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Dayton to hold town hall meeting to discuss Mille Lacs walleye issues

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 2:18pm

Gov. Mark Dayton will hold a public meeting near Mille Lacs Friday morning to discuss the walleye situation on the popular fishing lake, and how the state might assist affect resorts and businesses.

The meeting is at 11:45 a.m. at Isle High School.

The DNR plans to close the walleye season on the lake, possibly next week, to protect the dwindling population as part of a long-term stabilization plan. Already, anglers can only keep one fish and it must be within narrow size guidelines.

The governor and legislative leaders have discussed a special session of the Legislature to provide aid to the affected businesses in the area; possible assistance includes low-interest loans and property tax abatements.

Mille Lacs area residents expressed deep concerns about closing the season early during a meeting last week with state officials, said the Mille Lacs County Times.

Many said the state isn't helping enough, and had asked for Dayton to come see it in person. 

The paper said the current management agreement calls for anglers and tribal fishermen to share 40,000 pounds of walleye from the lake, with anglers taking 28,600 pounds and the Indian bands harvesting 11,400 pounds. Ten years ago the shared limit was 600,000 pounds of walleye.

Reenactors to celebrate 150th anniversary of end of Civil War at Fort Snelling

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 2:15pm

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, reenactors will be in Minnesota next month to recreate the homecoming of the 2nd Minnesota Infantry to Fort Snelling after the war. 

More than 200 reenactors from around the country are expected. On Saturday morning, they'll arrive via riverboat about 11 a.m., and then march and drill on the fort's parade grounds. On Sunday, they'll reenact the homecoming and mustering out of the army, as they're greeted by family and friends.

There will also be cannon firings, infantry parades, an old-fashioned baseball game, an 1860s fashion show, interpretive stations, walking tours, speakers and a traveling exhibit about Lincoln, the Constitution and the Civil War.

The two-day event will be Aug. 15-16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the historic fort. Cost is $11 for adults; $9 for seniors and college students and $6 for ages 6-17.

This is the last piece of  the Minnesota Historical Society's look back at the Civil War. Events have been held since 2011.

Minneapolis police unprepared to share body-cam footage

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 12:12pm

Police body cameras, sure — oh wait, you actually want to look at the videos? The Star Tribune’s Erin Golden reports on unanticipated problems for the Minneapolis police: “After four months of testing body cameras with a few dozen Minneapolis police officers, city officials have reached one definite conclusion: They are not prepared for the massive spike in public records requests and data processing demands that would come with a full rollout of the program. … The city’s auditor, Will Tetsell, told a City Council committee Wednesday that Minneapolis will likely have to hire more people and potentially reconsider the requirements for how quickly the city must fulfill data requests if it is to have a successful and well-regarded program.”

The State Fair declares war on #millennials. MPR’s Tim Nelson has the story: “You may have to get someone else to take your picture at the Grandstand and on the rides on the Midway: the Minnesota State Fair is instituting a ban on selfie sticks. … But it's only a partial ban, State Fair officials said today. … ‘The selfie sticks will be prohibited on all of our ticketed attractions, the rides at the Midway and Kidway, and any of the amusements you see around the grounds, the Sky Rider, Ye Old Mill, those sorts of locations,’ said fair spokesperson Brienna Schuette. ‘In addition, they'll also be prohibited at entertainment seating venues, so at the Grandstand, or any of the free stages around the grounds, the Bandshell, the Bazaar stage, and so on.’ ”

Like Nice Ride, but for canoes. For the Star Tribune, Shannon Prather reports, “The National Park Service is working on a plan to create a canoe-sharing service in the 72-mile-long Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, making it possible for residents and tourists to play on the urban river, as well as up and down its shores, without a car. … Instead, they’d rely on a network of canoes, bicycles, buses and the Northstar commuter-rail line. Canoes and bikes checked out at one location could be left at another location up or down the urban river corridor.”

Picking up litter is so punk rock. “Western suburbs residents who drive along County Rd. 16 near the Minnehaha Creek crossover in Minnetonka will notice a new blue sign along the way that may seem like a joke at first: ‘Adopt-a-Highway / Next 1.5 Miles Thanks to the Suicide Commandos Punk Rock Band,’ ” writes Chris Riemenschneider in the Star Tribune’s Artcetera blog. “ ‘We certainly made a big enough mess around there in our younger years, it’s time we made up for it,’ laughed Suicide Commandos guitarist/co-vocalist Chris Osgood, who approached Hennepin County staff on a whim a few months ago when he saw that particular stretch of road was up for adoption. ‘I’m frankly surprised they let us.’ ”

In other news…

Aug. 3rd deadline remains in place for abuse victims to file claims against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. [KSTP]

Deflategate case to be heard in New York, not Minnesotawhere the NFL Players Association wanted the case heard. [Pioneer Press]

Rep. David Dill battling cancer at Mayo. [Timberjay]

Xcel energy favors large solar projects over rooftop installations and solar gardens. [Star Tribune]

Mia Farrow tweeted the lion-killing dentist’s Bloomington office address. [WCCO]

Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized Mia Farrow’s tweet. She briefly tweeted the dentist’s business address.

Nine reasons to celebrate Saturday’s new $9.00 minimum wage

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 10:45am
Minnesota Budget Bites

Minnesota’s minimum wage increases to $9.00 Saturday for large employers (and $7.25 for youths and small employers) thanks to legislation passed in April 2014. Next year, the wage will increase again, to $9.50 for large employers and $7.75 for small employers and youth. This eventual climb up to $9.50 is predicted to cause roughly 325,000 Minnesotans to see their income improve. It’s good news for everyone else, too, because it will also strengthen our economy. We came up with a reason to celebrate the minimum wage increase for every dollar.

  1. A minimum wage increase is important for the Minnesotans who are more likely to be paid at or near the minimum wage, like women…
  2. …people of color…
  3. …people with disabilities…
  4. … and Greater Minnesotans. Raising the minimum wage will help address the fact that employers likely pay less for the jobs disproportionately filled by women, people of color, adults with disabilities and in Greater Minnesota.
  5. A higher minimum wage is linked to higher earnings. This sounds redundant, but is worth pointing out. Low-income workers in states with minimum wage increases saw their earnings grow by 1.6 percent in 2014, compared to just 0.3 percent in states that did not increase their minimum wage.
  6. The minimum wage needs to increase to ensure that more families can make ends meet. Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development studies the cost of a basic needs budget in every county in Minnesota. Depending on their age and where they live, a single adult working full time with no children would need to earn between $9.56 (Pennington County) and $13.07 (Isanti County) just to put a roof over their head and food in their fridge. This increase brings us one step closer to ensuring that a full day’s work at the very least covers a full day’s needs.
  7. The increase will help wages catch up with inflation. Because of increases in the cost of living, the federal minimum wage currently buys less than it did in 1968.
  8. The increase will help lots of children, too. According to a report by the JOBS NOW Coalition, roughly one out of every ten children in Minnesota had a parent who would be helped by the minimum wage increase.
  9. Minnesotans earning higher wages will spend more in our local economies. The JOBS NOW study also estimated that a similar minimum wage proposal to the one that passed would generate a $472 million increasein Minnesotans’ spending power.

Beginning in 2018, the minimum wage will be automatically increased to keep up with inflation. Combined with the increases from last year, this year, and next year, our higher minimum wage will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who struggle to meet their basic needs despite working.

This post was written by Ben Horowitz and originally published on Minnesota Budget Bites. Follow the Minnesota Budget Project on Twitter: @mnbudgetproject.

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

Citizens League to honor retiring Justice Alan Page for his civic engagement

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 10:45am

Justice Alan Page, who retires next month from the state Supreme Court upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, will be honored this fall by the Citizens League for his years of civic engagement.

Page, a former star pro football player, was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1992. He and his wife, Diane, founded the Page Education Foundation, which provides grants and support to students of color.

The Citizens League event is Oct. 20, 5:30 p.m., at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley. Tickets are $25 for League members, $35 for others.

The League says Page was the speaker at its first Policy and Pint event 10 years ago. Executive Director Sean Kershaw said:

Justice Page embodies the values of civic leadership in the public policy space that the League promotes as an organization. ... [He} stands for so many great things: community involvement, mentorship to the next generation and responsibility to those around you. Our annual event highlights that kind of leadership.

Inside the test scores: Two stories about Lucy Laney School, both true

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 10:38am
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With the grim results of the 2015 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in today’s headlines, which story do you want to hear about Lucy Craft Laney Community School? Because both are true, yet neither is the capital-T truth.

There’s the story about how, slight up- and downticks notwithstanding, one in 10 of its impoverished African-American students can read at grade level. That makes it one of Minneapolis’ lowest-performing schools.

Statistically, that means 90 percent of its kids will not enter high school on track to graduate — ground that’s rarely made up. And by poor in most cases we’re talking an income of $24,000 or less for a family of four.

In 2014, 31 of the school’s 50 teachers were in their first three years on the job; a third were in their first. Last summer, the principal had to recruit 17 new teachers.

But then there’s the story of Tasha Mink, who just finished her third year as a math teacher at Lucy Laney. By conventional wisdom, her lack of experience ought to put her students at a disadvantage.

Last fall, 89 percent of her students were not just not proficient, but were significantly behind. But by this spring, that number had been slashed by more than a third.

By the end of the year, during which a novel system of supports was tried, almost a fourth of Mink’s 62 students were at or above grade level. Nearly as many were deemed “partially proficient.”

Lucy Laney 3rd grade math MCA scores, 2014 and 2015 While Lucy Laney’s 3rd grade math program made only modest gains in terms of the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards on the MCA between 2014 and 2015, it did see a reduction in students that didn't meet standards and an increase in the proportion of students partially meeting standards. Source: Minnesota Department of Education Growth at all levels

That’s not enough, but it’s significant — particularly given that schools often focus their efforts on the students “on the bubble,” or close to proficiency, to the detriment of the lowest performing. Mink’s numbers show the opposite, suggesting that there was growth at all levels in her classroom.

Rather than teach a little of everything like most elementary teachers, Mink just taught math and to one grade. She worked with a co-teacher, a math specialist who brought needed expertise — including data literacy — to the classroom. Because the two were able to work in small groups with students with differing needs, Mink’s classes even had some kids who went beyond grade level.

And the one-two punch of student engagement and a second adult all but eliminated behavior issues. All told there were just four incidents where students were sent out of the room for misbehaving — a victory even the highest performing schools can’t claim.

Coming at a moment when there is tremendous political pressure to get rid of the tests, the scores reveal no broad or systemic positive trends — despite several years of both marquee efforts and political failures.

Scores essentially flat statewide and in Twin Cities

Overall scores are essentially flat statewide as well as in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

This year MinnPost asked for help analyzing the annual state test data from the data experts at Generation Next, a Twin Cities nonprofit working to align community supports for education around five key points. The test results speak directly to two of the group’s goals: Literacy by third grade and math proficiency by eighth grade.

Reading scores statewide are up one point from last year for a passing rate of 60 percent; math fell by two points to 60 percent.

Gaps persist largely unchanged between white students and children of color, impoverished learners, students with disabilities and kids learning English. In some subgroups and subjects, passage rates barely make it into the double-digits.

Pockets of gains

There are pockets where efforts appear to be bearing fruit. Five of Minneapolis’ nine lowest-performing, or “high priority,” schools posted overall gains of 5 percent or more in one or more subjects.

