present and past hardships, Cubans are proud of their Revolution, its egalitarianism, its free universal education and free health care. For them, its icon is not Fidel (who eschews public display of his image) but Che Guevara, the romantic legend cut down in his prime.

Che is omnipresent, his words and image found on posters, murals and buildings. With Che, the Argentine, the Revolution centers not on the few decades of Fidel’s Cold War standoff with the United States, or even on the lives of Fidel and Che themselves, but squarely within Cuba’s – and Latin America’s – centuries-long effort at anti-colonial self-definition.

Our guide makes this clear from the first. The Cuban Revolution, he says, began not with Fidel, but with Cuba’s three 19th-century wars of independence from Spain. From this perspective, Che’s popular slogan, "¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!" ("Until Victory, Always!"), engraved on his monument we stop to see at Santa Clara, takes on new meaning: The Revolution is not over, and there is no going back.

Perhaps that is why the artist of the Museo de Bellas Artes has cleverly pictured Fidel as he has. He has rendered conscious homage to another, very different, work: Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous self-portrait in old age. His Fidel is a Renaissance figure, whose own age is passing, but whose works will endure.

Jonathan Scoll is a retired lawyer.  He lives in Edina.

It’s time to plan for retiring the remaining coal-burning units at Sherco

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 3:58pm

Hello, my name is Stephanie and I am an asthmatic.

Stephanie Spitzer

Imagine sitting in your cubicle, diligently working, when your boss comes up to ask you a question. You catch a whiff of perfume, and suddenly your breath catches in your throat. You start breathing shallowly, hoping to stop the onslaught of painful, racking coughs that occur when you’re trying to catch your breath. Your boss leaves, you take your quick-acting inhaler, and you spend the next two hours breathing as slowly and as steadily as you can to recover from a minute or two of exposure.

In December, the Twin Cities had a string of bad air quality days. These triggered the worst period of asthma that I’ve ever had. Every day, I struggled to breathe with my daily medications, the same ones that work very well for most people. I took a lot of fast-acting inhalers. I couldn’t walk to my third-floor apartment without breathing hard. My doctor and I couldn’t get my breathing back under control with the most common hard-hitting medications, so in February she sent me on to an asthma specialist. Now I take four (costly) medications morning and night just to get well enough to go about my life. All due to bad air quality days at the wrong time of year.

Here in Minnesota, the majority of our electricity still comes from burning coal, an increasingly expensive way to power our lives, causing bad air quality days like the ones that triggered my asthma. On March 16, Xcel Energy, the electric utility behind the largest polluter in the state, the Sherco plant in Sherburne County, filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) of how it will operate for the next 10 to 15 years. Despite people urging Xcel to plan Sherco’s retirement for the last five years, it plans to continue to operate the plant indefinitely. For me and for all Minnesotans who deserve clean air, I urge Xcel to update its plan to transition away from the coal that makes us sick.

OAS_AD("Middle");

The Sherco coal plant is a blight on the map of Minnesota. Data-mapping by the Clean Air Task Force shows Sherco as a big, black dot, marked by deeply troubling statistics. The plant contributes to 90 deaths, 1,600 asthma attacks, and 150 heart attacks a year, 2011 data shows, the most recent year when all current units were operational. How can Xcel Energy be “Responsible by Nature” with statistics like these?

Burning coal at Sherco drives the worst of Minnesota’s carbon pollution, a main contributor to climate disruption and extreme weather. But rather than creating a transition plan for Sherco, Xcel continues to dig in its heels by operating this outdated plant.  We know that soon Sherco will not be able to keep up with new pollution safeguards. We know that costly retrofits for old technology are wasteful and irresponsible. We know that cleaner, cheaper energy options are available. We know that people like me with asthma don’t suffer health impacts from wind turbines or solar panels. We know that we don’t have to pay to import rays from the sun or the wind, like we do with coal. Renewable energy saves our lungs and our pocketbooks. So why does Xcel keep pouring more money into Sherco when there are lower-cost (not to mention healthier) options for the long term?

And these aren’t the only impacts to consider. The local economy is also important. Its longtime presence in the community means Xcel should responsibly plan to help the people of Becker transition to a life beyond coal.

It’s time to choose the brighter, more responsible future. It’s time to plan to retire the remaining coal-burning units at Sherco, to show that we care about the people in our present and in our future.

It’s time to show that we care about the effects of coal pollution and decide that we’re done breathing unsafe air.

Stephanie Spitzer is a knitter, volunteer and member of the Sierra Club, and asthmatic shuffling around Minneapolis with her mouth covered against the cold in winter.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

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

Rural towns, businesses join forces to help workers live closer to their jobs

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 3:56pm

JACKSON, Minn. — At the AgCo manufacturing plant here, where workers roll out a dozen tractors and chemical sprayers each day, the number of workers is equal to a third of the city’s population.

It’s an enviable work force for a small Minnesota town. Yet hundreds of AgCo’s employees actually live outside this town of 3,300 in far southwestern Minnesota. One-fourth of the workers live more than 30 miles away, according to the company; some travel an hour one-way from towns where they have managed to find a home or an apartment. 

The result is untapped potential for the city, which would like the stronger tax base that more residents provide, and latent worries for AgCo, which needs the workers to keep up with demand for its machines.

'A missed opportunity'

Other rural communities around the state face the same conundrum – a housing market that isn’t keeping up with job growth. Eric Fisher, the director of operations at the Jackson plant, said the situation presents “a missed opportunity for greater Minnesota.”

He added: “It’s curbing the growth potential of a lot of rural communities because if they can’t get anybody to grow housing, then businesses won’t have a work force.”

To generate more housing in Jackson, AgCo has partnered with the city and two regional housing agencies on a plan to build 48 townhouse units on seven acres of land near the industrial park that is dominated by the manufacturer’s sprawling campus.

MinnPost photo by Gregg AamotAgCo’s Jackson plant has around 1,100 employees.

The company, which has 1,100 workers, has invested $220,000 in the $7 million project. The city donated the land and a state agency provided much of the financing while a regional nonprofit housing group will own the buildings.

“There just aren’t many for-sale signs around the city,” explained Susan Pirsig, Jackson’s economic development director.

New units in Worthington

Thirty miles west in Worthington, a similar project is under way: a $6.5 million plan to build 48 housing units. The city has invested $1.6 million in the project while its housing and redevelopment authority borrowed $4 million for it. Five local entities, meanwhile, including the meatpacker JBS, the city’s largest employer, together contributed $110,000.

OAS_AD("Middle");

And that only scratches the surface. By 2020, Worthington will need 500 more housing units simply to sustain its growth, said Bradley Chapulis, the community and economic development director.

A bill introduced in the Legislature this session would provide $50 million for work-force housing. The legislation, which would provide grants and investor tax credits, is being carried in the House by Rep. Rod Hamilton, a Republican from Mountain Lake, a town about 20 miles north of Jackson, and in the Senate by another regional lawmaker, DFL Rep. Dan Sparks of Austin.

One of the bill’s strongest backers is the Greater Minnesota Partnership, an organization that represents about 85 of the largest Minnesota cities outside the Twin Cities.

The challenge

Dan Dorman, the executive director of the group and a former legislator, noted that the housing stock in Albert Lea, where he grew up, has been stagnant for three decades. Attracting builders to towns in rural areas when building in the Twin Cities is a safer investment is a challenge, he said.

