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Updated: 5 min 16 sec ago

Value of Vikings up $319 million since signing stadium deal

8 hours 44 min ago

They’re only worth … $1.15 billion. At ESPN, Ben Goessling reads the latest valuation listing at Forbes and writes, “Forbes Magazine's annual valuations of all 32 NFL teams are in, and while the Minnesota Vikings still rank among the bottom half of the league, the franchise is once again estimated to be worth more than $1 billion -- and its value should continue to rise. The Vikings are projected to be worth $1.15 billion, ranking 20th in the NFL, according to Forbes. That valuation is up from the $1.07 billion figure Forbes gave the Vikings in 2013, and represents a $319 million increase since the Minnesota State Legislature approved funding for the Vikings' new stadium in May 2012.”  That Zygi … he knows what he’s doing.

Thirteen!? Tom Scheck of MPR reports, “Republican Jeff Johnson is calling on DFL Governor Mark Dayton to agree to 13 debates including two at the Minnesota State Fair. Johnson, the Republican nominee for governor, made the pitch during a news conference at the State Fair this morning. Governor Dayton has declined an invitation by MPR News to participate in a state fair debate. Johnson said he believes Dayton is ducking debates. He said he hopes Dayton reconsiders.” Not to be overly skeptical, but my guess is there’s enough voter interest for maybe two.

The speed (or lack thereof) of the Green Line gets a look from Frederick Melo in the PiPress. “ … the 11-mile, 23-station Green Line between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis has been averaging about 52 minutes, or nearly five minutes per mile. ‘I've ridden it, and it stops at every light and every station. It doesn't seem reliable in terms of timing,’ said Jessica Treat, executive director of the transportation advocacy group St. Paul Smart Trips. Metro Transit officials and transit advocates say the main problem is that St. Paul's traffic signals are not syncing well with the Green Line, a delay that many officials are laying squarely at the foot of the city.”

The AP has a story up about how the “funny guy” in our Senate race … isn’t Al Franken. “McFadden's campaign is working with the same advertising team behind a panned-but-popular ad from Iowa's Republican U.S. Senate nominee, Jodi Ernst, which drew on her childhood castrating hogs as proof she'll know "how to cut pork" in Washington. McFadden's football spot drew several days of coverage in early summer, with enough questions about whether he was hit in the stomach or the groin that the whole question was dubbed ‘Groin Gate.’ (McFadden's campaign insists it was a gut shot.) ‘That had a lasting impact. It gets people talking and it adds a little levity to the race,’ said Republican political operative Ben Golnik.”

Good news for Batman: John Myers of the Forum News Service reports, “If your schedule allows you to take showers, run the dishwasher and wash and dry clothes at night or on weekends, Minnesota Power might have a deal for you. The Duluth-based utility is, for the first time, offering off-peak electric rates to some of its customers in Duluth and Hermantown. The utility in recent days has mailed letters to 24,000 customers in the area explaining the program and asking its customers if they want to try the off-peak program that offers lower rates for electricity used between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays … .”

The borers are in Rochester … . The AP via the Albert Lea Tribune says, “Minnesota officials have confirmed trees in Olmsted County are infested with the destructive emerald ash borer. The state Department of Agriculture said Wednesday the county will join Hennepin, Houston, Ramsey and Winona counties in a state and federal quarantine to prevent the infestation from spreading. That means ash logs, lumber, chips and tree waste can’t be taken out of the county without a department certificate.”

So his story is … he accidentally shot himself … four times. The AP reports, “Pine County authorities say they've arrested a 38-year-old woman for shooting a man after he told authorities his four gunshot wounds were self-inflicted. The Sheriff's Office said Wednesday that authorities responded to a reported shooting Tuesday. Deputies found a man who said he had accidentally shot himself. … Investigators say evidence suggests the wounds weren't self-inflicted. Sheriff Robin Cole says people can't usually shoot themselves more than once.”

I haven’t been there yet and I’m already a little woozy … . a KARE-TV story reminds viewer/readers, “Lift Bridge Brewing Company and the Ball Park Cafe will again delight the taste buds of those heading to the Minnesota State Fair with Lift Bridge Mini-Donut Beer. It will be sold exclusively at Ball Park Cafe only from Aug. 21-Sept. 1. Lift Bridge Mini-Donut Beer was first introduced in 2013. This year's brew will again be available in a glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar to help give it that real mini donut appeal.” So why can’t they dip the rim in bacon grease?

This is NOT a political campaign story … Andy Rathbun of the PiPress alerts readers to the fact that, “Stock dogs and the sheep they chase are coming back to Hudson, Wis. The Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Associations' 29th annual Labor Day stock dog trial will offer visitors a chance to see dogs and their handlers work to control sheep through a course. More than 80 dogs and handlers from seven states and Canada are expected to compete in the event … .”

 

After late-season stumbles, Lynx look forward to playoffs

11 hours 51 min ago

Last Thursday, before Minnesota Lynx left for San Antonio, Coach Cheryl Reeve gathered team captains Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Maya Moore in the video room at the Life Time Fitness practice facility. The group was supposed to meet two nights earlier, but Reeve postponed it after a demoralizing 71-63 loss to Los Angeles — the team’s second straight — left everyone in a foul mood. 

Reeve wanted to know a few things. Facing the final two games of the regular season on back-to-back nights, the Lynx needed one more victory to become the first WNBA team to post four consecutive 25-win seasons. How important was that to them? The team looked worn out, especially against the Sparks. With the playoffs coming, if anyone preferred rest to a shot at a 25th victory, Reeve said they could skip the San Antonio trip. Reeve was leaning toward leaving Augustus home anyway after a flare-up of the same left knee bursitis that had already kept her out of nine games. 

The others turned Reeve down. To them, the concept was too obnoxious. 

Without Augustus, the Lynx were no match for San Antonio on Becky Hammon Night. The Stars won easily, 92-76, after honoring their retiring veteran guard, who will join the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach next season. With the Lynx down 12 in the fourth quarter and San Antonio rolling, Reeve prudently sat Brunson the final 8:17 and Moore and Whalen the final 7:08, saving their legs for the last game. 

Saturday night the Lynx looked like the Lynx again, blowing out Tulsa at the Target Center 80-63 to finish 25-9. Fifteen consecutive points in the fourth quarter sent the players and the crowd of 9,505 home relieved. All was right with the world again. Bring on the playoffs.

“The 25 wins is important because we knew no other team had ever done it,” Whalen said. “But more for me, I wanted to compete. I know everyone else did too. 

“Once we lost to San Antonio, I just wanted to go into this week feeling great about what we’ve got going. I felt the only way to make that happen was to compete as hard as possible Saturday to springboard us into this week. I always feel like, anytime you have a finish to a season, you want to finish on a high note.”

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Some springboard. A rejuvenated Lynx team practiced with energy and purpose the last two days preparing for Thursday night’s Game 1 of the best-of-3 Western Conference semifinals, against the Stars at the Target Center. Augustus pushed through full workouts both days and is expected to start. Game 2 will be Saturday night in San Antonio, with Game 3 if necessary in Minneapolis on Monday. 

“It’s a weird thing,” Reeve said. “When they start playing for bonus money, their knees don’t ache as much, their backs don’t hurt, and they’re excited to be here. This is probably the most excited I’ve seen them be at practice. This is what they play for. I see a great bounce in their step.”

Wednesday, the bounce featured an eye-catching color. The players broke out orange sneakers as a reminder of their goal – a second consecutive WNBA championship and third in four years. Last year, the Lynx wore lime-green shoes in the first two rounds before turning to orange in the finals. (Dev Peters no longer had her orange kicks; she ran out and bought a new pair Wednesday night.)

Sneaker choices aside, entering postseason the Lynx aren’t anyone’s trendy championship prediction. People around the WNBA rightly consider Western Conference champion Phoenix (29-5) the favorite after the Mercury broke the league record for victories. The Lynx split two games with the Mercury when healthy and are eager to face them again in the conference final, if both teams get there.

“It’s a nice thing to have the attention somewhere else,” Reeve said. “At the same time, I know we’ve got some players where it kind of gets their goat that maybe the attention is somewhere else. We want it to be about us. We believe we’re the best team in the league, and we know we’ve got to back it up with our play. It’s a great motivator for us.”

wnba.orgStars Coach Dan Hughes

But getting past the Stars won’t be automatic. The Stars had lost eight straight to the Lynx (four this season) and 17 of 19 before winning last Friday. Stars Coach Dan Hughes possesses one of the WNBA’s brightest minds; Reeve worked one season with him in Cleveland in 2003. “We’ve got to be one step ahead, and that’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Reeve said.

Frontcourt depth for the Lynx will be thinner without rookie Damiris Dantas, who missed the last three games and remains in Brazil dealing with a family issue. This season the Lynx struggled defending the 3-point line against San Antonio even in their victories, with Hammon and Jia Perkins particularly effective. Oh, and Hammon has never won a WNBA title.

“It’s a team we respect,” Augustus said. “We’re not looking past them, knowing that they’re going to come in and try to do what Indiana did (in the 2012 Finals), steal Game 1 to force home court advantage their way. We just want to come out and try to do what we do best — defend, rebound, and get out and run and score.”

The plusses for the Lynx? The big one: Championship experience. Moore, Brunson, Augustus and Whalen carried the Lynx to titles in 2011 and 2013 and a finals appearance in between. Janel McCarville started last year while reserves Monica Wright and Peters logged significant playoff minutes.

This season, Moore’s emergence as the league’s top scorer helped the Lynx steal several games on nights Augustus and Brunson sat out with knee injuries. Moore was named the league's M.V.P. this morning and will be honored before tonight's game.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY SportsWithout Seimone Augustus, the Lynx were no match for San Antonio on Becky Hammon Night.

 

Reeve recounted a puzzling story Wednesday she attributed to Geno Auriemma, Moore’s coach at UConn.

“Geno once likened Maya as similar to a shark – punch her in the face, and she will go away,” Reeve said. “I’m proud to say, if you punch Maya in the face (now), she won’t go away. She’s going to make you pay.”

I couldn’t find that quote — maybe I need a better search engine — but did read enough to learn Auriemma loves the punch-in-the-face metaphor. (Naturally. He’s a Philly guy.) When Moore was asked about it, she laughed.

“It seems like something he definitely would say,” she said. “I don’t know how to respond to that, except to say I’m always going to try to score, whether it’s finishing the play myself or finding a teammate.”

And that leads us to the other big thing in Minnesota’s favor: Only Phoenix has crunch-time players as reliable as the Lynx, who were 8-3 in games decided by six points or less and 22-3 when tied or leading after three quarters. In a tight series, that could be the decider.   

