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'Tweak' to state funding of massive Mayo project needs to happen ASAP

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 2:58pm

That “tweak” to the enormous Mayo expansion plan in Rochester will need to happen soon. At MPR, Catharine Richert says, “State legislators likely will have to go back to the drawing board to adjust the financing plan for Mayo Clinic's expansion, one of the biggest economic development projects in Minnesota's history. … Rochester city officials say the unclear language in the law is creating problems for their upcoming budget, which will be written and approved in December. So far, the city plans to allocate only $3 million to staff costs associated with the medical center. Money for development projects is on hold until the city has reassurances that the state funding will come through, Assistant City Administrator Gary Neumann said.”

What will I do with those three hours of my life every day? At the CBC News site it says, “Prince fans looking for a social media fix of the Purple One are finding themselves in the cold after artist-related internet outlets were quietly deactivated. A little over a year since the funky American singer-songwriter posted his first tweet, the Twitter accounts for the artist's band 3rd Eye Girl (@3rdEyeGirl) and the New Power Generation account (@NPGOffical) have been deleted. Prince’s official Facebook page and Instagram (Princestagram) accounts have also been shut down. And, as of Wednesday morning, all the videos on the 3rd Eye Girl YouTube account have either been pulled or been made private.”

Meanwhile, our other major musical icon was performing to a very small crowd in Philadelphia. Daniel Nussbaum at, uh, Breitbart, says, “On Sunday afternoon, [Bob Dylan] and his touring band performed a concert at the 2,509-seat Philadelphia Academy of Music. However, there was only one person in attendance: … The exclusive concert was reportedly conducted as part of the Swedish film series, Experiment Ensam (Experiment Alone), where people are filmed experiencing events that are usually attended by large crowds. According to Rolling Stone, previous films in the series explored solitary people at comedy clubs and karaoke bars. Dylan was apparently receptive to the idea of the film series and received an ‘undisclosed’ amount of money to participate. The crowd size wasn't the only thing different about the performance; Dylan reportedly did not play any of his own original songs, opting instead for covers of Buddy Holly's ‘Heartbeat,’ Fats Domino's ‘Blueberry Hill’, Chuck Willis's ‘It's Too Late,’ and an unknown blues jam that closed the show.” What? Nothing from his Christmas album?

Somebody needs to get a little less generic, or lighten up. Says Dave Kolpack of the AP, “An ongoing spat between North Dakota and Minnesota real estate companies with similar names and signage is playing out in federal court. The dispute involves The Real Estate Company Inc., of Dickinson, North Dakota, and The Real Estate Company of Detroit Lakes Inc., of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. In July 2012, the Minnesota business asked permission of the Dickinson group — and offered a bottle of Scotch — to allow one of its agents to work under the name in the Fargo area. The Dickinson company rejected the request and demanded that its counterpart change its logo.”

So next time, don’t drive straight into the mob. In the Strib, Paul Walsh says, “The driver who lurched into a south Minneapolis intersection packed with Ferguson protesters was ‘attempting to flee from the mob’ when he ran over and slightly injured a 16-year-old girl as others were atop the hood of his car, police said Wednesday. The driver, a 40-year-old man from St. Paul, was questioned, and Minneapolis police said Wednesday that the case ‘remains under investigation.’ The man was not arrested, and no charges have been filed. … aerial video from KSTP-TV, Channel 5, shows that the driver had paused behind a vehicle stopped in front of it, and then steered around that vehicle and drove slowly into the crowd that was blocking the intersection. There were three people on the hood of his car as he knocked down the girl.”

Once was enough, thank you. The AP says, “A judge has rejected a request from the widow of 'American Sniper' author Chris Kyle to order a new trial or set aside a jury's verdict in favor of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. … U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, who also presided over that trial, wrote in a decision filed Wednesday that the trial was fair and the verdicts supported by ‘substantial evidence.’”

News flash. Civilized conflict resolution in Wisconsin. From Eric Peterson at WLUK-TV we learn, “Kameron Jorgenson,11, wounded a nine-point buck while hunting with his father, but when they tracked the deer to a neighbor’s property, a picture was all Jorgenson was able to keep. … The Jorgensons tracked the buck through the woods toward the adjoining property when they say they heard two shots. ‘We could see that the other landowner on his land, and we got up as far as the fence line. He came down and met us by the fence post,’ said Jorgenson. ‘He’ is landowner Randy Heyrman. Heyrman did not want to go on camera, but he told FOX 11 he saw the deer too. Heyrman took a picture to show where he says the deer was wounded in the leg. Heyrman says he shot twice from his deer stand to finish off the animal. With the deer dead, and the two hunters deadlocked as to who would keep the buck, they both agreed to settle it with the flip of a coin.” You gotta read it to find out who won.

Likewise: MPR reports, “The teenager who severely beat former Hennepin County Board Chair Mark Andrew last year will receive 14 weeks of intensive therapy and a year-long immersion in an arts program of her choice. Deea LeShawn Elliot, who is now 18, pleaded guilty to first degree assault for attacking Andrew last December with a metal baton after an accomplice stole his cell phone. She could have been sent to prison for decades. But at Andrew's request, a judge agreed Tuesday to a special sentence that includes no jail time.” Cool. Let’s hope she appreciates the break she’s been cut.

Finally, the chief of police in Milwaukee is pretty well-established as a quote machine, although not the sort that makes his constituents proud. His latest? Talking to “Fox and Friends” about Milwaukee protests on the Ferguson decision, David Paulsen of the Journal-Sentinel writes, “Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has been getting a lot of attention nationally for a Journal Sentinel video of his comments regarding race and crime in the city and the killing of a 5-year-old girl. On Wednesday, he appeared on Fox News' morning program, ‘Fox & Friends,’ for a brief interview. … The protest in Milwaukee was conducted with few major disturbances, though police said a sergeant and an officer suffered minor injuries trying to stop some protesters from entering the Bradley Center unlawfully. Suspects are being sought. Flynn said most Milwaukee residents are interested in working with police to combat violence. He suggested its typically out-of-towners and ‘hipsters’ who fail to heed requests from the victim's family and from police to keep protests peaceful and respectful. ‘Their last experience with the police was in their DARE class,’ Flynn told Fox News from the WITI-TV newsroom in Milwaukee, estimating that half of the protesters Tuesday night were from out of town.” I just knew there was a good reason to fear “hipsters.”

Feds want to know: Who shot the Fosston moose?

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 11:56am

A moose was shot and left to rot in northern Minnesota earlier this month, leading to a federal investigation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for help in finding the shooter. The moose was shot during the deer rifle hunting season near Fosston, which is about 35 miles west of Bemidji.

There is no moose hunting season this year in the state, as officials work to figure out what's causing a sharp decline in the moose population, down 52 percent since 2010. Only about 100 are believed to be in the state.

Another moose made a rare foray into southern Minnesota, near Sleepy Eye, earlier this month, and was found dead on a farm.

The federal agency is investigating the dead moose south of Fosston because it was shot on federal land. Officials are asking anyone with information on the case to call the USFWS at (218) 844-3423 or the state's Turn in Poachers hotline number is (800) 652-9093.

Letter from Skunk Hollow: Wild turkeys strut their stuff, back from near obliteration

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 10:46am
CC/Flickr/Bryant OlsenThey're back.

Did you know that wild hen turkeys leave spiral-shaped droppings, while the gobblers' deposits take the form of a tall "J"?

I didn't until last week, when the first toms appeared among the leafless trees behind the house, prompting me to resume a sporadic inquiry into the lives and habits of these beautiful, weird and increasingly ubiquitous birds.

After Tuesday's fresh snow, and armed with this new knowledge, I went looking amid the signature tracks where they had approached the house to pick through spillage from the seed feeders, gifts from the goldfinches and nuthatches.

No poops at all, though, and come to think of it, I don't think I've ever spotted any in the general mayhem they make as they scratch around beneath the feeders and remove the garden mulch in a search for acorns.

Like bears, I suppose, they do that in the woods.

The birds themselves are easy to sex at any distance once they're full-grown. The toms are massive, rounder, darker, and they stride officiously, with deliberate steps and much fanning of the tail feathers, herding the smaller, lighter females this way and that.

They remind me of abbots, or palace guards, and when they come to the windows of my study now they are no longer intimidated by the human who comes to the glass for a closer look, nearly nose to beak.

They're everywhere

I remember well the first bald eagle I ever saw, up close, that wasn't in captivity. It was an afternoon 1998 and I was following the freeway west across Montana, doing a little less than 100, mindful of the Open Range signs and keep an eye peeled for cattle ahead.

Our national symbol lifted off a mess of roadkill at the right-hand edge of the pavement with a skriek that I could hear over the Jeep's engine and the tires. A spreading shadow, flashes of white and yellow resolving into head and tail, talons and beak, aloft and then gone.

But I can't seem to recall the first wild turkey I encountered, and from listening to others I've concluded this is typical. With eagles it's the first sighting that's unforgettable; with turkeys it's often the last, perhaps because it happened in an unexpected place: an inner-city backyard, a freeway median, the fringe of a shopping center's parking lot.

They are everywhere now, and the American wild turkey's recovery to these abundant numbers is every bit as impressive as the eagle's, though their stories are very different. The turkey's, of course, owes much to its status as a prized game bird and centerpiece for American feasting, and its flexibility as to habitat.