Chapulis traveled to St. Paul for a March 15 legislative hearing on the bill. He argues that it would serve a similar purpose as the incentives government often creates for developers in emerging markets, such as the wind energy industry whose giant turbines dot the windy plains in this region.

“We view this as another industry that needs a jump start to become sustainable on its own,” he said.

Photos by Gregg AamotA chemical spreader first made in Jackson in the 1960s is on display at AgCo’s visitor’s center.

Self-propelled chemical sprayers were first built in Jackson in the 1960s by a company called Ag-Chem (which was later sold to AgCo). One early model – painted in the mustard yellow that is the color of many AgCo-built machines – sits on display in a new visitors center on the north end of town. These days, besides building several brands of sprayers for AgCo, which is based in Georgia, the Jackson plant makes tractors, including Massey Ferguson and Challenger brands.

Tractors for far-flung markets

On a recent Friday afternoon, workers spread out along an assembly line in a cavernous, well-lit building worked on various parts of tractors. Big-screen TVs that time each work station and also note the destination of each machine hung on the wall; the models on the floor were headed for dealers in Illinois, Idaho, Arizona and the United Kingdom.

Across the street, engineers work in their own building while employees come and go from a company fitness center. Many AgCo workers have local ties and would love to live in Jackson, company officials said.

Some may soon be able to.

“There is such a need for a variety of housing types here,” said Pirsig, showing a reporter around the new housing site, which, so far, has only curbs, gutters and fire hydrants. “This (project) is one part of the puzzle in solving that issue.”

Former GOP Supreme Court candidate McDonald alleges 'torture' at hands of Dakota County

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 3:20pm

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 2014’s GOP-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court, Michelle MacDonald, is back in the news after filing a suit against Dakota County and others alleging “…torture-like treatment when she was removed and jailed for taking photos in a courtroom in September 2013,” reports Paul Walsh in the Star Tribune. He continues, “MacDonald alleges being handcuffed and brought back into the courtroom in a wheelchair so she could resume representing her client. … She said she was detained for 36 hours, the suit continued, and at one point photographed and ‘improperly’ handled and touched while being referred to as ‘beautiful.’ ”

Psychiatric studies at the University of Minnesota are going to be on hold for a while. On Friday, the U’s Board of Regents endorsed President Eric Kaler’s suspension of psychiatric trials after Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ report condemning university research practices leading up to the death of study-participant Dan Markingson, reports the Star Tribune’s Maura Lerner. “Before the regents’ vote, Kaler offered his apology to Markingson’s mother, Mary Weiss, for her son’s death ‘while under our care.’ … He noted, ‘We can’t change the past,’ but vowed to move forward to ensure research is conducted in the ‘safest and most ethical way possible.’

Like all remodeling projects, the cost of renovating the state Capitol is threatening to run over budget — in this case, to the tune of $30 million. The AP gathered the evidence: “Documents released to a commission overseeing the overhaul show the extra costs stem from water damage repairs, security improvements and other costs. Those overruns would increase the total cost by about 10 percent, to more than $300 million.”

A campaign finance mess over in Wisconsin. The New York Times’ Monica Davey takes the Badger State as a prime example of “how a rising tide of money in state judicial races is creating potential conflicts for judges who sit on cases involving donors. Judges in the highest courts in 38 states face some type of election, and in the 2011-12 election cycle, the latest for which data is available, more than $56 million was spent on those races, nearly twice as much as in the 1990s, according to Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan research group.”

In other news…

Love the great outdoors but hate people? Check out Minnesota’s 11 least-visited state parks [Pioneer Press]

“State revokes licenses of foster providers after 6-year-old's death” [Star Tribune]

Meet Downtown Minneapolis’ future marijuana dispensary [Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal]

“Woman Gives Birth In Car In Carlton Co.” [WCCO]

Bell ringing on April 9 to commemorate Civil War's end

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 11:51am

Bells will ring across Minnesota at 2:45 p.m. on April 9, to commemorate the end of the Civil War.

It was that day, 150 years ago, that Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant met with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia to set the terms of surrender.

Minnesota played a big role in the War Between the States, and has held dozens of events for the sesquicentennial.

The bell ringing will go on for four minutes, officials said, one minute for each year of the war.

They're hoping to enlist bell ringers at churches, temples, schools, city halls, public buildings, historic sites and other places to join in the clanging. 

State Rep. Dean Urdahl, co-chair of the state's Civil War Commemoration Task Force, said: "April 9, 1865 is a day that changed our country forever and we encourage people throughout Minnesota to join together in remembrance."

The other co-chair, former Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, said: "The end of the Civil War has deep meaning and people may feel a wide range of emotions during this commemoration. We ask that citizens take a moment to reflect during this monumental moment in state and national history."

State officials will compile a list of bells to be rung, and ask organizations to email their plans to Erik Anderson of the Minnesota Historical Society at erik.anderson@mnhs.org.

Did a history of hard feelings between the Twins and Vikings fuel the fight over the new MLS franchise?

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 11:11am
MinnPost photo illustration by Tom Nehil. Explosion: CC/Flickr/AJ Cann

Thursday, September 2, 2010, brought something rare to the Minnesota professional sports scene: a night when the Twins, the Vikings and the University of Minnesota football team were all in action, with the Vikings at the Metrodome, the Twins at the new Target Field and the Gophers away at Middle Tennessee State. 

Gophers fans attending the Twins-Detroit Tigers game at Target Field were in luck: The Twins devoted one slot of the out-of-town scoreboard to tracking the team’s progress in Tennessee. 

Vikings fans? Not so much. The score of the team’s game against the Denver Broncos was never posted or announced, though you could watch the game — if you happened, as I did, to find the one television in the entire stadium showing the game, inside the Town Ball Tavern in left field.

The Twins decision to disappear the Vikings wasn’t an accident — or an oversight. According to someone familiar with the decision but not authorized to talk about it, Twins management prohibited employees from showing the game or announcing the score in any form. The only mystery is how the Vikings game ended up on that one screen.  

A history of hard feelings

When the Twins departed the Dome after the 2009 season to move into Target Field, they took some hard feelings with them. The Twins always felt like second-class citizens at the Metrodome, a venue primarily designed, built and configured for football, and a facility where the Vikings held priority on dates except for the World Series. 

Many Twins officials never forgave the Vikings for refusing to switch a Monday night game with the Green Bay Packers in 2009, forcing the Twins to play Game No. 163 — an extra game vs. Detroit to decide the American League Central Division champion — on a Tuesday, then fly overnight to New York and open the playoffs against the Yankees the next night. The Yankees went on to sweep the Twins. 

So when Major League Soccer formally awarded an expansion franchise to former UnitedHealth Group CEO Bill McGuire and his group — basically telling Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, who pursued a franchise for the new Vikings stadium, to pound sand — it was perhaps not a surprise that the Twins gladly hosted the press conference at Target Field. McGuire’s group includes the Pohlad family and Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor. The Wilfs, attending NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, sent no one.

Twins CEO Jim Pohlad, who with brother Bob attended the press conference with McGuire and MLS commissioner Don Garber, denied his team took any special glee in outmaneuvering the Vikings. “That has nothing to do with it,” he said. “I know them personally. I like those guys.”

But when I mentioned the knife-twisting feel of the event to another Twins executive, he laughed heartily and said: “It’s good to be in your own stadium.”

