Methadone patients around the state often take state-paid cab rides to pick up their medication, even traveling one-at-a-time from Duluth to Brainerd, says a report on Fox 9 News.
Says the story:
For four months, the FOX 9 Investigators watched and noticed cab after cab kept coming from the Duluth area roughly 115 miles way despite the fact that Duluth has its own methadone clinic.
One methadone patient described the process as "outrageous," and said the state pays as much as $500 a day for those fares.
State officials apparently aren't even sure how much cab rides cost state taxpayers, the story said:
...the companies administering Medicaid for the state don't keep track of what kind of appointments patients travel to by cab, be it an eye clinic or one providing methadone.
The FOX 9 Investigators suggested the state could tally taxi fares for patients at methadone clinics and narrowed the request to Pinnacle Recovery Services in Brainerd. Between February 2012 and March 2013, the state spent $2,554,000 on transporting patients to that clinic alone.
"That is incredible," [State Sen. Julie] Rosen said. "It doesn't make sense."
The state now plans to investigate some of those charges to see whether they are accurate, legitimate and what can be done to cut the costs.
Patients ride from Duluth to Brainerd, some daily, in cabs by themselves, because the Duluth methadone clinic can't take any new patients.
Yet, if there are many patients traveling from one area, couldn't they ride together?
Drivers explained that the answer is no, due to patient confidentiality; however, time and time again, the FOX 9 Investigators saw patients mingling and interacting with one another while they waited for their cabs to arrive.
The state told FOX 9 it would work with patients and providers on carpooling, and patients who are doing well can work their way up to taking out medications in a locked box instead of making daily trips.
This happens in the metro area, too:
In fact, all over the state, patients receiving medical assistance from the government take taxis or medical transportation to get to methadone treatment — often driving past clinics that are closer to their homes. Even drivers who profit from the system say they are disgusted.
Stacy Arego takes a cab from Oak Park Heights to Valhalla Place in Woodbury, which is the closest clinic to her home — and she said she sees about 100 cabs or more coming and going each day.
And some patients said there's potential for abuse:
One patient confirmed being approached in the parking lot by people who want to buy her medicine. She never sells, but a different patient who makes three trips a week for prescription pickups in a state-paid cab admitted to selling the medicine for $40 a dose.
As I’ve written here before, the medical ignorance of some politicians — particularly in regard to women’s reproductive health — is a continual source of astonishment.
Another one of these incidences hit the news this week. While searching through the legislative history of Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain, now running on the Republican ticket for his state’s attorney general position, reporters found that he had authored a bill in 2009 that would have required all women in Virginia to report miscarriages to police or risk legal penalties, including as much as a year in jail.
Specifically, the bill required that within 24 hours of “a fetal death” that occurs without “medical attendance,” the mother or someone acting on her behalf must report that death, the location of the fetal remains and the name of the mother to local police. Furthermore, the “remains” could not be disposed of without police authorization.
The bill was unanimously rejected by the Virginia State Senate, thank goodness — apparently after women’s health advocates made it clear that the bill would place an enormous emotional burden on women.
Obenshain’s office issued a statement Tuesday which said that the senator never intended to target every woman who miscarries, but only women like the 20-year-old Virginia college student who in 2008 delivered a stillborn baby in her dormitory’s bathroom and then placed the body in a dumpster. She received, under current Virginia law, a 30-day suspended jail sentence and a year of probation. Press reports say she also underwent considerable counseling.
That apparently that wasn’t enough of a punishment for Obenshain. So he drafted his failed bill. What struck me, however, was how that bill’s language reflected such a underlying lack of knowledge about miscarriages — how common they are, how they occur, and how intrusive and emotionally burdensome it would be to ask women to report them to police.
To get the medical facts about miscarriages, I spoke Tuesday with Dr. Carrie Terrell, an ob-gyn and chief of staff at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. A condensed version of that interview follows.
MinnPost: What is a miscarriage?Carrie Terrell
Carrie Terrell: A miscarriage is spontaneous abortion. It’s generally defined as the expulsion of an embryo or fetus weighing 500 grams [about one pound] or less. We usually use the word fetus for gestations that are greater than 10 weeks and embryo for gestations less than or equal to 10 weeks.
So, in general, a miscarriage is a loss of any pregnancy prior to viability — [when] the fetus could potentially be resuscitated in a hospital setting with the proper equipment. That’s generally considered 24 weeks.
MP: What is the difference between a miscarriage and a stillborn birth?
CT: A stillborn is not a medical term, so it’s not something that we have a definition for. But generally it means a fetus that is born dead past that term of viability.
MP: What are the key causes of miscarriage?
CT: For the vast majority, their cause is spontaneous and unknown. Only in rare cases can we identify the cause. It can be a maternal factor, a paternal factor, a genetic factor, an exposure factor, or an anatomy problem. A maternal factor might be some set of antibodies [the mother has], or some kind of blood [clotting or bleeding] disorder that causes abortion. A paternal factor could be a genetic component. The chromosome inherited from the sperm could be somehow mutated.
MP: Miscarriages are very common, aren’t they?
CT: Absolutely. The rates that we quote vary, but we generally say that anywhere from 8 to 20 percent of pregnancies — those that have been documented in some way — result in miscarriage.
MP: Do women always know they’ve had a miscarriage?
CT: Women don’t always know. Today, for good or for ill, women often know they’re pregnant quite early. A lot of home pregnancy tests can show that you’re pregnant four to six weeks from the last period, which is how we date pregnancies. So a woman will often get a positive pregnancy test [and then bleed and miscarry] before we can even identify anything on an ultrasound, before anything can be clinically documented.
That’s one thing that happens. The other thing is that sometimes the fetus or the embryo dies, but the body doesn’t necessarily recognize that it is no longer pregnant because there’s still gestational pregnancy tissue in the uterus, the hormones are still at a very high level, and the body hasn’t recognized that the hormone levels are starting to decline. The women still feels pregnant. They still have a positive pregnancy test. They come in for verification and their ultrasound reveals that either the embryo has stopped growing at some point or is no longer viable. Yet they haven’t had any cramping or bleeding. We’re not doing ultrasounds on everyone all the time, so that could have gone on for several more weeks before the body realized, oh, those hormone levels are dropping so it’s time to start cramping and bleeding.
MP: So in previous generations, before early pregnancy testing and ultrasound technology, women would have been less likely to even know they had experienced a miscarriage.
CT: Yes. It would have been considered a late menses usually.
MP: It’s very common therefore for women to miscarry without a doctor or other health professional present.
CT: Absolutely. Frankly, even if they’re under medical care, even if I diagnose a miscarriage because I’ve done an ultrasound on someone and deemed the embryo is not viable or not growing and the pregnancy is not progressing, the woman most times will opt for natural intervention. She’ll just opt to wait and see what happens. She doesn’t necessarily want to have the surgery or medication. She’ll just go about her business, and at some point she’ll cramp and bleed.
I haven’t read [Obenshain’s 2009 bill], but if they’re saying [that all women need to be under medical care for] the passage of the embryo, well that’s not going to happen. Even the ones that we’re managing, even the ones that we administer medication to help the woman pass the tissue, we’re not there when it happens. So, I think we’re talking voluminous increases in monitoring or surveillance or police calls. I can’t even fathom it.
MP: Most of the time we’re talking about something that just looks like heavy bleeding, correct?
CT: Right. Generally, there’s nothing identifiable. There’s nothing a woman would be able to see with her eyes or separate from the blood or the blood clot in the toilet or on the pad. These early ones are nearly microscopic. There is no fetal growth. There are no parts. It’s just an embryonic sac.
MP: What happens if there is a fetus?
CT: Now we’re talking anything past 10 weeks or above. We technically call that a fetus. There may be something potentially identifiable, but you may or may not be able to find it. As before, if a woman is diagnosed with a miscarriage and she chooses not to have the surgery, she may pass that at home on her own. As the fetus gets larger, passing it at home can be really quite painful and there can be a significant amount of bleeding, so we will encourage women to opt for an intervention, which is most commonly a D&C that is done in the [doctor’s] office or in the hospital.
But women get to make that choice in our society.
MP: In the case that apparently instigated the proposed Virginia legislation, a stillbirth occurred and the woman disposed of the remains in a dumpster. Those cases are extremely rare, correct?
CT: Right. Number one, those pregnancies are generally under some kind of medical care. And with stillborns, we’re talking 23 or 24 weeks and beyond. That’s a large pregnancy. We would generally not recommend that women try to do that at home on their own. Pain and bleeding would be the big concern. We’ve certainly had rare cases where women have used doulas or midwives to birth a stillborn at home, and that can be fine.
In rare cases, maybe the woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant or she knows she’s pregnant, but she doesn’t realize that anything’s wrong. She may have some stomach pain, but she doesn’t think it’s labor because it’s so early. Those cases can sometimes progress rapidly, and a woman may deliver at home. In my experience, 99 percent of the time they call an ambulance. They don’t want it to happen. They’re trying to stop it or figure out what to do about it. It’s a horrible thing to go through.
We have certainly all heard of the cases you’re describing. But they are not the norm.
MP: So what is your opinion of requiring all women to report all miscarriages to the police?
CT: It sounds absurd. From a societal point of view, who’s going to pay for that? Is that going to be a medical expense or a taxpayer expense? Because, again, if we’re saying that up to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, that’s an awful lot of phone calls. Because a majority of those aren’t happening in a hospital or a clinic, they are happening at home, even when we’re well aware of them.
MP: It’s also usually a difficult time for women.
CT: Yes, it’s an emotional time for women. It’s also a completely normal and natural event. It would be sort of like having to report every time you had intercourse or your period. It’s a normal part of a woman’ reproductive life.