Turkeys never came as close to extirpation as bald eagles, but overhunting pushed their numbers below 30,000 early in the last century, and to zero in as many as 18 states, including Minnesota. (According to The Wild Turkey Zone, a hunting-oriented site, Minnesota had no wild turkey population as late as 1969; my home state of Indiana had a comparatively robust cohort of 1,300 back then, and 75,000 by 1999, of which I still have seen exactly zero.)

Too robust a recovery?

Today their numbers are north of 7 million nationally (30,000 in Minnesota), thanks to reintroduction and protection efforts aimed largely at restoring opportunities to shoot them. In some parts of the country, especially in the southeast, it's possible the efforts were a little too successful, according to an Audubon Magazine article:

In Mississippi, wild turkey numbers peaked at about 410,000 in the late 1980s, and have since declined to a current population of 270,000. In Georgia, 400,000 turkeys prowled pine flats and hardwood ridges in the mid-1990s; during the next decade that number fell by a quarter. Although numbers have since rebounded, the 2010 estimate, the latest available, pegs the Georgia population at 335,000. Arkansas turkey populations may have fallen as much as 65 percent since 2003. Missouri's statewide turkey flock has shrunk by 30 percent in 10 years, with some regions of the state losing half their birds. ...

A host of potential problems are under discussion. Some of the hardest-hit states, such as Arkansas, have endured a succession of cool, wet springs, which fuels concern about the "wet hen hypothesis." Damp air and soggy feathers create ideal scenting conditions for predators, which might then find nesting hens more easily. Many biologists point to an increase in mid-sized predators such as raccoons in the wake of the collapse of the trapping industry. The relatively recent arrival of a new predator, the coyote, to parts of the South has raised a flag. So, too, has the expansion of fire ants and feral hogs. No one knows just how much of an impact, if any, these things might have on wild turkey populations.

Some theorize that the declines may not be as bad as feared; decreasing population numbers could be a natural response to the reintroductions. In other words, in many areas, wild turkey numbers may have reached an equilibrium after years of rapid growth.

They can swim, too

Did you know that turkeys can swim? The Cornell Lab says they can, "when they need to ... by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking."

Love to see that.

Did you know that a hen may lay as many as 20 eggs each spring, and that in winter, turkeys may roost in groups of more than 200 birds?

I found these numbers impressive even though our backyard crew has been well into  the mid-20s for the last couple of winters, a level that can approach annoyance when the truculent toms decide to bang on the windows or tear down a suet feeder.

But such problems are minor compared to what some folks in Massachusetts are enduring, if these excerpts from a report in the Brookline Patch can be believed:

There have been more reports of turkeys attacking people in town in recent weeks—continuing what has become a semiannual tradition. WHDH reported turkeys have attacked a group of students, a crossing guard, and residents across town.

Police receive calls about aggressive turkeys every few weeks. The birds have been known to charge at people and try to claw their faces. State wildlife officials say people should act aggressively if confronted by a turkey and make loud noises or swat at the animal with a broom.

That level of conflict may be exceptional, but problems with nuisance turkeys have become sufficiently common that the Humane Society of the United States has put out a pamphlet of advice on how to repel the troublemakers — but in a nice way, no guns.

And it's interesting to see that what really seems to put the fear of winged mayhem into people is simply the sight of turkeys gathered in numbers above, like, 10. Not unlike the fear factor with gaggles of teen-agers at the Mall of America, I suppose.

But so far, the turkeys of Skunk Hollow still scatter as soon as I open a door.

Come to think of it, so did a much larger massing that Sallie and I encountered one October morning in the Black Hills as we went out to our car. There were 40 or maybe even 50 of them in the parking lot of the State Game Lodge, apparently unable to read the sign.

Wild birds off the table

There will be a turkey on our table tomorrow and it won't be one of these black-and-bronze majesties, not yet.

It will be a standard factory bird, as unlike a natural turkey as a Gold'n Plump fryer is unlike a ring-necked pheasant or a sage grouse, selectively bred and born and slaughtered for the purpose in conditions I would rather not think about too much.

For gastronomic, not ethical, reasons I still look forward to the day when I sample one of our wild visitors, savoring the culmination of  personal effort involving shotshells, shallots, red wine and a long, low braise.

But Sallie would just as soon I didn't, which is putting it mildly, and my enthusiasm for the project seems to wane just a bit with each passing year as the turkeys striding in and out of range become more familiar, less exotic; as I learn to reference their peculiar body parts with words like snood and wattle; as I gather more instructional material on what's required to gut and prepare them, digging out pellets, scalding to remove all those feathers ....

Feathers so lovely that I still collect them from our backyard trails and sometimes fashion one of the best into a quill pen, which holds and dispenses ink just as effectively as a goose quill and, thanks to its smaller size, does not poke me in the eye as I write.

Greater Minnesota legislative wish-list includes broadband and job training

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 10:42am

The new Republican majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives is interested in greater Minnesota issues, so many hope to see more emphasis at the state Capitol on such things as broadband and job creation.

Republicans gained 11 seats in the House to take control; 10 of those were from outside the metro area.

The question is: will that translate into more state funding for high-speed broadband, job training programs, workforce housing and transportation upgrades?

Gary Evans, president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, told the Rochester Post Bulletin:

"Greater Minnesota is where the [political] shift occurred, and I also think that that shift is somewhat directly proportional to a dissatisfaction in Greater Minnesota relative to the amount of money spent outside the metro area as opposed to inside it."

Evans' group, made up of state-wide businesses, chambers of commerce, cities and nonprofits wants the Legislature to expand high-speed broadband access, to the tune of $200 million.

Employer-driven job training is also on the list, as is workforce housing and more money for roads and bridges around the state.

Among the transportation pushes will be more funding for upgrades to Hwy. 14 in southern Minnesota, Amanda Duerr, spokeswoman for the U.S. 14 Highway Partnership, told the paper. Voters expect such improvements from legislators, she said.

"I think there is going to be a lot of pressure and expectance from their constituents that they are going to deliver and that there is going to be an investment in transportation," she said.

After eight years in Congress, Walz finds a voice on veterans and military issues

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 10:29am
CC/Flickr/CSISRep. Tim Walz delivers a keynote address before a panel discussion on the future of the U.S. Army National Guard hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in May.

WASHINGTON — Just minutes after a short huddle with Nancy Pelosi on the House floor last week Rep. Tim Walz said he felt “abused” by the way he lost his underdog bid to lead Democrats on the Veterans Affairs committee.

But any ill will toward leadership appears fleeting, as Walz looks for more responsibility and more policy influence on military and veterans affairs. To that end, he has come back to Democratic leadership seeking both another term on the VA committee and a new spot on the House Armed Services Committee, even if that assignment would force him to drop off — and lose all-important seniority — on one of the two committees he’s served on since he joined Congress in 2007.

For Walz, the chance to have voice in shaping military policy is worth the trade-off. A veteran of the National Guard and the highest-ranking enlisted solider elected to Congress, he said his experience in uniform and subsequent involvement in Congress qualifies him for an expanded workload on military and veterans issues. Walz co-chairs the National Guard and Reserves Caucus, runs leadership outreach roundtables for veterans service organizations, and he’s won plaudits from armed services and veterans affairs groups for his work on the VA panel, especially for focusing on mental health care issues.

Now he wants a larger platform for some big political battles on the horizon.

Walz called military and veterans affairs a “natural fit” for his office. “And to be honest,” he said, “it’s one of the few areas where things are moving, where we’re starting to see successes.”

Risking seniority for new post

Walz has taken these maneuverings seriously. Consider the political capital he’s willing to risk to gain his preferred positions: he challenged Democratic leadership during his run at the VA ranking membership, and he would give up eight years’ worth of seniority on either the Agriculture or Transportation Committee to get a seat on Armed Services.

Agriculture and Transportation align with the needs of Walz’s district — the 1st, encompassing southeastern Minnesota — and he said he has long hoped to carve out a legislative niche relevant to his constituents. Walz also serves on the Veterans Affairs committee through a waiver granted by leadership (members are generally limited to only two committee assignments, and Walz claims to be the only member with three). During this year's Veterans Administration scandal, Walz found himself explaining the committee’s work to people, and those conversations helped clarify his focus on military and veterans affairs.

“It was very interesting to watch how people reacted and said, ‘what do you want? What do you want?’ And I said, ‘Well, I want to serve veterans,’ ” he said. “I never prepared a long-term vision other than where I could be most effective, and I think that panned out.”

Political battles ahead

During an interview, Walz made a couple of references to the Republican chairman of the VA committee, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who serves on both VA and Armed Services. In some ways, he may be trying to emulate Miller’s approach: Walz said there’s so much overlap in jurisdiction between those two committees that membership on both allows lawmakers to tackle veterans issues on two fronts.

Both committees will have a lot on their plates during the next Congress. Lawmakers continue to grapple with sequestration cuts that Walz says have pitted active duty personnel against reservists, and he wants to be a spokesman for the National Guard in funding discussions.

On the Armed Services front, the American response to the Islamic State terrorist group remains a critical question for a lot of lawmakers, evidenced by Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s call that Congress formally declare war on the group (Walz said he doesn’t necessarily want to do that, but “I certainly do agree” with the idea that Congress should play more of a role in the conflict).

“I think our role would be to re-establish Congress’s responsibility, and I would say supremacy, especially when it comes to the war fighting,” he said.