A battle of billionaires vs. other billionaires 

Of course, it’s hard to find a white hat in any battle between the two pro franchises that lead the Twin Cities in levels of entitlement. In a smug-off among our men’s pro franchises, the Timberwolves come in fourth, the Wild third (barely). But the Twins and Vikings would need to go to a shootout to determine a true champion. 

The Vikings play in a league that prints money and throws lawyers at every problem. The Twins play in a league that prints money, and in which everyone involved — from the owners to the players to the ticket sellers — considers themselves superior to everyone else. 

So there’s something entertaining about watching one set of cutthroat executives stick it to another set of cutthroat executives. McGuire, backed by an all-star coalition of Minnesota’s rich and powerful, is one of the few people in Minnesota with deep enough pockets to take on the New Jersey-based Wilfs. That coalition of the willing includes Carlson Companies board member Wendy Carlson Nelson, the daughter of former Carlson CEO and board chairman Marilyn Carlson Nelson, which is an intriguing addition to the group. Carlson owns Radisson, which suspended its Vikings limited sponsorship last September when the team reinstated running back Adrian Peterson after he was charged with child abuse in Texas. 

McGuire money plus Carlson money plus Pohlad money plus Taylor money means more than enough money and clout to finance a soccer stadium privately, given the lack of public appetite for additional stadium subsidies. And the Wilfs, never gracious losers, will tap whatever friends they have remaining in the Legislature to scuttle anything, anyway.

In fact, even after the MLS made the official announcement, the Vikings made it clear they weren't going to concede just yet. “We have been and continue to be in discussion — ongoing dialogue — with the MLS,” Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley told the Star Tribune. “We’re monitoring and watching the situation. But we congratulate United.” 

Coming soon: soccer games at Target Field?

The Twins haven’t exactly forgotten about butting heads with the Vikings over potential stadium deals, either — even before the Wilfs came on the scene. In 2001, the Twins felt they belonged at the front of the line for a new facility. But that March, three days after the team introduced legislation for a $300 million ballpark, the Vikings announced their own plan for a stadium, one they would share with the University of Minnesota. Twins officials were furious; neither proposal went anywhere.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanThe Twins gladly hosted the press conference announcing Minnesota’s new MLS franchise at Target Field.

It’s not like the Pohlads are lifelong soccer fans. When I mentioned a “friendly” to Jim Pohlad — soccer parlance for an exhibition game — he had no idea what I was talking about. He said the family joined McGuire because top-level soccer enhances Minneapolis’s standing as a major-league city. “That’s important to me,” he said. 

So is revenue, and the chance to bring more people into Target Field. Twins executives plan to pursue major international matches similar to the one last August at TCF Bank Stadium between English Premier League champion Manchester City and Greek champion Olympiakos. The Twins lost out on that in part because it conflicted with the Paul McCartney concert at Target Field.

In fact, in-house conversations already determined the layout of a soccer field for Target Field, spanning the outfield left to right and crossing part of the infield dirt, avoiding the mound and home plate. Groundskeeper Larry DiVito gained experience converting a baseball field to soccer with the Washington Nationals at the old RFK Stadium, which helps.

Minnesota United may also play a handful of games at Target Field, though not an entire season, like the MLS expansion franchise New York City FC will do this summer at Yankee Stadium. 

If nothing else, the Twins would love to find some excuse to bring in the Dark Clouds, the charismatic Minnesota United fan group that essentially took over the press conference this week. More than 100 of them showed up, chanting and singing as they flanked the stage. 

Pohlad was impressed. “We’re starting a Twins group,” he said. “For baseball, it’s The Bright Clouds.” With the Vikings slinking off sans MLS franchise, those clouds seemed bright indeed to the Twins.

Are 'grimacing' babies in ultrasound images really reacting to mom's smoking?

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 10:44am

The dramatic 4D ultrasound photos of unborn babies “grimacing” and “suffering” in the womb as their mothers smoked cigarettes made a high-profile splash on social media earlier this week.

The photos come from a study published online recently in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica by a team of British researchers. 

But do those photos actually show fetuses in distress because of their mother’s smoking?

Maybe. Or maybe not. There’s no way of knowing from the photos — or from the study — what those unborn babies (photographed between weeks 24 and 36 of pregnancy) are feeling, as experts for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) explain on the organization’s “Behind the Headlines” website.

“While smoking is certainly known to be harmful in pregnancy, the researchers [and the media] may be reading too much into these images by claiming they show ‘grimaces’ or expressions of pain in response to smoking,” the NHS experts write.

Important limitations

Here, in their words (and with British spellings), are some of the reasons why we should hold off jumping to any conclusions about those images:

This pilot study looked at whether ultrasound scans could be a reliable way of assessing foetal movements. It then looked at whether movements differ between babies whose mothers smoked and those who do not.

The study found babies whose mothers smoked moved their mouths more often, and the rate at which they reduced their mouth movements was slow compared with babies whose mothers didn’t smoke.

The main limitation of this study was its size — only four smokers and 16 non-smokers were included. This means the results are more likely to be down to chance than in a bigger study. …

A further point is that if there are real differences between the movements of babies whose mothers smoke or don’t smoke, we can’t say exactly why these differences arise or what they mean for the baby. …

Another limitation is the potential influence of confounding — that is, any differences may not necessarily be a direct effect of smoking, but could the the result of the influence of other factors … such as socioeconomic factors, whether the father smoked, or other health and lifestyle factors in mother, such as diet, physical activity, [body mass index] and alcohol intake.

 “The images are powerful and provoke an emotive result in most people, as the baby appears to be in distress,” the NHS experts add. “But it’s important to bear in mind that these images may not be representative of the approximately 10 to 13 hours of scans taken. We cannot tell whether the babies pictured were distressed, contented, or showing another emotion.”

What the evidence does say

But, as the experts also stress, pregnant women have plenty of compelling and evidence-based reasons to not smoke — and to avoid being exposed to secondhand smoke:

  • You will have less morning sickness and fewer complications in pregnancy
  • You are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby
  • The risk of stillbirth is reduced
  • You’ll cope better with the birth
  • Your baby is less likely to be born too early
  • Your baby is less likely to be born underweight
  • The risk of cot death is reduced

An abstract of the pilot study can be found on the Acta Paediatrica website. You can read the NHS’ full discussion of the study on the agency’s “Behind the Headlines” website. It’s a great site to bookmark for clear-headed examinations of studies that hit the media headlines.

Minnesota Orchestra's 2015-16 season includes Sibelius, Mahler, a 'Beethoven Marathon' and chefs

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 10:40am

If you think your calendar is complicated, try scheduling 92 performances over 10 months around a symphony orchestra, 13 conductors, a parade of guest artists and soloists, the Minnesota Chorale, 70 works of classical music, dead composers, emerging composers, jazz musicians, the Peking Acrobats and local chefs.

OAS_AD("Middle");

Announced Friday, the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2015-16 season is colorful and ambitious, with a strong classical core. With 22 weeks of classical subscription concerts, 12 led by music director Osmo Vänskä, people who come to Orchestra Hall for Brahms, Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler should be happy. The lion’s share of the season is classical music.