There are lots of places in the Twin Cities you can go if you’d like to be alone. Theodore Wirth Park. The southern leg of the LRT Blue Line on a weeknight after 11 p.m. Down by the Mississippi on the flats. A weekday matinee at St. Anthony Main. But for that particular feeling of complete isolation in the heart of the city, there is nowhere to rival a trip through the skyways on a weekend afternoon in the spring and summer.
The skyways are technically open until 8 p.m. on Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sundays, but you’d never know that from walking through. Nearly all the businesses are closed and barricaded, and half of the lights are even shut off. Even on a rainy day like this past Saturday, you will encounter almost no other pedestrians. In fact, in one segment I walked through an alarm was going off, and sounded as if it had been doing so for hours. I hung around for a couple of minutes to see what would happen – maybe a security guard would try to have me arrested! – but nobody showed up.
When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes bring me to his office on the weekends if he had to work, and I loved walking around the darkened corridors in complete silence, in what is on weekdays a busy, bustling space. It wasn’t necessarily the urge to recreate that sensation that brought me up into the skyways; I just wanted to explore some of the art deco fixtures in the Rand Tower. The front doors were locked, but the skyway entrance was open. The lobby and the second floor area are both open to foot traffic, through the skyway, although both are dark on weekends. It feels like you’re the personal weekend guest of Rufus R. Rand, the gas baron who built it all. Or feeling, at least, like you snuck into his office on a weekend while all the workers were gone.
The Rand Tower was completed in 1929, the same year as the Foshay, and it shares some of the lavish, edge-of-the-Depression decorative elements with its more famous contemporary. It’s somewhat more modest than the famously over-the-top Foshay, though it’s retained its period charm through the 21st century a little more nicely. It still feels like a classic downtown business address, and not like a tacky luxury hotel crammed into the interior of a downtown business address (by which I mean there is no purple neon or softly playing ‘90s house music in the lobby).
Rand was, in addition to being the head of the Minneapolis Gas Company, an enthusiastic aviator, and so the Rand Tower is a hymn to the Golden Age of Aviation. The floor in particular is quite beautiful, with bronze compasses, stars and moons set into smooth, reflective terrazzo floors. There is a grand marble staircase spiraling from the skyway level to the first floor – completely dark on weekends – leading to a bronze sculpture by Oskar J.W. Hansen entitled "Wings."MinnPost photo by Andy Sturdevant"Wings" by Oskar J.W. Hansen
Hansen was a Norwegian-born, Virginia-based writer and military man, in addition to being a sculptor. He’d been a general in the French Foreign Legion and a major in the U.S. Army, and was well-known for making the sort of heroic, large-scale work that decorated public works projects in this era – most notably the "Winged Angels of the Republic" you can see at the Hoover Dam.
About those sculptures, he wrote this: They were meant to embody “the immutable calm of intellectual resolution, and the enormous power of trained physical strength, equally enthroned in placid triumph of scientific accomplishment.” One could write the same of "Wings," a stylized aviator ready to defy gravity and circumnavigate the globe, spreading the aviation-age gospel of science, progress and art. Of course, in 1929 it would all come crashing down. This kind of stylized, heroic art deco sculpture would flourish throughout the Depression, but it would be less concerned with the “placid triumph of scientific accomplishment” and more with the nobility and redemption in physical labor.MinnPost photo by Andy SturdevantThe exterior of the Rand Tower continues the aviation theme.
The exterior of the Rand Tower continues the aviation theme. Over the front entrance there is a frieze depicting twin, wing-footed figures of Mercury. Each one holds a biplane, presumably the sort that Rufus Rand flew in his early days as a Minnesota aviation pioneer. The exterior of the building is as attentive to detail as the interior, though Rand could not have predicted that more people would probably pass through his building via the second story than on the street level.
Out on the streets around the Rand Tower at 6th and Marquette, there are a few other bas-relief pieces on buildings, clustered around the corner and created to express the heroic scale and optimism of a great American city on the march. They’re all quite different from one another, though.MinnPost photo by Andy SturdevantEven the chicken has a heroic, determined expression.
One of my favorites in the whole city is across the street from the Rand Tower, the eponymous farmer and mechanic described in the onetime bank’s name, Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank, created by sculptor Walter Mosman. Note the shift tonally in these sculptures and the ones at the Rand. Both depict heroic figures, drawing on antiquity and idealizing the human form, but the two men at F&M aren’t Greek gods or metaphoric, soaring mechanical sky deities. They’re regular, hard-working Minnesotans, only slightly glorified visions of the customers that would be walking into the bank every day.
Mosman was a young man when he created the commission, only about 30, but was already head of the sculpture department at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It does seem to reflect the vision of an ambitious, optimistic young person. I’ve always liked the chicken hanging out with the farmer. Even the poultry has a heroic, determined expression.MinnPost photo by Andy SturdevantThe Scandinavian Bank Building
Right next to the Rand is a charming and bizarre remainder of the era’s sense of exotic whimsy. It’s a small, red building, a little worse for the wear, built in 1895 and refurbished in 1925. It was once the home of the Scandinavian Bank Building. Actually, it’s not really a building at all anymore, but a preserved façade in front of a parking garage, with a skyway lanced right through its second floor. It’s all Egyptian in theme – hieroglyphics, scarabs, Eyes of Horus. What relationship Scandinavian bankers bore to the ancient Egyptians is a mystery, other than the implication that, like the Pyramids, the word of the Scandinavian Bank was timeless, a bond that would echo throughout the ages. Perhaps it’s the flipside of the neighboring Rand’s flights of modernist, technocratic fancy: “These new modern trends and technology come and go,” it suggests hieroglyphically, “but the word of our bankers is good forever.”
There it is, on one street corner, three bas-relief visions of the interwar period. Which will you put your faith in: technological advancement, human labor, or the continuity of civilization?
Of course, you step through the front door of the old Scandinavian Bank, underneath the skyway, and you find yourself in a cavernous parking garage many decades later, a spare interior space that bears no relationship to the façade out front. On the weekend, it’s largely devoid of human activity, except for a few cars and flickering overhead lights. Alone again!
“We look forward to working with members of both parties in the House and Senate to reach a solution that will prevent the doubling of rates and will keep college affordable for students and families now and in the future,” she said.Obama, Kline plans differ on rates
- 2.5 percent for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans, with a cap at 8.5 percent (current rates are 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent respectively);
- And 4.5 percent for graduate and Parent PLUS loans, capped at 10.5 percent (the current rate is 7.9 percent).
A Minneapolis house designed and constructed in 1893 by master builder Theron Potter Healy apparently will be saved from the wrecking ball. The process has been a short but rocky road.
First, the Community Planning and Economic Development Department decided the house at 2320 Colfax Ave. S. had no historic significance and signed off on a wrecking/demolition permit. That was in March.
Anders Christensen, an expert on the topic of Healy houses, appealed that decision to the Heritage Preservation Commission, which granted the appeal despite staff advice that the house did not match the definition of a historic resource. That was in April.
Two days later, the property owner filed an appeal of the commission’s decision that was heard by the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee. Members there voted 5-to-0 to save the house. That was Tuesday.Council’s final decision Friday
The full City Council will consider the matter on Friday, but a 5-to-0-committee vote will be hard to turn around.
Healy built 140 homes in Minneapolis between 1886 and his death in 1906, working for every major architect of the era and designing homes himself even though he was not educated as an architect.
“Healy was a master builder, but the residence at 2320 Colfax has been altered extensively over time,” said John Smoley, a city planner who works with the Heritage Preservation Commission. The house, which has suffered damage in three fires, currently is divided into 15 living units.
The once-open front porch has been enclosed, wood-frame windows have been replaced with aluminum and vinyl, a large addition has been added to the back of the house and a barn/carriage house built by Healy has been removed.
“There are better remaining examples of Theron Potter Healy’s work,” Smoley said. Of the 30 houses Healy built in the Wedge neighborhood, 27 are still standing, including the Colfax house.Home converted to multiple units
Healy built it on his own and sold it to Edward Orth, the son of John Orth, who in 1890 owned one of the four large brewing companies in Minneapolis. (Those breweries merged and ultimately became Grain Belt Brewing.)
The Orth House, as 2320 Colfax came to be known, was a single-family dwelling until 1962, when it was converted to multiple units.
“I’ve owned it since 1991. I bought it after it had been in a major fire,” said Michael Crow, the current owner of the Orth House. “The fire and water damage destroyed all of the eight-panel doors, the baseboards, casings, second-floor fire place, buckled the hardwood floors and destroyed all of the fixtures in the upstairs bathrooms.”sanfordberman.orgTheron Potter Healy
Crow said he has been trying, without success, to sell the house for five years. Currently he has a buyer who wants to tear down the house — and the one next door — to build a four-story apartment building.
“There’s nothing left to restore,” said Crow. “The building was restored back into a nice rooming house, but nothing was done to restore any of the old parts of the house due to the cost.”
Healy built only two houses in 1893, which was a turning-point year for the nation. That was the year of the Chicago World Fair, which introduced the nation to neo-classic architecture. It was also the year of the nation’s worst financial breakdown when 600 banks failed and 194 railroads went bankrupt.
Up until that point, Healy had been building Queen Anne-style houses with intricate woodwork and bright-colored paint. Suddenly people wanted neo-classic design.Transition house style
“The Queen Anne style, the style that Healy had perfected, was now out of fashion. He must now invent a new style,” said Christensen, noting that Healy built his first new-design house on speculation, and it became his new prototype.
“2320 Colfax is that house,” he said.
“The Orth House is an original design created in a time of crisis and change,” said Christensen. “In Minneapolis, the name Healy is synonymous with Victorian houses, with exquisite craftsmanship and with elegant design. Healy is our civic master builder.”