“We take a great deal of comfort in knowing that we understand what it takes to win games,” Reeve said.

Beer koozies, nudist swag and flying salmon: what I saw at the national legislators' convention

11 hours 58 min ago

It’s like a home show for legislators.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the bipartisan organization of state legislators and staff, has been holding its big summit at the Minneapolis Convention Center this week: four days of meetings, seminars, training and a bit of wining and dining.

And in the middle of it all is the exhibit hall, where businesses, trade groups and lobbyists can try to catch the eye of the nation’s state lawmakers.

It’s where you can stop for a plastic pen, a pin or an unusually large assortment of beer koozies  — but where you’ll also get an earful about issues ranging from the dangers of tanning booths to the need to lighten up on bans against nudity.

“Our goal is to sensitize legislators,” said Bill Schroer, executive director of the American Association for Nude Recreation. “There’s a difference between simple nudity and lewd and obscene behavior.”

“I’m not sure if they take us seriously,” he said. “They do make jokes.”

Like perhaps, why would the group give out pins that kind of require clothes? Schroer prefers plastic bracelets that say, “Go Green Go Nude.”

The Beer Institute was offering tastings in small schooner glasses, though beer snobs might be unimpressed with what was being offered: Bud Light Lime-a-Rita.

Nearby, the National Restaurant Association had a toque-wearing chef dish out samples of roast tenderloin on garlic crostini with truffled beech mushrooms from Minneapolis’s Murray’s Steakhouse. And if any state lawmakers ever dreamed of being a Mountie, the Canada booth featured a cardboard one with the face cutout for smartphone photos.

It would be unfair to suggest that the exhibit hall represents what these summits are about. Instead, they are mostly a haven for policy nerds. For four days, attendees can revel in seminars with come-hither titles like “Ensuring the Authenticity of Online Legal Information,” “Drafting Durable Constitutional Amendments” and “New Policies in the World of Pensions.” 

General sessions included Yo Yo Ma speaking about the benefits of arts education, Cindy McCain calling for more state action against sex trafficking and Andrew Zimmern on fighting hunger.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanTarget Corp. offering free shoes shines just outside the exhibit hall.

 

But anywhere that attracts legislators attracts those who want to influence them. The exhibit hall comes with its own rules for media coverage. Newsies could walk around at will but were asked to film, photograph and interview those in the hall for just two designated hours each day.

Tim Shellberg, president of Gordon Thomas Honeywell Public Affairs, said the exhibit hall is not nearly as full as it has been in the past. Chalk it up to the recession and the perception that Minneapolis might not be as much of an attraction as past locales like Chicago and Seattle.

Fewer exhibitors means less money for the conference. The NCSL collects money from those who have booths in the hall. The lobbyists have to pay to attend — up to $1,265, which is nearly double what lawmakers and legislative staff pay to register. In addition, the NCSL receives both annual support from corporations, unions and special interest groups as well as special payments to cover costs of the conference.

Platinum sponsors give at least $25,000. That’s where AT&T, Walmart, Amgen and Nike are listed.

For the Minneapolis conference, many Minnesota companies are represented, including Target, Xcel Energy, Hubbard Broadcasting, General Mills and the Mayo Clinic.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanThe NRA booth, foreground, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence booth nearby.

 

Becky Bogard agreed that the recession took its toll on attendance at the summit, but thinks that next year’s conference in Seattle will attract more lawmakers, and the groups that want to be around them. But then, she might be biased: The lobbyist for the Washington state hospitality industry was wearing a strawberry costume.

Next to Bogard was state Sen. Randi Becker in a carrot costume. Apparently the getups were meant to conjure images of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. At the state’s booth, people could pretend they were tossing and catching salmon, the market ritual that shows up in every sports broadcast from the city. This salmon, however, was a stuffed animal.

In addition to offering free shoes shines just outside the exhibit hall, Target had a booth inside where attendees could charge electronic devices. The slogan, “Let Target Charge You Up” might be an unfortunate one given the company’s data breach problems, but no one seemed to notice.

Some booths offered purely political services such as website that let politicians raise campaign funds online, or another that provides online voter lists. Others were traditional trade groups that often appear before state legislators: The National Education Association, Wells Fargo government relations, Reynolds American, America’s Credit Union.

And then there were the dueling booths. Separated by a half dozen booths were the Pro Choice Coalition and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. And just steps away from the National Rifle Association was the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanAttendees sampling the brew at the Beer Institute booth.

Innovative VocalEssence season includes Dessa, Don Shelby, MN composers

12 hours 18 min ago

VocalEssence has announced its 46th season of concerts, and in a word, wow. Along with the favorites fans have come to expect – “Welcome Christmas,” the family Christmas concert “Star of Wonder,” the annual “Witness” and “Cantare!” shows – are some real surprises: a choral premiere by a hip-hop artist, a tour with Mark Twain, and an evening with P.D.Q. Bach.

doomtree.netDessa

The season opener at Orchestra Hall on Oct. 26, “Made in Minnesota,” features music by Minnesota composers Dominick Argento, Stephen Paulus and Libby Larson, St. Olaf and U of M grad Jocelyn Hagen, and hip-hop artist/Doomtree rapper Dessa in her choral premiere. From Nov. 13–16, the Ensemble Singers and Don Shelby will travel through Minnesota river towns, pairing American choral masterpieces, folksongs and traditional spirituals of the river with the words of Mark Twain, spoken by Shelby. (The former news anchor is becoming a regular with VocalEssence; last year he played the role of Paul Bunyan in Benjamin Britten’s opera by that name.)

On Feb. 8, 2015, the Grammy-winning ensemble Sounds of Blackness and VocalEssence will salute Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “WITNESS: Let Freedom Ring.” March 14 and 15 will see the regional premiere of “The Radio Hour,” a theatrical production by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, co-commissioned by VocalEssence and staged at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater. (A reviewer who saw the world premiere in California earlier this year called it “entertaining and enchanting.”) On April 10, P.D.Q. Bach joins VocalEssence to celebrate his 80th birthday as the “youngest and oddest” twenty-first child of J.S. Bach. Learn more about the season here. Tickets are on sale now.

Three artists have been selected for the Minnesota Historical Society’s 2014–15 Native American Artist-in-Residence Program. Jessica Gokey is a beadwork artist who lives in the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) community in Hayward, Wisconsin. Pat Kruse is a birch bark artist who lives in the Mille Lacs community in Minnesota. Gwen Westerman, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is a textile artist who lives in Good Thunder, Minnesota. Each will serve a six-month paid residency to study the collections at MNHS and other institutions.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer John Branch, “Morning Edition” host David Greene, and Eric Deggans, NPR’s first full-time TV critic, are the featured speakers in the 20th season of MPR’s Broadcast Journalist series. All events take place at the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and are recorded for later broadcast. Branch (Oct. 2) is the author of “Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogard,” which began with a New York Times series about hockey’s embrace of potentially brain-damaging violence. Greene’s (Oct. 30) book “Midnight in Siberia,” about his travels in Russia, will be published in October. Deggans (Nov. 13) is the award-winning author of  “Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation.” FMI and tickets ($15 each, $40 all three).

We first saw Stefan Kac (“cats”) play his tuba at the Artists’ Quarter sometime in 2005. It was a jam-session night, and we watched a very serious young man carry the instrumental equivalent of the Queen Mary onto the stage and play jazz. Every since, we’ve seen him whenever we could: with the Pan-Metropolitan Trio (whose CD release was the first event we previewed for a brand-new online publication called MinnPost), the band Ingo Bethke, nights at Homewood Studios with free-jazz multi-instrumentalist Milo Fine, leading his Symphonic Transients Orchestra. On Labor Day weekend 2011, Kac packed his tuba and headed to California Institute of the Arts for a master’s degree. Mission accomplished, he’s back in Minneapolis for a visit and a concert at Jazz Central (see The Weekend below).

“CalArts was worth the trouble,” Kac told MinnPost earlier this week. “The level of playing there is insane. … My master’s is in a program called Performer-Composer. It’s a total post-modern situation. They let you do whatever you want. Basically, I majored in performing my own compositions.” For lack of a better term, he calls what he plays “horn-driven jazz chamber music. Sort of an equal cross between modern classical chamber music and a modern jazz combo.” Soon after his Friday concert, he’ll return to California, where he has a job (working security), a quintet, and a trio. “I’ve heard that California has the least per capita arts funding, with individual artists at the bottom,” he says a bit ruefully. “I’ve taken myself out of one of the top places to move there.”

The Picks

Opens tonight (Thursday, Aug. 21) at the Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space: “From There to Here.” We have the Blue Line, the Green Line, and we’re one step closer to the Southwest light rail. The new exhibit at MMAA asks us to consider the neighborhoods we move through on trains but never visit. With commissioned work by local artists Xavier Tavera, Wing Young Huie with Ashley Hanson, and Katherine Turczan. Reception from 7 – 8:30 p.m. Free.

Tonight (Thursday, Aug. 21) at SooVAC: Two contemporary dance works by the Chicago-based company Khecari, both performed to live original music. Here are excerpts from “Cresset: Vibrant, Rusting” and “Esther & the Omphali.” Julie Rae Antonick and Jonathan Meyer are the company’s choreographers and co-directors. 7:30 p.m. tonight and Friday; FMI and tickets ($10). Also 8 p.m. Saturday at Bedlam Lowertown; FMI and tickets.

The Weekend

Friday at Jazz Central Studios in Northeast Minneapolis: Stefan Kac: Band of Return. With Geoff Senn on trumpet, Shilad Sen on tenor saxophone and Nick Zielinski on drums. 9:30 p.m. Donation at the door. Come at 7:30 for the exceptional Phil Hey Quartet, with Hey on drums, Dave Hagedorn on vibes, Phil Aaron on piano and Tom Lewis on bass.

Sunday at the Pantages: Jeff Bridges & The Abiders. Tickets are still available to see the Oscar-winning movie star sing. And he really can sing, unlike some movie stars we won’t name. Most people think Bridges caught the singing bug when he starred as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart.” In fact, he made an album back in 2000 called “Be Here Soon,” with guest vocals by Bryan Ferry and David Crosby. FMI and tickets ($58.50, $68.50). Buy them in person at the State Theatre office and skip the service fees. 

Letter from Lake Superior: Water trail offers fresh view of a favorite shoreline

12 hours 43 min ago

If I had a dollar for every mile of the North Shore that I've driven or hiked over the last 30-plus years, I might buy a few acres near the Temperance River and build my own Glensheen.

Until last weekend, though, I'd seen precious little of Minnesota's much-loved coastline from the water, as opposed to a road or footpath.