In among the classical offerings are several “Live at Orchestra Hall” concerts led by Sarah Hicks that include popular music, movie scores, world music and four performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” The “Jazz in the Atrium” series, curated by Jeremy Walker, returns for a second season with a provocative theme, “The New Regionalism.” Three weekend family concerts feature the full Minnesota Orchestra and dancers from Minnesota Dance Theatre. The holidays bring Messiahs and Nutcrackers, our annual visit from Doc Severinsen (we can’t imagine Christmas without him) and other festive events, ending with Vänskä conducting Beethoven’s first and final symphonies on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Photo by Clive BardaYevgeny Sudbin

The New Year’s concerts launch a demanding and aptly named “Beethoven Marathon” that heats up January. In five programs over eight nights in two weeks, with Vänskä on the podium, the orchestra will perform all nine symphonies and all five piano concertos, with Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin as soloist. This is music everyone involved knows well. Vänskä and the orchestra have recorded the complete symphonies for the BIS label. With Sudbin, they have also recorded three of the piano concertos for BIS. If you’ve ever wanted to bathe in Beethoven live, here’s your chance.

Other highlights of 2015-16 include the season opener (Sept. 11-12), with Grammy and Tony winner Audra McDonald singing with the Orchestra and Vänskä. Former music director Stanislaw Skrowaczewski returns in October for three concerts featuring principal cello Anthony Ross playing Schumann’s Cello Concerto in his first-ever concerto solos with the orchestra under Skrowaczewski’s direction. Concertmaster Erin Keefe is the soloist for the season’s first Symphony in 60 concert (April 14), with Vänskä conducting Brahms’ violin concerto. The “Inside the Classics” series with Hicks and Sam Bergman explores Mozart and Haydn, Bach, and opera.

Jazz won’t be the only music in the glass-enclosed Atrium. On four Sunday afternoons starting Oct. 8, members of the Minnesota Orchestra will play a new series of chamber music concerts. The programs will be announced in June.

Sibelius’ 150th birthday will be celebrated Nov. 5-6 with a program of miniatures including his Six Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra. On Feb. 4-6, the party continues with performances of his choral symphony “Kullervo” (which the orchestra played at Carnegie Hall in 2010 to raves) and “Finlandia,” plus a world premiere of a new work by Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas; these concerts will be recorded live for a future BIS release. The orchestra will headline Carnegie Hall again in March 2016, playing Sibelius’ first and third symphonies and his violin concerto, with Hilary Hahn as soloist. Three Carnegie Hall preview concerts with Hahn are scheduled for Feb. 18-20 at Orchestra Hall, so we’ll hear the music before the New Yorkers.

Photo by Lisa-Marie MazzuccoErin Keefe

Several themes are woven throughout the season: the links between Brahms and the Schumanns, composers associated with Vienna, music from Nordic countries, nationalism in music, spiritual music. The focus on Mahler that began last September with the “Resurrection” symphony continues with performances of his fourth and fifth symphonies as bookends for the new classical season; more Mahlers are planned for 2016-17. Three of Bach’s “Brandenburg” concertos will be featured in October, February and April, with the remaining three saved for next season. 

Did we mention chefs? Except for the Peking Acrobats (Feb. 21) — and, while we’re at it, a concert with the orchestra and Cirque de la Symphonie (May 21-22) in which aerialists, acrobats, contortionists, jugglers and strongmen will share the stage (and the air above) with the musicians — the season’s most unconventional offering may be “A Musical Feast” (Nov. 7), when celebrity Twin Cities chefs will prepare a menu while Sarah Hicks leads the orchestra in a concert celebrating food and music. Prokofiev’s “The Love for Three Oranges,” anyone?

Planning for 2015-16 was considerably less stressful than planning for 2014-15. Then the orchestra, battered and bruised by a 16-month lockout, had to map out a season’s worth of concerts in a shorter-than-usual time when many potential guest artists and conductors had already been booked. Once the season was announced in mid-June, the focus turned to quickly selling tickets for concerts that began Sept. 5. In contrast, meetings about 2015-16 began last September. According to Kari Marshall, the orchestra’s director of artistic planning, this was a collaborative process among Vänskä, musicians, staff, board members and Asadour Santourian, vice president of the Aspen Music Festival, who served in a consulting role as artistic adviser.

“We had a long session in which [everyone] brought ideas about things they wanted the orchestra to be doing,” Marshall said. The “Beethoven Marathon” was born there. “The idea for that started with ‘What if we try to do all five of the piano concertos with Yevgeny Sudbin, with whom we have this wonderful relationship?’ That morphed into ‘What if we try to do all of the symphonies and all of the piano concertos?’ It’s quite a feat to do all that in such a short time period.”

Bach’s “Brandenburgs” were proposed, and more Mahler. Spreading their musical wealth over two seasons became a purposeful strategy. “We’re starting to think in broader terms and multiple seasons,” Marshall said. And multiple recordings. Along with the Sibelius noted earlier, Vänskä and the orchestra will record Mahler’s Fifth with BIS in June 2016. “Osmo is really interested in making sure that the orchestra is doing Mahler with him,” Marshall said. Before long, it seems, we can start adding Mahler recordings to our Minnesota Orchestra music collections, between Beethoven and Sibelius. 

***

View the complete 2015-16 calendar on the orchestra’s website. Check there for information on subscription packages, flexible packages and individual ticket sales. Meanwhile, the 2014-15 season is still in full swing from now through the big finale (Sibelius and Mahler) in early June. Starting next Thursday, “Spirit & Spring” concerts spotlight music of faith and contemplation. A Symphony in 60 event on April 9 features Mahler’s “Song of the Earth.” Later in April, Ann Hampton Callaway sings the Streisand Songbook (BTW, Callaway wrote the song Streisand sang to James Brolin at their wedding), Michael Stern conducts Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and Burt Hara returns to play Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. May brings popular composer/conductor Eric Whitacre and pianist André Watts. And those are just a few. 

Dayton wants harsher penalties for poaching

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 10:39am

Gov. Mark Dayton, an avid outdoorsman, is calling for tougher penalties in cases of rampant poaching.

He says recent reports of "wanton and wasteful" poaching call for new, harsher punishment. Current law, which calls for a misdemeanor penalty and license revocation of up to five years, isn't enough.

He wants legislators to toughen the rules by creating a new felony-level penalty for some poaching, along with revocation of  game and fish licenses and privileges for up to 10 years.

Says the governor:

"The recently reported instances of wanton and wasteful poaching in Minnesota should offend the sensibilities of all ethical and law-abiding hunters and anglers. They are shameful criminal acts, and they should be treated as serious offenses by Minnesota laws. I ask our state's sportsmen and sportswomen to join me in urging the legislature to increase the penalties for these disgusting abuses."

The governor's plans call for felony charges in gross over-limit cases such as taking:

  • Four or more deer
  • Two or more trophy deer
  • Five or more bears or turkeys
  • Forty or more ducks, geese, pheasant, grouse, or salmon
  • Sixty-seven or more walleye or Northern pike

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr agrees:

"This proposal would enact strong and appropriate penalties for those who intentionally disregard the ethical and legal boundaries of hunting and fishing in Minnesota."

In the meantime, Minnesota has a “Turn In Poachers” (TIP) program for concerned citizens to lodge complaints. The 24-hour, toll-free hotline is (800-652-9093) or cell phone users can dial #TIP to file a complaint.

Lean times at the Pentagon pit active-duty Army against National Guard

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 10:33am
A battle over helicoptersCongressional commission steps in

Congress caused this fight in the first place by allowing sequestration to take effect two years ago, a fact not lost on lawmakers themselves.

Legislators grudgingly signed off on sequestration in 2011, hoping the threat of blind, across-the-board caps on both domestic and defense spending would push them toward a broader deficit reduction package. They failed, and the caps became law in 2013.