Christensen argued that the first floor of the Orth House still contains some of the original woodwork, leaded glass and tiles. The first-floor fireplace also is intact. Outside, the original wood siding is still under the vinyl siding.
“This house can be restored on the outside,” said Christiansen. “Built like a rock, this house is level and straight and true.”
During the five years it’s been on the market, there have been few interested in more than merely taking a look, according to Realtor Tom Dunn, who told committee members he has tried to attract commercial and residential buyers with no luck.
One potential buyer, he said, was interested if the property were eligible for historic renovation funding. It is not.
Another buyer was interested in using the house as a group home for former prisoners.
“What attracted me to the 10th Ward wasn’t the 1960s apartment buildings,” said Nicole Curtis, who hosts “The Rehab Addict” on HGTV. “What attracted me was the idea that this was a city based on history. This was a city based on preservation.”
“You have to see through vinyl siding and vinyl replacement windows,” said Curtis. “Healy is still standing there. When I look at that house, I get the chills.”
Committee Chair Gary Schiff closed the public hearing and immediately moved to deny owner Crow’s appeal. The committee voted unanimously to support the denial, which should block destruction of the Orth House.
“I think this is a signal that this city takes seriously the contributions of Mr. Healy,” Schiff said of the unanimous committee vote.
He plans to move ahead with a proposal to study the Healy houses in Minneapolis and provide interim protection to the structures during the study process.
Gov. Mark Dayton will sign an education bill Wednesday morning in St. Paul and then head to Duluth and Rochester for press events to highlight the results of the 2013 Legislature.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen will join him on the tour, along with local elected officials in each destination.
They plan to talk about "middle-class investment," after the DFL-dominated session ended with higher taxes on the rich, more money for education and subsidies for the Mayo Clinic and the Mall of America.
Republican lawmakers took their own state tour Tuesday, telling folks in Duluth that the session was marked by "overtaxing, overspending, overreaching."
The DFLers will hold a press conference at 12:45 p.m. at the Duluth Airport's main terminal conference room.
At 3 p.m., they'll be at the Rochester Peace Plaza, 101 First Ave. SW, or in case of rain, at the Matthews Grand Lobby inside the Mayo Building, 200 First St. SW.
A union for family child-care providers may be a relatively new idea, but it is improving the industry in other states and it’ll do the same in Minnesota. There should be no decisions made about us without us being at the table. It’s easy to listen to fear with something new, but understanding the whole story will show the incredible opportunity this is for child care.
If Minnesota child-care providers choose to unionize, they will have the same control they have right now to set their rates however they choose. A provider’s rate is between the parent and the provider.
We remain self-employed whether we have a union or not. It is forbidden for a union to control what providers charge for their services. Providing high-quality care is expensive, and so are our business expenses. But unlike most expenses, having a union is an investment that will benefit our lives and the family child-care industry.
Many opponents of the legislation have made claims that are just flat out wrong. The bill allows collective bargaining for child-care providers. Laws allowing unions for other workers and industries were hard fought over the past 100 years. We now have the same right to vote on whether or not we want a union, just like others who work for a living. A union election is a democratic process that honors the wishes of the majority, and we are very grateful to the Minnesota legislators for believing that we can and should decide for ourselves.
Earth Journal writer Ron Meador is posting daily this week from the Namekagon River in Wisconsin.
Please don't get me wrong when I say that after a couple of long days paddling with all these people, I was ready for some solitude on the Namekagon River and yesterday I grabbed some.
Our group of 75 or so — the tally shifts from day to day as people join and others drop away — is diverse in every way: ages, origins, backgrounds, interests, paddling experience.
But civility, personal responsibility and respect are common denominators, and good humor is the rule. So is looking after one another, and as I listened last night to the stories of people getting pitched out of their boats and put back in, I noticed that a lot of the putting back in was done by people who count themselves as newbies.
But I've come to believe that most of us who like to travel in canoes or kayaks (and nearly all of us who prefer the latter) need those stretches that are just me, my boat and the water.
After another rainy night we packed up our tents on the lawn of Hayward's Comfort Inn, threw our duffels on the gear truck and launched into Hayward Lake — one of the Namekagon's larger flowages — between 9:30 and 10 a.m.
About 20 minutes later we were back out of the boats to portage around the big Xcel dam, a carry lengthened significantly by high water that made the normal downstream unsafe.Suburbs — and a bear
So we slogged and toted and dragged our boats back into the river to exit Hayward, paddling our first stretch of this river lined by houses, lawns and garden sheds at suburban density.
But the forest is never far away up here. Maybe a quarter-mile below the dam, Sallie spotted a black bear in tree at river's edge. After spotting us, it climbed down and lit out away from us.
The river below Hayward is different in other ways, too — lots of sharp turns, high banks in places, a second channel more often than not thanks to this week's high water.Photo by Sallie AndersonThe Namekagon is the highest it's been in at least eight years.
The high, fast flows yesterday made for perhaps the most challenging sustained paddling so far, but all of us prefer that to the hull-scraping conditions of summer's low water.
How high is the river this week? Justin Magnuson, our host last night at Camp Namekagon in North Springbook, said he's never seen it so high in the eight years he's been living along it. But that's getting ahead of the story.In search of solitude
It took me quite a few years, much hard work and many instructive mishaps to get really comfortable in a sea kayak. And I'm proud to say — I hope not unreasonably so — that I'm as one with my principal boat.
But with this week's boat, I have been as two.
It's a different boat. It's different water. And it's a different scale of group paddling from the parties of four or six or maybe eight, tops, in which I've typically traveled Lake Superior. I like the company, but it takes my attention away from the boat and the river.
And so, a half hour past the Hayward dam, it was time to hit the gas and pull ahead for some solo cruising.
I won't bore you with the details of Tuesday's lessons in learning to feel, anticipate and respond to the forces of moving water with combinations of muscle, weight-shifting and finesse strokes. I'd rather talk about the miracle of being essentially alone on a still-wild river in a state that is not Alaska, not even Montana or Idaho, but a part of Wisconsin within a two-hour drive of downtown St. Paul.
Because that's the point of building new skills — to be able to come back to this river again and again.
Yesterday I saw eagles, great blue herons, flycatchers and redstarts, goldfinches and yellow-rumped warblers, jays and crows and possibly ravens, mallards and mergansers and a loon. Also, many other birds whose names I don't yet know.
I saw miles of skunk cabbage and marsh marigolds shooting out of the muddy bank. Saw a muskrat who first seemed intent on approaching my boat but then thought better of it. Didn't see a bear myself Tuesday, but many others did. Saw large, snail-like shells floating to the surface. Paddled through the bleached, upward-curving limbs of a long-dead spruce that looked for all the world like the ribs of a shipwreck.Photo by Sallie AndersonI saw miles of skunk cabbage.
And after the last house of Hayward, I didn't see another sign of human residence (campsite markers excluded) for hour after hour.
At one point I made a few short videos of the river with dense soundtracks of birdsong. Not till I replayed them later did I pick up the constant drone of trucks in the background.
The highway was never very far from the river — I'd just stopped hearing it.Pelts and prescribed fire
Today's educational programming began at Stinnett Landing, where Nancy Christel, wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR, had parked her pickup, opened the drawers and draped them with a remarkable assortment of pelts:Photo by Sallie AndersonNancy Christel with her pelts.
Gray wolf. Red fox and gray. Coyote. Mink, otter and fisher. Raccoon, badger and skunk. Bobcat, mountain lion, lynx — the paws on that animal. Black bear and buffalo. Then there were the skulls, and the shell of a Blanding's turtle. Sort of a petting zoo for grown-up nature lovers.
Christel took some heavy grilling from a few in our group who would prefer we not kill animals for their furs, and gave a good defense of the idea that furbearers are a natural resource and their furs a natural product, and also of the notion that regulated trapping and hunting may promote healthier populations.
I'm not sure she persuaded everyone but she certainly scored some points, and racked up a few more by finding in her field guide the somewhat rare, soft-shelled turtle that one of our paddlers had just seen across the Namekagon.
Then she was off to her duties on a crew that is preparing and conducted prescribed burns to restore sharptail grouse habitat in the pine barrens of this watershed (and beyond).History of logging and protection
The evening program at Camp Namekagon, whose lawn was our campsite last night, featured two speakers who talked about the history of the Namekagon/St. Croix river system in two time frames.
First up was Peter Gove, past chairman of this trip's sponsoring St. Croix River Association, who talked about the protections for this watershed that came into place with the federal wild and scenic river legislation of 1968, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sens. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and Walter Mondale of Minnesota.
Gove also outlined the challenges still facing the river, including the need to reduce phosphorus runoff, to insist on better practices in gravel and frack sand mining, and to support the National Park Service in a period of continuing budget problems.
These are the aims that drove expansion of SCRA over the last few years from a river lovers' club with a $20,000 budget to a half-million-dollar noprofit with a small staff and an interesting strategy for building relationships around a common purpose of protecting and respecting the rivers.
This annual paddle trip — supported by local business along the way, which are supported in turn by the paddlers' business — is a prime example.
Our second speaker was Jean Schaeppi, park service historian, who talked about the logging boom that ran from 1837 to 1914 along these rivers, producing an estimated 13 billion board feet of lumber. That would build perhaps 4.4 million 3-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot ramblers.
Almost everything about these rivers would be different without that chapter — forests of different size and composition, with pines that would dwarf today's biggest, 100-year-old white pines and far fewer trees that drop leaves in fall.
The course of the river would be different, too, because the masses of logs coming downriver carved new banks and changed flows. Fewer dams would have been built — there were 40 on the St. Croix in 1888 — and settlement patterns would have been influenced by other factors than lumber production.Most of logging's markers are gone
But to a remarkable degree, most of the logging era's "built environment" has returned to dust and dirt without a trace.