It happened sort of by whim, as three realizations converged: The weather forecast for the Twin Cities was for beastly heat; the count of weekends available for our annual kayaking journey to the Apostle Islands was growing short; but we didn't want to go through the thrash of assembling gear and provisions for a multiday stay on the water.

So Sallie and I threw our kayaks atop the car, packed the minimal necessities for day paddling, and headed for Tofte.

Also, as it turned out, for the Lake Superior State Water Trail. Going through our file of outdoor travel maps, Sallie had found a pocket-size guide that one of must have picked up nearly two decades ago, when the trail was still in pilot project stage for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Copyrighted in 1996, it shows only a few miles of designated landing sites, landmarks and lakeshore mileposts in the Gooseberry Falls region. But it hints at a grander ambition: a kayaker's resource stretching more than 150 miles from Duluth to the Canadian border, with some three dozen available campsites and nearly 80 safe-landing spots organized and annotated for safety and convenience.

Today the trail is a reality whose four-part guide can be downloaded as PDFs and then folded for the pocket of your PFD.

Starting from Tac Harbor

Having looked over the wealth of opportunities, we decided to make our first launch from the DNR's small-craft harbor and storm refuge at Taconite Harbor, in the shadow of an old pellet- loading dock and power plant.

This system of sheltered anchorages is another great idea, and convenience, for waterborne travelers on the North Shore, and though it's really meant for sailboats and powerboats, you couldn't ask for an easier place to park, prepare and launch a kayak, or a less crowded one.

It was late on a Friday morning and a few fishermen were coming in from the lake, reporting light breezes, little wave action and — like most days, apparently — no kayakers. One told me that he hardly ever sees a paddler on the lake, except for groups going out in rental boats from resorts and outfitters along the shore.

We paddled into the outer harbor, vacant but for a single fishing boat tied up on the outer breakwater. Opting for a view of the far horizon over one of industrial infrastructure, we backtracked very slightly toward Duluth to get into the open lake.

MinnPost photo by Ron MeadorSwimmers at the mouth of the Temperance River.

Instantly we felt the long, slow swells that serve to announce your arrival on the big water. Ahead and to either side, for a full 180 degrees or more, was the unbroken line where lake meets sky.

As we turned toward Grand Marais and settled into the rhythm of light, choppy waves delivered by the easterly breeze, a good-sized salmon or lake trout leaped out of the lake just off my bow, and it occurred to me that we were about to enjoy a fish-eye view of the North Shore.

One obvious difference in seeing this coast from the water instead of the road is that you get to look at a lot more settlement, which typically is screened from Hwy. 61 by aspens and spruce.

I don't mind this a bit — it's interesting to look at the houses people have built along the lake and to imagine what their lives might be like. Several within the first mile of Tac Harbor had stairs leading down to exactly the sort of small cove and gravel beach that avid kayakers would love to have at their disposal.

The wind lessened after a bit and we found ourselves in calm water with clear views of boulders on the bottom, 20 or 30 feet down. A clump of four young mergansers floated out from behind a rock, spotted us and paddled away with that comical, waddling-on-the-water wiggling of their butts. There were cormorants and just one bald eagle.

Father Baraga's landfall

Before long we came to the landmark I most wanted to see on this stretch of shore  — the granite cross erected as a monument to Father Frederic Baraga and his safe though unplanned crossing of the lake from the Apostles to the mouth of the Cross River in 1846, supposedly some 70 miles. In a storm. In an open canoe.

It's a well-marked spot on the driving maps of the North Shore, and I've walked to it more than once, but I wondered if it wouldn't be more impressive if approached from the water, as the priest had done, even on a calm day in a well-provisioned, watertight kayak. And it was.

As we bobbed offshore, taking pictures, I saw two couples walk out to the point where Baraga's marker stands, study the plaque, peer at the two of us, shake their heads and return to the parking lot.

Further up the shore we came to the mouth of the Temperance River, which was running higher and faster than I'd ever seen it, and it was a special delight to paddle upstream past the spots where I'd so often stood to fish or make photographs or beachcomb with my little boy in years past.

But it was a noisy, boisterous place this day, with scores of swimmers scattered in the water or along the shoreline rocks where river and lake came together, savoring the coincidence of a hot summer day and a wee bit of Lake Superior made swimmably warm by the river's contribution.

MinnPost photo by Ron MeadorFather Baraga's Cross, a granite monument at the Cross River where the priest found shelter from a storm that had blown his canoe across Lake Superior from the Apostle Islands on a summer day in 1846.

A little solitude here would have been nice, but I was also pleased to note — as I so often do in our state parks these days — the joyful Spanish, and Slavic, and other not-English jabbering of folks from faraway places. Their love for these natural places is so plain, and so essential to maintaining a constituency for their preservation after my generation is gone.

The winds pick up

Heading on up the shore, emptier and less settled now, we coasted along stretches of steeper,  rockier shoreline, paused for lunch, then started back toward Taconite Harbor, planning to pass our launch point and mosey down to Sugarloaf Cove and a beach our fisherman friend of the morning had praised as a fine source of collectible agate.

But now the winds had picked up and the paddling was no longer lazy. The winds were still abeam but a little more behind us now, quartering, shoving our near-empty boats around in a way we'd quite forgotten about in our years of paddling them jam-packed and heavy.

It wasn't scary by any means, but the lake held our attention and gave us an unexpected workout as we returned to the big breakwater, this time entering at the upshore end. No sooner were we inside than a 30-foot sailboat churned in behind us, dropping sail and dieseling for a mooring buoy.

We stayed in the outer harbor for a while, enjoying the return of calm water, poking around the natural islands and manmade rockpiles that formed our shelter, having a second look at the ore-loading facility and power plant that, truth to tell,  I also found scenic in their own way.

It was but a half-hour's work to land, unpack, load the boats and go for hot coffee at the cafe in Schroeder, and maybe 10  minutes more back to our lodgings in Tofte for a shower and a good restaurant meal, closing out a fairly perfect impromptu day on the planet's largest freshwater lake.

Saturday and Sunday were windier and/or wetter than we like for day paddling, so we hiked instead and without regret — knowing we can come back for daily dips along the water trail whenever and wherever we choose.

* * *

Going out onto Lake Superior without proper equipment and preparation is not a good idea; if you want to try the water trail, be sure you're ready to do so. The DNR's advice is a good starting point, especially the parts about having good PFDs, traveling in groups, dressing for immersion in seriously cold water, and knowing what to do in an unexepected out-of-boat experience.

Fall from grace: how 'Christian values' became a non-issue in Minnesota elections

12 hours 49 min ago

Expect a lot less Bible-thumping in the weeks leading up to this election. 

No less an authority than Allen Quist, the politician who in the early 1990s did so much to bring together evangelical Christians and politics in Minnesota, believes that social issues — and those driven by those issues to vote — will not play a substantial role in state races this year. “In terms of single-issue voters, there’ll be more single issue voters on the environment than on gay marriage,” Quist said.  

Quist is hardly alone in his assessment, and the diminished role of conservative Christians in this election cycle can be felt in a number of ways.  

Jeff Johnson, the Republican party’s candidate for governor, was generally seen as the most socially conservative of his party’s gubernatorial candidates. But Johnson, who makes it clear on his web site that he opposes abortion and gay marriage, isn’t making such divisive social issues a foundation of his campaign.  

“Jeff is socially conservative,” notes a statement issued by Johnson’s campaign when asked about the role social issues will play in his campaign. “It’s who he is and what he believes and it’s reflected in his voting record. As governor, Jeff will encourage respectful dialogue on all issues, especially those social issues for which people have deep, heartfelt convictions.”

That's not exactly the sort of hellfire-and-damnation approach that would send the hearts of the so-called Christian-values crowd racing.   

Then there was the primary race for House District 48B Eden Prairie, which made it clear that pounding on conservative Christian values probably doesn’t make for pragmatic politics in this election cycle.   

In that race, the conservative Christians were represented by Sheila Kihne, who challenged Rep. Jenifer Loon, one of the handful of Republican legislators who voted for the law that legalized gay marriage in 2013. Loon won easily. “Since that race, I can’t imagine that the Republican party would be foolish enough to raise gay marriage as an issue in suburban races,” said DFL party chair Ken Martin.  

And it’s in the suburbs where statewide political fortunes now rise and fall.  

That doesn’t mean that such groups as the Minnesota Family Council won’t attempt to be a factor in target legislative races, particularly those in Greater Minnesota. The outcome of those races is significant, given Republicans’ hope to recapture control of the House.

But even in rural Minnesota, conservative candidates are rarely putting social issues front and center. 

In the race for House District 10B, in Crow Wing and Aitkin counties, for example, the GOP’s Dale Lueck is in a rematch with DFL one-term incumbent Joe Radinovich.

It's a race many pundits are watching. In 2012, the district strongly supported the amendment that would have outlawed gay marriage. That same year, Radinovich won the seat by 323 votes over Lueck, but then voted the next year for the bill legalizing gay marriage.

Outside groups on both sides in the gay marriage issue are putting resources into the race. But the issue itself is below the surface. “This issue is not the same as abortion,”said Radinovich. “A lot of people have changed their views in the last two years.”

For his part, Lueck says he doesn't really broach the topic with voters. “I don’t have to raise the issue,” Lueck said. “[Radinovich] raised the issue with the way he voted. There are many issues more important to the people in this district.” 

No organization did a better job of diffusing the emotions surrounding “Christian values” in politics than Minnesotans United for All Families, the alliance that led the campaign to first defeat the marriage amendment in Minnesota — and then pushed for legalization. 

In doing so, Minnesotans United aggressively pushed back on the notion that the Christian right owned Christian values. “Our approach was not to give ground (to the Christian right),” said Richard Carlbom, who was director of Minnesotans United and now heads United Strategies, which has signed on to work for legalizing gay marriage across the country. “We gave Christian leaders an avenue to have a voice.”

That meant that virtually every time someone from the Christian right claimed to Jesus and the Bible on the side opposing gay marriage, Minnesotans United made sure a Christian leader supporting gay marriage got in front of a camera to also talk about Christian values. 

Carlbom doesn’t agree with Quist that “the shelf life”of gay marriage as a political issue already has passed. It will continue to resonate, Carlbom believes, until the U.S. Supreme Court rules that equal rights to marriage is the law of the land. But he does say that the issue “is moving rapidly… Churches themselves are evolving rapidly.” 

The Christian right certainly isn’t going away. There are plenty of organizations, large and small, that are still are trying to tie so-called “Christian values” to the current election cycle.  

In Minneapolis, Lynne Torgerson has founded Christians United in Politics. Torgerson, a defense attorney and a failed candidate for Congress, filled e-mail accounts with her endorsements for various offices leading up to the primaries.  