Of course, these are issues every member of Congress needs to confront, but a seat on the committee that deals with them would give Walz significantly more clout. Lawmakers are set to receive committee assignments sometime after Congress’s Thanksgiving recess, and Walz said he’d be willing to leave the Transportation panel — which is tasked with writing infrastructure bills, a goal long marred by fights over funding mechanisms — if it meant a spot on Armed Services.

Walz’s increased focus on veterans and military issues isn’t a surprise to advocacy organizations.

Gus Hargett, a retired major general and the president of the National Guard Association of the United States, said he’s known Walz through the Guard and through mutual friends, and the two talk regularly about Guard issues. He said Walz’s workload has been growing over time.

“I’ve been here five years, and I have seen him become more and more involved with issues as they relate to the military and veterans,” Hargett said “I’ve seen him take more of an increasing role every year.”

Walz has partnered with groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to push legislation on things like veterans suicide prevention, a bill moving through Congress right now. IAVA endorsed his ranking membership bid, and its legislative director, Alex Nicholson, said Walz did a “really noble job” of balancing the need for oversight with his political allegiances during the VA scandal.

“By being aggressive, by making clear that he will be VA’s best friend and worst critic if he has to be, that played a significant role in keeping those charges of hyper partisanship away from that committee,” he said.

Political considerations

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson — the ranking member of the Agriculture panel — said Walz consulted with him as he ran for the VA leadership post, and said he had warned Walz that bucking the seniority system could hurt him with some members of the Democratic caucus.

But Peterson was backing his candidacy anyway, and not only because he thinks Walz is qualified: he said it would be good politics to put someone like Walz — a rural Democrat — in a leadership position on a high-profile committee like VA.

“Politically, it would be very good for us to have him a position like that, for us in rural America,” he said. “If we're ever going to win back seats in rural America, it’s going to be because we have people like Tim Walz in these positions.”

But while Walz is clearly looking to expand his legislative workload, he isn’t necessarily jumping at the chance to do the same on the political end. He brushed off early speculation he could make a gubernatorial run in 2018, and isn’t committed to repeating the role he played in Democrats’ 2014 strategy next cycle.

Walz ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline Program this year, designed to provide strategic advice to 26 Democrats in swing or Republican-leaning districts around the country. At least 14 of them won re-election. Walz said it’s hard to be too happy with that result (“It’s kind of the equivalent as a football coach of saying, we just got beat 48-7 and I’m praising the punting game”) and he said he would “have to give it a lot of thought” if offered the job again.

“These were personal friends who my staff and I helped work, and they ran spectacular campaigns in a very challenging environment, and I like that part of it,” he said. “I’m not particularly enamored with the deep politics that go with it. Every foray I get into that, much like this VA position, I walk away saying there’s a better way to do this.”

A long and winding path to the law for one Minneapolis immigration attorney

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 9:51am
Abdinasir Abdulahi

Abdinasir Abdulahi is now an established immigration attorney, with his Minneapolis law firm, Abdinasir M. Abdulahi, LLC, having become a destination for thousands of East African immigrant clients throughout Minnesota and other states.

“People feel comfortable coming to me with questions that they wouldn’t necessarily bring up to other lawyers,” he said. “That’s because they don’t know the legal system, and they need someone they can relate to, someone they can trust.” 

Over the past four years, Abdulahi has earned the trust of many Minnesotans from East Africa through his various legal services. But his path to that success was anything but easy.  

A reluctant lawyer

Abdulahi was born and raised in Kalafo, Ethiopia, part of a region that has long been the source of conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia. Coming of age in this small border town, some of those conflicts unfolded before his eyes.

Yet despite growing up amid political conflicts and never-ending tensions between the two countries, Abdulahi was always hungry for success. Initially, he was interested in becoming an economist, but the scores he got from the national university placement exam didn’t qualify him to study the subject. “It’s not like here where you plan your own field of education,” he said. “In Ethiopia, you sit for a national test, and then based on the grades you get, you could end up in any field, whether you like it or not.”


So law it was. At first, Abdulahi wasn’t happy with studying the field. But it only took him a few courses before he started to develop a deep interest.

After graduating from law school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when he was in his 20s, Abdulahi was appointed to become judge of a Kalafo court. Four months later, he was promoted to the region’s chief justice of the state.

Coming to Minnesota 

Abdulahi wasn’t the chief justice he wished to be, however. Government officials gave him orders on how to handle cases — orders he had to follow or face harsh consequences. “I was the chief of justice of the entire state,” he said. “I had the same power as the governor, but I could barely do anything. I wasn’t independent.”

So Abdulahi decided to pursue opportunities elsewhere. He had enjoyed the legal service and courtrooms. But he also wanted to do what he felt was the right thing — he hated to answer to government officials and base his decisions on their will.

In 2001, an opportunity presented itself: The Ethiopian government sent Abdulahi to the United States for a law seminar. He would be among judges and prosecutors from more than 20 countries around the world. 

When he landed in the United States, though, Abdulahi didn’t go to the conference. He requested asylum.   

A challenging transition  

Six months after his arrival in the United States, Abdulahi was granted asylum. He delighted to have been granted the protection, but the transition process was a challenge. “It was really difficult,” he said. “One day you’re an official of a state. And the next day, you’re trying to find where to live and what to do. You don’t even know how to find your way around.”

Despite his experience in the law field, Abdulahi ended up working at Wells Fargo, where he did filing and other miscellaneous duties. He split his paycheck between himself and his family in Africa. “Life was tough at the time,” Abdulahi said. “But at least, I was happy mentally and emotionally.”   

One thing was clear to Abdulahi: facing shelves and files every morning wasn’t something he wanted to do forever. And since his law degree from Addis Ababa and experience couldn’t translate into a decent job in Minnesota, he knew he had to go back to school.

So in 2002, Abdulahi attended the University of Minnesota Law School, completing a yearlong Master of Laws program. A year later, he transferred to William Mitchell College of Law so that he could work and go to law school full-time. 

Abdulahi graduated from law school in 2009. A year later, after passing the bar exam, he opened his own law firm.

Four years later, AMA stands on Franklin Avenue and 11th Street, and its three attorneys serve thousands of people — mostly immigrants — throughout Minnesota and other states.

Abdulahi is one of a few people in the East African community who are practicing attorneys, an example of success and inspiration. But when Abdulahi goes to some courts to represent clients, judges don’t often recognize him as a lawyer, he said. “Somalis or even other [minority groups] were not used to being attorneys,” Abdulahi said. “They would ask me, ‘Are you the interpreter?’”

Despite such remarks, Abdulahi keeps a positive attitude, which he said has contributed to his success. “We’re blessed in America and also in the state of Minnesota,” he said. “It’s no accident that a lot of Somalis are here; a lot of East Africans are here.”

“This country offers many opportunities,” he said. “I’m a lawyer now. I was blessed to be a member of the Bar, which is highly regulated. My peers and other members of the Bar were really helpful. Without them, I wouldn’t do it. There are people who would disappoint you. But there are many others who would accept and support of you.” 

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

Holidazzle Village and Holiday Market reflect a changing downtown

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 9:46am

This year, the Minneapolis Downtown Council is trying something new to lure people to Nicollet Mall for the holidays. It’s called the Holidazzle Village featuring the Minneapolis Holiday Market, a long name that reflects its complicated origins. The new market will be a great test of whether Minnesotans can embrace Minneapolis’ new vision for a downtown centered on year-round street life.

The history of Holidazzle

If you think about it, the history of downtown Minneapolis holiday attractions reflects the changing downtown culture. As a kid, I remember riding up the escalators to the 8th floor of Dayton’s Department Store to see the annual Christmas show, a spectacle full of white “Santa bears,” fancy children’s stories, and cookies that I can still half-taste. In those days, many parents felt compelled to bring their kids downtown, and it revealed how central downtown department stores remained for people throughout the Twin Cities.

The Holidazzle Parade grew directly out of that 8th floor tradition. Last year, I chatted with Michael Murnane, who was one of the art directors who founded the parade back in the early 1990s. Murnane explained to me how the parade grew organically as an attempt to bring the Dayton’s 8th floor experience out into the street. Murnane and a small group of others made the first dazzling floats by hand, and the parade grew into an annual tradition that packed downtown streets and brought downtown together.

Last year I brought a group of friends downtown to attend one of the final Holidazzle parades. If you’ve never seen one, the parade was charming in an old-fashioned way: a procession of floats covered in lights, surrounded by costumed workers from various downtown employers, with often-repeating themes based on children’s stories. (Basically, if you seen one, you’ve seen them all.)

Yet the parade drew thousands of people into the (sometimes desolate) downtown Minneapolis evenings, families bringing their children down to the Nicollet sidewalks and filling the downtown skyways overhead. But despite the crowds, downtown retail continued to struggle in the increasingly competitive retail marketplace, and downtown has begun to change more quickly.

The Holiday Market

This year, the parade is gone. In its place, on Nicollet Mall between 10th and 12th Streets, you’ll find the new Holiday Market. Picture a series of wooden tents filled with crafts and snacks of all kinds, including mulled wine, sausages, potato pancakes, apple specialties, roasted nuts and locally made soups. Surrounding them, on Peavey Plaza, you might find live reindeer, children’s stories coming to life, bands playing music, people dressed as light bulbs (the old Holidazzle costumes), a skating rink, or fireworks. They’re creating a holiday market in the European tradition. And unlike the downtown holiday attractions of the decades past, this time everything will be happening outside.

Leah Wong is the vice-president of events and marketing for the Downtown Council, which largely speaks for downtown businesses and property owners. She is excited about how the marketplace will engage with the public.