You can't see the locations of old logging camps from the water, unless you've got a really good guide. Here and there you might spot a fragment of an old dam.
The chief thing that remains is the series of landings, most with their lumber-era names, that serve today as put-ins and takeouts for paddlers, anglers and seekers after solitude.
Next: From North Springbrook to Trego.
“Too Big To Fail” (TBTF) is the standard for socialized risk and privatized profits. The biggest banks enjoy an implied bailout under Dodd-Frank regulations that give them a tremendous advantage over smaller banks. The complex weave of financial innovations that are their signature is impossible for anyone to understand, making the risk we have taken on as taxpayers almost impossible to quantify.
What can be done about it? Try TBTF – the “Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness” Act of 2013.
This legislation, introduced by Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, cuts through the complexity, levels the playing field among banks, and ends “Too Big To Fail” once and for all. What chance does it have? Actually, a very good one because of some terrific politics.OAS_AD("Middle");
The Brown-Vitter Bill itself is a marvel of modern legislation in its simplicity. The typical way banks are regulated is by requiring them to maintain capital on their books to back at least some of the loans and liabilities they have outstanding. Under the international regulations known as “Basel III” (for the town that hosted the conference that created them) those assets have to be 8% of the total capital of the bank. A hit bigger than that and it all falls apart like the Bailey Building and Loan Association nearly did in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
If that doesn’t sound adequate, consider what makes up the capital requirements in today’s regulatory regime. Capital can be just about anything, rated in classes for its soundness and liquidity (ability to be made into cash quickly). It’s all up to the ratings agencies to assess things properly.
Brown-Vitter cuts through all this with some beautifully simple and strict requirements for banks with assets over $500B:
- A flat 15 percent capital requirement for any institution with more than $500 billion in assets (8% for smaller banks)
- No ratings agency grades – capital must be in liquid assets
- No off-balance-sheet assets and liabilities as different classes — they are treated as if they are on the balance sheet
- Derivatives positions to be included in a bank’s consolidated assets
These requirements will hit the biggest banks the hardest, namely JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. They would no longer be in any danger of failing unless there was a terrible financial apocalypse – which would hit just about everyone and have to be dealt with by other means anyway.
There is a lot more to this, however. By moving all the assets and liabilities onto the books, these banks will suddenly look a lot less profitable – despite the tremendous advantages they enjoy when borrowing money. It’s a problem we’ve discussed here with respect to JP Morgan, a company whose investors are indeed starting to wonder about. A little bit more transparency should raise the grumbling into a dull roar.
The beauty of this bill, however, is in the politics of it. Before it was rolled out Brown and Vitter introduced a non-binding resolution calling for an end to “Too big to fail subsidies or funding advantage for Wall Street megabanks.” It passed 99-0, putting the Senate on record that something should be done.
The great political advantage comes in how it neatly splits the lobbying efforts ofsmaller banks away from the big guns. The Independent Community Bankers of America , with over 5,000 member banks holding $2 trillion in assets, is fully on board. They have urged all community banks to join the association in advocating passage of the bill saying it “Levels the playing field”. The American Bankers Association, lobbyists for large banks, is firmly against Brown-Vitter. That split is very important because it signifies a new regime for legislators. The logical division between the excessively large banks with different rules than community banks is widening dramatically.
The odds of Brown-Vitter passing are hard to calculate right now, but the two senators from both parties have clearly laid the foundation for passage well. Sadly, there is no companion bill in the US House yet, and getting a sponsor in another body can bring complications.
Right now, this is an elegantly simple bill that does indeed level the playing fieldbetween banks of various sizes and takes the taxpayer off the hook. There is no better way to put an end to both socialized risk and excessive regulation all at once.
Despite the gridlock in the Senate, the Brown-Vitter TBTF Act has a good chance to pass. It’s worth keeping the pressure on all of Congress, especially the House, to make this happen.
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The Legislature just approved $33 million in funding for housing and homelessness-prevention programs and the state has a new director to prevent and end homelessness.
So, is the end of homelessness in Minnesota within reach?
“I certainly look at this legislative session as a victory for housing and homelessness. Is it everything we need? No. But it’s certainly an indication that the governor, legislators and the governor’s commissioners recognize the importance of housing stability,’’ said Cathy ten Broeke, who in February took the job of establishing a state Interagency Council on Homelessness made up of representatives from state departments like housing, human services, education and transportation.
Further, she said Tuesday after the conclusion of this year’s legislative session that she’s impressed with how advocates for more affordable housing and services for the homeless banded together to make their case to elected officials. Ending homelessness needs to be a common goal, she said.
The latest official but preliminary homeless count in October tallied by Wilder Research showed 10,214 Minnesotans as homeless, though the increases have slowed as the economy turns brighter. Some targeted groups of the homelessness in Minnesota have decreased dramatically in recent years, including the chronic homeless in Hennepin County and homeless military veterans.
“I think we could be the first state to end homelessness among veterans,’’ ten Broeke said.
Housing our citizens is more than a humanitarian act. When people have stable housing, the results are far-reaching, affecting not only education disparities and outcomes, but reducing recidivism and health care costs and improving the work force, ten Broeke said.Stonger workforce
For instance, children living in stable conditions do better in school. That means a stronger future workforce and a more prosperous state economy.
Modeled after a similar federal government group, the state group is made up of 11 state commissioners as well as a senior leadership team of their deputies and assistants and an implementation team. The idea is to get all hands on deck to build on successful current efforts and develop new initiatives to rapidly and permanently house the homeless around the state, as well as to create action plans, ten Broeke said.LinkedIn.comCathy ten Broeke
A simple illustration of the need for such a group is this:
In her travels around Minnesota --including visits to four Indian reservations – ten Broeke saw the “perilous condition” of affordable housing in rural areas and a lack of public transportation.
And it struck her: If people don’t have transportation, how can they get to work? That showed her the necessity of inviting members of the state’s Department of Transportation to the interagency table as well, she said.
Kenza Hadj-Moussa, spokesperson for the Minnesota Coalition For the Homeless and for the Homes For All Campaign, praises both the position and ten Broeke.
“Homelessness touches a lot of different areas: veteran affairs, education, public health, health care, human services, transportation, housing. So we have all of these departments that can easily work in silos. We know that public funds are used best where there is someone who can integrate the different areas,” Hadj-Moussa said.
“If anyone can pull a table of people together it’s Cathy ten Broeke and get them moving in a positive way toward solution. She has the vision and the enthusiasm to get buy-in,’’ Hadj-Moussa said.
Eradicating homelessness is a bipartisan and community-wide issue, ten Broeke contends, explaining that the resurrected state-level position was created under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, to implement the Business Plan to End Long-Term Homelessness that created 4,000 affordable housing units, though the job sat empty for more than two years.
An uncommonly upbeat person, ten Broeke has spent the last seven years serving as coordinator to end homelessness for Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis, where she and her colleagues racked up an impressive record.
Under her leadership, a number of programs and initiatives in Hennepin County were set up to aid the homeless, including efforts to rapidly re-house families and to reduce the numbers of chronically homeless persons.
Ten Broeke also just ended a three-month stint in Washington D.C., where she worked as a special adviser to the executive director of the United States Interagency council on Homelessness.
The IRS should move unilaterally to fix the law sitting at the root of the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, according to Senate Democrats who grilled the agency’s two most recent chiefs at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Plenty of questions remain unanswered after senators lit into the two men, Steven Miller and Doug Shulman, about the agency’s managerial competence, the thoroughness of its investigation into the matter given that the IRS has yet to identify exactly who is responsible for the targeting, and whether IRS officials were less than forthcoming with members of Congress during 2011 and 2012 when lawmakers were looking into allegations that eventually proved true.
But they were nearly as irate that the IRS claimed it was overwhelmed and confused about how to evaluate applications for tax-exempt status but did nothing to clarify the regulation at the crux of its discomfort.
“Why didn’t you do anything on your watch to correct it?” asked Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon. “When the lines are blurring on this disclosure issue, as far as I can tell, you all didn’t do anything to correct the problem in a meaningful way. And I find that very regrettable.”
There’s been no legislative fix proffered for what actually occurred – no lawmakers or IRS officials were making excuses for the agency’s decision to give extra scrutiny to scores of conservative groups’ applications for 501(c)(4) tax exempt status.
That tax status, which is offered to so-called social welfare organizations, is sought by many groups on both sides of the political spectrum because it allows organizations to engage in some political activity while not disclosing their donors.
The problem for the IRS arises in attempting to determine whether an organization is primarily involved in political activity or not. The original law as passed by Congress, as several Democratic senators noted on Tuesday, says 501(c)(4) organizations must be “exclusively” devoted to charitable, educational or recreational purposes.
When the IRS began implementing that rule half a century ago, however, they decided that exclusively really meant not “primarily” engaged in political activity, leaving the door open for groups like the Sierra Club or the AARP to claim the status but devote less than half their activities to politics.
But figuring out just what counts as political activity and what’s an educational offering tied to social welfare is often in the eye of the regulator rather than a definitive science.
Because the IRS, along with the Treasury Department, handles the regulations that spring from the tax code, “the IRS should be able to fix it on their own,” says Annette Nellen, a professor of accounting at San Jose State University. “The language in the statute does say ‘exclusively.’ ”
Members of Congress look at the original law and say, like Sen. Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland, “I don’t know what else we can do.”
“When you say ‘exclusively’ … What stronger word do you want us to use?” Senator Cardin says.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group, is even suing the IRS, asking a court to require the organization to reconcile the differences between what the law says and what the IRS does.