Torgerson gave her blessings only to candidates who espoused their belief “in Biblical based Christian values on their websites, in their campaign literature and in their talks.”  

It is her belief — and goal — that “a Christian political party” ultimately will evolve in the country, though she admits that Christian exclusivity gets theologically complex. “God will bless Christians — and I suppose Jews, too,” she said. “God does love Israel.” 

Only problem for Torgerson is that no one seems to have heard of her organization.

Not so for the Minnesota Family Council, which is seen as a savvy player in state politics, and not lacking for piety. Its theme question for its followers this year is: “What if the followers of Jesus Christ in Minnesota reclaimed their voice in businesses, schools, entertainment and government? What if we elected godly men and women to lead us and unite our communities to advance our shared values.” 

But of late, a majority of Minnesotans haven’t shared the Family Council’s values. Not only has the organization lost the marriage issue, it lost in an effort to block anti-bullying legislation earlier this year.  

Why would a Christian values-organization oppose a law meant to eliminate bullying in schools? Autumn Leva, communications director for the organization, said there were a variety of problems with the bill, ranging from free speech to cost to curriculum. For instance, curriculum changes more empathetic to LBGT students, “will cause problems for families and students from religious households of all types whose beliefs comport with sexual behavior.” 

The political losses of recent years won’t change the views of people who support the Family Council, Leva said. “These are political winds,” she said of the losses. “They don’t change values.”  

But the political winds certainly have a way of changing the rhetoric.  

As McFadden courts votes on the Range, DFL raises Chinese steel comments

13 hours 11 min ago

HIBBING, Minn. — The orange sign bearing GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden’s name would have blended in perfectly among the colorful lineup of Republican yard signs at a Hibbing intersection on Wednesday — except for the message on the bottom.

The DFL, seizing on McFadden’s statement two weeks ago that he wouldn’t oppose using Chinese steel to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline if it was cheaper than an American product, peppered Iron Range towns like this one with the signs on Wednesday. They proclaim, under his campaign logo: “McFadden Supports Chinese Steel.”

McFadden called the signs a political stunt, and said that Democrats are “trying to pivot, trying to reframe the issue.”

“I haven’t seen any [Sen. Al] Franken signs that say ‘I support mining’ or ‘I support the pipeline,’ ” he said during a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

McFadden has long hit Franken for not moving to speed up the permitting process for either the Keystone pipeline or the PolyMet copper-nickel mine project, both of which are under environmental review. But since early August, when McFadden said he wouldn’t oppose using Chinese steel to construct the pipeline, DFLers have launched an offensive of their own, hoping to use McFadden’s words against him in an area — the Iron Range — that both sides consider important to this fall’s elections. That includes the yard signs, deployed against him before his visit to Hoyt Lakes’ PolyMet site on Wednesday.

“I don’t want to see foreign steel used any more than Sen. Franken does,” McFadden said. “The only difference between Sen. Franken and myself is that on day one I will vote to pass the Keystone pipeline.”

Franken has voted against a handful of Senate proposals meant to hasten the Keystone environmental review process, which is expected to last at least through the election, and he’s undecided on the project until the process runs its course.

As for mining, “Senator Franken supports mining and American steel and he's got the record to back it up,” campaign spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said in an email. “He's fought to protect mining jobs by fighting illegal dumping and ensuring that we use more American-made steel. He believes the PolyMet project will create jobs and that it will be done in an environmentally responsible way."

McFadden consistently uses PolyMet to illustrate why it’s important to overhaul the federal regulatory process. The mine, which would be the first precious-metals mine in Minnesota, has been under environmental review for more than seven years. A study — backed in part by PolyMet and the mining industry — predicts the project could create up to 1,300 jobs in mining and other industries by the time it’s up and running.

McFadden’s campaign said Wednesday he would immediately urge federal regulators to quickly approve the project if he’s elected to the Senate this November.

“[Miners] absolutely believe we’re on the wrong path right now in Minnesota and in this country, and I think I know how to get us on the right path,” he said in an interview. “We’ve got to get this economy growing again, and what’s happening with PolyMet is really exciting.”

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

Clinical trials of unscientific 'alternative' medical treatments should end, say physicians

13 hours 28 min ago
Creative Commons/aimee riversAfter one year, 16 percent of the alternative-therapy patients were alive compared to 56 percent of the patients receiving the chemotherapy.

 

In a scathing new commentary, two physicians call on the research community to stop allowing clinical trials — studies involving human subjects — to be used for “highly implausible” alternative-medicine treatments, such as homeopathy and reiki.

The writers, Dr. David Gorski, a cancer surgeon at Wayne State University School of Medicine, and Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University, argue that not only have such clinical trials “led to the infiltration of pseudoscience” into academic medicine, but that they have also caused real harm.

And that harm is not just from people substituting an ineffective treatment, such as homeopathic “remedies,” for a proven one. As an example, they point to a clinical trial that compared a well-publicized alternative-medicine treatment that involves “extreme dietary modifications, juices, large quantities of supplements and coffee enemas” with standard chemotherapy for the treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer.

The results, which were published in 2010, were “disturbing,” write Gorski and Novella. “One year survival of subjects undergoing [the alternative-medicine] protocol was nearly fourfold worse than subjects receiving standard-of-care chemotherapy and worse than expected based on historical controls.”

Specifically, the study found that the patients in the alternative-therapy group survived an average of 4.3 months after the start of their treatment compared to 14 months for the patients on chemotherapy. After one year, 16 percent of the alternative-therapy patients were alive compared to 56 percent of the patients receiving the chemotherapy. In addition, the alternative-therapy patients reported a much lower quality of life than those being treated with chemotherapy.

‘Misguided’ toleration

Many scientists have tolerated — and sometimes even encouraged — clinical trials for scientifically dubious alternative-medicine treatments because they believe that such studies will finally prove to people that the treatments don’t work and get people to abandon them.

But that viewpoint is “misguided,” say Gorski and Novella.

“Acupuncture and reiki remain widely practiced and even embraced at academic institutions, and even homeopathy continues to be practiced, despite clinical trials and meta-analyses that demonstrate effects indistinguishable from placebo,” they write.

It’s also unethical to enroll patients in studies for treatments that have absolutely no scientific chance of being effective, argue Gorski and Novella. They point to two randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trials undertaken in Nicaragua and Honduras that tested homeopathic remedies on children with diarrhea.

“Both trials were performed even though the ingredients in the homeopathic remedies tested were not known to be effective against childhood diarrhea, two ingredients, arsenic and mercury, are definitely toxic, and the ingredients were diluted away to nonexistence,” write Gorski and Novella.

Needed: a new term

Clinical trials are not supposed to be undertaken until the preclinical data — laboratory research — provides compelling evidence that the treatment is biologically plausible and safe.

Indeed, as Gorski and Novella point out, “so integral to this process is biological plausibility based on preclinical data that the Declaration of Helsinki [a set of ethical principles developed by the World Medical Association] states, ‘medical research involving human subjects must conform to generally accepted scientific principles, be based on a thorough knowledge of the scientific literature, other relevant sources of information, and adequate laboratory and, as appropriate, animal experimentation.’”

“It should be noted,” Groski and Novella add,

that 'biologically plausible' does not mean 'knowing the exact mechanism.' What it does mean is that the mechanism should not be so scientifically implausible as to be reasonably considered impossible. In other words, the mechanisms should not violate laws and theories in science that rest on far sturdier and longer-established foundations that imperfect, bias-prone clinical trials.

For example, homeopathy violates multiple laws of physics with its claims that dilution can make a homeopathic remedy stronger and that water can retain the 'memory' of substances with which it has been in contact before. Thus, treatments like homeopathy should be dismissed as ineffective on basic scientific grounds alone.

That is why we propose the term science-based medicine (SBM) as opposed to evidence-based medicine (EMB). SBM restores basic science considerations to EBM and is what EBM should be.

Doctors need to take a stand, too

It’s not just the research community that needs to put its foot down about approving and funding scientifically dubious clinical trials, say Gorski and Novella. The medical community also needs to be honest with their patients about alternative medical treatments.

“Somehow this idea has sprung up that to be a ‘holistic’ doctor you have to embrace pseudoscience like homeopathy, reiki, traditional Chinese medicine, and the like, but that’s a false dichotomy,” says Gorski in a statement released with the commentary. “If the medical system is currently too impersonal and patients are rushed through office visits because a doctor has to see more and more patients to cover his salary and expenses, then the answer is to find a way to fix those problems, not to embrace quackery. Integrating pseudoscience with science-based medicine isn’t going to make science-based medicine better.”

The commentary was published online Wednesday in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine. Both Gorski and Novella are editors for Science-Based Medicine, an organization and blog “dedicated to evaluating medical treatments and products of interest to the public in a scientific light, and promoting the highest standards and traditions of science in health care.”

Lawmakers from around the country to bicycle around Minneapolis Friday

13 hours 49 min ago

A 10-mile bipartisan bicycle ride is planned for early Friday morning in Minneapolis. Hitting the paths will be about 150 people attending the National Conference of State Legislatures' summit.

State lawmakers from around the country, along with legislative staff and others attending the summit, will meet at 6 a.m. Friday, at the Minneapolis Convention Center Park Plaza, across Grant Street from the convention center.

They'll ride through downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota campus, and along the Mississippi River. Among the hosts of the ride: Minnesota state Senate President Sandy Pappas and Minnesota state Sens. Scott Dibble, Julie Rosen and David Senjem.

The bike ride has become an annual tradition at the group's summit meetings.

The group has other important business at the conference in Minneapolis this week, including sessions on energy, sex trafficking, education and the economy.

Minneapolis ranks sixth from bottom on police officers living in the city

14 hours 7 min ago

In the wake of the Ferguson police shooting and subsequent unrest, there's been much talk about the racial makeup of local police officers and whether officers should live in the cities they serve.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has prepared a graph of 75 large U.S. police forces to look at how many of their police officers live in the city. It includes total officers, white officers and officers of other races.

Minneapolis is sixth from the bottom of the list for total number of officers living inside the city, at about 10 percent. For white officers living within the city, Minneapolis is under 10 percent.

On average in the cities listed, 60 percent of police officers live outside the city limits, the story says. But in Chicago, 88 percent of police officers live within the city boundaries. Miami, with the lowest percentage, has only 7 percent of officers living within city limits.

Silver says the data came from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Census Bureau, which have details on the racial composition of government workers in large American cities. He said he learned of the data set from a Washington Post analysis of the racial demographics of each city’s police force.