Four schools saw double-digit growth. And growth in students enrolled in the same program three or more years were 30 percent higher than their peers, according to interim Superintendent Michael Goar.

At the same time, scores at some typically high performing schools fell. Scores are down or flat at many of the Twin Cities’ high-achieving charter schools.

The data underscore concerns among public-education advocates that both central city districts are struggling to ensure that the most basic subjects are taught effectively.

When new academic standards in language arts were enacted here two years ago, reading scores fell dramatically, as they have done in most states that adopted the rigorous Common Core State Standards. Unlike the rest of the country, the shift has not generated major controversy here.

Nor has there been any mass effort to train teachers to teach the standards, which, in part because they are designed to encourage higher-order skills and critical thinking, are much more complex to teach to. One possible factor is that teachers are struggling, in some places unsupported.       

Interpreting the results

Lucy Laney Principal Mauri Melander says she’s not surprised by the numbers at her school. This year as the tests were administered, results — not the final “scrubbed” numbers but good approximations — were instantly available.

“What I was seeing when I was watching the numbers come in was they were really moving in the right direction in [grades] 3, 4 and 5,” she says, “and 6, 7 and 8 not.”

That’s as expected, she says, because Lucy Laney hit “the co-teaching gold mine” in elementary grades but hasn’t been able to find anything as organic and effective in grades 6-8. And because younger students see more bang from other strategies that seem to be working.

Five years ago district leaders approached the school, where Melander was then an assistant principal, with a proposition. Math scores were slipping between fifth and sixth grades; would the school consider having a math specialist co-teach those students?

The experiment had some unexpected outcomes. The novice teachers then rotating through the building could get their feet under them while the specialists dealt with data collection and analysis and helped with classroom management. They also served as de facto mentors.

Two years ago in the middle of the school year Goar found some money to fulfill Melander’s request to put a math co-teacher in several other grades. The expansion was accompanied by a dramatic drop in suspensions and other behavioral incidents.

In fact, next year’s co-teachers will be paid for with money freed up by eliminating four behavior specialists.

Model now includes reading

Last year Lucy Laney expanded the model to include reading. Melander hired co-teachers — many from charters and other districts — with reading expertise. She gave them freedom to bring in curriculum that wasn’t necessarily what was being recommended by the central office.

Finally, teachers borrowed strategies for teaching English-language-learners. “White English is a barrier with these kids,” says Melander. “They are able to overcome it quicker in math. The ability to move from one dialect to another is a struggle.”

New hiring and retention processes helped Melander hang on to the newer teachers who were flourishing. In June, in contrast to last year, she had just two teaching vacancies to fill.

So why didn’t all this effort and promise yield bigger bottom-line results? Doubtless some of the answers are the same for Lucy Laney as they are for the rest of the schools struggling to move the needle.

But here’s what Melander wants to tell her staff: Overall literacy may be up 2 percentage points over last year and math may be flat, but bigger gains in lower grades and among the students who have the most ground to make up to become proficient tell her the plan is a good one.

And the gains they are posting are being earned without efforts to juke the stats by, say, placing the kids who appear poised to cross into proficient with the specialists and leaving the rest without extra support.

In the end, both Lucy Laney stories are true. And what Melander really, really needs is for the center to hold.

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North Minneapolis' Webber pool, the country's first natural public swimming pool, to hold another open house

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 10:23am

Quick, name a city in North America with a natural public swimming pool.  

You can't, because there aren't any — until now. 

On Thursday, from 4-6:30 p.m., the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will host a second open house for the just-opened Webber Park Natural Swimming Pool in north Minneapolis, giving the public another chance to tour the $6 million chemical-free pool, which took the city 10 years to build. 

In a statement, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Jayne Miller said that she’s excited that the project has been finalized and that the public is about to experience its final product. 

“It’s innovative,” she noted. “It’s part of what keeps our Park system the number one park system in the United States. It’s better for the environment and for users.” 

That’s because it’s a chlorine-free pool and uses filters and plants that act as organic cleaners, according to the park board, not unlike a stream, lake or wetland. 

Located at 4300 Webber Parkway, the pool features four sections: a nearly four-foot deep upper pool, 6-foot deep lower pool, a jumping platform and a lap pool, which serves as a training space for amateur swimmers. 

All together, the pool holds 500,000 gallons of water, recycled every 12 hours. During the recycling process, the water streams through biological filters into a nearby regeneration basin. The basin contains about 7,000 aquatic plants rooted in layers of limestone and granite to keep the pool clean. In addition to the filters and plants, the pool is vacuumed daily. 

Then fresh water is pumped back into the pool, which can hold a capacity of 500 swimmers and is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.   

Natural swimming pools aren’t common in the United States. Austria opened the first of such pools in the 1980s — and it was private. In 1998, Germany opened the first public natural pool. 

Today, Europe has 20,000 public and private natural swimming pools, according to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. In recent years, however, natural pools have become increasingly attractive to people the U.S. and Canada, as they begin to realize the importance of the system that eliminates the need for chlorine and other chemicals.

In north Minneapolis, residents are already appreciating having the pool in their neighborhood, said Cindy Aegerter, who on Tuesday watched her two nieces play on swings at the park.

“They visited me from Las Vegas,” she said of the young girls. “It’s nice to be able to bring them here and to have a nice place to cool off and enjoy.”

Aegerter added that she and her family enjoyed the park and the pool on Saturday. “We had a good time,” she said. “The water was refreshing and you can sit in the shade under the trees when you’re outside of the water.” 

Deangelo Washington, 18-year-old who biked to the park on Tuesday, said he’s pleased to see the pool in his community.  

“It brings a lot of people together … and unites us as one,” he added. “Webber is the best part of north Minneapolis.” 

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

 

Africa's lions are in steep decline, and the problem is bigger than poaching

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 10:20am

Yes, Walt Palmer has behaved disgustingly and deserves the scorn being piled about his person and his Bloomington dental office. Maybe he merits prosecution as well.

But let's keep our eye on the ball, shall we? Though it’s been mentioned this week only in passing, if at all, the lions of the African plain are in steep decline, such that some scientists suggest they could vanish from the wild by mid-century.

And the problem is much bigger than a few well-heeled poachers here and there. Consider:

    • If Palmer and/or his hired guides are found to have broken Zimbabwean law, the violations will be about a boundary line and possibly a guide’s missing permit. Other nauseating aspects of this spectacle – the baiting of a lion into ambush with an animal carcass dragged behind a truck; the prolonged tracking of a wounded lion by its blood trail before finishing it off; the requisite postmortem picture-taking, skinning and beheading – are legal, everyday occurrences in lion country.
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  • Though trophy hunting is widely agreed to be a serious driver of the African lion's downward spiral – and more readily managed than the other two main contributors, habitat/prey loss and persecution by farmers and villagers – governments like Zimbabwe’s are firmly behind it for the money it brings in.
  • Indeed, even some conservation organizations have come to support the practice in the dubious hope that more of the revenue may someday flow toward protection programs, theirs included.
  • Had the lion slain by Palmer’s party not been a radio-collared celebrity, and had it not been lured from the relative safety of a national park, this event would have drawn no notice at all – and many of those now demanding the dentist’s head on a pike would still be in the dark on what constitutes a modern-day “safari.”

One small reason, I guess, to consider that Cecil’s killing may have served a purpose after all.

Wikimedia Commons

Not much seems to have changed in the appetite for triumphal photos, or in their staging, among big-game enthusiasts since Ernest Hemingway had this picture made in January 1934.

Walt Palmer has amassed quite a collection, and thanks to the UK Mirror, you can see him posing with Cecil and many other trophy animals, from bison to leopard to rhino.

When Hemingway shot his lion, they were thought to number 200,000 or more in Africa and their range covered most of the continent. There were large populations across Turkey, India and southwest Asia, too, but no longer. (If you go back far enough in time, you find them throughout much of Europe and the Americas as well.)

From 200,000 to 20,000

Lions are now extinct in north Africa, according to the respected International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and headed rapidly that way in west Africa. Across 60-some territories scattered around southern and eastern Africa, IUCN's current status summary reports a projected current population of fewer than 20,000.

In 47 population groups that have been monitored most closely, the aggregate number fell by 42 percent between 1993 and 2014 – a period representing three lion generations – to just 7,500, with the most important pressures being “indiscriminate killing in defence of life and livestock, habitat loss, prey base depletion, bushmeat trade and poorly regulated sport hunting.”

There were interesting variations by region and protection status:

  • A 30 percent increase was seen in 16 fenced-in populations in southern Africa, including 10 in South Africa’s system of national parks and preserves, but the total population was still below 3,000.
  • Elsewhere in Africa, lions in 23 unfenced reserves scattered across 11 countries were estimated to have declined by 62 percent, even though some of the protected areas were popular phototourism destinations.
  • In six unfenced reserves in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, the decline was estimated at just 10 percent; one unfenced outlier population in Mozambique was estimated to have grown by 250 percent, in part because its size had been abnormally suppressed during a preceding period of civil war.

Citing research by the University of Minnesota’s Craig Packer, the IUCN report concludes that trophy hunting can potentially be managed in ways that help lion populations stabilize and grow sustainably, while creating a funding source for stewardship programs – but that excessive killing is often allowed, with opposite results.

Indeed, one study in the vicinity of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, where Cecil was living until lured into ambush, determined that “trophy hunting outside the park had an alarming impact on lion numbers and population structure within the park.” According to the Oxford University research team,

Each removal of a male lion by hunters on the borders of the park created a ‘territorial vacuum’ which drew males from further inside the protected area into boundary areas, where they too became vulnerable to hunters. This is a well-documented biological phenomenon amongst territorial animals, but this was the first time it had been rigorously recorded in lions.

As a direct and immediate result of the research findings, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) imposed a complete moratorium on trophy hunting around the park from 2005-08. This enabled the researchers to record an almost exact reversal of the vacuum effect observed between 1999 and 2004. The lion population increased by 50% and the skewed population structure, caused by excessive off-takes of adult males, disappeared.

A scientist's skepticism

I discussed the hunting-as-a-force-for-good construct with Packer a while back and he was unpersuaded, especially on the funding aspect:

They only charge about $10,000 to shoot a lion, and $10,000 is nothing. It's really quite shocking how cheap it is to shoot a lion and how little revenue it generates for the management of these lands. And almost none of it comes back to local communities.

Further, there's been a lot of research on whether lions in these hunting blocs have been well conserved. All the data we see suggests that positive impacts by trophy hunting companies are very limited. The majority of hunting areas have been over-hunted and this has contributed to the overall downward population trend.

His provocative (but admittedly expensive and impractical) alternative idea: protect some remaining populations behind 10-foot-high, electrified, theft-proof fences that keep lions from threatening villages, and villagers from killing lions pre-emptively or in retaliation for an attack.

Since the Palmer story broke it has been reported in a few places that lions are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but that is premature.

What is true is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed last October to classify the African lion as a threatened species, because of the population declines discussed above.

PantheraLimited protection at best

The chief way ESA protections are applied to other countries’ game animals is to prohibit import of their body parts or products – you get to keep your snapshot, but the head/hide/horns/tusks stay behind.

Since Americans are estimated to make up 60 percent of the African lion-hunting trade, this could theoretically have a significant impact. But don’t hold your breath.