Today, sequestration is a common source of angst on Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle. Simply put, no one likes sequestration and would rather do away with it — if only there were consensus on what to do in its place.

The irrationality of sequestration

In the run-up to the U.N.'s climate change conference, a few (small) signs of hope

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 8:57am

It seems fitting. The world’s governments face a deadline at the end this month to reveal their goals for reducing carbon emissions ahead of a major U.N. conference in Paris. But with the deadline looming, the City of Light was itself choking this week in a thick blanket of smog.

You think maybe Mother Nature was trying to make a point? 

Be it domestic or international, the politics of pollution and climate change are always contentious. In the U.S. this week, the Supreme Court heard the latest challenge to the Obama administration’s efforts to toughen environmental regulation. This time it was about toxic pollutants released by power plants.

Then there’s the case of Chinese journalist Chai Jing, which was truly outrageous. In case you missed it, her documentary, “Under the Dome,” went viral in China after it was released about a month ago. In style and impact, it was compared to Al Gore’s 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth.” Estimates of the number of people who saw it ran into the hundreds of millions.

But little more than a week after the film was released on the Internet, censors shut it down.  (You can still watch it here.)  This happened even as a top scientist — in a rare, high-profile interview — warned of the huge impact climate change could have on China.

International diplomacy usually is more polite and process-oriented than the work of a Chinese censor. When it comes to fighting climate change, it’s often about trying to maneuver the other guy into being the first with the most. That hasn’t worked out so great. 

The Paris gathering, which will take place in December, is meant to be different. Diplomats are striving for a comprehensive deal with mandatory limits on emissions. And in order to make clear how much work needs to be done to reach those goals, each country is supposed to declare a goal by March 31.

Of course, there are only a few of these reports that really matter: China and the U.S.; the European Union, India, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Canada, Australia, etc.

The EU announced its position earlier this month: By 2030, it will reduce emissions to 40 percent below the level of 1990. The U.S. says it will meet the March 31 deadline to make a pledge and is likely to be roughly in line with the EU, once different methodology is taken into account. But China and India say they won’t be ready until mid-year.

Then, there is the question of whether the limits should be something less than mandatory.

You could almost guarantee that officials trying to keep the process moving would find a silver lining or two. In this interview, the chief U.S. climate negotiator acknowledges that one could wish for more, but finds the projected pledges not so bad. He even finds some positive things to say about China’s expected pledge that its emissions will peak in 15 years – a point at which it also will be getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources and nuclear power. 

At the same time, EU climate chief Miguel Arias Canete is saying that the conference won’t be a failure even if the pledges fail to reach the stated goal: keeping the increase in Earth’s temperature to the key marker of 2 degrees centigrade. 

If that sounds like the same-old same-old, a few small signs of hope also have popped up this month — not that even the most sunny optimist thinks we’ll get out of this without more damage.

As frustrating as they are to watch, the U.N. and the world’s diplomats do real work in representing mankind — which has a habit of getting its act together only in a crisis (and sometimes not even then). The crisis is upon us, and the diplomats are starting to act. This discussion already seems more focused. What they come up with in Paris is almost certain to be inadequate, but it will be a start.

Meanwhile, worldwide emissions actually leveled off in 2014, compared to a year earlier.

Beijing, world famous for its gray-brown skies, is shutting down its coal-fired power plants.

And at the same time, technological innovations are boosting efficiency and making renewable energy much cheaper, for individuals as well as large commercial customers. Governments are finding ways to encourage the transformation.

A figure no less than Gore himself is changing his tune. Perhaps you saw this recent New York Times piece. He prefers now to talk about the exponential growth in wind and solar power, how their use is spreading to places like Bangladesh and the Persian Gulf, and about how fast their cost has dropped.

Here’s the money quote from that interview. Even if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth repeating, if only for the novelty: “We’re going to win this. The only question is how long it takes.”

The complex role of malls: private but sort-of-public spaces

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 8:25am
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical SocietySouthdale Mall, 1956.

Victor Gruen, inventor of Edina’s Southdale Mall, had dreams of saving ruined cities. As he saw it, postwar America had fallen on hard times, ruined by planners and their monolithic neighborhoods. Gruen wanted nothing more than to resurrect the vibrant street life of his native Vienna.

“A healthy urban heart pulsates with life day and night,” he wrote, “[and] attracts creative people … those who would value intimate contact with urban features and for whom, whether they are wealthy, middle-class, or poor, the city is a way of life.”

Today, of course, along with cream cheese wontons and Post-It Notes, Gruen’s indoor shopping mall is Minnesota’s most influential invention. Southdale’s two-story enclosed atrium, parking-moated shopping building is so widely copied that it’s banal. Walking around Southdale today, it’s difficult to discern its utopian past because, as a shark must move forward to survive, the nature of a shopping mall is to endlessly remake itself. Thus the Mall of America’s official slogan is “always new.”  

But over the last few months, conflicting claims have emerged about how malls fit within Twin Cities society. (“#Itsmymall!” “No, #itsmymall!”) The seemingly audacious protest by the #blacklivesmatter movement and subsequent reaction by the Mall of America and the Bloomington prosecutor illuminate the complex relationship that shopping malls have as public and private spaces. Like it or not, they are simultaneously massive private companies and rough, if degraded, facsimiles of Gruen’s public sphere.

A brief history of shopping in quasi-public

In writing about Minneapolis’ new Downtown East park, I outlined how the concept of “public space” is not a given. Rather, public space is an outcome of conflicts large and small, a kind of massive social game with rules, territory, borders and police. From unspoken social norms (think George Costanza screaming “We live in a society!”) to large-scale political demonstrations, what’s allowed in public becomes the battleground of everyday democracy.

In the capitalist city, these contestations are particularly vivid touching our shopping spaces. The definitive work on the matter is likely Walter Benjamin’s posthumous (and famously messy) work, "Arcades Project," where the leftist sociologist cataloged changes surrounding shopping streets and department stores in 19th-century Paris. The book is an encyclopedic compendium of news clippings, quotes, observations and short essays arranged by theme: boredom, sales clerks, social movement, the streets of Paris, advertising. 

Benjamin’s “arcades” were kind of like 19th-century skyways, narrow interior corridors lined with shops, “a recent invention of industrial luxury … extending through whole blocks of buildings, whose owners have joined together for such enterprises,” as Benjamin describes.

“Lining both sides of the corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature,” he writes.

What obsessed Benjamin, and other Parisian contemporaries like Baudelaire and Balzac, were the radical urban transformations taking place around the new streets. Entire neighborhoods of sometimes-unruly peasants were demolished and replaced with high-class consumerism. Even in the chaos of urban Paris, to read through the literature is to feel the sharp distinctions between private and public.

Southdale: Victor Gruen’s failed utopian dream

Victor Gruen’s Southdale, built in 1956, remains a definitive case study of the paradox of public malls. Gruen himself, a loquacious Austrian émigré (and an admitted socialist), had particular notions about what made a good city.

“We must learn how to vary the elements of urbanization if we do not want to lose the rich differentiation in human experience that is the salt of the earth,” Gruen wrote in his manifesto, "The Heart of our Cities." “If we do not succeed in accomplishing this, we shall lose the city forever, and with it will go urban culture.”

As he sketched it out, Southdale was meant to be a dynamic public space that welcomed many different kinds of activity.