“We decided to transition from parade to this new experience because we wanted to create something that was participatory for people,” Wong told me. “We wanted to create a unique and different downtown experience, a feature activity that would be different every time people came.”

Photo by Bill LindekeA winter market place in the town square of York, England.

The new marketplace is based on a popular European tradition where cities and towns set up clusters of tents and attractions in town squares during the holiday season. Here in the U.S., as Wong explained to me, there are only eight similar festival markets, including a popular example in Chicago’s downtown Millennium Park.

The changing nature of the market, which will have different features every weekend, is one reason Leah Wong believes that the attractions will outweigh people’s reluctance to be outside in the winter weather.

“Minnesotans are hardy and are active and like to be outdoors," Wong told me this week. “Even in the winter, we know that people will come out and play with us if we have the right opportunity for them. People will enjoy the winter Old World feel of meandering around the wooden huts.”

The Downtown Council 2025 Plan

The shift away from a passive parade and toward an interactive outdoor market is no coincidence. Rather, the kinds of things that Wong describes — interactivity, street life, and a “consistently compelling sidewalk experience” — come directly from the Downtown Council’s new 2025 plan. The plan, adopted a few years ago, reflects a turnaround — away from downtown’s climate-controlled skyways and toward a focus on street activity.

The plan's 10 goals include doubling downtown’s residential population and creating a vibrant sidewalk experience along Nicollet Avenue. For example, the plan offers the following goal for downtown’s streets:

Deliver a consistently excellent pedestrian experience that inspires people to explore Downtown block after block, no matter the season or time of day — 24/7/365. Embrace density to build the kind of critical mass required to sustain a successful urban core.

To me, the plan marks a recognition of shifting priorities away from enclosed office, retail and parking-lot spaces and toward the interconnected downtown sidewalks, mixed-use activity, new apartments and transit. The Holiday Market seems like the next step in the larger downtown trend that includes food trucks, pop-up parks, and artists displaying their work in temporary window galleries.

Embracing winter

This time of year, embracing the streets might seem like cold comfort for many downtown workers and visitors. With the opening of the market on Friday, the new downtown philosophy will receive a real test: Will Minnesotans willingly go outside in the wintertime?

I’m optimistic. Now that the Vikings are playing home games outside for the first time in decades (albeit temporarily), maybe it’s time to start rethinking what famous Danish urban planner Jan Gehl once called downtown’s “defensive posture” to the weather.

I hope Minnesotans are up to the challenge, because we deserve a downtown full of people at all times of the day and year. You’re going to have to head out of the skyways to find the Holidazzle Village's Holiday Market, and maybe it’ll mark the rebirth of year-round street life in downtown Minneapolis. My advice is to get out your warm coat, head downtown, and get some glühwein (spiced hot wine). Winter isn’t so bad when you’re surrounded by people in the downtown square.

Minneapolis Downtown CouncilThe carousel at Holidazzle Village.

The Minneapolis Holiday Market will be open daily from Nov. 28 to Dec. 23 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on Dec. 24 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It's at Peavey Plaza; the main entrance will be on the corner of 11th Street and Nicollet Mall.

The Holidazzle Village, between 10th Street and 12th Street along Nicollet Mall, will be open Friday, Nov. 28, and weekends (Saturday-Sunday) through December. It will be open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Debunking the myth that mental illness is a strong predictor of gun violence

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 9:09am

In a recent online article for The New Yorker, reporter Maria Konnikova asks the question, “Is there a link between mental health and gun violence?”

“It seems intuitive that someone who could do something terrible must be, in some sense, insane,” she writes. “But is that actually true? Are gun violence and mental illness really so intertwined?”

After a painstaking look at the research, Konnikova concludes that such a link, “is quite small and far from predictive.”  

The factors that are actually linked to gun violence are much more complicated, she adds — and thus much more difficult for politicians and the public to accept, much less take action on.

Debunking two myths

Although her article describes research conducted both in the United States and abroad on the topic, Konnikova focuses on the seminal studies done by Jeffrey Swanson, now a medical sociologist and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University:

When Swanson first analyzed [in the 1980s] the ostensible connection between violence and mental illness, looking at more than ten thousand individuals (both mentally ill and healthy) during the course of one year, he found that serious mental illness alone was a risk factor for violence — from minor incidents, like shoving, to armed assault — in only four per cent of cases. That is, if you took all of the incidents of violence reported among the people in the survey, mental illness alone could explain only four per cent of the incidents. When Swanson broke the samples down by demographics, he found that the occurrence of violence was more closely associated with whether someone was male, poor, and abusing either alcohol or drugs — and that those three factors alone could predict violent behavior with or without any sign of mental illness. If someone fit all three of those categories, the likelihood of them committing a violent act was high, even if they weren’t also mentally ill. If someone fit none, then mental illness was highly unlikely to be predictive of violence.

“That study debunked two myths,” Swanson said. “One: people with mental illness are all dangerous. Well, the vast majority are not. And the other myth: that there’s no connection at all. There is one. It’s quite small, but it’s not completely nonexistent.”

In 2002, Swanson repeated his study over the course of the year, tracking eight hundred people in four states who were being treated for either psychosis or a major mood disorder (the most severe forms of mental illness). The number who committed a violent act that year, he found, was thirteen per cent. But the likelihood was dependent on whether they were unemployed, poor, living in disadvantaged communities, using drugs or alcohol, and had suffered from “violent victimization” during a part of their lives. The association was a cumulative one: take away all of these factors and the risk fell to two per cent, which is the same risk as found in the general population. Add one, and the risk remained low. Add two, and the risk doubled, at the least. Add three, and the risk of violence rose to thirty per cent.

An exception

The studies by Swanson — and other researchers — do, however, indicate one type of violence for which mental illness is predictive: suicide.


“Mental illness, Swanson has found, increases the risk of gun violence when that violence takes the form of suicide,” writes Konnikova. “According to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], between twenty-one and forty-four per cent of those who commit suicide had previously exhibited mental-health problems — as indicated by a combination of family interviews and evidence of mental-health treatment found at the scene, such as psychiatric medications — while between sixteen and thirty-three per cent had a history of psychiatric treatment. As Swanson points out, many studies have shown an even higher risk of suicide among the mentally ill, up to ten to twenty times higher than the general population for bipolar disorder and depression, and thirteen times higher for schizophrenia-spectrum disorders.”

The biggest predictor

Although mental illness may not be a strong predictor of gun violence, research by Swanson and others has uncovered a factor that is: past violence.

“If Swanson had his way,” writes Konnikova, “gun prohibitions wouldn’t be based on mental health, but on records of violent behavior — not just felonies, but also including minor disputes.”

“There are lots of people out there carrying guns around who have high levels of trait anger — the type who smash and break things,” Swanson told her. “I believe they shouldn’t have guns. That’s what’s behind the idea of restricting firearms with people with misdemeanor violent-crime convictions or temporary domestic-violence restraining orders, or even multiple D.U.I.s.”

“We need to get upstream and try to prevent the unpredicted: how to have healthier, less violent communities in the first place,” he added.

Mental illness “is easy to blame, easy to pinpoint, and easy to legislate against in regards to gun ownership,” writes Konnikova. “But that doesn’t mean that it is the right place to start in an attempt to curtail violence. The factors responsible for mass violence are messy, complex, and dynamic — and that is a far harder sell to legislators and voters alike.”

You can read her article on The New Yorker’s website.

Met Council's next chair will be full-time

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 9:04am

If you want to be the new chair of the Metropolitan Council — overseeing the agency charged with regional planning, transportation, housing and wastewater — you're going to have to quit your day job.

That’s because the current Met Council Chair Susan Haigh’s announcement last week that she will leave the job after nearly four years in the post created an opportunity to change the nature of the position, which has long been classified as a part-time office.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would like the appointed head of the seven-county regional agency to be full-time, much like the other members of his cabinet.

That would be a change. Since the agency legislation went through a major revision in 1994 with broader duties and responsibilities, the chair of the 17-member Met Council has been a part-time office.

Even though the job posting doesn’t note the change, those who meet the application deadline of December 1 should be prepared to make it their full-time job. “The governor has the legal authority to make it full-time and he intends to,” said Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson. “He feels it merits a full-time position based on the responsibilities.”

The council chair job is listed in the state law covering cabinet-level salaries as jobs that can be paid up to 120 percent of the governor’s pay of $120,000.

Haigh, the chief executive officer and president of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, said she supports the move. “I’ve been working hard to make a part-time position work with my responsibilities at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and it has been a challenge,” Haig said.

She said the responsibilities of the council have growth with the growth of the region and noted that it is currently in the midst of four major mass transit projects — expansions of both the Green Line and Blue Line light rail and the Gateway Corridor and Orange Line bus rapid transit routes.

“These projects require extensive engagement with the community, with business leaders and with elected officials,” Haigh said. “They require a lot of time and attention.”

That’s not to say that some who served didn’t devote more than part-time hours. But the compensation was almost half what the governor’s other cabinet members were paid, and came without benefits.

“It’s not full-time. It’s not even a job,” said Curtis Johnson who was the first chair of the council after it was reconstituted in 1994. The pay, about $61,000 now, was a stipend rather than a salary. Johnson, appointed by former Gov. Arne Carlson to be the council chair in 1995, said different chairs have been able to devote differing amounts of hours to the position. He estimates that he devoted 80 percent of his time, that Ted Mondale was able to give between 50 and 60 percent and that the longest-serving chair, Peter Bell, devoted “110 percent.”