Because the proposal is to give the lion “threatened” rather than “endangered” status, Fish and Wildlife can allow “the importation of sport-hunted lion trophies from countries with established conservation programs and well-managed lion populations.”

It’s not hard to imagine Zimbabwe meeting those standards, given the 2005-2008 moratorium and the species recovery it produced; also, its apparent willingness to prosecute Walt Palmer’s guides for various infractions. And the service is said to be sympathetic to the notion that American sporting dollars are a force for good in African lion conservation.

In which case Palmer could go after another African lion even with ESA protections in place, and if he took a little more care as to where he did the killing, he’d be free to fly home with his prizes – instead  of leaving them, as he had to leave Cecil’s remains, in the land where they’ve always belonged.

The importance of sleep: It's not just how much, but when

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 9:07am
Creative Commons/Sarah GiboniU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.

First of two articles

Sleep is crucial for good mental and physical health, yet it’s often downplayed or even overlooked in discussions about what individuals — and society — can do to improve people’s health.

Survey after survey has found that Americans get either too little sleep or sleep that is of very poor quality. In fact, within any 24-hour period, a third of Americans report having not received the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep. 

As I’ve noted here many times before, lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression. And it’s also cited as a major contributor to traffic accidents, as well as to industrial accidents and medical errors.

No wonder the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.

Recently, I discussed the importance of sleep with Dr. Michael Howell, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota, program director of the Clinical Sleep Medicine Fellowship at the Hennepin County Medical Center and medical director of the Fairview Sleep Centers in Edina. An edited version of Part 1 of that discussion follows. Part 2 of the interview will appear in Second Opinion tomorrow.

MinnPost: I often think of getting enough sleep as one of the three legs of the “three-legged stool” of daily habits that people need to persist with in order to be healthy. The other legs are, of course, regular exercise and a healthful diet. But most of the time, health advice focuses just on exercise and diet.

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Dr. Michael Howell: Let me expand on that idea. A medical student asked me the other day about going into emergency medicine [a field of medicine that typically requires working night shifts]. He wanted to know what would happen if his sleep was bad for a while. Would it cause him any problems? Would it curtail his life? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. … But nobody would say, “You know what. I’ve really eaten well all my life. I take good care of myself, but for the next four years, I’m going to eat crap. Is that going to be a problem?” Of course it’s going to be a problem.

MP: So good sleep habits, like ones for exercise and diet, need to be practiced over the long term.

MH: Yes. And becoming a good sleeper takes practice — above and beyond getting treatment for a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. My favorite phrase is “It’s not the volume, it’s the time.” In other words, it’s not just the amount of sleep you need, but when you get it. One of the real challenges with exogenous [artificial] light in the evening is not that it’s keeping us awake. The problem is that it’s delaying our entire body clock, our circadian biological rhythm.

Let’s take a typical example from a group of medical students I was talking to recently. I asked them what time would be ideal for them to fall asleep, and they essentially came up with about 1 in the morning. They also said they would ideally like to sleep until 9 or 10 in the morning. But of course, they have to do morning hospital rounds, which means they have to try to go to bed around 10 or 11 at night so that they can wake up at 6. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. [But even when it works] eight hours of poorly timed sleep is not particularly satisfying, and, in and of itself, can lead to feelings of grogginess, mood issues, alertness issues, motor vehicle accidents — those sorts of things.

MP: But modern society is structured to make it almost impossible for people to time their sleep in the way that’s healthiest for them. So what can individuals do? 

Dr. Michael Howell

MH:  The first thing is to “know thyself.” Many people who come to me for treatment with a circadian rhythm delay are convinced that they have insomnia. But having insomnia is very different from being somebody who, if the world would let you, could fall asleep at 2 or 3 in the morning and sleep until noon and be just fine.

So the first thing is to know yourself and to know your own biological clock. When would you sleep if there was no work, no bed partners, no pets, and nobody waking you up — if you could just go to bed when you felt like it and wake up when you were done sleeping? What would that look like? All of us have a natural sleep window when sleep works best for us. Even if you’ll never be able to sleep within that window, it’s a good idea to have at least some concept of when it is.

MP: And for some people that window is a very early one.

MH: Yes. Some people can barely keep their eyes open at 7 or 8 at night. They’ll try to stay awake until 9 or 10, but then, at around 2 or 3 in the morning, they’ll wake up and not be able to sleep any later. That’s an advanced circadian rhythm. It’s a particular problem for older people, for our circadian rhythms start advancing with age.

MP: What should people do once they recognize the pattern of their circadian sleep rhythm? 

MH:  If your problem is circadian rhythm delay [difficulty falling asleep and waking up “early”] and there’s no way you can change your lifestyle to facilitate sleeping in until 9 or 10 in the morning, my advice is to stop trying to fall asleep at night. Instead, focus on what you’re doing in the morning. Excessive [artificial] light in the evening is [part of the problem]; however, there’s a flip side that a lot of people miss. We’re not only getting too much light in the evening, we’re also not getting enough light in the morning. A lot of us stumble around in the dark in the morning, and the only sunlight we get is when we’re squinting through our windshields on the way into work. That doesn’t really count. You need a good 30 to 120 minutes of sunlight in the morning. If you can’t get that, then use a light box, like the ones people use to treat seasonal affective disorder. That will help cue your body that a new day has started.

The other thing you can do is take a low does of melatonin — about one-half to one milligram at most daily. You need to take it about four to six hours before you would like to go to bed. That’s the hard part because most people think of melatonin as a kind of alternative sleeping pill, which is exactly the wrong way to think about it. It’s not a sleeping pill. It’s a circadian compound that essentially triggers your brain to think the sun has gone down. [If you want to get up at 6 in the morning], then you are going to be using melatonin around 6 in the evening. What you’re doing is giving yourself a sunset [the taking of the melatonin] and a sunrise. Make this your new ritual, and you can move your circadian cycle earlier and kind of align it more appropriately. 

MP: What about people with advanced circadian cycles?

MH:  Especially as we get older, it tends to be a little bit more socially accepted that we go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. But then, if you have a wedding or something for which you have to stay up late, it can be quite challenging. What you can do — and, in general, it tends not to work as well as sunlight in the morning does for the circadian-delayed crowd — is to get a light box and blast yourself with light in the evening. That may help push your circadian rhythm back.

MP: These practices can help, but they’re not going to “cure” either advanced or delayed circadian sleep rhythms, correct?

MH: I usually warn people — the night owls — that when they start using [the light box/melatonin therapy], they’re not going to like it. It will feel “wrong,” like they’re on permanent jet lag. But I also tell them that it’s an example of how a medicine has to taste bad to work. It’s a sign that it’s actually shifting your circadian rhythm.

MP: How long does the adjustment take?

MH:  It varies. But most people usually notice a difference within a few weeks. 

MP: But it’s not permanent.

MH: No. People can get into the [new] routine, but then, after a long weekend or a week of vacation, they’re right back where they started. Because, again, [our circadian sleep cycle] is a natural genetic tendency. It’s built into our DNA.

Far from grace: How Minnesota radically changed the way it forgives criminals

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 9:03am
.mp .credit { margin: 0; padding: 0;} .mp .full-img { max-width: 960px; margin: auto; margin-bottom: 10px; } .mp .float-left { margin: 1em 1em 1em 0; } .mp .float-right {margin: 1em 0 1em 1em; } .mp .chart { height: 500px; margin-bottom: 0; } .mp .four-up-chart .chart { height: 350px; } .mp .side-box { float: right; max-width: 300px; border: 1px solid #404040; border-radius: 20px; padding: 1em; margin: 1em 0 1em 1em; } .mp .four-up-chart { float: left; width: 50% !important; display: block; } @media (max-width: 800px) { .mp .chart { height: 400px; } } @media (max-width: 500px) { .mp .chart {height: 300px; } .mp .side-box {width: 95% !important; margin: 1em auto !important;} .mp .four-up-chart {width: 100% !important;} } MinnPost photo by Steve Date Reformed Crip gangster Gerald Whitmore, now a chaplain and family man, believes he's the perfect candidate for a pardon. But the odds aren't in his favor.

Gerald Maurice Whitmore was out in Uptown, just before midnight, looking for a couple of good victims.

In his early 20s, Whitmore was already a veteran member of the Crips, and the plan for this February evening was to initiate a young female recruit through a practice he called “put in some dirt, put in some work.” Their first idea was to knock over a currency exchange. But Whitmore decided that might be too much for his inexperienced teenage companion. “Let’s go snatch a couple purses, you know what I’m sayin’,” he offered as an alternative. “That’ll be cool.”

They found what they were looking for on 31st Street in Minneapolis, a block off Lake, between Girard and Fremont avenues. The two young gangsters came up behind a pair of women and tackled them to the ground. Whitmore’s target struggled, so he punched her in the face until she let go of the purse, according to court records. A few feet away, his accomplice repeatedly stomped the other victim until she gave up her belongings, too.

Later that night, a Minneapolis police lieutenant spotted the two not far from the crime scene and arrested them. Whitmore was only a few months out of St. Cloud Penitentiary, where he’d served a year and a half for attempted aggravated robbery. That night he bought himself another year at Lino Lakes prison. For a 23-year-old, he wasn’t off to a great start.

Twenty-one years later, Whitmore believes he’s ready for forgiveness. On a recent afternoon, he sits in the cool basement of Marie Sandvik Center, a Christian ministry in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, where he started volunteering in 1995 after getting out of Lino Lakes. He’s worked there as chaplain for the past seven years.

“I committed those crimes,” he readily admits. “I’m responsible for them. It’s been over 20 years. Since that time I’ve been crime-free, an asset to my community, no longer a burden to society. I believe I’m a blessing and encouragement.”

Whitmore is among the nearly two dozen Minnesotans who have gone before the state’s Board of Pardons in 2015 asking for clemency for past crimes. He believes he’s an ideal candidate for a pardon. After a youth marked by violence, drugs and promiscuity, Whitmore found religion during his stint in Lino Lakes. He’s now married and a father of six. In addition to his duties as a chaplain, which include weekly sermons, counseling community members and teaching Bible study, he’s also been volunteering for years as a track coach at Coon Rapids high school. He now wants to take the next step and get a paid position for USA Track and Field, a prestigious national nonprofit with several teams in Minnesota. But when he applied earlier this year, his two felonies precluded him from making the cut.

“Life has been great, and I’m not aggrieved,” says Whitmore. “But what I’m looking for is for all of my United States of America rights to be fully restored. I’ve already committed a crime and paid my dues. Now I’m looking to not have to be punished over and over again.”

A radical evolution

A few decades ago, Whitmore would have been a shoo-in for a pardon extraordinary, the term for legally absolving citizens of their crimes after they’ve served their time and shown demonstrable rehabilitation. From 1940 to the end of 1989, after all, Minnesota granted the vast majority – 87 percent – of applications for all types of pardons considered, according to data from the Department of Corrections. Pardon extraordinaries were accepted in all but very rare cases. The board denied just 6 percent over that 50-year period, even routinely granting pardons for crimes like murder, robbery and sexual abuse.

Times have changed. After Minnesota revamped its process for sentencing prisoners and some high-profile pardons went bad, the number of pardons granted dropped dramatically. Between 1990 and 2012, the state denied 37 percent of pardon extraordinaries.