Medicare Advantage patients find themselves in regulatory limbo — even with AG Swanson's efforts

14 hours 19 min ago

This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

When Minnesota retiree Doug Morphew needed surgery last year, he expected his Humana Medicare Advantage plan to step up and pay the lion’s share of the bill.

Morphew said the health plan had told him over the phone he would owe just $450 for the two days he spent in a St. Paul hospital recovering from the operation to repair an aortic aneurysm.

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Less than a month later, however, Humana hit him with a bill for $6,461.66, claiming the surgery was not covered because the hospital was “out of network,” according to an affidavit he filed with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office last year.

“Considering that I was expecting a bill of $450, I was incredibly upset,” said Morphew, 68, who lives in Lonsdale, Minnesota, and works part time as a transportation industry consultant.

“I am insulted by Humana’s runaround. It seems as though Humana is denying my claims hoping that I will give up and pay the out-of-network bills,” he said in the sworn statement.

Humana paid 'after months of fighting'

In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, Morphew said that Humana paid the bill, but only after “several months of fighting” with him, and after he complained to state regulators.

“It was a nightmare,” he said.

In October 2013, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson sent Morphew’s formal complaint, and about two dozen others, to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Marilyn B. Tavenner. Swanson asked the federal official to “undertake an investigation of Humana’s practices and take appropriate remedial and punitive action.”

Attorney General Lori Swanson

The letter sparked some media coverage in the state. But nearly a year later, Swanson is not satisfied with the response.

“As far as I’m aware, there has been no formal enforcement action taken,” said Minnesota attorney general’s office spokesman Benjamin Wogsland. “We have very serious concerns that continue,” he said.

Citing patient confidentiality laws, Humana spokesman Tom Noland declined to comment on specific cases. But he said that Humana “has worked actively with CMS to resolve the matters outlined in the letter.” CMS said it is satisfied that Humana has largely fixed any problems.

Medicare pays the privately run health plans — an alternative to traditional Medicare — a set monthly rate for each patient. About 16 million Americans have signed up at an annual cost to taxpayers of more than $160 billion, about one third of the elderly and disabled people eligible for Medicare.

According to the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, 38 percent (175,192) of Minnesota's 457,003 Medicare enrollees are in Medicare Advantage plans. Of the Medicare Advantage enrollees, 78 percent are in Minnesota-based nonprofit plans and 22 percent have chosen other plans.

A Center for Public Integrity investigation published in June found as much as $70 billion of improper payments to Medicare Advantage plans from 2008 through last year.

Many health plans also collect monthly fees directly from patients and may charge co-payments for medical services, such as $10 for a doctor’s office visit. The plans also can limit care to doctors and hospitals in their networks, so long as patients are advised of these restrictions.

Humana has pitched its plans in Minnesota through radio and television ads, telemarketing and the mail. It also has set up booths at some retail stores, such as Walmart, and sends sales agents to people's homes — typically telling seniors it offers more benefits than standard Medicare and will cost them less out of pocket.

But Humana “sometimes denies claims for services that are covered under original Medicare,” overcharges for copayments, “misrepresents” which doctors and hospitals patients can go to and hides behind “red tape and delay” to avoid paying claims, according to Swanson’s letter.

State regulators lack authority

Swanson turned to CMS because state regulators lack the legal authority to impose sanctions on Medicare Advantage carriers. When Congress created the Medicare Advantage option in 2003, it gave CMS that power, thus preempting state laws and oversight.

Minnesota officials don’t believe CMS should have a “monopoly” on oversight. “We think states should have authority over improper determinations by Medicare Advantage plans,” Wogsland said. “If they (CMS officials) don’t take action, there’s no other remedy.”

Other state officials also have been frustrated by the limits on their authority. In October, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen called for federal officials to “aggressively scrutinize” UnitedHealthcare’s decision to drop a large number of doctors from its Medicare Advantage plans, a move that had caused an uproar from patients and medical groups.

“As you know, my office lacks the authority to resolve these important issues regarding a federally administered program,” Jepson wrote.

CMS has its own difficulties

Medicare regulations state that CMS can inspect “or otherwise evaluate the quality, appropriateness and timeliness of services” offered by Medicare Advantage plans.

But the agency has reported its own difficulties keeping tabs on the fast-growing program.

In a little noticed proposal in March, CMS officials said they were “constrained in the number of program audits we can conduct each year, due to limited resources.” The agency is only able to audit about 30 Medicare Advantage companies a year — about one in 10 — of the 300 operating.

CMS proposed that health plans conduct and pay for self-audits with the goal that each organization would be looked over at least every three years. But in May CMS backed off in the face of industry protests.

“Ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries receive high quality care and timely services while enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan is a top priority for CMS,” an agency spokesman wrote in an email. He said the agency “may finalize this proposal at a future date.”

Some consumer advocates worry that the agency yielded to pressure from industry to back away from the proposal to increase audits — at least for now.

'Disappointed to see it rolled back'

“We were disappointed to see it rolled back,” said David Lipschutz, a senior policy attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy. He said the proposal “begged the question” of how often plans are audited.

“We have concerns across the board,” Lipschutz said. “It’s unfortunate that we have public dollars going toward a privatized program with relatively little oversight.”

CMS officials point out that they have taken enforcement action against health plans that fail to pay bills or provide necessary care for their patients.

The agency posts these actions on its website, though patients aren’t likely to spot them without considerable hunting around. Even if they do, the sanctions often are written in language that gives little clue to the actual infractions other than they pose a “serious threat to the health and safety” of patients.

From November of 2009 to August of this year, the agency levied 68 fines against Medicare Advantage plans for a total of about $9.8 million, a review of the CMS website shows.

In that time, CMS terminated four health plans, two of them because they had become insolvent. On 21 occasions, CMS suspended enrollment in health plans, usually after discovering that sales agents misrepresented the benefits to potential customers.

In the case of Humana’s performance in Minnesota, CMS officials said they had “not seen increases in complaints or other concerns” since receiving Swanson’s letter.

They said Humana “appears to have made significant progress addressing these issues, and we have been satisfied with Humana’s responses to date.”

Humana has “taken a number of other steps to improve their customer service and address issues that surfaced,” CMS said.  

Minnesota complaints continue

But Minnesota official Wogsland called it “disappointing” that CMS had taken no formal action. His office continues to get complaints from patients, hospitals and other health care providers about unpaid bills. “That’s a problem,” he said.

He noted that some seniors in Minnesota have told regulators they were threatened with bills they could not afford, despite making every effort to play by the company’s rules.

Darlene Tucker, 75, of Bloomington, who said she got by on monthly Social Security income of $1,271, is one.

In an affidavit, she said the Humana agent sold her a plan that was supposed pay the full cost of radiation therapy for breast cancer. But she said she was stuck with co-payments of $994.22, which she couldn’t afford.

The health plan never did pay, according to her affidavit. The center that performed the radiation treatments eventually wrote off the bill.

“My fight with cancer was enough for me to deal with at the time. I do not think I should have had to fight Humana for insurance coverage it promised to provide,” she said.

Republished with permission from The Center for Public Integrity. For more stories in the center's series on Medicare, go here.

Minnesota Supreme Court comes down hard on search and seizure

17 hours 6 min ago

The Supreme Court has come down hard on search and seizure. Rochelle Olson’s Strib story says, “In two unanimous rulings, the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday curbed law enforcers’ ability to search and seize personal possessions. The more significant ruling, written by Justice Christopher Dietzen, extended U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure to Minnesota civil, not just criminal, matters.”

In Amy Forliti’s AP story she writes, “Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office is considering its options, which include arguing before the appeals court or appealing the entire case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Entirely coincidental: Randy Furst of the Strib reports: “Duluth head shop owner James Carlson and his girlfriend Lava Haugen are going to lose more than freedom after being convicted for their roles in selling highly addictive synthetic drugs. Under a final forfeiture proposal filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, federal authorities would seize $6,532,125 in money and property from the couple, who sold the drugs at the Last Place on Earth in Duluth for more than three years.”

“Interesting” is always a step down from “pretty.” Corey Mitchell of the Strib reports, “The congressional campaigns of Republicans Stewart Mills III and Torrey Westrom are picking up more national attention. An ABC News piece on the five ‘most interesting’ 2014 GOP U.S. House candidates features Mills, labeled the ‘Republican Brad Pitt,’ and Westrom, whom the piece dubbed ‘the sightless [state] senator who’s never lost an election.’”

This guy is a ball of cheery news. Alex Sosnowski at accuWeather looks at his  computers and writes, “A zone of thundery rain with the risk of flooding and travel delays will occur into the weekend from the northern Plains to the central Appalachians and part of the mid-Atlantic. The weather will go well beyond making cloudy skies. … Blinding, torrential downpours and isolated severe thunderstorms can disrupt ground and airline travel at times from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Virginia and North Carolina. Major cities that are likely to have multiple disruptions and the greatest risk of flooding incidents include Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Charleston, West Virginia.”

One down and how many to go? Jean Hopfensperger of the Strib writes, “A man who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the 1970s became the first to reach a settlement with the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese Monday under a new law that temporarily expands the time period in which such clergy abuse lawsuits can be brought to court. ‘This has been a long battle,’ said [Jon] Jaker, at a news conference in the offices of Minneapolis attorney Patrick Noaker.” Did he get a personal apology with the settlement?

Emily Gurnon’s PiPress story includes this: “As an adult, [Jaker] hid out in U.S. Navy submarines for six years, feeling safer next to a nuclear warhead in the middle of the Pacific Ocean than he had at church. … [Auxiliary Bishop Andrew] Cozzens also apologized in a written statement ‘for the harm suffered by abuse victim/survivors and their families and friends and asks for forgiveness for the church's shameful failures of the past.’” Well, thank you for that.

30 years of profits? Guaranteed? Dan Kraker at MPR says, “A proposed massive underground copper mine near Ely would operate for 30 years and employ approximately 850 people, according to a draft ‘pre-feasibility study’ released today by Toronto-based Duluth Metals. … The technical report predicts the mine would produce on average 50,000 tons of ore per day during its planned three decades of operation. Twin Metals officials have said the proposed mine would resemble an ‘undergound city,’ with features like roads, lights, plumbing, electricity, and air circulation supporting a 24-7 operation over 1,500 feet below ground.”

In War on Religion news: Chuck Rupnow of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram writes, “Religious beliefs by Old Order Amish families are not burdened by the Eau Claire County requirement that they obtain building and sanitary permits, according to a judge’s ruling. Judge Michael Schumacher, in a recent 11-page decision, said the Amish families involved were ‘not burdened by the county’s application processes’, and ordered that the families apply for the required permits within 30 days or risk being removed from the residences.”