MinnPost photo by Bill KelleyMet Council Chair Sue Haigh

“Without anyone formally declaring it so, it has become a full time position,” Johnson said. “The scope of the council's work, the political tension that constantly swirls around it, and the competitive stakes for how the region's underlying assets get managed — all come together to make this responsibility something you cannot do well part time. Times change. Assumptions have to as well.”

When he left the position in 2010 after eight years, Peter Bell said he believed the chair should be full-time. He hasn’t changed his mind, and thinks the move isn’t the only change needed, that some change to how the rest of the council is selected should also be considered. “I also think the policy questions surrounding the Council go far beyond the full- or part-time status of the chair."

Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota law professor who sponsored the bill that modernized the Met Council in 1994, said he thinks the chair should be a full-time part of the governor’s cabinet. “I think that would make a big difference. I think it is an inherently interesting job, but its time demands are really full time and require a pretty seasoned person.”

Haigh was considered just such a person when appointed by Dayton at the beginning of his first term. She was a Met Council staff attorney early in her career and has also been an assistant county attorney in Dakota County, chief deputy county attorney in Ramsey County and an elected Ramsey County commissioner.

But she said she doesn’t think she would have accepted the appointment in 2011 had it required her leaving her job with Habitat. She balanced her dual duties by scheduling daytime Met Council meetings for Monday mornings and all-day Wednesday.

“I’m not sure I would have taken (a full-time position) because I am committed to my work at Habitat,” she said. “I’m very excited about my work there.”

Five reasons why Thanksgiving is the best holiday

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 8:46am
Wry Wing Politics CC/Flickr/hope and megan

There isn’t a whole lot to Thanksgiving. A day off, a parade, a big meal and a couple of usually boring football games. No breathtaking gifts, costumes, or fireworks.

So why do I love it more than all the other holidays?

Reason #1: It’s more universal and inclusive than many holidays. Religious holidays like Ramadan, Easter, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, and Yom Kippur are special for their respective practitioners.  But they aren’t experiences that we can share broadly with other friends, neighbors and co-workers. Not everyone embraces Thanksgiving, but it seems like it has more participants than religion-based holidays. Thanksgiving’s celebration of blessings and gratitude can be spiritual and/or secular in nature, whichever the celebrant prefers. And in a tense pluralistic society, we need all the shared celebrations we can get.

Reason #2: It’s relatively non-commercialized. I make a big Thanksgiving meal for family and friends, but it doesn’t require weeks of preparation and a huge investment.  I also love Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July and Halloween, but the way some celebrate those holidays can be pretty expensive. For example, Americans nowspend more than $7 billion per year on Halloween. Thanksgiving, at least the way we do it, is relatively simple, affordable and approachable.

Reason #3: It’s nap-friendly. What other holiday are you allowed, expected even, to have a little shuteye mid-event? In a nation where lack of sleep is now considered a public health epidemic, a lazy, trytophan-laced holiday is awfully nice.

Reason #4: It’s effectively four straight days off. In the most overworked nation in the developed world, days off are precious commodities. For many, Thanksgiving delivers four consecutive days off.   How awesome is that? Not everyone gets a four day weekend out of the deal, but lots of people do, and that beats the heck out of all those one-day holidays.

Reason #5: Thankfulness makes us happy. The number one thing most of us want out of life is to be happy, and a day dedicated to contemplation about all of the blessings in our lives makes me very happy. There is a lot of science proving that being less self-centered is effectively self-serving.

For example, this 7-minute video shows how contemplating gratitude makes us happier, and expressing gratitude to another person makes us happier still. Watch it. It’s a more meaningful Thanksgiving pre-game show than John Madden offers.

Thanksgiving isn’t perfect. Native Americans certainly have every reason to be resentful of uninformed pilgrim glorification, though that part of the holiday does seem to have faded from prominence over the years. Moreover, a decent meal remains beyond the reach of too many families, much less a feast.  We can make Thanksgiving better by adding more generosity and historical candor into the traditional recipe. But all things considered, I’m always awfully thankful when Thanksgiving rolls around.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics.

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John Trudell and The Pines join forces for a soulful post-Thanksgiving show at the Cedar

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 8:43am
Courtesy of John TrudellJohn Trudell: “One thing I am encouraged by, which is a big change from a long time ago to now, is that there are more young Native artists and they’re raising their voices in the culture and the arts, and I think that’s a really really good thing.”

For indigenous people in Minnesota and, indeed, all members of the human race, we have a few table scraps of progress to be thankful for this Thanksgiving week:  

In October, Minneapolis ended years of Columbus Day rule and celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples Day.

Three weeks ago, Minneapolis hosted one of the biggest anti-racism protests in the nation’s history, outside TCF Stadium before the Vikings-Washington game.

Last week, the Senate narrowly voted down the Keystone XL pipeline, the length of which in April Winona LaDuke, a member of the Anishinaabe nation from the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, road on horseback in successful protest “against the current of the oil.”

That combination of watershed moments is the backdrop to two concerts this weekend at the Cedar Cultural Center on the West Bank, including Minneapolis rapper Tall Paul’s third annual “Cold Flows For Warm Clothes: A Hip Hop Benefit For American Indian Youth” Sunday, and Saturday’s collaboration between acoustic wizards The Pines and poet/songwriter John Trudell, the one-time Minneapolis resident and member of the American Indian Movement.  

“It feels to me like Minneapolis has been Ground Zero for the resistance, and for the [Indigenous People] civil rights movement,” said David Huckfelt, co-founder of The Pines.

“Lately, as especially a lot of the problems we have having to do with the climate and climate change, people who have been trying to be stewards of the land for generations have a position of authority in that debate. They’ve been fighting it for a long time, all through the years, so I think that the fact that AIM has reinvigorated itself and that there’s leaders like Winona LaDuke and Clyde [Bellecourt], it makes perfect sense that in these times in Minneapolis, things would stir back up again.

“There’s also support from people like [Rep.] Keith Ellison and [Mayor] Betsy Hodges; there’s a lot of pitching-in and collaborating with what’s going on. It’s not reserved for anybody; if you want to get on board, there’s room for everybody to move something forward.”

That was the impetus for Huckfelt and his partner-in-Pines Benson Ramsey to team with Trudell, who served as chairman of AIM in the ‘70s and lived in the Little Earth neighborhood of Minneapolis and toured with the Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt-led “No Nukes” tour around the same time. The Pines-Trudell collaboration was hatched eight years ago, when Huckfelt took in a Trudell poetry reading at Birchbark Books, the Lake of the Isles haven owned by author Louise Erdrich.  

Courtesy of The PinesThe Pines

“It’s going to be very special,” said Huckfelt, of Trudell’s first Minneapolis appearance in nearly a decade. “We’re going to do a couple of his songs and we’ll collaborate with him on another song.”

“First of all, [the confluence of activity in Minneapolis] shows that whatever we started out back in the '70s and '60s is still very valid; it’s just taken different shapes and put on different masks,” said Trudell by phone from his home in San Francisco. “We’re still dealing with, for lack of a better work, the ignorance and the desensitization of the American public towards the reality of Native people as being human beings, and it manifests it the mascot issue, the land-water issues, and all of it.

“So I think what people are doing is necessary. Protecting the fire of life, so to speak, and it’s not happening in a lot of places. The younger generation of protesters are doing what needs to be done. They’re generating energy that needs to be generated. The predator reality is that they use their energy for fracking and promoting racism; that’s energy that’s accounting for that, and for us as human beings and people who don’t like that, we need to generate energy to put that out there, too. Because that’s what raises consciousness and keeps that flame going, and I think that’s really really good.” 

Count Huckfelt, a former theology student, among the flame-keepers. He was forever changed upon discovering Trudell’s poem “Crazy Horse,” and as Saturday’s showcase draws near, his reverence for Trudell’s wisdom is obvious.   

“For me, personally, the John Trudell message was the antidote [to theology school]; it was the cold, hard, true other side of the story,” said Huckfelt. “There’s nothing fluffy about it, there’s no happy ending to it. In his worldview, we’re welcome on this planet spiritually but in a physical way, there’s any number of atrocities that we’re going to commit upon each other, and when it’s done by institutions it’s gonna be said it’s good for you and it’s what you need. But [Trudell’s work has been about] keeping a spirit, and making sure there’s a place for that.

“We met at Birchbark, but I had seen him speak at Pine Ridge back in 2003 in an event that was commemorating some members of AIM, and he blew my mind by just basically coming out and flat-out saying there’s really no institution in America that you can trust to take care of your spirit, or your children’s spirit. There’s no place you can put your faith in and lay it down and say, all right, this college, school, this business, or government or anything is going to look out for my best interests. You know, it doesn’t exist.”

At 69, Trudell has long been wary of his own government, due in no small part to a suspicious 1979 fire that took the lives of his wife, three children, his unborn child, and his mother-in-law. Shortly thereafter, he began writing and recording – and inspiring future generations to hold sacred the spirit of the earth that too often gets bulldozed in America.

“One thing I am encouraged by, which is a big change from a long time ago to now, is that there are more young Native artists and they’re raising their voices in the culture and the arts, and I think that’s a really really good thing,” said Trudell. “They’re able to express the reality of who we are. You can’t express the reality of who we are through politics, because the political reality is all an illusion.”