Pardons granted in Minnesota by year Minnesota's implementation of determinate sentencing guidelines in 1980 had a profound impact on the pardon process. To analyze changes in pardons over time, MinnPost reviewed 72 years (1940-2012) of data provided by the Department of Corrections, as well as annual reports from 2013, 2014, and the outcomes of the 2015 May meeting. The data is not perfect. We did not include a very small percentage of data that lacked complete information – missing dates, type of pardons, nature of offenses or outcome of applications – in our analysis. Minnesota Department of Corrections. Know your pardons

General Pardon: This is granted when an offender is still serving time in prison or supervised release, and releases the individual from his/her sentence early.

Commutation: A reduction or lessening of sentence while the inmate is still serving time.

Pardon Extraordinary: A pardon granted after the offender has served out his/her sentence. The ex-convict’s record isn’t expunged, but the individual no longer has to report the crime, except in limited circumstances. Violent offenders must wait 10 years after their sentence has expired to be eligible; non-violent ones need to wait five years. This is by far the most common type of pardon granted by the modern board.

Reprieve: The start date of the sentence is postponed.

Those convicted of violent offenses, like Whitmore, face a particularly difficult challenge in convincing the pardon board that they’re worthy of absolution. “We just don't consider a pardon of somebody accused of a spousal assault or a sexual assault,” says DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, a member of the pardon board. “The statute and the rules don't prevent them from applying, so it comes down to us to say we are not going to consider that, basically, ‘Don’t come back.’ ”

And that doesn’t even take into account “full pardons” — letting someone out of prison — or commutations, the once-common practice of reducing a sentence or lessening its severity. From 1940 to ‘89, the pardon board commuted 741 sentences: 84 percent of those considered. Today, the practice effectively doesn’t exist. Over the last 25 years, Minnesota has granted zero commutations.

A long way from the gallows

Cole Younger faced an unenviable decision: life in prison or the gallows.

Younger was a member of the notorious Jesse James-Younger gang. In 1876, the law finally caught up with him and brothers Jim and Bob after the famous outlaws raided the First National Bank of Northfield. The gang killed two innocent people, including the bank teller who refused to open the safe, during the failed heist.

Faced with death, Cole and his two brothers chose life in Stillwater prison. In the more than a decade that followed, Bob died of tuberculosis in confinement, but Jim and Cole became model prisoners. During a prison fire, the brothers helped guards keep other inmates from escaping. Cole also founded one of the longest-running prison newspapers in the nation, the “Prison Mirror.” Letters from politicians, prison staff and legislators flooded into the governor’s office requesting the reformed gangsters’ sentences be reduced.

The Department of Corrections granted them parole in 1901, after years of legal disputes. A year later, Jim committed suicide in St. Paul. A year after that, Cole, the only surviving Younger brother left, received an official commutation. The state had only one condition: He leave Minnesota and never return. Cole accepted their terms, moving back to his home state of Missouri and joining a Wild West troupe.

Minnesota Historical Society Cole Younger of the notorious James-Younger gang.

Cole’s exile from the North Star state was one of the earliest acts of Minnesota’s unique, three-member pardon board, which voters approved in a constitutional amendment in 1896. Before that, the governor had sole authority to grant clemency.

In its early days, Minnesota pardoned criminals liberally. From 1942 — the year after the state implemented pardon extraordinaries — through 1979, the board granted 483 of these post-sentence-served applications, according to the data from the Department of Corrections. It denied only six during that time period.

From January of 1940 to end of 1979, there were 819 sentence commutation cases considered. Of those, 85 were denied, while 734 were granted.

All that began to change in the 1980s, when Minnesota became the first state to officially adopt legally binding sentencing guidelines. Going forward, judges would have less discretion over sentencing, instead handing that power over to a permanent, independent commission that would develop and monitor the implementation of guidelines and make other recommendations.

Minnesota also got rid of its parole board in exchange for supervised release. Instead of convincing a board that they have been rehabilitated, felony convicts now serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the last leg in the community but under close supervision of corrections.

These reforms led to generally shorter prison sentences. And with fewer convicts serving life or similar long stretches, there was less pressure for the pardon board to act as a safety net for unfairly sentenced prisoners, says Richard Frase, a University of Minnesota criminal justice professor. Minnesota had also long rid itself of the death penalty by this time, meaning there was no longer a risk of executing an innocent person.

Things were changing across the nation, too. In 1986, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections granted a weeklong furlough to Willie Horton, who had been in prison for killing a gas station attendant during a robbery. When his furlough was over, Horton didn’t return to prison. Ten months later, he raped a young woman at gunpoint and badly beat her fiance. As a supporter of the furlough program, then Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis took the heat for what was viewed as a preventable horror story — one that would become the subject of an incendiary attack ad during the 1988 presidential campaign.

The Horton episode sent a message to elected officials: They had more to lose than gain from intervening in a prison sentence. The use of pardons soon slowed at both the state and federal levels.

“Now nobody wants to let somebody out when it might be another Willie Horton,” says Frase. “People are very risk averse, so the safe course is just leave them in there.”

Decades of generously granting pardons caught up with the Minnesota board, too. In 1992, after a critical news report on pardoned Minnesotans who reoffended, legislators ordered changes to the way the board works.

Under the legislation, petitions from convicted felonies or misdemeanors on a property offense — like burglary or car theft — couldn’t be heard until at least five years had elapsed, while individuals convicted of violent crimes had to wait at least 10 years before they could apply. Pardon board meetings were also opened to the public and media, and lawmakers undid a 1972 change that sealed the records of those who received pardons, instead adding a pardon to someone’s private record. That meant an employer or a landlord could still potentially see a criminal charge if they dug deep enough.

The board also began conducting a vetting process, led by the Department of Corrections, before someone could obtain an application and appear at the meetings. Those who were able to get applications were thoroughly investigated, sometimes bringing county attorneys, judges and victims into the process. Applicants had to disclose all criminal convictions and any arrests.

What followed all those changes was a huge drop in total applications, especially those seeking full pardons or commutations, many of which were screened out early in the process. “You have to apply to apply, in a sense,” says Margaret Colgate Love, who served as the U.S. pardons attorney from 1990 to 1997. “I don't know any other state that does that.”

In the 1980s, the board ruled on pardons from 522 applicants. From 1990 to ‘99, that number declined 30 percent to 365. The following decade, it ruled on only 224 applications, a 57 percent drop from the ‘80s.

‘Pray to the wisdom of Solomon’

The structure of Minnesota's pardon board is one-of-a-kind. It’s made up of the governor, the attorney general and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court — and there must be a unanimous vote before a pardon can be granted. A handful of other states have multiple-member boards, but most lean heavily on the governor to make a final decision. About two dozen states give sole responsibility to the governor to grant pardons.

Given the different personal philosophies — not to mention political ambitions — of various governors, the one-person system produces a wide range of results. For example, the forgiving California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, granted 83 pardon extraordinaries this past Easter alone. Days before he left office earlier this year, Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn granted 232 clemency requests. But in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t even assembled a pardon board, which many attribute to his campaign for president.

In theory, Minnesota’s three-member setup gives some political cover to the governor, but it hasn’t always shielded politicians from blame. Minnesota’s former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty saw one of his own pardons go bad in 2010, when a Blue Earth County prosecutor charged a man named Jeremy Giefer with sexually abusing his daughter more than 200 times. Three years earlier, Pawlenty and the pardon board had granted Giefer a pardon extraordinary for Giefer’s 1994 statutory rape conviction, in part because Giefer had married the victim and raised a child with her. The timing of the new charges was not good for Pawlenty. He was mounting a presidential campaign, and part of his legacy as governor was being tough on sex offenders.

Office of the Governor Gov. Mark Dayton

Current Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, doesn’t have higher political ambitions as Pawlenty did. At 68 years old, he’s serving his second term as governor and last term in any office. Yet Dayton admits he still gets nervous heading into the meetings.

“No matter how careful you are or how careful all three of you are, and the whole scrutiny that went into it before, there’s always that risk that somebody could go out and reoffend, and God forbid reoffend more severely,” Dayton says. Since 2011, Dayton’s first year in office, Minnesota’s board has granted 66 applications, all pardon extraordinaries.

The most compelling cases for Dayton are those of youthful indiscretions: Minnesotans who committed minor crimes in their early years and have gone on to clean up their lives and start a family but cannot get a job because of their blemished records.

“You sort of put all that into a composite and pray to the wisdom of Solomon and try to give people that clean slate where they’ve earned it,” Dayton says.

Dayton thinks Minnesota’s three-member system works well, even though it leads to fewer pardons. There have been several cases where just one member of the board blocked a pardon during Dayton’s tenure. On a board where members have differing philosophies on clemency, it’s easy for one member to block applications. “You think, well, that’s the process,” he says. “It reduces the number of pardons we grant, but it probably safeguards us from one person making the wrong decision.”

Attorney General Lori Swanson

Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson, who has had more experience than any other member currently on the board, says the shared responsibility in Minnesota stops untoward activities that go on in other states — like individuals lobbying for a pardon using influence or political connections.

The weight of the decision also comes from very different levels of government, she says. “You have the state’s attorney, top justice and the governor, and to get a pardon you have to get all three on the same page,” Swanson says. “The system that we have tends to prevent abuses.”

Pardons are not a judicial proceeding — legally they are called an “act of grace” — and they hold different significance for each person applying. Some need clemency to help get a job. Others want a clean slate to qualify for a house, to buy a firearm or to vote. For some applicants, a pardon is a symbolic gesture, an acknowledgement from the highest-ranking officials in Minnesota’s criminal justice system that they’ve transformed their lives.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea

Pardon board meetings can last four to six hours, and happen twice a year. Sometimes applicants come alone; other times they bring supporters. The board invites victims of the accused to attend and testify. The three members of the board will take in all the information and deliberate and rule on a petition on the spot, a nerve-wracking moment for the petitioner. Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea is used to being behind the bench, but she describes being a member of the board as something akin to serving as a juror.

“It’s an arduous task and a tremendous responsibility. When I was an associate justice I remember hearing former chiefs talk about it, and you could see the burden on their faces getting ready to go to the pardon board,” she said. “I thought about it in terms of, you are deciding a case, that’s what we do up here. I didn’t appreciate the difference.”

Violent offenders face steep climb

Terry Bayne was a cop with a gambling addiction who would take great risks to stay in the game. Charolette Washington Benjamin was a woman trapped in a bad relationship, and one day a fight turned violent.

Earlier this year, a lifetime after their respective crimes, both went before the pardon board hoping to get forgiveness.

Bayne’s crime traces back to a dark day in September 2000. He’d been spending his time in front of a slot machine at Seven Clans Casino, 10 miles from the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked as a deputy. Bayne had run out of money, but he knew there was cash for the sheriff’s department’s accounts in the secretary’s desk. He went to the office that night and stole $70.

What Bayne didn’t know is that an agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension had installed a camera in the office. This wasn’t the first time money had gone missing from the cash drawer. Bayne was caught and charged with theft, and he lost his license required to be a police officer.

After getting a suspended jail sentence and an order to pay restitution, Bayne entered treatment for gambling addiction. He got a new job as a probation agent, and went back to school at University of Minnesota-Crookston. He now works for the Department of Corrections and as a private chemical dependency counselor.

This was Bayne’s second appeal to the pardon board, and this time, he got it. “I’ll tell ya what, outside of my marriage to my wife and birth of my kids, it was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had,” he says.

Benjamin wasn’t so lucky.