What recovery? Workers are telling the Federal Reserve to get real

17 hours 55 min ago

The American economy is still in bad shape, but some members of the Federal Reserve refuse to admit it. This is cause for real concern among people like me. As America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve is one of the most powerful institutions impacting working people, so what it says and does matters.

But the Fed often ignores regular people and focuses on well-off executives and bankers.

I’m 23, and I’ve been working since I was 14; for me, I’ve only known what it’s like to work in a terrible economy. The only job I could find was 40 minutes away from where I live and pays $11.50 an hour. When you factor in the cost of gas, car insurance, tires and all the little things it takes for me just to get to work, that $11.50 an hour gets a lot smaller. But it’s the best I can do, and I’ve got to do it, for my young daughter, to help out my sister who is also struggling with too few hours for too little pay at McDonald’s, and for my mother, who needs my support for her health needs. That’s the economy that I’m living in. And that’s the economy most people I know are living in.

The president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, Narayana Kocherlakota, is one of the voices in the Federal Reserve system who understands the economy is far from recovery for most of us. Kocherlakota has said the Fed needs to strengthen the economy instead of accepting high unemployment and low wages as the new normal. I agree with him.

But there are others in the Federal Reserve — like Philadelphia’s Charles Plosser, Kansas City’s Esther George, and Dallas’s Richard Fisher — who want us to believe the economy is doing great. They think unemployment is where it should be and can’t get much lower. They say the Fed should raise interest rates because the economy has already recovered. They refuse to see the reality that many working families never experienced any recovery from the recession: Wages are still low, and there are not many well-paying jobs.

These folks need to listen to Kocherlakota and workers like me. They need to hear about the economy from people who are actually working to make a living in it. That’s why I’m going to tell them in person.

With a diverse group from around the country, I’m traveling to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the Federal Reserve will be meeting to discuss their upcoming priorities. When we see the bankers and Fed officials who are say that the economy is doing well, we’re going to emphasize that it’s time for the Federal Reserve to implement a full employment agenda to help reduce inequality, raise wages, and give more Americans a shot at not only entering the middle class but staying there.

Neighborhoods Organizing for ChangeTyrone Raino

Regular workers like me weren’t invited but we’re going anyway, because we know bankers and others in attendance want to avoid topics like struggling to pay the rent and the fact that Americans across the country continue to wait for economic relief that has yet to arrive.

Statistics are no substitute for the stories of real people, so we’re going to tell the Fed our stories, and elevate the concerns of real workers above those of Wall Street and financial firms. We’re going to tell them about how and why the American economy is broken, and what it feels like not to know if you can afford to pay your bills every month or feed your kids. As Minneapolis Fed President Kocherlakota says, we refuse to accept this as the new normal.

The Federal Reserve should be doing much more to help vulnerable Americans achieve real economic security. It should be using its political power and policy tools on behalf of working people and the unemployed, instead of the wealthy elite.

At the Jackson Hole conference, Fed leaders will be talking about whether and when it should raise interest rates. If it raises interest rates too soon, it will hurt the economy and make it even harder than it already is for workers to find good jobs, get raises, and achieve real recovery.

Fed officials need to get real and reorient their agenda to working families. They need to understand that the economy is still in awful shape and take immediate steps to boost wages, reduce income inequality, and strengthen and expand our country’s shrinking middle class.

Tyrone Raino lives in Minneapolis. He is a member of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.

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Restaurant group reverses course on minimum wage charges

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 2:33pm

An adult moment: Tim Nelson at MPR writes, “A Twin Cities restaurant group that drew fire for reducing its employees' tips to make up for a hike in the minimum wage is reversing course. The Blue Plate Restaurant Company runs eight full service restaurants in the Twin Cities. … Owner David Burley says Blue Plate has dropped the controversial charge, and will also raise the pay for non-tipped staff to $9.69 an hour starting September 1. That's a premium above the state's current 8 dollar an hour minimum wage, which went into effect Aug. 1.”

Still absorbing: The Strib’s Kavita Kumar writes about Target in the wake of last winter’s data breach. “Target Corp.’s second-quarter results met lowered expectations as U.S. sales were flat and it absorbed more costs related to last year’s data breach. The company’s adjusted earnings, which excludes one-time costs and gains, fell about 20 percent while sales grew 2 percent in the three months ending Aug. 2. Executives said there were signs of improvement in July and the start of this month, which will show up in the next quarter’s results. Even so, they lowered the profit outlook for the remaining six months of the fiscal year.”

A union vote for state-subsidized personal care assistants can go forward. Tim Pugmire, also at MPR, says, “[U.S. District Judge Michael] Davis issued an order today denying the motion from union opponents for a preliminary injunction. Those opponents are suing state officials, claiming that the election now underway among 27,000 in-home health care workers is unconstitutional. They argue it violates their right of free political expression and association. Davis said the election must proceed.”

Still mostly above average. The Strib’s Anthony Lonetree reports on our kids’ ACT scores. “For a ninth consecutive year, the state’s seniors posted the highest average composite score among students in states in which at least half of the graduates took the test. That average mark — 22.9 out of a possible 36 — was down slightly from the 23.0 posted in 2013. But this year’s graduates also finished atop another national measure: the percentage of students deemed college-ready in each of the four subject areas tested.”

What happens when they have too much time on their hands. Tom Olson of the Forum News Service reports, “Two Minnesota men face federal charges alleging that they and other inmates received more than $400,000 in fraudulent tax returns while serving in a state prison. Tanka James Tetzlaff, 39, of Duluth, and Tony Terrell Robinson, 30, of Bayport, each face a count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and 10 counts of false claims against the United States following a grand jury indictment unsealed last week.”

The prosecutors in that Waseca school terror plot has problems with the judge’s decision to drop the most serious charges. In the Mankato Free Press Dan Linehan writes, “In their appeal of a judge's July decision to drop the most serious charges against 17-year-old John LaDue, Waseca County prosecutors said they will raise the issue of whether the judge erred and whether his decision has a critical impact on the prosecution. In their filing, prosecutors said the attempted murder charges, which were dropped along with attempted damage to property charges, were the only ones that would have resulted in a presumptive prison sentence. And the dismissal could change whether or not LaDue, who police said was a would-be school shooter, is certified as an adult in criminal court.”

Strib columnist Jon Tevlin wades into Cedar Lake’s Hidden Beach controversy. “One man in his 50s sitting at Hidden Beach dismissed the concern as ‘people not remembering what it was like to be young. They should visit Chicago.’ My gut instinct would be to agree with the man, until I went to the meeting and heard neighbors’ stories. Lisa Goodman, the Minneapolis City Council member for the area, said problems are different this summer. ‘Every year I’ve been on the City Council there have been problems,’ said Goodman. ‘This year it’s definitely three times worse than it’s ever been. I think it’s turned violent.’”

One option might being getting rid of the “Hidden” part. Says Aaron Rupar at City Pages: “As for what options might be on the table for the Park Board, [park commissioner Anita] Tabb says, ‘I think everything. It seems to me there are two options,’ she says. ‘You either fully close it and let the underbrush totally grow, and make it so unpleasant to be there that people aren't going to be there. Who wants to lay on brushwood?’ With regard to the other option, Tabb says, ‘We could open it up, and I mean really open it up.’ … ‘We either need to close it or open it up and take out all the underbrush, [which] might mean taking out trees, putting in parking, adding amenities that would draw people who have eyes on the park.’”

Also, a poignant tale of growing up in Ferguson, Missouri from ex-Stribber Mike Meyers. “One perceived peril many Ferguson whites dreaded was racial integration. People who had little feared people who had even less. … Mom and Dad never would have burned a cross in anyone’s yard or shouted hateful slurs. But, as whites without high school diplomas, they looked on blacks as potential economic rivals and as an imminent menace.”

State Fair: discount admission tickets no longer accepted for parking lots

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 10:56am

There's a change in the State Fair's parking payment policy: discount tickets won't work for parking.

In the past, the discount admission tickets available in advance of the fair for $10, could be used both for the regular adult $13 admission to the fair and for the $13 fee for parking a vehicle in the fair's nearby parking lots.

Starting this year, the discount tickets won't be accepted for parking. They're good for fair admission only.

Explained Lara Hughes, the fair's communication's supervisor:

"We've made some significant changes to the fairgrounds this year, including splitting parking fee transactions from admission ticket purchase transactions. Fair guests will now park their vehicle and walk up to the gate to purchase and/or present their admission ticket to enter the gate.

"With that change in logistics, we are no longer able to accept pre-fair discount admission tickets to cover parking to ensure we meet audit standards in differentiating the two transactions. Additionally, we could never guarantee parking in fairgrounds lots, which created guest services issues when visitors ended up with an extra admission ticket (purchased ahead of time to cover parking) that they couldn't use when lots were full."

Minnesota students again top the nation on ACT composite scores

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 10:55am

Minnesota high school seniors who took the ACT college placement test this year averaged 22.9 out of a possible 36, to once again lead the nation.

The nationwide average was 21. This is the ninth year in a row that Minnesota students topped the national charts, among states where at least half the students took the test. Minnesota's statewide average was down a smidge this year from last year's 23 composite score.

About 76 percent of Minnesota seniors took the test, a total of 45,305. This school year, though, all state high school juniors will take the test, free of charge, as part of new graduation requirements.

That's expected to boost the number of students going on to post-secondary education, as it gives more of them a glimpse of their abilities and possibilities.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said: "By moving to a testing system where every student takes the ACT, we will break down barriers of access and ensure every child leaves high school with a score they can use for acceptance and placement at a post-secondary institution."

This year, state officials say Minnesota had the nation's highest percentage of students meeting each of the four benchmarks (English, reading, math and science) with 39 percent. The national average was 26 percent.

Gov. Mark Dayton praised the results: "These nation-leading scores demonstrate to the entire country the academic ability of Minnesota students, the dedication of our teachers, and the world-class quality of our education system."

Late-in-life care: the stressful, complicated world of surrogate decision-makers

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 10:43am

This article is part of a yearlong occasional series on late-in-life health care — when chronic illness or a constellation of medical problems can cause a cascade of new needs, complications and worries.

Within 48 hours of being hospitalized, almost half of all adults aged 65 or older will need someone else — a trusted relative or friend — to help them make at least one medical decision, and almost one-fourth will need that surrogate to make all of their medical decisions, according to the findings of a study published earlier this year in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The most common decision made by surrogates in the study involved life-sustaining care — whether to resuscitate the older adult if his or her heart stops beating, for example. But the surrogates often had to make other important decisions as well, such as whether the patient should undergo a particular procedure or operation and where the patient should be discharged to after leaving the hospital.