Why didn’t the agency take on the issue previously? IRS officials argued that the agency was caught flat-footed with a wave of applications for 501(c)(4) status, which doubled between 2011 and 2012 in the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and labor unions to participate more aggressively in the political process.
And the bureaucracy is notoriously hesitant to take on such large political issues on its own, says Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director.
“They’re afraid to take a position,” Ms. Sloan says. “All that happens is they get beat up no matter what they do.”
Case in point: In 2010, Democrats led by Sen. Max Baucus of Montana asked the IRS to look into such groups because of concerns groups fully committed to politics were hiding behind the social welfare exemption to shield their donors from public scrutiny.
The problem? The IRS wasn't doing enough, allowing too many groups to get the status.
But Republicans lead by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah rapped the IRS in 2011 when the IRS sent letters to donors to 501(c)(4) groups reminding them that gifts to those groups over $13,000 are subject to the federal gift tax. Senator Hatch argued that those letters were designed to intimidate conservative donors.
The problem? After 30 years of failing to enforce the gift tax law, the IRS was suddenly doing too much.
Mr. Shulman said that the IRS did not act because Congress has asked the service to do too much with too little funding.
“Treasury ought to look at the regulations, and all I can say is that this is a very hard task given to the IRS,” said Shulman, who left the agency after his term expired in November of 2012.
Given all the agency’s other responsibilities, “to also have this piece of the operation that by the law has to be asking questions about political activities is very difficult,” Shulman said.
Moreover, Shulman turned the question back around on Congress: If this was such a big problem, he wondered, why had Congress done nothing to address it for half a century?
“This was a regulation, a Treasury regulation, that’s been in effect for many years,” Shulman said. “This is a place that Congress should look. Because where I sit the IRS is given a very, very, very difficult task,... You can do some political activity, but you can’t do too much.”
San Jose State’s Professor Nellen points out that congressional inaction on the regulation over such a long time is tantamount to Congress indirectly endorsing the IRS’s interpretation.
“Congress knew they were interpreting these rules in a certain way,” she says.
Senator Hatch agreed that the onus falls on Capitol Hill.
“It’s Congress’s obligation” to fix the statute, said Hatch, the committee’s ranking Republican, “we ought to do it the right way.”
Tax reformers like Senator Baucus and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R) of Michigan have vowed to include a rewrite of these laws in their push for comprehensive tax reform.
But can Congress muster the will to confront an issue that’s been lingering for years?
“Congress doesn’t seem to be in any rush to tell them what to do,” says Sloan. “Congress hasn’t been in a rush in the last 50 years to tell them what to do.”
Russia believes that its long-held vision of how to achieve peace in civil war-torn Syria has at last become possible due to a shifting balance of forces in the war and changing perceptions in the West, experts say.
In Russia's view, peace would come through a negotiated settlement between the Bashar al-Assad regime and at least major elements of the anti-Assad rebels.
Newly assertive in advance of an upcoming peace conference to be jointly sponsored by the US and Russia, Moscow is insisting that rebel factions who come to the meeting must do so "without preconditions," meaning no demands for Mr. Assad's removal. It is also advocating that Syria's main regional ally, Iran, should be included in the talks along with other players like Saudi Arabia.
"It’s important to put the main things first, and in this sense I am convinced that timing is the last thing that should be decided, when the most important things are agreed," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday in Sochi, answering a journalist's question about when the conference will take place.
"The main thing is to ensure the agreement of opposition groups to participate in the conference without preliminary conditions," and not attempt to set "unrealistic" conditions, he said. "There is no doubt that it is obligatory to invite all neighbors of Syria without exception. Iran, as you know, is a neighbor of Syria."
Many analysts say that Russia's new tone of leadership on the issue comes from the feeling that it's been vindicated by signs that Assad's forces have fought the rebels to a standstill, and haveeven begun taking the offensive in some key areas. Russia has long argued that the West viewed the Syrian conflict simplistically, as democracy-versus-dictatorship, while realities on the ground decreed from the start that the fight would be long, bloody, and perhaps impossible to solve by military means.
"The West seems to have thought that they could get [President Vladimir] Putin to pressure Assad into leaving, and all would be well," says Georgy Mirsky, an expert with the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.
"That's complete nonsense. Assad will stay till the very end, and he has many resources to do so. Meanwhile, the opposition is increasingly being taken over by radical Islamists, who look like the only people capable of defeating Assad. But these are the followers of bin Laden. Are the Americans really ready to go on supporting them?" he asks.
Experts say official Moscow has noted a subtle change of tone in the West recently, especially since Secretary of State John Kerry met with Mr. Putin two weeks ago and agreed to stage the peace conference. For one thing, they say, President Barack Obama has backed off talk of "red lines" that might trigger US intervention in Syria. In a press conference last week with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Obama said that getting directly involved in the conflict is "not going to be something that the United States does by itself."
In another newly self-confident message, clearly aimed at the West, Moscow has let it be known that it will complete deliveries of advanced weapons systems to Assad's forces. They include thehypersonic Yakhont anti-shipping missile – some of which have reportedly been delivered – which could threaten warships up to 200 miles off Syria's coast. Moscow has also indicated that it will complete a contract to supply sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft systems, which are capable of shooting down modern fighter aircraft at great distances and altitudes. In combination, the two weapons could deeply complicate any Western effort to repeat NATO's limited intervention in Libya, which led to the downfall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
In statements to the media last week Mr. Lavrov insisted the arms contracts were old, signed before Syria's civil war began, for "defensive arms" only, and completely legal under international law. At a meeting in Sochi with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week he reportedlyrebuffed all appeals to halt the deal.
"Contracts have to be fulfilled. Lavrov said these are not new deals, they were signed in the past," says Vladimir Sotnikov, an expert with the Center for International Security at the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations.
"Other countries are supplying weapons [to both sides] in Syria. Why is Russia singled out? The Assad regime is the legitimate government of Syria, there is no other. And Syria has a right to defend itself, especially since there have already been Israeli air raids against it," he says.
But Russia did halt weapons sales – including a deal to supply S-300 missiles – to Iran in 2010 following entreaties by the US and Israel to do so. And Moscow voluntarily gave up nearly $5 billion in weapons contracts with Mr. Qaddafi after abstaining on a UN Security Council resolution to authorize NATO's use of force in Libya the next year.
During the cold war the Soviet Union regularly provided its client states with advanced weaponry to counter Western interests. Long and brutal proxy wars were fought in Vietnam, the Middle East, Angola, and other places.
Experts say those days are gone and, despite some appearances, Putin's Russia is not attempting to return to Soviet-style geopolitics.
"By publicly revealing these missile deliveries, Russia is saying to the West that this peace conference is the last chance to attain a negotiated settlement. If the conference fails, which seems quite possible, then the Russian message to the West is that if you step up arms deliveries to the rebels, our aid to Assad will be increased too," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign policy journal.
"In cold war times it was clear why these superpower standoffs took place. But we no longer live in a bipolar world, and Russia does not seek these days to challenge US hegemony in any systematic way," he says.
"For Russia, at this point, the key is to try to reverse that post-cold war trend which aims to legitimize Western interventions to settle local conflicts. There are a lot of reasons why Russia feels this way; perhaps our leaders fear that, eventually, such precedents might even be used against us. But non-intervention is now a basic Russian principle...
"So Russia's actions around Syria today can best be understood as Moscow's way of saying 'No'. International action to remove Assad is not going to happen. It's not the way forward."
There is only one prisoner actually born in one of North Korea's infamous prison camps known to have escaped alive. His name is Shin Dong-hyuk.
Mr. Shin was raised in Camp 14, reported to be one of the cruelest in a system of hard labor prisons.
His parents didn't know each other before their brief conjugal marriage arranged by guards. Shin grew up with no idea of a world other than the beatings, torture, and snitching that were part of everyday life at the camp. He betrayed his mother and brother over a meal of rice, sending them to their execution, saw his father as an acquaintance, and roasted rats to stay alive. Yet he also was able to catch his first glimpse of life outside the camp's fence through the unexpected, simple kindness of a fellow inmate.
Washington Post correspondent Blaine Harden's book "Escape from Camp 14" has made Shin the best-known advocate for exposing the North's hidden prisons. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned Shin at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Mr. Harden spoke with the Monitor in late April.
Are these like the camps in Nazi Germany?
No, these are not death camps; the authorities do not execute people as a matter of course. They work people to death, but that happens over a number of years.
Probably a better analogy is Stalin's Gulag. The camps were set up under Kim Il-sung, an acolyte of Stalin, as a mirror of the Soviet Gulag. What is different in the North Korean case is that they seem to be crueler and have lasted twice as long.
Camp 14 has a reputation for housing high-level Pyongyang people that run afoul of the regime. It is a completely no-exit camp, with no rehabilitation; guards treat it as a military front line. There is less sleep, more work, more brutality.
Shin is born in a dark place, a product of the camp. But this doesn't last forever?
Yes, he speaks of an awakening. He had the first inklings of it after his mother's execution. He was 14 and in an underground prison with a man who was kind to him, treated his wounds after he was tortured. The kindness of that man, "Uncle," was something to him utterly new. The guy shared his food. He basically lavished attention and love on Shin in a way he had never experienced. So when he got out, went back to normal camp life, got pushed and bullied, it hit him hard. He went into a funk. He said he started to see the camp for what it was, just a really miserable, filthy, stinking place.
Tell us about Shin's turning point after meeting an educated prisoner named Park.
Shin is assigned to snitch on Park but in the end didn't do it. Park starts telling him stories. At one point Park asks where Shin is from. Shin says, "I am from here." Park tells him, "I am from Pyongyang, the capital." Shin had never heard of the place.