Her criminal past goes back even further, to the late 1980s, when she was 26. Police responded to a domestic assault call at her house in St. Paul, according to her pardon application. When they arrived, she was bleeding from the nose and mouth. Her boyfriend lay dead in the street with multiple stab wounds, one through his heart, and a butcher knife protruding from his shoulder. Prosecutors charged her with two counts of second-degree murder; she pleaded guilty to a lower manslaughter charge.

In her pardon application, Benjamin said her boyfriend had threatened to kill her that day, and she was only protecting herself. They fought over the knife, and he got stabbed in the process. She acknowledged the severity of her crime, as well as an unrelated conviction for fraudulently abusing food stamps a year before the incident with the boyfriend. She’s now working as a nurse in South Carolina, and is an active church member and volunteer at her grandchild’s school, she told the board.

They weren’t convinced. In May, the board ruled against her pardon extraordinary application for manslaughter, though it did grant her a pardon for the lower public assistance fraud conviction.

In the end, it was no surprise that Bayne was successful while Benjamin was not.

Bayne meets all the requirements: in the 15 years since his conviction, Bayne has not been charged with a crime. He no longer gambles, and he counsels others who have strayed down his same dark path. His former boss, Sheriff Mike Hruby, even supported his application.

But Bayne also had a major advantage over many of the other applicants seeking pardons this year: His charge was a property crime, not a violent offense. From 1992 to 2012, about 82 percent of pardon extraordinaries granted by the board were for nonviolent crimes.

Violent offenses are routinely dismissed by the modern board. Former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, who served on the pardon board from 1991 to 1999, says he simply put faith in Minnesota’s capable judicial system for more serious offenses and didn’t want to interfere. “If it was a violent crime, unless there were absolutely extraordinary circumstances, there was no pardon granted,” he says. Carlson never considered giving a full pardon or commutation, he says. “I think that really opens the door to endless mischief.”

(Note: Given dramatic changes to Minnesota’s criminal code over the past 75 years, and amendments to what’s defined as a crime of violence, MinnPost relied on current FBI definitions to determine violent vs. non-violent. We classified sex crimes as violent. For dated crimes no longer charged in Minnesota, we used the most similar modern offense to determine if it constitutes a violent or non-violent act.)

Since Carlson’s departure, granting pardon extraordinaries for violent crimes has remained a rare event. From 2002 to 2012, only about 76 applicants convicted of violent crimes made it through the screening process and to the board. Sixty-three percent were denied. In that same time period, the board considered 181 non-violent crimes, and denied only 37 percent.

“Anytime there is a violent crime being committed and you are using clemency you are in really high risk territory for some kind of a PR disaster,” says P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois and the author of several books on pardons. “Generally speaking, if it’s a violent crime it’s probably not a good candidate for clemency.”

Minnesota’s pardons by type Sentence commutations have effectively disappeared in recent years. Pardon extraordinaries, granted after the sentence is served, are now by far the most common granted by the board. Commutations Full pardons Pardons extraordinaries Reprieves Gerald Whitmore’s second act

Gerald Whitmore, the chaplain at Marie Sandvik Center, first went before the state’s pardon board in 2005. Back then he lived in Dassel, a small farming town in Western Minnesota, and wanted to take his son hunting, but the felony disqualified him from owning a gun. By this time, Whitmore was 10 years out of prison. Still, the board was not impressed. All three members, Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, Pawlenty and Swanson, voted against him. It would be a decade before he would try again.

This time around, with another 10 crime-free years on his application, Whitmore believed things would be different. The first test came late last year, when he had to get the board’s approval to re-apply. Dayton and Swanson gave him the go-ahead to move forward, but Gildea voted no. He was surprised. He didn’t need her approval to move to the next step; that only took a majority vote. But the pardon extraordinary would require a unanimous decision, which meant Whitmore would have to persuade Gildea to change her mind about him the next time he saw her.

MinnPost photo by Steve Date Whitmore began volunteering at Marie Sandvik after his stint in Lino Lakes Penitentiary, and has served there as a chaplain for the past seven years.

“I knew it had to be all three,” he says. “I needed to find out what it was going to take for her to be convinced to give me this pardon. Not to snow her or anything, but what is it that she needs that’s keeping her from saying yes?”

Whitmore did some research on Gildea. He determined his problem was that he spent too much time talking about his rehabilitation and work for the church, and not enough about the elements of his crimes. Perhaps she didn’t believe he was truly remorseful for what he had done.

His day of reckoning finally arrived on May 20. The order of applicants was determined alphabetically by last name, so Whitmore was last. He waited four hours for his chance to speak.

When his turn came, Whitmore was excited. He told the board about the crimes he committed. He talked about his volunteer work, his family, his servitude for the church.

The board ruled on the spot: no.

Not only did he fail to convince Gildea, but Swanson voted against him as well. Dayton was the only member who voted in favor of the pardon.

Whitmore walked back to his car wracking his brain for what went wrong. Maybe I was too excited, he wondered. Maybe they wanted me to come in boot lickin’. The coaching gig was out of the question now. In the eyes of the court, he may never escape the sins of his youth. “I don’t like the feeling, after so much time, over two decades, ‘No you still don’t belong here,’ ” he says. “I just don’t like it. I don’t think it’s justice.”

Two months after standing in front of the pardon board, on a July afternoon, Whitmore pulls up to the Marie Sandvik Center on Franklin Avenue in a white semi-truck he uses to pick up food and donations for the ministry. His young daughter and others are setting up folding tables in the parking lot. “It’s Tuesday — our Big Dinner,” he says, explaining that the ministry serves a free meal here for the community twice monthly.

Whitmore is articulate and often answers questions by reciting a Bible verse verbatim or paraphrasing a parable. In regaling his descent into a life of drug abuse and crime, his time in prison and his transformation after finding God in a penitentiary church pew, he breaks into tears as unabashedly as he does a hardy, full-bellied laugh.

“I’m excited about what I get to do now, man!” he shouts, clapping and stomping his feet. “You see, my mind is clear! My conscience is clear! There is joy in this, dig?!”

Getting rejected for a second time was a disappointment, he explains, but not a discouragement. His conscience is clear; the pardon, he says, is a technicality.

As for the future, Whitmore hasn’t yet decided if he’ll re-apply again or simply resign himself to the black mark on his permanent record. “You know, honestly, I don’t know,” he says. “I’ll have to take that up with my Heavenly Father.”

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Cecil the lion had a better life than most people in Zimbabwe

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 8:58am

Compared to many of the human residents of Zimbabwe, Cecil the lion had a pretty good life. 

By now, just about everyone — including the Twin Cities dentist who shot him — is sorry that the beloved cat was killed July 1 in a big game safari gone very wrong. 

Count me among those who don’t get the allure of this kind of hunting. (Full disclosure: My hunting career ended when I came across a rabbit in my Wisconsin back yard and took aim with the family .22. It looked at me; I looked back – and couldn’t pull the trigger. That was 45 years ago.)

But unless I’ve missed it, no one seems outraged – or particularly aware, for that matter – of the picture surrounding this story. Zimbabwe is one of the worst places on Earth to live. And the responsibility for that is due to one man, President Robert Mugabe. 

Here are a few statistics to help put things into perspective.

The U.N. Development Program ranks countries on a Human Development Index, which takes into account three general factors: the opportunity to live a “long and healthy life,” access to knowledge and ability to achieve a decent standard of living.

In 2012, Zimbabwe ranked 172nd out of 187 countries and territories.

Life expectancy is about 52 years — lower than it was in 1980. It has rebounded since the middle of the last decade, when it fell into the mid-40s — one of the lowest, if not the lowest in the world.

(Full disclosure Part II: I was involved in planning stories about the dismal state of Zimbabwe by Los Angeles Times Johannesburg Bureau Chief Robyn Dixon that won a 2008 Robert F. Kennedy journalism award. Things haven’t gotten much better since then.)

According to the U.N. agency coordinating the global fight against HIV/AIDS, there are more than half a million AIDS orphans among Zimbabwe’s roughly 15 million people. Almost 1.7 million of people between the ages of 15 and 49 are living with the disease.

Then, there’s the economy. In 2008, inflation hit 500 billion percent, and according to this report, the biggest bill printed — with a value of 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars — wasn’t enough to get you to work and back on the bus for a week.  The next year the country started using foreign currencies instead of its own.

Last month, Zimbabweans were allowed to start exchanging local currency they still held in bank accounts for a few U.S. dollars. Very few.  A bank balance of 175 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars will get you $5 U.S.

It didn’t have to be like this. Zimbabwe, which was known as Rhodesia when it was under white minority rule, has good farmland, natural resources and educated people.

It also has a 91-year-old leader who is stuck in the past, but refuses to ease his grip on power. Mugabe was leader of one of the main rebel groups fighting for majority rule. The problem is that, 35 years after winning that war, he’s still in power – and he still sees the world through a prism of anti-colonialism. He claims Western governments – particularly Britain – are trying to remove him.

Now, he appears to be intent on passing power to his wife (and former secretary), Grace.

Facing all this trouble, it’s true that bringing in high-rolling big-game hunters is one way Zimbabwe can make some desperately needed money. 

For years, there has been an interesting debate about whether hunting can be justified if the fees fund conservation efforts that poor African governments wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Or whether fewer, wealthier visitors of this type actually mean less wear-and-tear on a fragile environment.

It’s hard to imagine that much of the money foreign hunters shell out in Zimbabwe trickles down very far. And then, there’s what happened to Cecil, despite the fact he had protected status in Hwange National Park.

We have limited ability to make Zimbabwe a better place. That’s almost certainly not what motivates most hunters, or their outraged critics. And the urge to protect endangered wildlife is commendable.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if we cared as much about fellow human beings?

Is this America's newest nuclear bomb, or simply a modernization of the old?

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 8:51am

This story was originally published and produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.  

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Standing next to a 12-foot nuclear bomb that looks more like a trim missile than a weapon of mass destruction, engineer Phil Hoover exudes pride. “I feel a real sense of accomplishment,” he said.

He and fellow engineers at Sandia National Laboratories have spent the past few years designing, building and testing the top-secret electronic and mechanical innards of the sophisticated B61-12.

Later, when nuclear explosives are added at the federal Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, the bomb will have a maximum explosive force equivalent to 50,000 tons of TNT – more than three times more powerful than the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 70 years ago this August that killed more than 130,000 people.

The U.S. government doesn’t consider the B61-12 to be new – simply an upgrade of an existing weapon. But some contend that it is far more than that.

Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the nonpartisan Federation of American Scientists in Washington, is resolute that the bomb violates a 2010 Obama administration pledge not to produce nuclear weapons with new military capabilities.

“We do not have a nuclear guided bomb in our arsenal today,” Kristensen said. “It is a new weapon.”

Kristensen’s organization was formed in 1945 by nuclear scientists who wanted to prevent nuclear war. And it’s not the maximum force of the B61-12 that worries him the most on that front.

Instead, he says he fears that the bomb’s greater accuracy, coupled with the way its explosive force can be reduced electronically through a “dial-a-yield” system accessed by a hatch on the bomb’s body, increases the risk that a president might consider it tame enough for a future conflict.