Yet only 25 percent of the more than 1,000 hospitalized older adults who were involved in the study had a document in their medical records that designated which person they wanted to make those decisions for them should they be unable to do so themselves. Thus, family members or friends often find themselves thrust unexpectedly into a role that other research has found can be extremely stressful, even leading to post-traumatic stress and depression.

Currently, some 13 million older Americans are hospitalized each year — a number that will only grow as the U.S. population continues to age. That means millions of people, either this year or at some time in the future, will find themselves making crucial medical decisions for someone they care about. To get a deeper understanding about what the research says about this growing phenomenon — and about how older adults, family members, physicians and hospitals can better prepare themselves for the surrogate decision-making process — MinnPost interviewed the lead author of the JAMA Internal Medicine study, Dr. Alexia Torke, an associate professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine. An edited version of that interview follows.

MinnPost: In your research, you found that nearly half of hospitalized older adults over the age of 65 have decisions made in the hospital by surrogates. Who are those surrogate decision-makers, and what kind of decisions are they making?

Alexia Torke: Most [59 percent] were daughters. Next were sons [25 percent] and spouses [20 percent]. So, in general, it’s family members who are making decisions for the patients. As far as the kinds of decisions that they face, over half of surrogates face a decision about life-sustaining care, mostly what’s called “code status” or what would happen if the patient’s heart or breathing were to stop while they’re in the hospital. But they face a lot of other decisions, too, such as decisions about procedures and surgery, which were faced by nearly half [of the people in the study]. And about half also faced decisions about discharge planning, such as going to a nursing home or having home health after the hospital stay.

MP:  That was an interesting finding because I don’t think most people are aware of all the different kinds of decisions they may have to make for the patient. It’s not just about resuscitating a terminally ill patient.

AT: Yes, I think that’s really important. The decisions about life-sustaining care can be, of course, among the most difficult for family members, and we hear about them because they’re quite dramatic. But it turns out the decisions that family members have to be ready for is much broader.

MP:  Can you provide a few examples?

Dr. Alexia Torke

AT:  Sometimes when patients are in the hospital they’ll have to consider whether to have a surgery. It can be anything from a heart surgery to an amputation of a leg. As you can imagine, it would be ideal if the patient could participate in these decisions, but again we often found that they can’t. Another common one is whether or not to go to a nursing home either for a short stay or a long stay after discharge. Again, that is a very common one that families face.

MP: You also found that many decisions were being made by the patient and the surrogate together, but it was the surrogate who was communicating those decisions to the doctor.

AT:  Right. When we started out with this research, I think that in our own minds we kind of divided the world into patients who could participate in decision-making and patients who couldn’t. It turns out there’s a very large middle group, and they vary in a couple ways. One is that some patients have their mental capacity wax and wane during their hospital stay. So they may be able to participate in a decision one day, and then the next day they become confused and can’t participate. That’s one possibility. A second possibility is that the patient may have some cognitive impairment and participates in the decision, but the physician really doesn’t think the patient has the ability to make the decision independently. So, it turns out that a kind of three-way communication — one in which there’s a patient, a surrogate decision-maker and a clinician — is actually pretty common. Of course, that kind of communication is even more complicated because there are three people involved. 

MP: One of the things you say in your study is that “the presence of a surrogate requires fundamental changes in the way that clinicians communicate and make decisions.”  What do you mean by that, and what specifically needs to change?

AT: One thing that needs to change is the perspective of clinicians, sort of how we approach decisions. A whole lot of medical decision-making is based on a patient who has what we call autonomy or the capacity to make decisions for themselves. When a patient is making decisions independently, we ask that patient, “What do you want? What’s most important in your life?” and they’re able to tell us. Surrogate decision-making is a lot more complicated. We try to start with the question, “What do you think the patient would have wanted?” Sometimes [the surrogates] know, but, actually, most of the time they don’t. The surrogate and the clinician then have to think together about what’s best for the patient or who the patient was as a person and the kinds of things that they might want if we could ask them — even though the patient might not have expressed their preferences. That kind of decision-making is actually much more common.

The second really important change [that’s needed] involves the hospital structure. It’s set up for a patient who is sitting in the bed and can answer questions and make decisions independently. We don’t routinely call family members, and when we do, it’s a little haphazard. We don’t have a daily routine of family rounds or any other system in place to make sure we reach family members. Sometimes family members will be at work or unavailable when the medical team is rounding, and the team doesn’t reach them at all.

The whole hospital is structured for patients who can make their own decisions, and we really need to rethink this given how common it is that patients need family help.

MP: Why have hospitals developed such a structure? Is it because surrogates weren’t needed much in the past?

AT: I think several things have made surrogates more common. One is the aging of the population. Older adults are at risk for not being able to make their own medical decisions due to [age-related] chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, but also because they’re more [likely to have] delirium and other kinds of cognitive impairment when they get admitted [to the hospital].

The second reason is the extremely fast pace of hospital care. We just try to rush patients through their care and to be extremely efficient, but, as a consequence, there isn’t a lot of time. I think if we had days to wait for family members to come in there wouldn’t be such a problem, but we’re trying to be quick and efficient, and it just doesn’t allow time for families to be able to visit. 

A third thing is that the rise of intensive care really created a new group of patients who are in the hospital on machines or sedated. That’s a major change in the last 40 or 50 years. In the past, patients who were so sick that they couldn’t communicate were at much higher risk of death. They didn’t survive as long in the hospital.  

MP: Do clinicians like to talk to surrogates? Are they trained to do it?

AT: No. In fact, some of my prior research focused on physician experiences with surrogates. Physicians are not really trained routinely at how to communicate with family members, and they are often uncomfortable [doing so]. I think that’s because communication and decision-making [with surrogates] are more complicated. Again, you can’t ask the patient. In some of our prior research, physicians commonly reported that they feel stressed talking and making decisions with surrogates.

MP: What can we do to help improve the process? Let’s start with what the hospitals and the medical community can do.

AT: I think hospitals need to build in communication with families as a key part of the process of care. When patients are seriously ill, calling a family member, identifying an appropriate surrogate and updating them about the patient’s condition should be a standard part of care rather than something we do as an afterthought or only when a decision needs to be made. Also, physician rounding needs to be more flexible so that it can accommodate and incorporate the family. We need to treat the family as an integral part of the care team and not just as a visitor to the hospital. 

MP: Is that because rounds are often very early in the morning, before the family gets there?

AT: Yes, they often are, or they just occur kind of when the medical team can get together. That’s understandable. [Doctors] often have other responsibilities during the day. But it means that it’s very unpredictable from the perspective of the family. Just letting the family know when the team is going to round would be a step in the right direction, or even making a plan to call a family member at a certain time if they can’t be at the hospital.

MP: Are most people prepared for the role of surrogate decision-maker when they go into the hospital with a loved one?

AT: That’s a really important question. Many people are not prepared. Yet any older adult who enters the hospital has a nearly 50 percent chance of needing a family member to make decisions for them. I think older adults should talk with their close family members — or whoever would be making decisions for them — about the kind of care they would want if they became seriously ill. They should let their family members know what kinds of decisions they would want made. 

There’s new thinking in advanced care planning. It’s not just the event of filling out a form, like a living will. It’s the process of discussion and decision-making that goes on over time. We need to focus more attention on preparing the surrogate for the role they’re going to play in the future. In some of our other research we interviewed surrogate decision-makers, and some of them do talk about the stress and the fact that they didn’t know what the patient wanted or about how they had never expected that they would be in this situation.

Preparing surrogates for the role they’re going to face is really important. And for older adults, it’s important that they talk to family members about what they would want if they should ever need decisions made for them. 

MP: In background information in your study you said that only 25 percent of patients have a formal advance directive, such as a living will or a health-care proxy, in their medical records.  That would be a place to start, of course, but you’re saying it’s more about the conversation than the document.

AT: It is. There was another study that came out recently by [Dr.] Maria Salveira at [the University of] Michigan. They found that a much higher percentage of older adults [than the percentage of older adults in Torke’s latest study] had [designated] a health-care representative. It’s important to note that we were actually looking at the percentage of the time [a health care representative document] can actually be found in the medical record. That’s one of the documented problems with advanced directives: They’re often not available when they’re needed.

But it’s also true that the document is not enough. We advocate for conversation so that the older adult lets their family member know the kinds of decisions they would want them to make or maybe just how they would want decisions to be made. Some patients would like to leave their family member a great deal of leeway to make decisions for them, and I think that’s fine as long as the family member knows that and is prepared for that role.

MP: When the individual is actually in the hospital making those stressful decisions, are there things they can do that would make the situation better for their loved one, for themselves and for the rest of their family?

AT: Family members should know first of all that they do have a right as a surrogate decision-maker to get information about the patient. Hopefully, the medical staff will provide that easily, but family members sometimes have to be firm in insisting that they get fully informed.

MP: Is that true even if they don’t have a [health-care representative] document with their name on it? Can they still insist on getting access to all the medical information?

AT: That’s an important point. Our study found that only 20 percent had a healthcare representative document, and so the rest made decisions because they were the legal next of kin. Every state has laws about who makes decisions when there’s no healthcare representative document in place. It differs state by state, but the majority of our surrogates did not have a form authorizing them to make decisions. They were thrust into the role. A family member should expect that they’ll get regular, reasonable updates about their family member; however, they do need to understand that clinicians are busy, and they may have to ask, for example, for a physician to call them back later, or they may have to ask the medical team to set up a time to meet with them.

So I guess the first thing I would say is that family members should get regular information. The second thing I would say is that making medical decisions for another person can be highly stressful, and family members should seek support both from other people in their family and also from hospital staff, which may include social workers, chaplains and nurses. Many of the surrogates we interviewed found the best amount of support from the staff in the hospital. Seeking that support can be really valuable for family members. 

MP: What got you into this research? 

AT: As a physician, helping patients make difficult decisions for themselves is complicated enough, but making decisions for a third person is far and away more complicated. Those were the cases that I always struggled with when I was a [medical] resident, and so I just thought that this is one of the most challenging areas in medicine — and one of the most interesting — to research. I also think it’s extremely important that we do it well. [Surrogate decision-making is] going to become more and more common as the population ages and greater numbers of patients face critical illness. We really need to continue to develop more sophisticated approaches to help families make these difficult decisions.  

This series is funded through a regrant by Allina Health from the Robina Foundation. It is conducted in conjunction with media partners Ampers and Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), whose documentaries are focusing on Minnesotans enrolled in a multiyear Allina study involving patients at this time of life. A new episode, “Beyond the Doctor,” the third of six, will premiere Sunday, Aug. 24, at 6:30 p.m. on tpt 2.