“What is novel and revolutionary [about malls like Southdale] is the manner in which the store buildings are placed,” he wrote. “The buildings form a cluster of great compactness, with spaces between them reserved for pedestrian use only and equipped with such amenities and improvements as landscaping, rest benches, fountains, and even, in some cases, the work of creative arts. … Some of them are as esthetically as pleasing and as busy as the long-lost town square of our urban past.”

Gruen's dream of public malls never quite came true. Instead of a “town square,” malls evolved into places dedicated to the pursuit of profit. For example, today’s malls are painstakingly designed to reduce “threshold resistance,” our reluctance to enter into new stores, by creating permeable walls and borders. “Adjacencies” between like commercial spaces create particular modes and micro-climates of consumption, and how two-story malls interact with surrounding roads and parking lots is often carefully calculated to maximize exposure to products. (Think about the labyrinthine design of an Ikea, or about how mall escalators are often found only at the far ends, and you get the idea.)

Changing tastes in mall design

As Frank Bures pointed out, today’s malls “have been on decline,” and examples of defunct malls are a familiar sight in every city; the Mall of America (and its planned, even larger, Miami sibling) is more the exception than the rule. Malls have been an object of ironic critique for so long — "Mallrats," "Dawn of the Dead," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" — that retail designers are trying again to reconfigure the relationship between commerce and the city.

Emily Fedoruk is a cultural studies graduate student at the University of Minnesota who studies malls across North America, and calls the Mall of America “one of the most highly securitized malls" she’s ever seen. Fedoruk’s research examines how many contemporary malls have begun incorporating elements of public space and street life into their designs, particularly public art, murals and even poetry.

“I really like Southdale,” Fedoruk told me this week. “When you look carefully, its modernist design is still there even though they’ve catapulted stores like PF Changs onto the outside. Gruen’s socialism tried to push back on the idea of the space of the mall as this all encompassing commercialized space.”

Fedoruk points to the way that the rules of conduct at the Mall of America restrict access. For example, the mall prohibits “conduct that is disorderly, disruptive, or that interferes with or endangers business,” along with a list of clothing restrictions and a thoroughly enforced age curfew for certain hours of the day. While many malls have similar rules, and the Mall of America certainly has legitimate concerns about being a symbolic target, the idea that malls cleanly fall outside the public realm is problematic for many people.

“Malls bring out the mini-Marxist in everyone, these shrines to consumption that bring out ennui for people by just being there,” Fedoruk explained. “What’s at stake in the question of the Mall of America is the possibility that this is something that is interesting to everyone. Symbolically, malls are more public than they can be concretely. I think that is the public-ness, that everyone has something to say about malls.”

And the problem of public space malls is not going away. Fedoruk points to trends that increasingly blur the line between public and private, indoor and outdoor spaces. Around the country outdoor malls like the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes or the new outlet mall in Eagan are being built, though as a recent policing incident reveals, disparities around security and race are still a problem.

MinnPost photo by Bill LindekeShoppers at the “Shoppes at Arbor Lakes" outdoor mall in Maple Grove.The public claim to malls

Pushing against the boundaries of public space, as the #blacklivesmatter has done by demonstrating at the Mall of America or on Interstate I-35W, has long been the most crucial kind of political activity. (Think of lunch counter sit-ins, or the private bus company that transported Rosa Parks.) Both freeways and suburban malls play crucial parts in creating the Twin Cities’ landscape of racial inequality, by limiting how and where public encounters can take place. After all, malls are carefully designed to be places to maximize shopping to the point where it is the only remaining kind of “free speech.”

Mapping the evolving intersection of public space and shopping reveals how difficult this tension has been to resolve. Urban retail spaces like Nicollet Mall, downtown skyways, branded business districts, or shopping malls are carefully shaped to encourage particular behavior. And, inevitably, these choices have important social implications.   

If Victor Gruen had had his way, there would have been no doubt; modern shopping malls would be public space. But the way that history played out, Gruen’s utopian dream remains difficult to grasp. Toward the end of his life, he began to condemn contemporary shopping malls, calling them “customer traps, [disfigured by] the ugliness and discomfort of the land-wasting seas of parking.”

I’d like to think that Gruen is wrong, and that Twin Cities malls can still be places for important public conversation. As the debate about the Mall of America shows, people remain emotionally invested in what happens in the Mall of America atrium. 

E-therapy offers new options for patients, and new ethical concerns for providers

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 8:23am
Lisa Herman

When she was working as a psychologist in a Twin Cities clinic, Lisa Herman heard the same question all the time.  

“My patients would ask me,” she recalled, “ ‘Can I just call you? Can we just talk on the phone? I don’t have time to make it into the clinic.’ ”

Herman knows all too well where her patients are coming from. As a new mother, she understands that there are days when making extra time — even for something as important as therapy  — feels nearly impossible. But she also believes that many people could benefit from mental health care.

Inspired by her patients’ requests for a more flexible approach to treatment, Herman began looking for ways she could give people the help they need in a format that worked with their busy lives.

She’d heard about popular online therapy sites like Breakthrough, and was intrigued by their use of technology. After researching the legal and ethical ramifications, she decided to go into private practice online, hanging up her e-shingle by creating her own website, Dr. Lisa e-Therapy. Today, Herman provides remote therapy sessions with clients online, on the telephone or using the video-conferencing site Skype. She offers appointments on weekdays, weekends and evenings. Her client list is small, but growing.

Herman is hoping that her approach will reach people who always thought that therapy just wasn’t for them. She wants to work with busy parents who can’t afford child care, workers whose schedules don’t allow for time off, people concerned about privacy, or even those whose social anxiety makes face-to-face meetings feel paralyzing.

“To go to a doctor’s appointment, at best, it’s 15 to 20 minutes driving each way,” Herman said. “You have to take time off work. You have to take the kids out of school. You have to be brave enough to venture out of the house. It’s hard to get appointments on nights and weekends. The market is there. So I decided to go for it.”

Start of a trend?

Herman isn’t the first — or only— psychologist in Minnesota to take her practice online, said Angelina M. Barnes, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Psychology. In rural areas of the state, where psychologists and psychiatrists are few and far between, some larger hospitals and medical groups provide e-therapy through encrypted hookups in a clinic setting. Still, solo practitioners like Herman are relatively rare: To some extent she and her patients are working in uncharted territory.

“The state of Minnesota doesn’t yet have any laws or administrative rules that strictly prohibit or speak to psychological practice online,” Barnes said. “In general, the board has always said that telepsychology must be practiced within state boundaries. In all aspects, we treat it the same way as we would treat-face-to-face practice. The same rules apply.”

OAS_AD("Middle");

In Herman’s practice, a typical teletherapy appointment has some of the trappings of a classic face-to-face therapy session, with some important differences. If the session is a videoconference, Herman sits in her basement therapy office, facing her computer screen. The room has soothing art on the wall and a bookcase filled with books. When a patient dials in for his or her appointment, Herman puts on her headset (this assures privacy) and answers. Other appointments take place on her office landline. Occasionally she’ll conduct a session via email.

Sessions last the typical 50-minute therapy hour, for which Herman charges $105, payable via PayPal or credit card. Half-hour sessions cost $65. For now, all of Herman’s patients are self-pay; insurance has yet to cover teletherapy, she said, except in situations where geography makes it impossible for a therapist and client to meet in person. Since Herman’s independent therapy practice is not aligned with a major health provider, insurers so far have not reimbursed her clients for her services.