Congress shared similar concerns in rejecting other so-called low-intensity nuclear weapons in the past. But most of the national criticism of this bomb has focused on its price tag. After it goes into full production in 2020, taxpayers will have spent about $11 billion to build 400 B61-12 bombs. That sum is more than double the original estimate, and, even at that, is a fraction of costs associated with modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

To Kristensen and others, if President Barack Obama’s pledge was serious, the bomb shouldn’t exist at any price.

How the B61-12 entered the U.S. arsenal of weapons is a tale of the extraordinary influence of the “nuclear enterprise,” as the nuclear weapons complex has rebranded itself in recent years. Its story lies at the heart of the national debate over the ongoing modernization of America’s nuclear weapons, a program projected to cost $348 billion over the next decade.

This enterprise encompasses defense contractors, including the subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. that runs the Sandia labs here for the government, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy and the nuclear weapons-oriented wings of the U.S. military – particularly the Air Force and Navy. With abundant jobs and dollars at stake, the nuclear enterprise is backed by politicians of all stripes.

A review of several thousands of pages of congressional testimony, federal budgets and audit reports, plus an analysis of lobbying and campaign contribution data, shows that the four defense contractors running the two New Mexico nuclear weapons labs, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory, enjoy a particularly symbiotic relationship with Congress.

That relationship begins with money.

Since 1998, these four contractors have contributed more than $20 million to congressional campaigns around the nation. Last year alone, they spent almost $18 million lobbying Washington.

Those numbers alone indicate that the nuclear weapons enterprise has had plenty at stake in recent years.

Jerry Redfern for RevealSandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., is run by Sandia Corp., a subsidiary of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.

In Prague in 2009, Obama called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. A year later, he and Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty calling for each country to reduce its deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 by 2018, down from estimates of more than 1,900 for the United States and more than 2,400 for Russia.

Ratification of the treaty required a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, which followed in December 2010. Defense hawks and their allies exacted a price for the treaty vote: $85 billion in nuclear weapons modernization over a decade. The Congressional Budget Office says the figure has since more than quadrupled.

The new bomb’s name, B61-12, reflects its position as the 12th model of what the government calls a family of bombs. It is descended from the first U.S. hydrogen bomb tested in the Marshall Islands in 1952, which used a plutonium bomb to detonate a thermonuclear explosion 520 times more powerful than the plutonium bomb tested seven years earlier – the nation’s first – at the remote Trinity Site south of Albuquerque.

The current stockpile contains five B61 models, three of which – along with one other strategic bomb – will be supplanted by the B61-12.

But unlike the free-fall gravity bombs it will replace, the B61-12 will be a guided nuclear bomb. Its new Boeing Co. tail kit assembly enables the bomb to hit targets precisely. Using dial-a-yield technology, the bomb’s explosive force can be adjusted before flight from an estimated high of 50,000 tons of TNT equivalent force to a low of 300 tons.

And that’s where the debate over the B61-12 moves beyond cost overruns, zeroing in on the granular details of its capabilities.

Obama pledged that the United States would produce no new nuclear warheads and that life extension programs of existing weapons would not provide “new military capabilities.”

Officials from the Obama administration, Pentagon and Energy Department continue to argue that the B61-12 stays within the bounds of that pledge by modernizing an aging family of bombs and in the process ensuring a reliable nuclear arsenal to scare off adversaries.

Back at Sandia, engineer Phil Hoover is the one in charge of integrating the tail kit instruments with those inside the weapon’s body.

“The tail kit provides the ability to get more accuracy,” he said. “We’re reducing the potential for collateral damage.” This kind of guided system, he continued, is “consistent with our digital aircraft today.”

High on the list of aircraft that could carry the bomb is Lockheed’s new F-35 fighter jet. This stealth plane, designed to evade radar, is a $400 billion weapon delivery system that has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns.

The idea of stealth fighters carrying B61-12 nuclear bombs worries some outside experts, including Kristensen.

“If the Russians put out a guided nuclear bomb on a stealthy fighter that could sneak through air defenses, would that add to the perception here that they were lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons?” he asked. “Absolutely.”

Hoover referred Reveal to the U.S. Strategic Command, or STRATCOM, a command of the Defense Department that is in charge of nuclear weapons. After requesting written questions, STRATCOM referred Reveal to the Air Force.

Maj. Kelley Jeter, an Air Force spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed, but agreed to answer questions via email. Asked what effect stealth fighter jets carrying low-yield B61-12 nuclear bombs would have on an adversary during a conflict, she responded: “To effectively deter potential adversaries, the weapons and platforms fielded by the Air Force must credibly provide options for the President to demonstrate U.S. resolve and support deterrence options for the President to deal with emerging crises.”

But, she added, “the B61-12 will not provide new military capabilities.”

This story was produced and originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization and public radio show based in California. Learn more at revealnews.org. This version was digested for length by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Len Ackland can be reached at lenackland@gmail.com, and Burt Hubbard can be reached at burt.hubbard@gmail.com.

Retrievers on the case: Tracking lost dogs in the Twin Cities

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 8:46am

I still remember the sickening feeling in my stomach when I realized my cat had escaped. I was hosting the family tabby for a few days when a roommate left the door ajar. The next morning, the cat was gone and I felt horrible.

My sister and I spent three days looking for Ed. We made posters and put them up all along St. Paul’s North End streets, knocking on doors and meeting neighbors. But after three long December nights, Ed remained lost.

By my rough estimates, there are hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs in the Twin Cities, and that’s not counting strays. Odds are pretty good that a bunch of them are lost at any given time, but that is little comfort to a pet owner who's just discovered that his dog or cat has disappeared.

How Rocky got awayCourtesy of The RetrieversThe hunt for Rocky continues.

Dan Conybeare knows how it feels when an animal slips out of your hands. He was just getting to know Rocky when the black and white rescue rat terrier escaped onto the streets of St. Paul. Dan had only had the little dog for a few hours, but he’s spent most of his free time over the last two weeks trying to get Rocky back into safe hands.

“I don’t know,” Conybeare told me when I asked him if he'd ever get Rocky back. “I try not to really think about that too much anymore. I was feeling so desperate early on. I accepted that we my never find him and may never know. But I’m hopeful. Saturday we had our first really solid sighting in five days, and had another potential sighting today.”

That was Tuesday. This week, the hunt for Rocky continues.

Meet The Retrievers

It turns out there’s a whole world of lost-animal hunters out there, and one of Conybeare’s first moves was to mention Rocky on the popular Lost Dogs Minnesota Facebook page. That’s when he connected with The Retrievers, a crack nonprofit team of dog detectives who’ve been organizing searches throughout Minnesota for over a year.

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The first step is for people who have lost dogs to fill out a short form detailing the escape. Then The Retrievers assign a volunteer case manager, from one of many regions throughout the state and metro. Rocky’s case manager is a woman named Natalie Wicker, who has been coordinating volunteer hunting help.

And so for the past two weeks, Rocky signs have popped up all over town. I noticed my first one about two weeks ago in St. Paul’s South St. Anthony Park neighborhood. Then I saw one along Summit Avenue. Then I saw another on Lake Street, and again on Franklin over in Minneapolis. When I saw one near Fort Snelling a few days later, and I began to wonder. Just how many Lost Dog Rocky signs are out there?

“I’ve personally made 70 signs,” Dan Conybeare, Rocky’s woebegone caregiver, told me. “I think the rest were made by The Retrievers, basically all one woman [named] Diane, who made about another 60 or 70. And I had some help from my girlfriend.”

(I’ve been asking friends to send in photos. The farthest sign that I’ve heard of is located along the I-494 bridge in Eagan, though these days most Rocky signs can be found in South Minneapolis’ Longfellow and Seward neighborhoods.)

“I’ve been doing it in waves,” Conybeare said. “Most of my free time over the last two weeks has been spent getting supplies and making the signs. I did about 15 on Saturday, and including getting the material, making and posting them, it probably took six hours.”

MinnPost photos by Bill Lindeke“Rocky” signs have appeared all over town.‘Survival mode’ and lost dog psychology

The Rocky signs all share one unusual detail: Each declares “DO NOT CHASE” in clear letters alongside the terrier’s picture. I’ve seen a lot of lost dog signs over the years, by I’d never noticed such a prohibition.

It turns out that chasing a lost dog that's alone in the city is the wrong move. According to The Retrievers, companion animals are often deeply disturbed by newfound freedom, and their animal instincts take over.

“Lost dogs are very often highly insecure and operate from a mode of fear,” Devon Thomas Treadwell, who helps run The Retrievers, explained to me this week. “We call it survival mode. What they need most is security, food and water. When they’re operating in that survival mode, they can perceive every human, even their own owners, as a threat. So when you chase a [lost] dog, you just reinforce his belief that every human is a threat."

The goal is to help the lost dog become comfortable within a city block or two, to make it easier for the dog detectives to track him.

And the reason for the wide net of Rocky signs has to do with the pup’s rambunctious path through St. Paul and Minneapolis. At some point, Rocky went over the Marshall/Lake Street bridge.

“Rocky is a little stinker because he started out being lost in St. Paul,” Thomas Treadwell told me. “Normally, the river provides a natural boundary, but he crossed the Lake Street bridge, and now we have confirmed signs of him on Minneapolis side. It is unusual.”

(That said, the Lake/Marshall bridge was the site of one dramatic Retrievers reunion last year. Eddie, a runaway golden retriever, was retrieved crossing the Mississippi when a passing jogger “clotheslined him” on the bridge. A volunteer team was on hand to quickly rescue the pup from the busy street.)

“It's both good and bad in the city,” Thomas Treadwell told me. “There are more risks to the dog because of traffic. We like to see them brought in as soon as possible, but on the other hand, we have more people out and about who can see the dog and report on the dog and keep track of its whereabouts.”

The end goal is to help the dog feel comfortable within or two blocks, where The Retrievers then lure the lost pup into a humane trap that they’ve designed. The latest model uses an optical sensor to trap the dog until a volunteer can come fetch him.

Courtesy of The RetrieversLittle Man enters a Retrievers trap, in 2014.Back to our cat

When Ed escaped, after three days of posting fliers and knocking on frosty doors my sister and I had given up. After all, he was old, it was just before Christmas, and it was darn cold outside.

But as we were getting in the car to drive away, we heard a noise. A tiny “meow” emerged from somewhere in the neighbors’ yard. It seemed too good to be true, but when we looked under the backyard porch, way back in a crevice, we saw our scared, elderly tabby. It was a great Christmas present to have Ed back.

MinnPost photo by Bill LindekeEd.

And Rocky is still out there in South Minneapolis. With all the signs all over town, Dan Conybeare gets about a dozen calls a day with advice, false sightings, and hints. And every once in a while, there’s a good lead.

“It was basically my fault that he got out, Conybeare told me.” “I got him into this mess, and I got to get him out of this. Because he can’t.”

So if you see Rocky and can get him into your fenced-in yard, please call Dan. Just do not chase.  

'Kinky Boots' is touching, funny, fabulous to watch

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 8:17am

We had high-heeled expectations for “Kinky Boots.” With songs by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein, trailing six Tony awards, bursting with feel-good, positive messages and drag queens, it has to be good, right?

It’s very good. Touching, funny, fabulous to watch, well-acted and splendidly sung, the Broadway hit is making its Minneapolis debut at the Orpheum, where it’s here through Sunday.