But instead of laughing at this ignorant young kid, Park gave him a primer on what it means to be a citizen of the planet, he talked and talked. Before that it never occurred to Shin that people lived outside the fence.
But talk of grilled meat finally got Shin's attention. He started to dream about food, got a spring in his step, and surprised himself by asking Park to escape with him. Shin was interested in finding his next meal, above all. His focus as a feral creature of the camp was self-preservation and maximizing calories. That was everything, the essence of his escape. He wasn't after the bill of rights.
What is Shin like?
He's really smart. It has also been a bumpy ride. But he has friends he trusts now.
He's kind of a jokester, not adolescent, but gets real joy being with friends, especially when they are all eating dinner together.
He pulled out a huge Galaxy phone the last time I saw him. Smart phones are no more recent to him than the concept of friendship or of love. They are both part of this new existence, and I think he has an easier time with technology than with human emotions.
But he seems to know his role is to tell the world through his life what is going on in these camps right now, and the kind of kids they are raising there.
We have had public satellite images of the camps for more than a decade. Where is the outcry?
Three main things have occluded our vision of the human rights catastrophe:
No. 1, by far, is the comic element of the regime. Particularly Kim Jong-il, his appearance, his puffy hair, big glasses, and funny suit. Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" highlight the risible nature of the images coming out of the North's propaganda machine. It is fun and funny, silly and ridiculous, over the top. It is so funny that it takes up all the oxygen in our perceiving of North Korea. No. 2 and 3 are the nukes and missiles.
Minnesota’s DFL legislative leaders say their adopted $38 billion budget for the coming two years represents “progress,” but they haven’t made a lot of claims about it representing “reform.”
The so-called “linchpin” of the budget – the $2.1 billion tax bill approved by the two houses – is decidedly lacking in reform. And Gov. Mark Dayton can share in the blame.
After conducting forums in more than 50 cities around the state and raising expectations, the Dayton administration offered a tax plan that contained surprisingly little reform. Indeed, it included a terrible idea for providing property tax relief – a flat $500 rebate for homeowners regardless of their income or the size of their tax bill.
It’s curious that a DFL governor driven to raising income taxes on the rich also wanted to send them a $500 property tax refund.
The most important reform in Dayton’s tax plan was his proposal to expand the sales tax to clothing and services, and lower the tax rate from 6.875 percent to 5.5 percent. This would have modernized the tax to recognize our transition to a service-oriented economy and made the sales tax a more stable source of state revenue.
But Dayton abruptly yanked that proposal from the table after business leaders convinced many legislators and members of the public that taxing business-to-business services was a bad idea.Hidden taxes
They argued that it would result in hidden taxes on Minnesota goods and services, make them less competitive with out-of-state businesses and result in higher prices for consumers. Minnesota Revenue Department studies have shown that business taxes passed along to consumers are the state’s most regressive taxes – that is, the most burdensome for lower income taxpayers.
The Senate DFL leadership sought to retain the expansion of the sales tax to clothing and some consumer services, but Dayton wouldn’t support it in the absence of a tax on business-to-business services.
In the final bill, the two houses did extend the sales tax to three new types of business transactions – the purchase of telecommunications equipment, warehousing and storage, and maintenance of business equipment. These provisions are expected to generate more than $300 million in additional revenue.
Bill Blazar, senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, says just the tax on telecom equipment will have a huge impact. “Most businesses replace telecom equipment nearly as often as they replace computer equipment,” he says.
Of course, the biggest revenue raiser in the bill is Dayton’s signature proposal to increase income taxes on the upper 2 percent of Minnesotans. As Dayton proposed, the bill establishes a new top tax rate of 9.85 percent for single filers with taxable income of more than $150,000 and married couples with income of more than $250,000. This will generate more than $1.1 billion in the coming biennium
Under the bill, Minnesota’s income tax ranking will rise from 11th to fourth for single taxpayers with $250,000 of income, from 12th to fifth for married taxpayers with $500,000 of income, from 11th to fourth for married taxpayers with $1 million in income and from seventh to fourth for single seniors with $250,000 in income, according to the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence.
Blazar says he is worried about the impact of the increase on 20,000 small business owners who pay individual income taxes on their business income. He says the chamber proposed an exemption for a portion of this business income, but DFL legislators “chose not to do that.”
Mark Haveman, executive director of the Center for Fiscal Excellence, says his biggest concern is the impact of the increased income tax on Minnesota’s ability to attract new business and jobs.
How many CEOs are “going to look at a 9.85 percent income tax rate and decide this is probably not the best place to expand?” Haveman says. “We think this bill is a very big bet on the irresistibility of Minnesota as a place to do business.”
The other big revenue raiser in the bill is a $1.60-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax, which is projected to bring in another $408 million in the next two years.Property tax relief
DFL legislative leaders claim their tax bill will provide $400 million in property tax relief over the next two years. This total includes $80 million in additional aid to Minnesota cities and $40 million in aid to counties. In addition, the bill repeals the existing sales tax on purchases by local governments, saving them another $172 million.
Historically, over the last four decades, property tax relief provided in the form of increased aid to local governments has been eroded quickly by increases in local spending.
Haveman says the best study of the impact of local government aid (LGA) was done by the nonpartisan Legislative Auditor’s office in 1990. “It found that cities used 82 percent of the additional aid to finance increased spending and 18 percent to reduce property taxes,” he says.
To ensure that Minnesotans see some property tax relief next year, the bill imposes a one-year limit on local property tax levies. Cities and counties will not be permitted to raise their levies more than 3 percent, minus the additional state aid they receive.
At the insistence of House DFLers, the bill also provides $135 million in additional aid to homeowners and renters through the current Property Tax Refund (PTR) program, which provides refunds based upon the taxpayer’s income and the size of their property tax bill (or, in the case of renters, the amount of rent that is presumed to go for property taxes).
Tax experts generally agree that the PTR program is the most direct, efficient and equitable way of providing property tax relief to the people who need it most.
About three-quarters of currently eligible households will see an average $219 increase in their refund and another 112,000 households will now qualify for a refund, according to the Minnesota Budget Project, an initiative of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
Perhaps the most important reform in the budget is that it erases a projected $627 million shortfall and balances the books without the kind of one-time accounting shifts and other gimmicks that have been used over the last decade.
"We have re-set the clock in Minnesota,” says Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and put the state on a "stable budget path."
Officials in Brussels and Washington may view China’s global shopping spree with alarm, as the Asian power house continues to buy up companies, sovereign debt, ports, and bridges around the world. But the Greeks are already dusting off the red carpet.
On a five-day visit to Beijing that ended Monday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras eagerly invited the Chinese to "join Greece's success story," hoping to lure the country’s ravenous investors to Greece and pump new life into the country's devastated economy.
After global rating agency Fitch upgraded Greece's sovereign credit rating from CCC to B- last week, Mr. Samaras tried to convince Chinese officials that the economic crisis plaguing Greece would soon come to an end.
"I wouldn't be here if we in Greece hadn't turned our ship around," he told them during his visit, flanked by 71 Greek businessmen and members of his cabinet, who had to pay their own way to Asia because of budget austerity measures.A way out of debt for Greece?
After six years in recession, the unemployment rate in Greece has reached 27 percent, and 64 percent for those under the age of 25. In the first quarter of this year, the economy contracted 5.3 percent, the fifth consecutive year of negative growth.
Hoping to turn things around, Greece signed an agreement with its creditors, which hold billions in Greek debt, to raise $67 billion by 2022 by selling off state assets. And the Chinese have already expressed interest in Athens International Airport, along with some of Greece’s 12 ports for lease.
"There's a strong interest from China for infrastructure investments in Greece, especially in ports and railways," says Nicholas Economides, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University. "Greece will benefit from the efficient running of its infrastructure [brought on by the sale], as well as investment in its infrastructure once those are privatized."
Officials in particular are hoping to replicate the successful partnership between the Greek government and state-owned Chinese Shipping Company COSCO, which they say has revitalized the port of Piraeus and brought in millions of euros in tax revenue. The company has leased half the port since 2010 for 500 million euros in total for a period of 35 years. The Greek government now wants to lease the other half, and COSCO officials have said they are interested.
Samaras and company did not leave China empty handed. Officials from the China Development Bank promised to finance Chinese companies interested in buying Greek assets, while Chinese investors promised to soon visit the country.
And Greece is sweetening the pot for foreign investors. Earlier this month, Greek lawmakers passed a bill offering a 5-year residence permit to non-EU citizens investing in property worth more than 250,000 euros ($320,000). That would allow such investors to bring their families to Greece and at the same time, travel freely within the Schengen zone of 26 European countries.Worries about China
But Greece's deals with China are not without critics.
Some worry over such arrangements with China, especially whether they would benefit the average voter. Whistleblowers at the port of Piraeus have complained publicly that COSCO has violated Greek labor laws, by underpaying them and not allowing them to form a union. Some ex-workers have even sued the company for those violations.
Another concern is that Greek officials – already under severe pressure from its creditor "troika" of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank – will sell off state assets too cheaply and with few conditions, to the country's disadvantage.
And the EU already is worried about Chinese business practices. European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht announced just last week he was preparing to launch a formal investigation into telecommunications giant Huawei whose imports into the EU are worth more than $1.3 billion for violating Europe’s competition law.
"Huawei and ZTE are dumping their products on the European market," Mr. De Gucht told Reuters, adding that access to cheap Chinese capital “creates a distorted playing field.”
The day after Mr. De Gucht's announcement, Greek Development Minister Kostas Chatzidakis stopped Huawei's headquarters in Shanghai. The international company has agreed to build a research center and a transit hub in Greece, according to the Greek Ministry of Development.