Retired U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich on the danger of axiomatic thinking

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 8:41am

An axiom is a fundamental truth, so self-evident that it requires no proof and a chain of logic built upon it will have a solid foundation. But what happens when it turns out that an elaborate worldview and life-and-death-making policies are built on half-truths or even false "axioms"?

Once something is embraced widely as an axiom, it's extremely hard (but vitally necessary) to continue to keep one's mind open to the possibility that a particular axiom is more truthy than true.

Blogging for the Huffington Post under the headline "Malarkey on the Potomac," Andrew Bacevich puts five of the axioms that underlie the foreign/military policy of the United States under the microscope, and he rejects them all. Here are the five:

  • The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

  • The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

  • Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

  • The interests of the United States and Israel align.

  • Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

Bacevich, a retired U.S. Army colonel who lost a son in the Iraq war, now Boston University-based scholar of international affairs and especially of war and peace, summarizes his conclusions thus:

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up. To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

For the full work up, the post is here.

Speaking of posts, this is my last one until after the holiday. I won't say it's number one on my list of many blessings, but I'm thankful for MinnPost readers.

Barely half of eligible Minnesotans voted: Official turnout rate was 50.51 percent

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 8:32am

The official turnout in Minnesota for the Nov. 4 election was 50.51 percent. Pretty low, by state standards.

That means 1,992,566 voters made it to the polls, out of the estimated 3,945,136 who were eligible, according to the Secretary of State's office.

Turnout in recent elections:

  • 2014 — 50.5 percent 
  • 2012 — 76.42 percent
  • 2010 — 55.83 percent 
  • 2008 — 78.11 percent
  • 2006 — 60.47 percent

Absentee ballots, which, this year, could be used without an excuse, made up almost 10 percent of the votes.

Absentee Ballots Cast:

  •  2014 — 198,143 (9.94 percent of all votes) 
  •  2012 — 267,464 (9.06 percent of all votes)
  •  2010 — 127,333 (6 percent of all votes)
  •  2008 — 293,830 (10.06 percent of all votes)
  •  2006 — 146,529 (6.61 percent of all votes)

Turkey in the sea

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 8:14am

If you're one of those curmudgeons who doesn't like the holidays, come on — even the awful ones are amazing.

Unions set to strike retailers on Black Friday

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 5:40am

Isn’t this the cue for someone to rant about “jack-booted union thugs”? Adam Belz of the Strib reports, “Unions in the Twin Cities and their allies are planning to kick off a series of strikes and protests on Black Friday, billed as the busiest shopping day of the year. Janitors who work for companies that clean Home Depot, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Target and Sears will strike unless their employers agree to negotiate with the Service Employees International Union. Other workers plan to march on University Avenue in St. Paul to protest poverty wages on Friday, while fast-food worker protests and a demonstration by airport workers are scheduled for Dec. 4 and Dec. 5.”

Two days after being accused by Minnesota’s AG of unethical business practices, the home office of Savers thrift stores has responded. Angel Gonzalez of the Seattle Times says, “The parent company of Value Village thrift stores said Tuesday that a critical report on its business practices by Minnesota’s attorney general was based on ‘incorrect assumptions and a misunderstanding of our working relationships with our nonprofit partners.’ … The Minnesota report, which a spokesman said came after citizen complaints and has been forwarded to other state attorneys general, called into question the business model Savers has used to build a 330-store international chain.”

And you thought the Costco parking lot was dangerous. Says Maya Rao in the Strib, “Thanksgiving holds a more dubious honor than being the best day to gather ’round for a turkey dinner. As people rush across the state to family feasts, careless drivers, slippery roads and speeding cars make Thanksgiving weekend the most likely holiday period to have a wreck on Minnesota’s roads. Distracted driving was the most common factor in 564 crashes involving 1,436 cars between Nov. 27 and Dec. 1 last year, state records show — ahead of failure to yield to other motorists, speeding, and driving while on drugs or alcohol.”

The guru of the “Maidens Group” is now a Most Wanted Fugitive. The AP says, “The U.S. Marshals Service has added a self-professed minister accused of sexually abusing young girls in rural Minnesota to its 15 Most Wanted Fugitives list. Fifty-three-year-old Victor Barnard is charged with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct involving two members of a ‘Maidens Group’ within a church he led called the River Road Fellowship.”

There’s no bragging about voter turn-out this year. Talking with outgoing Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Tim Pugmire of MPR says, “The five-member State Canvassing Board met today to certify results that show 1,992,566 Minnesotans cast a ballot. That put Minnesota’s turnout for the midterm election at 50.51 percent of eligible voters. The turnout in 2010, the previous midterm, was 55.83 percent. Outgoing DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said 2014 was the smoothest election during his eight years in office, but the turnout was disappointing. Ritchie said Minnesota followed a national trend. ‘We’ve known in the past that if at the top of the ticket it looks like a blowout or if at the top of the ticket it doesn’t look like a really competitive race, there are plenty of people who will say ‘not much I can do in that top ticket race. I’m not going to vote,’ Ritchie said.”

Since it’s going to be a minimum of four and half months before the frozen slush goes away we might as well start drinking the good stuff. Martha Lueders for MPR writes, “Though snow has fallen, we still can enjoy autumn food and drink. Minnesotans should be ecstatic with the beer selection that their state has to offer. We asked Certified Cicerones, qualified beer connoisseurs that have a deep understanding about beer styles, from across the state what their favorite Minnesotan brews were this season. The results are in. The recommendations have been ranked by which beers received the most hype from our experts. 1. The brewery that got the most praise from our experts was Steel Toe Brewing for their Douglas Cascadian Dark Ale. ‘Released several times in the past, although sporadically, this beer seems to have found its home in the fall,’ Michael Wagner, one of the Certified Cicerones at the Four Firkins, says.”

Forbes magazine is out with its annual list of pro sports franchise valuations. At No. 17 in the NHL: the Minnesota Wild. “Current Value: $370 mil. Revenue 2013-2014: $111 mil. Operating Income 2013-2014: -$5.4 mil. 'The Xcel Energy Center, home of the Wild, is undergoing a big overhaul, including high-definition scoreboards, two new escalators, wider concourses and improvements to the entrances of the 13-year-old downtown St. Paul sports arena.'”

And at No. 26 in the NBA, your Minnesota Timberwolves. “Current value: $430 million. Revenue: $116 million. Operating loss: $2.7 million The Minneapolis City Council approved financing in November for a $97 million renovation of the Target Center, which is one of the NBA's oldest venues. The city is putting up $48.5 million, while the team ($43 million) and building manager AEG ($5.5 million) pay the balance. The agreement extends the Wolves lease to 2032 with construction set to begin in the summer of 2014.”

Another golden parachute for a captain of, uh, financial manipulation. Matthew Goldstein of the New York Times writes, “Philip Falcone, the hedge fund manager who made billions betting against the housing market and then lost a bundle trying to build a wireless network, is once again trying to reinvent himself. In a surprising move, Falcone is stepping down as the chief executive and chairman of the Harbinger Group, a publicly traded company that owns stakes in the maker of the George Foreman grills and a life insurance company. … In leaving the Harbinger Group, Falcone will receive a lump-sum payment of $20.5 million. He will also get $19.8 million in bonus money that the Harbinger Group said he had earned for his service to the company. Falcone agreed in 2013 to be barred from working in the securities industry for at least five years as part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that stemmed from violations at his hedge fund.” He is of course an Iron Ranger, from Chisholm.

Just so you know why it's better to leave cash. Susan Du at City Pages says, “If you eat at Bonfire, your tips aren't making it into that smiling server's pocket at the end of the day without a grab-and-dash toll tax to the restaurant. Derek Johnson, a server at Bonfire in St. Paul, has been slinging dishes at the popular wood-fire pizzeria since mid-summer. He says a month after he started, he served a large party that tipped him about $80, but at the end of the shift Bonfire withheld 2 percent. When Johnson asked where the rest was, his manager explained that the restaurant had a legal right to take a percentage of servers' tips to cover credit card fees. Though Bonfire is actually correct in that according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Johnson's [bleeped] because no one bothered to tell him they were taking his money.”                           

Police militarization: Looking at policy solutions

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 5:00am

Late last month, police in Stettin, Wisconsin, arrived at the home of 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner to enforce the collection of a civil judgement. They arrived 24 officers strong, and in the company of a military-grade armored vehicle. In an after-action interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sheriff’s Captain Greg Bean noted that Hoeppner was not considered to be a threat, but had been “argumentative” in the past. Hence, the department’s need to employ military equipment.

Photo by Adrian DanciuMatt Ehling

Hoeppner’s arrest is yet another example of a trend toward the “militarization” of local law-enforcement agencies — a development that is fundamentally changing the nature of policing across the United States. After years of low-profile growth, this trend received national media attention during the events in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this year. Televised images of heavily armed paramilitary police in the streets of suburban St. Louis created an immediate and broad-based national conversation around the matter.

Since that time, some lawmakers have openly discussed ways to address the trend of police militarization through policy changes — looking to correct practices that had been set in motion three decades earlier, during the height of America’s “War on Drugs.” An overview of this phenomenon provides suggestions for how excessive reliance on military hardware and tactics might be curbed.

Paramilitary policing at the source

Without a doubt, some military hardware can have legitimate law-enforcement applications. For instance, M-16 assault rifles can be useful tools during armed stand-offs. However, paramilitary hardware can also result in operational overkill — particularly when coupled with aggressive SWAT practices modeled on military combat tactics. This combination has proved to be lethal in scores of circumstances where police have used paramilitary tactics to raid the wrong homes based on faulty information. The number of such incidents has escalated as police have come to rely on paramilitary methods as default measures, rather than as emergency procedures.