The story, briefly: Young Charlie Price inherits a failing shoe factory in Northampton, a town in England’s East Midlands that was once a major shoemaking center. After a chance meeting with a drag queen named Lola and advice from a factory worker, he tries to save it – and his father’s legacy, and the jobs of the workers he has known all his life, and along the way, himself – by manufacturing “kinky boots,” thigh-high stilettos strong enough to hold a man’s weight.

The road from Northampton to a fashion show runway in Milan winds through lost and found romance, daddy issues (Lola has them, too), a London club, the factory floor, a men’s room, a slow-mo boxing match, kicks and shimmies, confrontations with the beefy foreman, changing attitudes, and a show-stopping, astonishingly complex scene where an assembly line turns into treadmills for high-energy dancing that involves the whole cast. We wish we could see that scene again, to take in everything we missed by blinking.

Choreographed with ample wit and imagination by Jerry Mitchell (who spent time in his 20s at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres), with terrific sets by David Rockwell (it’s hard to believe they came out of trucks) and sparkly costumes by Gregg Barnes, “Kinky Boots” is a road show with a Broadway-worthy cast, led by Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola. He can sing, he can strut; he wins you over instantly.

Lauper’s songs are so good we’re listening to the cast album to catch all the smart, sensitive lyrics, because some fly by during the performance. You might come out humming “Sex Is in the Heel.” “The History of Wrong Guys” deserves to become a standard. It’s sung big in the show, but it would work as a smoky, regret-filled murmur in a nightclub.

The first act is on speed; you’re barely settled in your seat before two little boys have grown up to be Charlie and Lola, Charlie moves to London, then gets yanked back to Northampton by a phone call announcing his father’s death. The second act drags (sorry) a bit with solo numbers and filler. Over roughly two hours, two acts, 16 songs and countless scenes, problems are solved, minds are opened, and the world, or at least a small part of it, becomes a better, less judgmental place.

Most memorable line: “You’re never more than 10 steps away from some sort of cross-dresser.” Lessons learned: 1) Be yourself. 2) Accept others for who they are. 3) Find a niche market.

Six performances remain before the sets go back in the trucks. FMI and tickets ($49-$149).

***

Springboard for the Arts and the International Downtown Association (IDA), based in Washington, D.C., will share a $50,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to expand training and expertise in creative placemaking and arts partnerships. IDA will assist Springboard with developing creative placemaking toolkits, connecting experts at conferences, and providing funding to districts with limited resources.

Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater has been awarded $15,000 by the NEA to support a project in Lousville, Kentucky. SPDT will be in residence there for two weeks in January, engaging students, health-care providers, and members of the arts community in their project called “Beyond the Blue Grass,” which features classes, workshops and performances.

The picks

We thought of this during “Kinky Boots,” when late arrivals were seated during the third song and we missed the whole thing: In yesterday’s pick about the Fringe, we neglected to mention a major key to a successful Fringe experience: Don’t Be Late. Shows start on time and there’s no late seating for any reason. You will kiss your ticket goodbye.

Tonight (Thursday, July 30) at the Walker: Target Free Thursday. Visit “International Pop” before it closes Aug. 29.  On Thursdays, the Walker stays open until 9 and admission is free. You might also play a round of Artist-Designed Mini Golf outdoors; not free, but lots of fun.

Tonight at TuckUnder Gallery: Opening for “Fiat/Fiat.” The new multi-artist show in the (tuck-under) garage in southwest Minneapolis features sculptures and drawings by Kenneth Steinbach, a site-specific installation by Lyz Wendland, an exterior sculpture project by Luke Aleckson and work by Larson Husby in the Leaky Sink Gallery (the basement bathroom of the house). 5120 York Ave. S. 6 to 9 p.m. Free. 

Friday at Mattie’s on Main: Northeast Dog Parade. What could possibly be better than a dog parade? At 5 p.m., people and pups will gather in the park on St. Anthony Main between East Hennepin and the 3rd Avenue Bridge (across from Mattie’s). Appropriately, there will be a flea market, and dog-friendly vendors. At 6:30, Officer Elliot Wong of the MPD will escort the parade through the business district and back to St. Anthony Main. Free. Bring your dog, in costume if you want (and if your dog agrees), for a chance at prizes.

Courtesy of Young Musicians of MinnesotaYoung Musicians of Minnesota members at the 2015 Summer Music Festival

Sunday at Orchestra Hall: Young Musicians of Minnesota 2015 Summer Grand Finale Concert. Founded by music students during the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians, YMM has evolved into a student-led and operated organization that preserves, promotes and supports classical music. It has grown from an orchestra of 46 students to 95. Now partners with the Minnesota Orchestral Association, a co-sponsor of Sunday’s concert, YMM will perform a program of music by Tchaikovsky (“Capriccio Italien,” Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique”) and Barber (Adagio for Strings) conducted by Aaron Hirsch. Founder and president Emily Green promises, “Never again will you see a group of students as passionate and steadfast to keep the future of classical music alive.” Amen to that. 3 p.m. Free. Arrive early for “Youth in the Arts” performances in the lobby; those start at 1:30 p.m.

On sale

Doomtree Zoo at CHS Field. The Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree will host and headline an all-day event on Saturday, Oct. 3 at the Saint Paul Saints stadium (where Dr. John was a big hit at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and everyone said there would be more live concerts at CHS, and here they come). The line-up also includes Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic, Trash Talk, Shabazz Palaces, Open Mike Eagle, Serengeti, Aby Wolf, Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Anonymous Choir and In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Sounds like a great way to spend a fall day. 2 to 10 p.m. All ages. $35 advance/$45 doors/$100 VIP (“baller”). Kids 8 and under free. Buy online Saturday (Aug. 1) starting at 11 a.m. or in person at the CHS Field box office from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Photo by Kelly LoverudDoomtree, from left to right: Paper Tiger, Sims, Cecil Otter, P.O.S, Lazerbeak, Mike Mictlan, Dessa

What CVS' takeover of Target's pharmacies will mean for consumers

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 5:59am

MPR’s Martin Moylan checks out Target’s sell-off of its pharmacies to CVS. “Target is ditching its pharmacy business because selling prescription drugs didn't draw enough customers or yield enough profit, although it did generate $4 billion in sales. Those sales represent a lot of people — Target won't specify how many — who'll have to decide if they'll continue getting their meds inside a Target store or go elsewhere. The Minneapolis retail giant is expected to complete the sale of its pharmacy business by year's end, assuming regulators approve. Drug store chain CVS would then take over the pharmacies in some 1,700 Target stores.”

The NFL Players Association is suing the NFL in Minnesota. Mike Florio at NBC Sports says, “On Tuesday, the NFL filed a four-page lawsuit against the NFLPA in Manhattan. On Wednesday, the NFLPA filed a much longer lawsuit against the NFL and the NFL Management Council in Minnesota. The 54-page petition requests that the the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota vacate the arbitration award in the Tom Brady case, arguing that the four-game suspension ‘defies’ the Court’s decision in the recent Adrian Peterson case, ‘ignores’ the ‘law of the shop’ and essence of the labor deal, and ‘gives the back of the hand’ to fundamental principles of ‘procedural fairness and arbitrator bias.’”

Isn’t Rubio the one with chronic money problems? Patrick Condon of the Strib says, “Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson endorsed Marco Rubio for president on Wednesday and will be Minnesota state chairman for the Florida senator's presidential campaign.  Johnson was the Republican candidate for governor last year, but lost to Gov. Mark Dayton. The Plymouth resident is also a former member of the Republican National Committee. Johnson told the Star Tribune that he likes several of the Republican contenders but that Rubio distinguished himself in the crowded field of 17 declared candidates.” More than Donald Trump and Scott Walker? High bar.

What? No Whole Foods in Embarrass or Boyd? Tom Meersman of the Strib says, “There’s a “grocery gap” in many parts of Minnesota, according to a new poll, and many consumers can’t take advantage of healthy foods because they don’t have a nearby store that sells them.  The poll, commissioned by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, found that 56 percent of those questioned don’t believe that all Minnesotans have access to healthy food, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic background. Two-thirds of those in the poll reported shopping for food once a week or more at traditional grocery stores, 47 percent at big-box mass merchandisers, and 19 percent at convenience stories.”

There’s a lot of good Minnesota stuff in a New York Times story about (the usual) bungling by the TSA. Says Ron Nixon, “An internal report that measures performance, sent out last month by the T.S.A.’s Midwest regional headquarters, devotes just three pages to security, while the remainder focuses on wait times and customer service, according to Andrew Rhoades, an assistant security director at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. ‘Many of the measurements work against prudent security practices,’ Mr. Rhoades said. Mr. Rhoades had previously reported what he said were security lapses to T.S.A. headquarters, and in response, he said, the T.S.A. tried to transfer him. … An assistant security director disclosed that Sara Jane Olson, who was convicted in a plot by members of a radical 1970s group to kill Los Angeles police officers by planting bombs under their squad cars, was allowed to use an expedited inspection lane even after having been identified by a screener. A supervisor overruled that employee.”

Speaking of good times at MSP, Tim Nelson of MPR says, “The Twin Cities International Airport is heading for a retail makeover. Airport staff are poised to make recommendations for a refresh of dozens of shops and restaurants next week, most of them in Terminal 1. Detailed recommendations aren't public yet, but airport staff say they want to offer more opportunity for local businesses, ethnic food and combinations of food and entertainment, among other things. They'll be talking about their recommendations at a Metropolitan Airports Commission committee meeting on Monday.’ I’d like a Costco, with $1.50 hot dogs.

Maybe those pieces from the missing airliner will knock our fearless lion-hunting dentist off the front page. But until then, the New York Times’ Christina Capecchi and Katie Rogers say, “The outrage and attention surrounding the lion’s death online caused Dr. Palmer to keep his office closed on Wednesday as he joined an ever-expanding group of people who have become targets of Internet vigilantism, facing a seemingly endless shaming until the next issue comes along. … Even a local crisis management expert was pulled in to the fray. The specialist, Jon Austin, who operates a Minneapolis-based communications firm, said in an email that he had been asked only to circulate Dr. Palmer’s initial statement. On Wednesday, Mr. Austin ended his involvement with the matter, but not before his own Yelp page was flooded by angry commenters.”

At the PiPress, Tad Vezner writes, “While international outrage against a Minnesota dentist who killed a beloved Zimbabwe lion showed no signs of abating Wednesday, any legal ramifications against him appear to be an uphill battle. The Bloomington dentist was castigated by the governor, his practice targeted by hundreds of protesters in person and thousands online, and at least one U.S. congresswoman has called for an investigation into whether he broke the law -- any law. … Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle called Palmer a ‘morally deadened human being’, and in a written statement, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., called on the U.S. attorney's office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate ‘whether U.S. laws were violated.’”

Also in the PiPress, outdoor writer Dave Orrick says, “Many hunters don't tolerate violations of game laws. So, Walter, don't be surprised if you sense skepticism from hunters when they learn that in 2008 you admitted to lying to authorities when questioned about shooting a Wisconsin black bear outside your permit area. You faced consequences for that. And if you broke the law in shooting this lion, you should face consequences again. But not what you've been subjected to: the threats, the epithets, the unbridled verbal assaults from around the world. Your dental practice has been sent askew, your family exposed, if not downright terrorized. All because you killed a lion. It's often observed that conservationists (including hunters) see animals for the entire population, while animal-rights activists (including anti-hunters) see individuals. So I say ‘a lion,’ while they say ‘Cecil’ — and call you a beast. It's unjust, this treatment from some espousing to the animal rights side. I think most hunters would agree with that.”