And during his visit, Samaras shied away from bringing up the usual human rights issues most of his Western counterparts make a point to address while visiting Beijing.'Not a deus ex machina'
Instead, Samaras kept the talks focused on business opportunities, and used the rich ancient past of both nations as a key reason why China should help Greece.
"If the two countries with the greatest legacies in the world do not combine forces to create such synergies – if we do not do it, nobody else can," Samaras told Chinese officials.
But nostalgia aside, China is firmly rooted in the economic considerations of the present that has led it to become a leading exporter and economic powerhouse, analysts say, scoffing at the hope that Chinese investment could be a panacea for Greek economic woes.
"We shouldn't consider them as a deus ex machina,’’ says Charalambos Paposotiriou, professor of international relations at Panteion University in Athens and author of a recent book about China's rise as a superpower. “They might help with our recovery but we should also become more competitive."
Another recent deal underscores the competition: Greece, which used to be one of the leading builder of ships until the '90s, saw its shipping magnates recently agree to buy 142 new ships from Chinese shipbuilders.
"There might be mutual respect between the Chinese and the Greeks because they're both ancient civilizations,” adds Mr. Paposotiriou. “But people shouldn't forget that China operates according to its interests and profits."
In this three-part blog series, GlobalPost Special Reports explores what's at stake for Chile's embattled artisan fishermen following the passage of major new federal legislation governing one of the largest fishing industries in the world.
QUEULE, Chile — One beautiful morning in late spring, the ocean’s bounty had been especially plentiful, yet Luis Baez was in a foul mood.
At dawn, dozens of fishing boats under his stewardship returned from a midnight outing, heavy with silvery-grey fish called southern rays bream. With clear skies forecast for days ahead, crews might have readied for another trip, but with southern rays selling for just 75 cents per kilo, another excursion wasn’t worth the trouble.
“The majority of these boats aren’t even registered to catch southern rays,” explained Baez, who is president of the Queule artisan fishermen’s cooperative, a small village on Chile’s central coast. “But the government has to bite its tongue or this becomes a social issue, and all these men take to the streets.”
Last year, frustrations spilled into the streets as artisan fisherman burned tires and blocked roads in opposition to a congressional debate over a new fisheries law, which they saw as tantamount to privatizing the country’s most profitable fisheries for the benefit of few powerful business interests. Undeterred by the outraged fishermen, legislators forged ahead and approved the law in December, making notable improvements in fisheries management — including a ban on the destructive practice of bottom trawling, or clear-cutting, vulnerable marine ecosystems.
Critics fear the new law, which took effect in February, will negatively impact artisan fishermen by exacerbating longstanding issues within the industry, including the continuation of a divisive quota system through which corporations could feasibly hold sway over independent fishermen in perpetuity. At stake is a share of the world’s seventh-largest export market of fish products.
Lawmakers awarded 20-year renewable contracts to a small group of companies for the largest share of Chile’s main fisheries, which center-left Senator Ximena Rincon described as expropriating citizen sovereignty over the country’s fish and handing it to corporations.
“It isn’t legitimate to say to all Chileans. The only ones who can fish in Chile are three companies that live by fishing and taking advantage of resources of all Chileans for decades,” said Rincon, one of 11 senators whose attempt to stall the bill died in constitutional court.
The fisheries law could set the tone for future discussion on resource management, as similarly far-reaching contracts on natural resources have met with public outrage, notably on water distribution and lithium mining contracts.
In practical terms, however, the law has preserved a legacy whose roots can be traced to the early 1990s when Chile’s fisheries operated under a Total Allowable Catch system that promoted growth over sustainability.
This period, dubbed the “Olympic Race,” characterized by rapidly expanding commercial fleets out to capture as many fish as possible, was a conservation nightmare that could not last. By 2001, Congress passed an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system, designed to reign in overfishing.
Under the ITQ system, all commercial fishermen were assigned a percentage of the allowable catch per year, but the system favored large-scale fishing operations, awarding them the majority of lucrative fisheries over artisan fishermen.
For the next decade, larger companies absorbed smaller ones, consolidating more than 90 percent of jack mackerel and a majority share of hake, into the hands of four conglomerates: Marfood, Orizon, Blumar and Camanchaca.
Despite the many advantages enjoyed by the industrial sector, declining fish stock has exacted a heavy toll on their massive operations, shrinking its collective fleet to less than 200 vessels, compared to an artisanal sector that has held steady at 13,000 boats. Additionally, as the industrial catch has shrunk, the artisan catch has grown little by little from less than 25 percent of the total catch a decade ago, to more than 50 percent today.
The government reports around 10,000 industrial sector employees, working on ships and in processing plants, and nearly 85,000 artisan fishermen prowling Chile’s 4,000-mile coastline.
During negotiations over the fisheries law last year, industrial outfit Lota Protein joined forces with a large swath of the artisanal sector, launching an aggressive campaign to push for an auction system that would have opened the market to new competitors, a move supported by Chile’s pro-business President Sebastián Piñera.
The industrial sector responded to the challenge, claiming a historical right to its quota, but ultimately settled for a reduced share of jack mackerel and hake. The industry also agreed to auction 5 percent of its quota each of the next three years, ostensibly to foment outside competition. But with bidding open to all, artisan opposition argues that industrial heavyweights will simply outbid smaller competitors.
Responding to critics, industry representatives rejected as hyperbole the popular belief that four conglomerates, owned by seven powerful families, control Chile’s fishing industry, and wielded their power of influence to sway political decisions.
“It’s a hateful and false argument,” said Luis Felipe Moncada, general manager of Asipes, the industrial fishing association based in the central region of Bio Bio. “[With] more than 50 fishing companies in operation,” the biggest of them answerable to “more than 6,700 shareholders,” it could not be otherwise, Moncada said.
And yet, the recent admission by industry giant Corpesca to investigative news site CIPER Chile that the company gave the equivalent of $52,000 to government deputy Marta Isasi before she voted in favor of the fisheries law, has shed light on the inner workings of lobbying, and ignited calls for a revised law.
Beneath the vitriol the industrial and artisanal quotas are nearly indistinguishable. In the port city of Coelemu, a few hours north of Queule, industrial heavyweight Orizon relies on the largest class of artisan boat, measuring some 60 feet in length. The owners of vessels of this size have little choice but to answer to industrial demands, which has provided loans to artisan fishermen over the years to grow their operations. It’s a debt artisans have repaid in the currency of fish.
And because mega-conglomerate Orizon owns the only fish processing plant in town, even those who are not indebted to the company end up selling it their catch.
“The industry gets our entire quota without putting a boat in the water and without getting wet,” said Alvaro Reyes, owner and captain of the 60-foot Herminia. “They receive the product, process it and sell it internationally at a premium.”
Reyes got his start more than a decade ago in a 16-foot craft, netting hake and southern rays bream. Through personal savings and a five-year loan from a now-defunct industrial company, Reyes bought the Herminia, and after that a 40-foot vessel he christened Lario Abram. He paid off his loans with thousands of pounds of sardine and anchovy. Although he considers himself better off than most of his peers, Reyes harbors no illusions that he has achieved an even footing with Orizon.
“[Orizon] pays the most, I’m not disputing that,” Reyes said, “but finding a better price with another company isn’t really an option.”
In Queule, the industry exercises a distant, albeit deceptive influence. At local school, within eyeshot of the docks where tens of thousands of fish are unloaded every year, canned fish from Asia is served in place of local catch. This is the paradox of a country lacking an inclusive fisheries policy, said Patricio Olivares, president of the local artisan fishermen syndicate in Queule and an outspoken critic of Chile’s fisheries law.
“What this law intends is to disappear the artisanal sector,” Olivares said, his three-legged dog Rocky faithfully at his side. “As things are, artisan fishing is still profitable; the question is for how much longer.”
This series was funded in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
LONDON, UK — The Chelsea Flower Show has attracted British society’s upper crust by celebrating the best in British gardening for the last 100 years. Its gala night this week — which marks the show’s centenary — is one of the premier networking events of the year.
Attendees at Monday’s preview included not only celebrity royalty, such as actress Helen Mirren — who won an Oscar for playing the queen — but also the actual queen. Prince Harry was reported to beso excited about his garden that he had the plans emailed to him during his military service in Afghanistan.
Like a New York Fashion Week of flowers, the Royal Horticultural Society show highlights the top talent of this garden-mad society and showcases the trends that, in a few years, may make their way to the garden aisle of B&Q, the British chain of home supply stores.
As any such high-profile event, the show imposes limits to keep creativity from crossing the line into chaos. One hard and fast rule in particular has fenced Chelsea’s gardens off from commoners’ plots: no gnomes!
Except this year. In honor of the centenary, the RHS has temporarily lifted its controversial ban on “brightly colored mythical creatures” — the euphemistic name for the cheerful, chubby characters more commonly known as garden gnomes.
Gnome fans — of which there are very many — are overjoyed.
“About time!” said Ann Atkin, founder of the Gnome Reserve in Devon. “They’re magical little creatures, aren’t they? I like to say to that fashions come and fashions go, but gnomes go on forever.”
Although gnomes will once again be personae non gratae at Chelsea next year, the symbolic embrace of the proudly tacky art form is a nod to democratization in a once-exclusive pastime that’s become a national obsession.
Leigh Hunt, principal horticultural adviser at the Royal Horticultural Society, admits Chelsea has long been associated with “a certain snobbishness.”
When the show began, attendance was for “the landed gentry. You had to have the resources to garden on a grand scale.”
Times have changed, however, and now “gnomes have their place.”
Despite the gnome amnesty, virtually the only examples to be found at the show’s venue at the Royal Chelsea Hospital Monday were celebrity-decorated plaster gnomes the RHS is auctioning off for its school gardening charity.