The flow of military hardware to local police agencies has been a function of two major trends. First, federal programs such as the Pentagon’s “1033” program have provided surplus military hardware to civilian police departments — either for free or at deep discounts. Such programs were instigated under the Ronald Reagan administration, and were later expanded during Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House. At the same time, private military vendors have come to view police departments as an ancillary market for military equipment, and have heavily marketed their wares to law enforcement.

Federal programs create disconnect

On the supply front, federal surplus programs bear primarily responsibility for driving the boom in paramilitary equipment. The acquisition of hardware on the commercial market is far more costly, placing some practical limitations on equipment acquisition.

By limiting cost as a factor, federal give-away programs have expedited the flow of military hardware to the police, and have fostered a disconnect between actual departmental needs and the availability of equipment. In many instances, this has led to acquisitions and uses that would not otherwise have occurred. Thus, rural agencies across the United States have received mine-resistant military vehicles that are infrequently required for the circumstances present in those jurisdictions.  As in Stettin, Wisconsin, however, that has not stopped the gear from being deployed into the field.

The disconnect fostered by federal surplus programs is a natural place to begin a discussion of policy change. Congress should either act to limit the scope of such programs, or else set a higher bar for technology transfers. Gear availability should not result in de facto transfers to law enforcement without more substantive questions being asked.  

Since Ferguson, there has been some discussion (and at least one congressional hearing) about modifying the 1033 program, but it remains to be seen whether federal policy changes will actually transpire.

More local transparency required

If federal officials do not impose tighter constraints on hardware transfers, local officials are still able to do so. This requires transparency, as lawmakers cannot regulate what they cannot see.  

Full access to data about military-police transfers in Minnesota has been hard to come by, however. At least one state agency has answered a public record request about military hardware (filed by the Borgos for AG campaign) by denying access to the written rationales for why agencies have sought such equipment. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, such rationales constitute “security information” and are thus exempt from disclosure.

Opacity in police acquisition has been a growing issue in Minnesota, as was demonstrated by this year’s debate over “Stingray” cell phone surveillance equipment. However, once the veil of secrecy was lifted through data requests and media coverage, the Legislature was able to enact meaningful regulation of cell phone location surveillance. Will the same be true of military equipment maintained by Minnesota law-enforcement agencies?

Public input on hardware, tactics

Beyond state regulation, policy adjustments can be made at the county or municipal level. Localities should provide notice about what military equipment is being acquired by their police agencies, and citizens should have a chance to submit comments and feedback. As surprise was the main public reaction to the display of hardware in Ferguson earlier this year, it seems clear that the public needs to be put back in the discussion loop about what law enforcement is doing with the resources that it holds.

Beyond addressing the transfer of military equipment, lawmakers can also regulate the ways in which such equipment is used. In many cases of paramilitary over-reach, it is not only the availability of hardware that has created problems, but also the manner in which that hardware has been deployed. For example, SWAT teams were used in a series of 2010-era raids in Orlando, Florida, to check for barbers’ licenses. To avoid repeats of such situations, lawmakers could bar the use of paramilitary tactics in the service of licensure, administrative or related matters.

Likewise, if lawmakers are not willing to address such issues, judicial constraints can be brought to bear. As an example, the Florida barbershop raids resulted in a judicial ruling, which held that aggressive SWAT tactics were unconstitutional when used in the absence of a clear threat to office safety.  

Presentation makes a difference

Like tactics and hardware, officer presentation is another component of the debate over police militarization. To a certain extent, this debate is not only about changes to weaponry and methods, but also about changes to the public posture of the police institution itself. The trend toward paramilitarism has given rise to appearances by police in camouflage fatigues or black jumpsuits, with face masks used to conceal officer identities. We saw this on a local level during the Minneapolis ISAG protests of 2000, when masked SWAT officers were used to raid a protester’s home. We then saw the same phenomenon on a larger scale during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Although cosmetic, these uniform changes have a tangible impact on the public perception of the police, and their institutional legitimacy.  

From uniforms to tactics, a presentation of police militarism can generate real-word consequences that can escalate — rather than de-escalate — many situations. Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper has attested to this in recent years, after becoming a convert to the cause of police demilitarization.  

In 1999, Stamper helmed Seattle’s paramilitary response to the World Trade Organization protests in what was a groundbreaking, large-scale deployment of militarized police tactics that used armored vehicles, stun grenades and more.  Stamper has since conceded that the application was wrongheaded, and that it served to inflame violence by extreme elements of the crowd, rather than pacifying the situation.

Policymakers should undertake reforms

Police militarization is one element of an ongoing, profound set of challenges to our national identity as a free society. This year's highly public discussions about the phenomenon present an opportunity to enact needed reforms. It is an opportunity that American policymakers should embrace.

Matt Ehling is a St. Paul-based writer and media producer who is active in government transparency and accountability efforts.


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

Hormel hits record $9.3 billion in sales

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 4:35pm
CC/Flickr/Philip Chapman-BellHormel's sales increases were “fueled by… branded, value-added product portfolios.”

Hormel Foods Corp. announced a record $9.3 billion in sales in fiscal 2014, up 6 percent over the previous year, reports the Austin Daily Herald. President and CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said the company also notched a record $2.5 billion in sales for the fourth quarter. Net earnings were a record $602.7 million, up 15 percent from last year. The increases were “fueled by our branded, value-added product portfolios,” Ettinger said in a press release.

Lakes in northern Minnesota are freezing over nicely, but lakes are still dangerous in the rest of the state. Brad Phenow in the Faribault Daily News reports that there’s only a thin layer of ice on lakes in central and southern Minnesota. This severely affects ice fishing so the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges anglers to use extreme caution during this time of year. “A few days of cold temperatures don’t create ice strong enough to hold a person,” said Maj. Greg Salo, operations manager in the DNR Enforcement Division.

The Rochester Post Bulletin reports an increase in the number of students sick with influenza-like illnesses. Fifteen Rochester schools had above-normal absences from schools, and symptoms reported by parents matched those of influenza: high fever, cough and sore throat. Olmsted County Public Health advises “getting vaccinated against the flu (it takes about two weeks to build immunity after the vaccination), cover your cough, wash hands often and stay home from work or school if ill.”

The Wells City Council has suspended a city police officer for two weeks without pay following an investigation, reports Josh Moniz of the Mankato Free Press. Steve Seipp has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 22 while he was the subject of an internal investigation. Wells officials have declined to provide details about the misconduct, including the specific city rules he broke. The city did say Seipp did not face a criminal investigation and that Seipp had no prior disciplinary incidents. Wells Police Chief Jim Ratelle said the investigation has been a strain on the department of four full-time officers and five part-time officers. "We all learned a valuable lesson in this process," Ratelle said, although he too declined to provide any details on Seipp's unspecified misconduct.

Newsweek has named Bemidji High School one of the top 500 best schools in the country for low-income students. Bethany Wesley of the Bemidji Pioneer writes that the school ranked No. 412 in Newsweek's “Beating The Odds 2014 -- Top Schools For Low-Income Students” in which the schools were selected based on scores for college enrollment, graduation rates, counselor-to-student ratios, test results and keyed it into the school’s poverty rate. Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Jim Hess presented a plaque to recognize the school, its students and staff for their efforts.

Here are the Minnesota schools on Newsweek’s list with the rank and poverty rate: 17, Twin Cities Academy High School, 44.23 percent; 92, Face to Face Academy, 89.71 percent; 94, Woodbury Senior High, 14.46 percent; 106, Mound-Westonka High School, 22.26 percent; 144, Orono Senior High, 6.81 percent; 189, Southwest Senior High, 35.93 percent; Ubah Medical Academy Charter School, 88.64 percent; 199, Mounds View Senior High, 11.12 percent; 237, Wayzata High School, 15.72 percent; 336, Mahtomedi Senior High, 7.16 percent; 391, Central Senior High (St. Paul), 55.38 percent; 412, Bemidji Senior High, 40.42 percent; Luverne Senior High, 27.68 percent; 465, Rushford-Peterson Senior High, 36.84 percent; 495, West Central Area Secondary, 37.31 percent.

A task force says by 2024, Moorhead will need a new high school, a second middle school and another elementary school, writes Helmut Schmidt of the Fargo Forum. The Moorhead School District’s facilities master plan task force joined with the Cuningham Group out of Minneapolis to determine that the high school will be outdated by that time. Enrollment increases will require another middle school and elementary school. School Board member Matt Valan said the district’s growth is welcome but has a cost. “The good news is we’re bursting at the seams,” he said. “The bad news is we’re bursting at the seams.”

John Weiss of the Rochester Post Bulletin writes that the when the towboat Sheryl B. Reeves pushed six loaded barges through the Genoa, Wisconsin, Lock and Dam 8 at 3:40 p.m. Sunday, the commercial navigation season in this region ended. The end of the season is earlier than normal because a mid-November cold snap iced up the river. In fact, the Reeves was pushing so much ice in front of it that the Corps of Engineers operators had to move the ice through the lock before it was able to get the tow through, said lock operator William J. Nissalke. It was the earliest end to a season in 45 years, according to the Associated Press.