“I knew that would be the situation,” Herman said, “so I lowered my prices to accommodate that. If somebody were to come see me in a clinic, my charge would be $180, maybe more, depending on the diagnosis.”

‘A little glitch is OK’

Sometimes, e-therapy sessions have hiccups that don’t happen when a patient and therapist meet face-to-face.

“In a few ways, it is different from traditional therapy,” Herman said. “You can’t get around that. Technology can be funky. When I’m talking through Skype, sometimes the feed is in slow motion, or there is a glitch in the wireless network. It’s not the same as it is in person, but when the people you’re working with know that, it is not a big deal. For some people, this setup is so much easier for their life that a little glitch is OK. It kind of evens out.”

Not everyone believes that taking the practice of therapy online is a good move.

“There are camps within the field of psychology that say, ‘This will never be the same as face-to-face practice,’” Barnes said. “You don’t get the same body language cues. If you aren’t experienced, you might not know that lighting matters, that good eye contact matters. There are groups of people in the field who would say that teletherapy does not provide the same level of service, that it is not good for patients.” 

Elizabeth Super, a psychologist who has practiced in Minnesota since 1977, said that she believes telemedicine can deliver the same level of service as face-to-face therapy. She said that the world is changing, that people are becoming more adapted to living life remotely, and that psychology needs to evolve to address that truth.

“I think that people who are afraid of teletherapy are making assumptions that client and therapist can’t be really relating in this format,” Super said.  “I believe e-therapy it is another way of relating that can be just as powerful as face-to-face interaction. It is a different way of relating, no better or worse than treating a patient in person.”

Last May, the Minnesota Board of Psychology hosted a teletherapy conference, Barnes said. 

“The conference discussed best practices and walked through important provisions like confidentiality, checking to see if you have encryption on your system, protecting and storing electronic health records, including text messages and emails,” Barnes explained. One major concern is patient privacy. Skype is a third-party company, with records that may be accessible on the cloud. Using Internet-based products to conduct therapy brings up all sorts of new ethical and regulatory issues, Barnes said:  “We still need to catch up to the technology.”  

The Minnesota Board of Psychology has not taken an official position on telepsychology, Barnes said, but there are certain types of cases or diagnoses that she believes are not well suited for online therapy, including, “high-risk cases, like someone who is at-risk for self harm or has suicidal ideation. What if the call was dropped or the wireless connection went down? In those cases, a therapist needs to be right there with the patient.”

Ethical checks

Herman, who is licensed to practice psychology in Minnesota and New York, sees only patients in the state of Minnesota. On her website, she posts her curriculum vitae, licensures and professional memberships. She also posts a privacy policy and complies with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards. (“I’ve had a lawyer review my site,” Herman said.)

She explained that though there are some patients (she requires all to have a screening telephone conversation before beginning therapy) whose psychological histories make them a bad match for teletherapy, she believes that for many patients, online services are as helpful as those she has provided in person.

“The experience my teletherapy clients have is very similar to what therapy is like in a clinic,” she said. “It’s not face-to-face, but it is pretty darn close.”

Dayton: 'stadium fatigue' makes subsidy for soccer facility unlikely

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 5:55am

And how exactly did we acquire this “fatigue”?  Patrick Condon of the Strib reports, “Suggesting any state government support for building a Minneapolis soccer stadium would be politically unpopular, Gov. Mark Dayton once again Thursday said he considers it highly unlikely that he or state legislators would provide subsidies to the emerging effort. ‘I just think politically — I think the term “stadium fatigue” describes it,’ Dayton said Thursday, running through the last decade in which lawmakers approved major state funds to build Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium and the Vikings stadium now under construction. ‘That's with the Legislature, myself, the public. I just don't think there's any public appetite for taking on the financing of another stadium.’" For the record, there were plenty of people without an appetite before the last one … and look what they were forced to eat.

If nothing else, the job creators must always have the upper hand. MPR’s Matt Sepic writes, “New federal rules set to take effect next month could make union organizing easier, but business groups suing to block the regulations warn they'll give organized labor the upper hand. Proposals by the National Labor Relations Board would delay most employer challenges to a union election petition until after workers have actually voted on joining a union. Businesses would have only seven days to file paperwork with the NLRB outlining any objections to a worker unionization request and would have to submit a detailed list of employees eligible to vote in a union election.”

Again, I must say I am simply shocked that such a thing has been going on. Stribber Neal St. Antony reports, “Ameriprise Financial Inc. has agreed to pay $27.5 million to settle a 2011 class-action lawsuit over the operation of its 401(k) plan for the company’s employees and retirees. The suit accused Minneapolis-based Ameriprise of loading up the company 401(k) plan with its own expensive, underperforming mutual funds and charging employees excessive fees, thus violating its responsibility to plan participants under federal retirement law.” And what was the CEO’s take home last year?

Just another group of entrepreneurs. The KMSP-TV story on the airborne pot pipeline to Minnesota says, “A Colorado investigation dubbed ‘Operation Golden Go-fer’ has led to the indictments of 32 people who posed as medical marijuana caregivers while running an illegal growing and distribution ring. The investigation got its ‘Golden Go-fer’ name since much of the marijuana was shipped to Minnesota, allegedly using the planes of a Winsted, Minn. skydiving business owner. The indictments are the culmination of raids on multiple warehouses in Denver last October. Agents seized 4,600 pounds of marijuana, nearly 2,000 marijuana plants, 10 pounds of hash oil and approximately $1.4 million in cash.”

It’s mine, trust me. At WCCO-TV, Reg Chapman says, “Who wants to be a millionaire? Everyone, you’d think. But someone holding a winning Powerball ticket sold in Hennepin County never came forward. Exactly one year has passed, so now they’re out of luck. … a new law is being proposed that would require the lottery to do more to notify winners. Just last week, someone forfeited $100,000 in lottery winnings, and today another  $1 million. Representative Joe Atkins is worried too many Minnesotans are losing out on big winnings. ‘Well, I’m proposing a way to get lottery winnings into the hands of the people who won it,’ Atkins said.”

Is this “soaking wet”? According to FoxSports’ Kelly Beaton, “The thought of Babatunde Aiyegbusi finding NFL stardom might seem implausible. But not as implausible as his massive, block-out-the-sun frame. On Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings announced they had signed Aiyegbusi, a 6-foot-9, 351-pound offensive lineman from Poland. Aiyegbusi's tale sounds a bit like a WWE back-story. The 27-year-old native of Olesnica, Poland, never played college football. He toiled with the Dresden Monarchs of the German Football League in 2014. Before that, he fittingly played for the Wroclaw Giants, then the champions of the Polish American Football League.”

The next time someone complains about our “litigious society,” this is the sort of thing they’re talking about. In case you forgot the 2010 case of the guy with the purloined campaign sign, Elizabeth Mohr of the PiPress reports, “Steve Bohnen and Keith Mueller want to protect people who call the cops from being sued. The two Grant men have been at the state Capitol in recent weeks, sharing their experience, hoping to persuade legislators to amend Minnesota's so-called anti-SLAPP law. And they've met no resistance. The proposed legislation sailed through several committee meetings and is poised for House and Senate floor votes. Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, who sponsored the Senate version, said she's confident the bill will pass unanimously. … Mueller has worked for nearly two years to craft legislation to strengthen the anti-SLAPP statute, so that reporting apparent unlawful conduct to police is protected public participation and thus shielded from retaliation.” The whole story is worth the read.