Elton John gave his gnome pink rhinestone-studded sunglasses. “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes went with traditional primary colors.
Admittedly, gnomes would look as out of place amid the reconstructed English huts and traditional Japanese houses of the main gardening displays as an embroidered “Bless This Mess” cushion in Architectural Digest.
Chelsea’s floral exhibits are breathtaking specimens: one-of-a-kind roses painstakingly coaxed into out-of-season bloom, exquisite bonsai trees, a pagoda built from orchids, tulips so perfectly delicate their dewdrops appear applied by hand.
Each display takes up to 15 months to plan and execute. The RHS’s list only of plants making their debuts at Chelsea runs to 15 pages.
No less rarified exhibitors offer the latest in gardening essentials, such as designer floral-print rubber boots, sculpted birdbaths, gardening tools imported from Japan and Switzerland and, handily, champagne carriers. (Booze also goes on sale at Chelsea from the moment the gates open. Last year’s visitors consumed more than 1,000 bottles of bubbly.)
More than 165,000 visitors are expected over the show’s five days. Monday’s preview for media and guests drew many tweed jackets and examples of the complicated millinery favored by British high society.
Others dressed in all-weather jackets and sensible rubber-soled shoes seemed like the type of people who don’t have special carriers for their champagne, but have nevertheless embraced the national pastime of mucking about in the garden.
“The English love gardening,” declared Susan Rushton of the rose breeder David Austin Roses. “It’s like a major passion for us. We don’t mind if there’s a patch of daisies in our lawn.”
More from GlobalPost: How rich people are ruining London
“A lot of people would not put gnomes in their actual garden,” Rushton said diplomatically, then added, “A lot of people are extremely repressed about garden art.”
“It’s not a bad thing to be less repressed.”
Two of the most deep-pocketed teams in world sport – Manchester City of the English Premier League and the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball – have agreed to pay $100 million to own and operate a new professional soccer team in New York City starting in 2015.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber could probably read that sentence all day.
The news is potentially so significant for the still-fledgling league that it's hard not to see it as an announcement of David Beckhamian proportions.
The owner of Manchester City is Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, a sheikh who, in his first four years of owning the club, spent more than $1.5 billion of his petro-fortune to turn City from bumbling underachievers into Premier League champions for the first time in 44 years. And there are whispers that that was just a warmup act for an American adventure.
Manchester City, after all, are not Manchester United – their cross-town rivals who have won a record 20 league championships and are the most profitable sports franchise in the world. They are not Real Madrid or Barcelona or even Bayern Munich – pillars of European soccer whose success is measured over generations. European soccer, Wall Street would say, is already a mature market, and City are for now still just scheming upstarts.
Yet in New York City Football Club, Mansour has an opportunity to do something altogether more momentous: to make soccer relevant in America.
To be sure, Beckham played his part. But his six-year sojourn was never likely to be enough. Though MLS has come a long way since his arrival in 2007 – it now draws more fans to each game, on average, than do the National Basketball Association or National Hockey League – it still has a long way to go. It's televised games, for example, draw a 0.2 rating – less than a recent broadcast of US Grand Prix skiing.
To truly make soccer relevant in the US means making it one of the top leagues in the world. That will take time and money, lots of it. Enter Mansour. In other words, when Mansour made City one of the top soccer clubs in the world, one half of Manchester was overjoyed. If he could do the same with his new City, he will have pried open one of the great untapped sporting markets in the world.
"When it comes to propelling Abu Dhabi’s image onto a global scale, the United States is where it’s at for Sheikh Mansour and his advisors," writes Mark Ogden of The Telegraph, a British newspaper.
And who better to help his team of soccer cognoscenti navigate the world of US sports than the Yankees, who have built an American empire of their own. News reports suggest a deal is already in the works to secure a site in Queens for a new $340 million soccer stadium for New York FC, despite local opposition.
The address is key. MLS has had a New York area team since its inception in 1996, but never one in New York City. The New York Red Bulls play in Harrison, N.J. New York City FC clearly will not end up at the Meadowlands or on Long Island.
Yet in landing an investor of the sort that MLS has long sought, the league faces a potentially decisive moment.
Even now, only one-third of MLS teams make a profit. That might not be the most accurate measure of league health, since many clubs play in venues built just for them and control the revenues from those facilities. Yet the league is hardly rolling in cash.
The league has survived only by going slowly – by reining in the spending excesses that doomed its predecessor, the North American Soccer League. Yet in the aftermath of the Beckham experiment, pressure is mounting to loosen the pursestrings a bit.
One might guess where an oil sheikh with a reported personal net worth of $30 billion might come down on that question.
Dred Scott was a slave for all but the last year of his life.
Unlike Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, he did not escape to freedom and become a famous anti-slavery crusader. Unlike Nat Turner, he did not lead a famous, bloody, slave rebellion. Dred Scott is among the most famous of slaves because he sued for his freedom and his case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, the court used the occasion to hand down one of its most infamous, racist decisions, going way beyond the issue of Scott’s freedom to declare that no blacks could ever be U.S. citizens (even free blacks in free states) and that African-Americans had no rights which any white man was bound to respect. Seriously. That’s a quote. And that interpretation of the U.S. Constitution prevailed by a vote of seven justices to two. Under our system, as you know, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Until it isn’t.
Even though Dred Scott lost, his case played a significant role in bringing about the end of the despicable tale of legal human slavery in the United States, although it ended in the worst possible way, and maybe the only possible way, by a long bloody civil war.
Why bring this up today? Well, it’s a heck of a tale on any day, but it comes up today because a substantial observance and celebration of Dred (and his wife Harriet) Scott will take place May 22 in Bloomington.Yes, the one is Minnesota.Minnesota connection
Why here? Because Minnesota played a key role in Dred Scott’s pretty amazing tale and a large and excellent athletic complex in Bloomington is named for Dred Scott. But a while back, human rights activist Frank White noticed that, other than the signs stating the name of the Dred Scott Playfield, the story of Dred Scott was not told. Kids played ball there without necessarily learning the tale of the man for whom their field was named.OAS_AD("Middle");
White approached Michael Davis, the chief federal judge of the Minnesota District (and the first African-American federal judge in Minnesota history), and suggested that something be done about this. He had in mind a plaque at the site telling the kids who play there about Dred Scott.
White’s idea of the plaque has snowballed into a much bigger deal, including a curriculum about the case that is taught to Bloomington high school juniors and a play, developed by the estimable Mixed Blood Theater, with actors portraying Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet. And more.
The ideas set in motion by White and Davis will culminate Wednesday evening with a dedication and unveiling of plaques for the playfield, the performance of the play, a talk by Lynne Jackson of St. Louis, the great-great-granddaughter of Dred Scott and president and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. The schedule and location are right here.Dred Scott's life story
OK, you’ll learn a lot more about Scott and the case if you go to the event, but for those who can’t make it, I can’t let you go without a brief summary of Dred Scott’s story, especially of the Minnesota angle.
Dred Scott’s owner, an Army doctor who was dispatched to various military bases, took him from their home in Missouri (which was a slave state) to a base in Illinois (a free state) and then to Fort Snelling (in what was then the Wisconsin territory), governed by the federal government, which prohibited slavery in the territory. But not really prohibited because it had been fairly normal for slaveowners to travel with their slaves into free states and free territories. So it was there that Dred Scott spent most of the 1830s in free Illinois and free (pre-)Minnesota.
Back in Missouri, a doctrine had developed, sometimes called “once free, always free,” under which some slaves had successfully sued for their freedoms on the ground that their masters had taken them to free states, and after some period of time they had to be considered to have gained their freedom.
With the legal and financial support of sympathetic whites (actually, Scott got backing from the Blow family, which had owned him earlier in his life), Scott initiated such a “freedom lawsuit” in Missouri in 1846. His case dragged on for 11 years. He actually won once, in state court, precisely under the “once free” doctrine, but then lost on appeal. The case moved into the federal courts, and when the Supreme Court agreed to hear it, it became, of course, the case that would decide for the whole country whether the doctrine of “once free, always free” was valid.
The ruling, delivered by justices who were mostly southerners or slavery sympathizers, was so over the top, and the verbiage of blacks having no rights at all shocked the North.Judge Donovan Frank
Federal Judge Donovan Frank of the Minnesota District, who has been active in the local celebration of Dred Scott and who talked to me Monday about it, didn’t exactly say that the Supreme Court got it wrong, but he did say that ”many scholars have described this is as the worst decision ever by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
He credited the ruling, and by extension the Scotts’ “courage and quest for freedom,” with “solidifying the abolitionist movement and with helping to bring about the election of Abraham Lincoln, which led to the secession of the southern states, the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
I’ve been over the Dred Scott ruling and its aftermath several times in my ridiculously slow quest to understand U.S. history but I recently had a breakthrough when I read Eric Foner’s fantastic study of Lincoln’s evolution on the slavery issue titled “The Fiery Trial.” But this dang post is already so long, and I’m trying to write shorter. So, with your permission, I’ll start over soon with a discussion of Foner’s revelations.Dred Scott's freedom
But in the meantime, I do have to redeem the very first sentence of this post, which mentioned that Dred Scott was a free man in the last year of his life. It wasn’t, of course, thanks to the Supreme Court case, which he lost. And it wasn’t because he lived long enough to be emancipated by the Emancipation Proclamation (which wouldn’t have affected him anyway, because Missouri never seceded) nor to be freed by the 13th Amendment, which took effect seven years after Scott’s death.
No, after the case was over, the ownership of Dred Scott was transferred back to his former owners, the Blow family, who had become abolitionists. They freed him from legal bondage in 1857 but, sadly, he died of tuberculosis in 1858.