Brainerd has been having a problem with cats in its storm sewers, reports Jessie Perrine of the Brainerd Dispatch. Animal Control officer Don Hannahs said feral cats in the storm sewer system is pretty common. It's warmer and safer for them there. The problem in Brainerd intensified when some residents heard meows in the drains and dropped cans of cat food to help the felines. That only draws in more cats, Hannahs said. City Engineer Jeff Hulsether said the cats don't cause any harm to the system. "A lot of people are saying (the cats) are stuck or stranded," Hulsether said. "That doesn't appear to be the case. They just don't want to leave."

Duluth is crowing that it has the cheapest gas in the state. The Monday price of about $2.49 per gallon of unleaded regular, according to minnesotagasprices.com, is nearly 40 cents per gallon cheaper than last year at this time. In fact, this is the cheapest gas has been at Thanksgiving since 2009. The statewide average Monday was $2.68 per gallon and $2.80 across the U.S. The News Tribune noted that this year, a 350-mile round trip to the Twin Cities will cost about $6 less than in 2013 if your vehicle gets 25 mpg. The cause of the lower prices is a bigger surplus of domestic oil coupled with Americans who are driving fewer miles in cars that have better gas mileage.

Albert Lea school leaders wanted to know what teachers thought about changing the school calendar, so they whipped up an anonymous, online survey and sent it to the faculty. Unfortunately, they received 317 responses from the district’s 279 licensed teachers, invalidating the results. Tim Engstrom reports that Superintendent Mike Funk suspected some teachers voted from multiple computers, or the link to the survey was spread to non-teachers. In fact, the newspaper found links to the survey posted on Facebook. For the record, the survey showed 139 in favor of the plan to adjust the calendar and 178 against. In June, a survey found 123 supported it, 36 opposed and 74 neutral, Engstrom wrote.

Minnesota students respond to Ferguson decision

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 3:09pm

From MPR, a collection of local reaction to the Ferguson grand jury decision. “Students at Minneapolis South High School staged a sit-in Tuesday morning to protest a grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. An MPR News reporter trying to cover the Minneapolis South sit-in was turned away. … Zipporah Benson, a senior at South, said that dozens of students sat peacefully in the hallway, talking about the shooting of the unarmed black teen. ‘I don't know what happened, but I think it's right for them to sit in and protest,’ she said. Benson added that she feels the shooting directly affects her as a young person of color.”

An AP/WCCO item says, “Students at Minneapolis’ Southwest High School staged a sit-in Tuesday, with about 200 students lining the halls in a planned four-and-a-half hours of silence, according to Anders Billund-Phibbs, a sit-in organizer. That precise period of time signifies how long Brown’s body was left lying in the street after he’d been shot. Minneapolis Public Schools released a statement saying it respects students’ right to assemble, and that they will not face discipline if the sit-in remains peaceful.”

At PowerLine, John Hinderaker writes, “The second remarkable fact, it seems to me, is that the grand jurors resisted political pressure to do what they believed was the right thing. It would have been easy to satisfy the crowd – both the media mob and the literal mob that has assembled repeatedly in Ferguson – by making Wilson a sacrificial lamb. ... Tonight’s decision was, I think, a victory for justice and for due process. … Also ‘criminal justice reform.’ But what reform, exactly, is that? Is there something wrong with Missouri’s law of self-defense? With its grand jury procedures? If so, what? As usual, Obama just spews BS that has little significance, apart from the political.”

Put down the Twitter feed, dude. At CBS Sports Will Brinson looks at Adrian Peterson comparing his situation to the Ferguson grand jury decision and says, “Many sports figures took to Twitter to comment on the situation, including Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who -- for whatever reason -- decided to liken the situation to his own off-field problems. … The GRAND JURY DECIDED NOT TO INDICT ME TOO! But that changed a week LATER! MAYBE,BUT NOT LIKELY N THIS CASE.”

Also taking it back to the man. First Amendment rights! The AP says, “A man who was arrested after he posted Facebook comments calling a southern Wisconsin police department racist has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the agency violated his constitutional rights. Police arrested Thomas Smith in 2012 after he posted profanity-laced comments on Facebook calling police officers in Arena racists and likening them to male genitalia. He was convicted of disorderly conduct and illegal use of computer communications. A state appeals court tossed out his convictions this past July, ruling Smith's remarks were protected speech under the U.S. Constitution.

It’s kind of a backdoor correction, but the New York Times has essentially amended that “grape salad” business by asking Google to decide what the most distinctly local dish is, state by state. On the Times’ Upshot blog they now say, “Few food-related articles in the Times got more attention from Minnesotans than the much-debated Grape Salad recipe, which was literally front-page news in the Twin Cities. Many Minnesotans insist that they don’t make the dish. Whatever you think of #GrapeGate, there’s no denying that Minnesotans do love their salads, especially if the main ingredients are Cool Whip and Snickers bars. The uncontestably Minnesotan dish of wild-rice casserole tops the list, with strong showings by lefse and bacon-wrapped smokies, a distant member of the pigs-in-a-blanket family.”

Coming down. In the PiPress, Joe Lindberg reports, “Several vacant county buildings soon will be demolished along Kellogg Boulevard in downtown St. Paul, which will undergo a precise yet dramatic makeover next summer along the river bluff. The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved $11.5 million to take down the former West Publishing building, which spans six adjoining structures, and the former adult detention center by mid-2016. Nearly half the cost will be dedicated to stabilizing the bluff with a $5 million retaining wall.”

Saving hundreds of forests … Says Evan Ramstad of the Strib, “The era of the White Pages is ending in Minnesota. The state Public Utilities Commission on Monday unanimously voted to allow CenturyLink, the state’s biggest provider of phone service, to stop mandatory distribution of residential phone books. The company must still make the phone book available to consumers who request one. The decision came just a few weeks before CenturyLink and the firm that publishes its directories, DexMedia Inc., would have published the next edition of the 350-page Minneapolis White Pages.”

You have to wonder what the premiums were on these policies? Stribber Paul Walsh says, “The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has hit a major roadblock in its pledge to pay damages to victims of clergy sex abuse: Its insurance companies are refusing to cover the costs. Now the archdiocese is going to federal court to ask a judge to set standards for the eight insurance companies to start meeting the terms of the ‘substantial’ amount of insurance it bought ‘to cover the type of injuries’ suffered by the clergy abuse claimants. … In letters to the archdiocese, insurers explain that the policies do not apply because the abuse incidents are not ‘accidents’ and ‘occurrences’ but acts that caused harm that were expected or intended.” Not to mentioned enabled.

The “neighbor from hell” is getting another chance. Kevin Duchschere of the Strib says, “Lori Christensen, the so-called ‘neighbor from hell’ alleged to have criminally harassed a family across her White Bear Lake cul-de-sac, should have been allowed to change her mind after pleading guilty last year to violating a restraining order, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday. … The case will now return to the district court.”

Video: MinnPost's panel discussion on health equity

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 3:02pm

When it comes to health, Minnesota is a tale of two states. Often cited as one of the healthiest places to live in the nation, it’s also a state where a black child is twice as likely to die in the first year of life as a white child, where people of color experience significantly shorter life spans along with higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

“We have been a model state — yet we also have the most glaring health disparities in the country,” says state Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger.

Those striking disparities in health outcomes in Minnesota — and how we might begin to address them — was the subject of a panel discussion hosted by MinnPost and sponsored by UCare:  “Health care equity: How do we get there?”

In addition to Dr. Ehlinger, members of the panel included NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center CEO Stella Whitney-West, Regions Hospital physician Dr. Bjorn Westgard, Hennepin County health policy program manager (and former state senator) Linda Berglin, and Minnesota Council of Health Plans Executive Director Julie Brunner.

The discussion — held at Northrop Auditorium's Best Buy Theater — highlighted that health disparities in Minnesota are less a matter of health care than they are of overall health, which has as much to do with public policy choices around jobs, transportation and the environment as it does with individual decisions around exercise and good nutrition.  

All of which means that very little will be accomplished, said Berglin, until the issue becomes part of a larger public debate. “Others besides health-care institutions,” she said, “will have to begin to feel they are responsible.” 

Here is a video of the entire event, including the Q&A session that followed the panel discussion. 

"Health care equity: How do we get there?" panel discussion

Empty downtown St. Paul river bluff buildings tumbling down in 2015

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 2:37pm

The old West Publishing buildings and the former river bluff county jail — both empty and owned by Ramsey County — will be demolished next year to make way for new development on the prime downtown St. Paul riverfront.

The Ramsey County Board has approved an $11.5 million demolition budget, so work could start next summer.

The buildings sit atop the Mississippi River bluffs and offer panoramic river views as well as a location in the heart of downtown. West Publishing cobbled together the set of buildings over the years, but moved out of downtown in 1992 when city officials wouldn't allow upward expansion of the buildings to accommodate the company's growth.

When the company, now part of Thomson-Reuters, relocated to Eagan, Ramsey County took over the buildings for office use, but all employees have long since moved out.

The connecting jail, just east of the West buildings, was built in 1979 on the river bluff and offered inmates some of the finest views in the city. It was closed when a new jail was built east of downtown in 2003.

County commissioners have been trying to sell the buildings for years, but their odd layout and design made them largely unattractive to buyers.

Although there are no buyers lined up for the site, the county says a study indicates that the "site will accommodate upwards of $150,000,000 in private development which would yield about $7 million in annual tax revenues. About $1.9 million of that would be collected by Ramsey County."

The property has produced no tax revenue since the West move.