MN GOP's BuzzFeed list on reasons to visit the State Fair includes nobody's No. 1 reason to visit the State Fair

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 10:18am

The Minnesota GOP has posted a Buzzfeed list of the Top Ten Reasons to Visit the Minnesota State Fair.

But as a big fan of both the fair and politics, I'd say it's not too exciting.

Most of the animated GIFs that illustrated the 10 reasons are pulled from movies, TV shows or commercials, and don't show the State Fair, or even Minnesota.

"Seeing your BFFs" has the Harry Potter kids.

"Sweet Martha's cookies" features Cookie Monster.

"Food" has Ron Burgundy/Will Farrell with a burrito.

The No. 2 reason: "Meet Republican candidates." (With Jonah Hill?)

And the No. 1 reason: "Visit the MNGOP Booth."

Gov. Mark Dayton's office posted a Buzzfeed list in May that was almost as boring: 26 reasons to love Minnesota. It included a few political notes (surplus climbs, minimum wage passed, gay marriage legal) mixed in with mentions of  3M, the U of M, Garrison Keillor and other standard bragging points.

For candidates, campaign season means questionnaire season

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 9:53am
FacebookBarb Sutter

Candidates for public office in Minnesota are often proud of the endorsements they receive from various interest groups.

But they also pay a price for them: Not in promises they’re forced to keep, but in the hours required to fill out the surveys that lead to those endorsements, be they from the Minnesota Farm Bureau, the Minnesota Dermatological Society, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, or one of the other dozens of special interest groups that ask candidates to elaborate their positions via often-extensive questionnaires (like this one from the AARP [PNG]).

The inundation in a candidate’s in-box led Barb Sutter, Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 49B, which covers parts of Bloomington and Edina, to send an email to her supporters explaining why she’s opting out of some responses.

“I have an inch-thick folder of these questionnaires, ranging from the Soybean Growers to the Minnesota Dermatological Association,” she said. “I am completing any questionnaire that deals with an issue that affects the lives and welfare of Minnesotans generally. However, I am not answering questions on topics about which I don’t feel competent to comment or that require more time for research than I have at the moment.”

Her opponent, DFL state Rep. Paul Rosenthal, says the sheer number of questionnaires can be “overwhelming.” He’s received “about 30 or 40,” and like Sutter, he often gets them from groups with no direct relation to the district.    

“Some of them are from groups that I don’t come into contact with in my committee assignments,” Rosenthal said. “Some of those farm groups, for example. My district doesn’t really have any family farms anymore. And if I’m not comfortable or I’m not fluent, I tend to stay away.”

State Rep. Paul Rosenthal

The National Federation of Independent Businesses does get a high response rate to its endorsement questionnaire, even though it’s five pages long. “These are general business questions rather than technical questions,” said NFIB state director Mike Hickey. “If it’s really industry specific, I can see why some one would choose not to fill it out.”

For a candidate for governor, the requests and the paperwork are doubled. “We’ve been swamped, they keep flowing in,” said David Strom, chief researcher for Republican Jeff Johnson’s campaign for governor. Strom said he anticipates the campaign will receive up to 80 questionnaires before election day.

“The way that they come, they have to be triaged, drafts have to be done and it goes to Jeff, who obviously completes the questionnaire,” he said. “You make sure you speak to all the voters, but you can’t answer five different surveys from groups on the same issue.” 

Johnson, Sutter, Rosenthal, and many other candidates share a dislike for one questionnaire technique in particular: the pledge.

“I will not take any pledge,” Rosenthal said. “I think that’s out of bounds because you never know what’s going to come down the line.”

Sutter has a similar strategy. “I am not completing questionnaires that only allow for ‘Yes’ or “No” answers and do not allow for comments,” she said in an email. “I am not signing any pledges.”

Johnson refused to sign a no-tax pledge requested by Americans for Tax Reform, the group founded by anti-tax advocate (some say dictator) Grover Norquist. In refusing, Johnson said his record stands for itself.

The candidates, though, are sensitive to the perception they may not care about these special interest groups. “I understand different groups want to send them,” Rosenthal said.

Sutter went a step further. In her explanation of how she deals with the surveys, she  closed with this postscript: “P.S. I am all for soybean growers and dermatologists!”

Arts on Hennepin: Brave New Workshop expands, 'Made Here' puts out call for next exhibit

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 9:39am

Our downtown Minneapolis theater district just became even more robust. On Tuesday Brave New Workshop announced plans to buy 727 Hennepin Ave., currently home of UnBank and formerly of Teeners Theatrical. The narrow building diagonally across the street from BNW’s main stage theater and event center at 824 Hennepin will house its growing improv school, the BNW Student Union, along with more office and workshop space. Construction starts soon, with the new classrooms expected to open in late fall/early winter. The school had been operating out of the former Brave New Workshop space at 2605 Hennepin Ave. S., which was sold last week. A farewell party for 2605 Hennepin Ave. is being planned for September. On stage now at BNW: “The Wolf of Walmart.” Correction: This item has been revised to correct an error in the earlier version, which stated that BNW had sold 2605 Hennepin Ave. S. It leased but did not own that building.

Artists, you can help keep the lights shining brightly on Hennepin. Made Here,” the urban walking gallery led by Hennepin Theatre Trust, has issued an open call for “Brilliance!” the fall/winter 2014 exhibition. They’re asking artists to consider the use of light and/or illumination. If “Made Here!” looks good now – and it does, with art and color, creativity and photography where empty windows used to be – imagine how it will look when it glows. Applications are due Friday, Sept. 19. FMI.

Poetry fans, mark your calendar for a once-in-a-lifetime reading. In partnership with Mizna, the Twin Cities-based Arab American arts organization, Radius of Arab American Writers, Inc. (RAWI) will hold its fifth Arab American literary conference in Minneapolis from Sept. 18–21. The opening night party and performance includes readings by Marilyn Hacker, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets; Kuwaiti-born poet and writer Deema Shehabi; poet Philip Metres; and Fady Joudah, Palestinian American poet and 2007 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. Hacker, who’s Jewish American, and Shehabi, whose parents are Palestinian, have a new book out together called “Diaspo/Renga,” a poetic dialogue born in the Israeli siege of Gaza. 6 p.m. at the McKnight Foundation’s office, 710 S. 2nd St., Suite 400, Minneapolis. Tickets here ($20). Complete conference schedule here.

Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts, has won the 2014 Gard Award from the Wisconsin-based Robert E. Gard Foundation, whose mission is “fostering healthy communities through arts-based development.” The board was moved by Zabel’s leadership in connecting artists to their communities in deep and meaningful ways. Of special interest: Springboard’s Community Supported Art (CSA) program and its commitment to healthcare for artists. The Gard is an honorary award, not a monetary award. Previous recipients include Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, and Wisconsin’s first poet laureate, Ellen Kort.

Minnesota-based author Louise Erdrich has won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s distinguished achievement award. Inspired by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, the international award recognizes authors for their complete body of work. Sharon Rab, founder and co-chair of the Peace Prize Foundation, said in a statement: “As we watch people in other countries clash over culture, religion, and ancient territorial claims, Louise Erdrich’s work reminds us that the United States, too, shares a similar history of violence, discrimination, and neglect … [She] leaves us with a greater appreciation for the universal comedies and tragedies that bind all humanity and inspire empathy even among enemies.” Erdrich said, “I am not a peaceful writer. I am a troubled one, longing for peace.” Past winners include Studs Turkel, Elie Wiesel and Tim O’Brien.

Will there really be a new HBO drama called “Stillwater”? Will there be Harleys and fudge? Like every other media outlet in the Twin Cities, we’re a bit giddy at the news that appeared on Deadline Hollywood way back on July 1 and we all somehow missed until now: “HBO has inked a two-year deal with director-producer Howie Deutch to direct and produce drama and comedy projects … Deutch recently set up at HBO the one-hour drama ‘Stillwater,’ which he will direct and exec produce … ‘Stillwater’ follows a New York City cop as his life spirals out of control when he relocates his family to a small town in Minnesota.” Wait – his life spirals out of control after he moves to Stillwater? From New York City?

The Picks

Today (Wednesday, Aug. 20) through next Monday at the Walker: “The Clock.” Squeeze in as many minutes of this epic 24-hour film as you can, while you can. You have from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. today and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday, and 11 a.m. Friday – 5 p.m. Saturday, the final 24-hour, all-night screening. On Monday the museum opens for a last hurrah showing from 5 p.m. – midnight, when “The Clock” winds down. FMI. Here’s Andy Sturdevant’s piece for The Stroll, in case you missed it.

Thursday in Falcon Heights: Opening day of the 2014 Minnesota State Fair. Our great state, deep fried and on a stick. We know people who don’t like the Fair, but we don’t understand them, and they make us kind of sad. Hate to park there? Metro Transit express buses operate from 20 Twin Cities locations. FMI. You’ll be dropped off at the new Transit Hub just north of the new West End Market, where you’ll pass through a new gate. No more crossing busy Como Ave. on foot.

Thursday at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Third Thursday: On-A-Stick. MIA promises “a taste of state fair-like action without the huge crowds.” Look for a butter sculpture inspired by Matisse, take part in a Frank Stella-inspired seed art project, eat Fair-like food and see bees. 6–9 p.m. Free.

Thursday on the Greenway: Bike-in-Movie. Bike, bus or walk to the mixer at Freewheel Bike Midtown Bike Center, stay for the movie on the Midtown Greenway. This is the fourth year AIGA Minnesota’s Sustainable Design Committee is hosting a night out themed to a sustainable topic. The film, “Elemental,” tells the story of three people united by their connection with nature and driven to confront ecological challenges. Food and beer by Taco Cat (the bike-only taco delivery service) and Indeed Brewery. Mixer at 7 p.m., movie at 9-ish. Free. FMI.

The Weekend

Wander through the neighborhoods of Greater Longfellow at the sixth annual LoLa Art Crawl. Located in homes and shops, LoLa is spread out over many blocks from Cedar to the Mississippi, East 28th to Crosstown. Pick a spot to park and go from there, or check the map and be more methodical. See the blog for more information about individual artists. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. both days.  Harriet Brewing will be in on the fun, with Longfellow artists and musicians in the tap room all weekend. FMI

Plan Ahead

A casualty of the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute, lost to the LA Phil, former principal clarinetist Burt Hara will return to play the opening concert of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota’s 2014–15 season. On the program: Brahms’ Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello and piano, Bartok’s “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano, and Mozart’s Quintet in A Major for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello. They’re going to make him work. Sunday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. in Hamlin’s Sundin Music Hall. FMI and tickets ($15-$25).