Oh yeah, $20 will more than cover it. Stribber Dave Chanen says juror per diem may be on the rise. “For nearly a decade, jurors have received $10 a day for parking, bus fare or lunch in exchange for spending long hours in a courtroom. The per-diem may cover expenses in smaller counties, but jurors in urban areas, where parking and transportation are pricier, are slapped with a financial hardship beyond lost wages for doing their civic duty. Court advocates hope to see that addressed by this year’s Legislature. Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal supports bumping per-diems to $20 a day.”

It’s an autism boom. In the Strib Anne Millerbernd writes, “The number of students enrolled in autism-aiding school programs in Minnesota has grown by 400 in the last year. While that number has been steadily growing since the Minnesota Department of Education began collecting data on students with autism nearly two decades ago, the increase has begun to taper off in recent years, said Executive Director of the Autism Society of Minnesota Jonah Weinberg. The department’s annual Child Count report shows that about 17,000 children up to age 21 were identified as having an autism diagnosis in 2014.”

St. Paul will consider Prism TV. Frederick Melo of the PiPress says, “With CenturyLink eager to offer cable-like television service in the Twin Cities, the city of St. Paul is forming a cable franchise application committee to negotiate the particulars, and there are a lot of them. CenturyLink already provides landline phone, ‘normal speed’ Internet and DirecTV satellite television services in St. Paul. The franchise agreement would allow the company to offer Prism TV — an Internet-based pay-television option — throughout the Twin Cities. … Prism's features include up to four or five split screens at once and a wireless box. ‘You can move your TV inside, or outside, or watch a cooking show in your kitchen, without being connected to the box,’ [Joanna Hjelmeland, a CenturyLink spokeswoman] said.”

Not so fast on the Nye’s condo deal. Kristen Leigh Painter of the Strib is saying, “Opponents have also petitioned the City of Minneapolis to conduct an environmental review of the site before the project moves forward. The association agreed to table its approval until that review is conducted, which could last four to five months. … Leaders of a [Our Lady of Lourdes] church committee have two primary concerns: That the tower’s height will dwarf the church and that construction activity will damage the 158-year old structure.”

Prioritize preparing children in deep poverty to be ready for kindergarten

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 5:00am
CC/Flickr/woodleywonderworksWe believe that one of the smartest investments of state dollars is to provide flexible funding for early education and care that stays with each child until they turn 5 or enter kindergarten.

There has been considerable talk about early learning lately. We have heard for so long the alarming fact that Minnesota’s children in poverty are not prepared for kindergarten. It is encouraging to see the growing consensus about the end goal, even as the means are subject of spirited debate. We, as providers of early care and education serving some of the poorest children in our state, are now asking that you open your minds and hearts to hear our point of view.

Molly Greenman

There are 78,000 children ages 0-5 in Minnesota living in deep poverty. Deep poverty is defined as a family whose income is less than 50 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Children in every county and of every color live in deep poverty. However, children of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty, are uniformly at the highest risk of failing school, and are susceptible to repeating this cycle of poverty.

What does it mean to be a young child living in deep poverty in Minnesota? For preschoolers, this life comes with many challenges, starting with parents who likely also grew up in similar conditions and face, along with their children, their own daily challenges.

Carolyn Smallwood

These children move frequently with their parents, living short term with friends or family or in shelters – a very unstable and chaotic life for young children who benefit so greatly from consistency and certainty. It is heartbreaking for us to have a child leave our preschools, knowing that the warm and healthy environment we provide during the day is not easily replaced under their family’s precarious circumstances. These children are being read to less often, have few or no books, and rarely enjoy the treasure of our parks.

Too often, these children have family situations that include mental illness and/or substance abuse, often leading to child neglect or violence. For them, the present is joyless and grim, and the future will almost certainly be tragic … UNLESS we collectively do something big and different NOW.

Provide flexible fundingBarbara Milon

What do these children need to set them on a better path? While no single solution exists, we propose one thing our state government can do this year: prioritize helping each one of these children to be ready for kindergarten. We believe that one of the smartest investments of state dollars is to provide flexible funding for early education and care that stays with each child until they turn 5 or enter kindergarten.

Flexibility will let funding follow each child so that when families move, they can maintain their opportunity to find a new early care and education provider, whether it be school-based, center-based or home-based. With fully flexible funding each child can get the amount of time they need to be successful. In contrast, funding based on arbitrary caps set by the state, or as a “reward” for parent’s working is a flawed system that places consequences on children for the performance of their parents.

OAS_AD("Middle");

We already have proof that flexibility funding for children works. The federal government provided $45 million over four years supporting comprehensive strategies and interventions in Minnesota, including two urban and two rural communities. Flexible scholarships were provided to hundreds of children in poverty. The results are profound in the White Earth, Northside Achievement Zone, St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, and Itasca communities.

Records of success

The Family Partnership, Way to Grow and Phyllis Wheatley Community Center combined have 252 years of serving children, youth and families, and the child development centers are four-star rated by Parent Aware, the highest rating possible in Minnesota, and have served over 16,380 children, youth and families in 2013.

Eighty-nine percent of the children graduating from preschool into kindergarten met school readiness standards and were cognitively, socially/emotionally, language/literacy and physically prepared for success in school.

When we do what is right for our children, we see the benefit it brings. We also know firsthand the damage that results when we don’t. Please find the way to get this right this year. We will help these children get ready for kindergarten and bring great promise into their lives.

Molly Greenman is the CEO of the Family Partnership; Carolyn Smallwood is the CEO of Way to Grow; Barbara Milon is the executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

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

Earth Hour on Saturday will bring symbolic 'lights out' for climate change awareness

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 4:51pm

In a symbolic gesture to bring more attention to climate change, cities around the world will hold an hour of “lights out” Saturday night.

Organizers say 7,000 cities in 162 countries are joining in “Earth Hour” and turning off lights to save energy. In Minnesota, E-hour is 8:30–9:30 p.m. Saturday.

St. Paul is part of the effort, with many public and private buildings taking part. Mayor Chris Coleman said:

“For one hour, Saint Paul will join together with communities all over the world to raise awareness around climate change. But for the majority of those communities, including our own, these efforts go beyond Earth Hour — they’re issues that are being tackled every day as we continue to face a rapidly changing climate.”

City officials said in recent years St. Paul has completed 120 energy-saving projects in 60 municipal facilities using federal stimulus money, reducing the overall energy consumption in those facilities by an average of 30 percent. 

Duluth and the University of Minnesota are also on the World Wildlife Fund's list of participants; so is Target Center in Minneapolis.

Also participating are many world landmarks: the Sydney Opera House, Empire State Building, Gateway Arch, Niagara Falls, Willis Tower, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the House of Parliament, Eiffel Tower, the Kremlin and Brandenburg Gate.

St. Paul buildings and places that will go dark for an hour Saturday night include:

  • Saint Paul City Hall/Ramsey County Court House
  • Minnesota State Capitol
  • District Energy St. Paul
  • First National Bank
  • Landmark Center
  • Metropolitan State University
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum
  • Rice Park
  • RiverCentre/Xcel Energy Center
  • Bremer Tower
  • US Bank Center
  • Wells Fargo Place
  • Arlington Hills Community Center
  • George Latimer Central Library
  • Hayden Heights Library
  • Highland Park Library
  • Merriam Park Library
  • Riverview Library
  • Rondo Community Outreach Library
  • Saint Anthony Park Library
  • Sun Ray Library
  • West 7th Library