As for extradition, which plenty of people seem to think would be a good idea, Peter Cox and Jon Collins at MPR say, “Extradition is not an automatic process, [attorney Joe] Tamburino said. In a situation where the accused has the resources to hire attorneys, the extradition process can be especially long and complex. ‘The individual would be able to say to our government, 'Look I'm an American citizen, I don't think I should be extradited for whatever the legal argument they're going to make,’ Tamburino said. ‘Then they'd get a fair hearing in court on that.’ The federal government could reject extradition for a number of reasons including humanitarian or legal objections, but American citizenship or wealth don't automatically mean someone can avoid extradition.”

And if the question is punishment, PETA has an answer. a WCCO-TV story says, “The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says that if a Minnesota hunter did indeed illegally kill a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, he should be ‘extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.’” And what about the idea of giving Dr. Walt a pocket knife and airdropping him alone into the heart of lion country? You know, for the thrill of the “hunt.”

Health care at the stroke of a pen: 50 years on, Medicare is a model

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 5:00am

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson carried a considerable number of pens with him when he visited the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. The occasion for his visit was monumental: He was about to sign into law H.R. 6675 — known to many as the Medicare bill.

Augie Lindmark

President Harry Truman also attended the signing ceremony, and, although it was he who pioneered the practice of using multiple pens to sign legislation, that was not the reason for his presence.

Truman was there because in 1945, as president, he had pushed for the creation of a national health plan that would cover all Americans. Even though he failed to achieve that goal — thanks in part to the American Medical Association’s forceful opposition — his commitment to universal care had never wavered.

'The real daddy of Medicare'

After Johnson inked his signature to the Medicare bill, he turned to Truman, who sat nearby, and presented him with the first Medicare card.

“President Truman, perhaps you alone can fully know just how grateful I am for this day,” Johnson said. “We haven’t forgotten who is the real daddy of Medicare.”

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The moment couldn’t have been sweeter: Truman’s hope for a national health plan was partially fulfilled and health security for the nation’s elderly was finally in place.

One week after the bill’s passage, 1 million people had enrolled in Medicare. After 11 months, some 19 million had enrolled — 99 percent of those eligible. Today, 55 million Americans (ages 65 and older, as well as younger people with permanent disabilities) enjoy health security and stability under this law. 

Poverty rate among elderly dropped by half

Besides making health care accessible to millions, Medicare has also been a critical step in addressing poverty. By 1975, one decade after Medicare passed, the rate of elderly living in poverty had dropped by half. Yes — half.

July 30 marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare, a cornerstone of President Johnson’s sweeping social reforms which included The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (that bill was said to have been signed with more than 70 pens.) Yet the current state of America’s health care is ambiguous and far from celebratory. Our health system is known for groundbreaking research and an eclectic array of technological advancements, but it is not known for its accessibility, affordability or equity. Just ask the 700,000 Americans annually bankrupted by medical bills.

The United States spends 17 percent of its GDP on health, the highest of any nation, and over $8,000 per capita on health care, also the highest. But our health outcomes are mediocre: We are ranked 48th in life expectancy; 29th in infant mortality; and among industrialized nations we are 19th out of 19 in preventable deaths, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

The ACA isn't enough

The Affordable Care Act, while making some improvements around the edges of our health system, will still leave 23 million to 30 million people uninsured in 2025. It keeps wasteful middlemen — the private insurers — in the driver’s seat. Millions more remain underinsured. The ACA is not enough.

This is where Medicare can help point the way. Improvements to Medicare are essential to prepare for an aging demographic and rising health care costs. But we should embrace Medicare as a proven model of reform and expand the program to cover everyone in the country.

An efficient program, Medicare pancakes administrative costs (in other words, non-medical spending) and functions with a 2 percent overhead — compared to its private insurance counterparts at 12-14 percent. As for growth in costs, Medicare is currently projected at 4 percent annually, well below that of private insurance options.

A more robust Medicare, similar to other industrialized nations, would move toward the “Great Society” that President Johnson envisioned — an America with streamlined access to quality health care, free of fear from financial ruin.

There’s a provision in the ACA, Section 1332, which would allow states like Minnesota to revamp their health system in 2017, as long as the changes cost less and cover at least the number currently insured. The proposed “Minnesota Health Plan” would achieve these benchmarks, and the average family and business would save on health care expenditures with something similar to an improved and expanded Medicare for all.

And when that bill is signed, everyone in Minnesota should receive a pen.

Augie Lindmark is a medical student at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus. He currently is an intern with Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) in St. Paul.

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.)

Gov. Dayton reports 'productive talks' on Mille Lacs fishing dilemma

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 4:20pm

Gov. Mark Dayton met Wednesday with parties involved in the Mille Lacs walleye fishing dilemma and then reported "productive talks" in his quest for a special session of the Legislature to address the issue.

The governor says he's planning a town hall meeting Friday as he and legislative leaders consider actions to provide some relief to resorts and other businesses on the lake, which was once a premier destination for walleye fishing.

But the DNR plans to close the season soon in an effort to improve the long-term prospects for the species. And that would be a further big hit for the tourism industry in the area, which is already down because of fishing restrictions.

Some possible options for the state include low interest loans and property tax relief, Dayton said today

House Speaker Kurt Daudt said in a statement that he's in:

The threat of a shorter walleye season on Mille Lacs is very concerning. I suggested to the governor yesterday that we put together a working group of commissioners, committee chairs and policy experts to meet in the next few days. Together we will examine the problem and determine the best solution.

And two Republican state Senators from the area urged the governor and leaders to seek a long-term solution to the fishing problem.

State Sens. David Brown and Carrie Ruud said in a letter:

We agree that we need to take action, but our only approach should not be temporary, short-term fixes. We need a permanent solution.

The first step toward a permanent solution should be creating, as soon as possible, a working group of commissioners, committee chairs, impacted legislators, tribal leaders, and environment and outdoor experts to study the problem.

With so many of our constituents depending on a healthy, thriving lake for their livelihoods, we would like to be a part of that working group.

Cliffs Natural Resources will idle United Taconite — 500 workers affected

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 1:50pm

Bad jobs news from the Iron Range. John Myers writes in the Duluth News Tribune, “Cliffs Natural Resources on Wednesday said it will idle its United Taconite operation on the Iron Range, impacting 500 employees as the storm in the U.S. domestic steel industry continues. … The company said it has a glut of taconite iron ore pellets on hand while demand from its customers, U.S. steelmakers, remains down. … The United operations — with a mine in Eveleth and processing center in nearby Forbes — employs about 500 people with a $60 million payroll in 2014. The operations produced 4.9 million tons of taconite pellets in 2014.”

This seems like it might be about more than just carports. In the Star Tribune, Pat Pheifer reports, “Don Paul and his wife, Judy, have lived in the Rambush Estates mobile home park in Burnsville for 13 years. … On June 12 … the city of Burnsville sent notices to the Pauls and 21 other residents in the park who have carports saying the structures have to go because they violate state building code and city code. If residents don’t comply within a certain number of days, they face steep reinspection fees. … A few people have already removed their carports; some others are fighting back, attorney Valerie Sims said. … Sims has served the city with a lawsuit, claiming, among other things, that Rambush Estates is private property and Burnsville does not have the authority to issue code violations there.”

Sun Country pilots are requesting clearance for takeoff … from mediation talks. (Ugh, sorry.) WCCO reports, “Pilots from Sun Country Airlines have asked federal officials to release them from mediation talks if an agreement can’t be reached in their final session with airline officials. … Sun Country officials and the 250 pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, or APLA, have been in negotiations for five years. … The pilots say they are the lowest paid in the country and are asking for a raise.”

OK, so where did he get the car? KMSP revealed that Puddle of Mudd frontman Wes Scantlin, who was arrested for drunk driving over the weekend, had previously been kicked off a flight at MSP for being too drunk to fly. “According to a police report the flight crew thought he was too intoxicated to be on the flight.  Scantlin told police he wasn’t drinking, but on pain medication. Although police said they could smell a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. … Scantiln told police he wanted to take the flight to Los Angeles, ‘because he was a rock star, and he had an important show there, and didn’t want to upset his fans,’ the report said. … Scantlin even got his agent on the phone.  The officers took a swaying, and visibly upset Scantlin, who had tears in eyes to a taxi.  Officers told the taxi driver he was to take Scantlin to a nearby hotel.”

In other news…

Macalester prof Marlon James is up for a Man Booker Prize for “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” [MPR]

Minneapolis harshes the Dreamland Commune’s mellow. [City Pages]

Duluth learns that the house always wins. [WDIO]

We already mentioned that Dayton is considering a walleye special session this morning, but you don’t want to miss the Brainerd Dispatch’s “Walleyepocalypse” graphic.

Nor do you want to miss this photo of a catapult ride gone very wrong at the Wisconsin Dells. [KARE]

St. Paul Mayor Coleman makes budget planning appearance at Sun Ray Library

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 12:44pm

In preparation for his 10th city budget address on Aug. 11, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is appearing today at the Sun Ray Library on the city's East Side for a "pop-up meeting" to see what priorities citizens have for city spending.

Coleman has taken this road show to Rondo Days and the Dragon Festival at Lake Phalen, as he seeks to engage residents where they work and play.

Today's meeting is 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the library, 2105 Wilson Av.

The goal is to get broader public participation in the budgeting process, and the mayor is using a Public Art St. Paul pop-up meeting truck to attract attention.

Coleman said earlier: "We need to make it easier for people to engage in these conversations about our future. If we bring the meeting directly to community members while also creating opportunities to share input online – we are more likely to engage a diverse audience."

There's also an online route for 2016 city budget suggestions.

McCollum calls for federal investigation of lion-killing Minnesota dentist

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 10:58am
Rep. Betty McCollum

WASHINGTON — The Internet exploded in outrage this week after it was revealed that a Minnesota tourist killed a beloved lion while on a hunting expedition in Zimbabwe. That indignation reached Capitol Hill yesterday, as 4th District Rep. Betty McCollum was quick to call for  justice for the protected African lion, fondly referred to as Cecil the Lion.

In a statement released yesterday, McCollum denounced the actions of Walter Palmer, a dentist from Eden Prairie, who may have paid as much as $50,000 to participate in the guided hunt in Zimbabwe. Palmer and his guides allegedly lured the lion out of a protected area in order to kill it, a move that critics, including McCollum, call illegal.

“To bait and kill a threatened animal, like this African lion, for sport cannot be called hunting, but rather a disgraceful display of callous cruelty,” McCollum said. Palmer says he was not aware that the lion was a protected animal, and regrets what happened.

McCollum, who serves as co-chair of the International Congressional Conservation Caucus, called for an investigation of Palmer. “For those of us committed to ending poaching of iconic African species I strongly believe the U.S. Attorneys' Office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should investigate whether U.S. laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and the illegal hunting of a protected species or animal,” McCollum said.

She added that she would actively pursue a legislative path to protecting other endangered animals in Africa and elsewhere. Speaking on Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday morning, McCollum said she is currently working on legislation to crack down on the poaching of animals for ivory.

Palmer, whose dental practice is based in Bloomington, appears to be an avid rare game hunter, and photos of him posing with dead trophy animals like cheetahs have surfaced online. Lions and other protected big game are hunted and killed regularly by tourists from the United States and elsewhere, according to experts.

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