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America's other drug problem: wasted medicine

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 8:03am
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'Man of La Mancha' to open 2017-18 Latté Da season; 'La Bohème' coming up

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 8:00am
Pamela Espeland

Theater Latté Da has announced its 20th anniversary season, a provocative blend of new works and classics served up with a few twists. Hint: Tyler Michaels will play Lee Harvey Oswald.

Now settled into its new home in the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis, Latté Da will open 2017-18 on Sept. 13 with the five-time Tony winner “Man of La Mancha.” Founding Artistic Director Peter Rothstein sees it as a musical that “celebrates the perseverance of one man who refuses to relinquish his ideals.” He’ll set it in an immigration holding center with a multilingual cast, featuring Jon-Michael Reese and Rodolfo Nieto in their Latté Da debuts.

We’ll get a Christmas break from worldly concerns with “A Christmas Carole Petersen,” Tod Petersen’s ode to his mother, Carole, and her love of all things Christmas. The holiday hit will return for its 11th season beginning Nov. 29.

Starting Feb. 7, 2018, Latté Da will continue its love affair with Stephen Sondheim (after “Sunday in the Park With George,” “Company,” “Into the Woods,” “Gypsy,” and the brilliant “Sweeney Todd”) with “Assassins,” the multiple Tony winner about our nation’s culture of celebrity. What’s one of the fastest routes to instant fame? Shoot a U.S. president. Here’s where Michaels stars as Oswald, with Dieter Bierbraurer as John Wilkes Booth and Sara Ochs as Sara Jane Moore. The Ritz will be converted into a sinister fairground. This could be the most talked-about production of the season.

April 4 brings the world premiere of “Five Points: An American Musical,” with a book by Harrison David Rivers, music by Ethan D. Pakchar and Douglas Lyons, and lyrics by Lyons. Set in New York City in 1853, it tells the stories of two men, one a young black performer at a dance hall and the other an Irish immigrant. In a statement, Rothstein said, “Harrison David Rivers’ book provides an insightful look at the complicated relationship between the African American community and the recent European immigrants who converged on New York’s Lower East Side.”

The season’s final show, which opens May 30, is Glen Berger’s “Underneath the Lintel.” The play about a librarian who embarks on a journey that spans the globe and the ages has been performed around the world and translated into many languages. Latté Da’s production will be the first to feature live music (following up on this year’s “Six Degrees of Separation”), and the role of the librarian, originally written for a man, will be played here by Sally Wingert.

Latté Da's annual NEXT Festival of new works will take place in the summer, dates and venues TBD. 

Season tickets are on sale now

The picks

Now at the Groveland Gallery: Michael Banning: “Under Light and Leaves.” Banning’s oil paintings of sparsely furnished interiors – his own apartment – seem filled with stillness. They’re showing concurrently with “Chroma,” Charles Lyon’s bright bursts of flowers. Each exhibition is intense and personal in its own way. Gallery hours Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment. Through June 3.  

Tonight at the Ritz: Collide Theatrical Dance Company Presents “Le Petit Moulin.” Jazz dance and 1920s-style arrangements of songs by Lady Gaga, Sia, and Fatboy Slim tell the tale of two sisters trying to keep a Paris nightclub afloat near the end of the first World War. With Andrea Mislan, Michael Hannah and Katie Gearty on lead vocals. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($34). Ends May 7.

Courtesy of Festival of NationsFestival of Nations is Minnesota’s largest multicultural celebration.

Friday afternoon through Sunday at St. Paul RiverCentre: Festival of Nations 2017. Think global, eat local, and enjoy the music, dance, and exhibits at Minnesota’s largest multicultural celebration. This year’s Festival, themed “Ceremonies and Rituals,” spotlights the traditions, history and journey of more than 90 ethnic groups and how each contributes to the American cultural landscape. With over 300 dancers and musicians performing on three stages, more than 40 cultural exhibits, dozens of interactive exhibits and demonstrations, 35 ethnic food cafes, and an international bazaar, it’s a timely reminder of how diverse we are. Public hours Friday 4:30-10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. FMI and tickets ($11 advance, $13.50 door; $8 youth; 5 and under free).

Opens Saturday at the Ordway: “La Bohème.” Minnesota Opera wraps its 2016-17 season with Puccini’s tragic love story, one of the most popular operas in the world. With gorgeous music, endearing characters, some of the best arias ever written (“Che gelida manina” – What a cold little hand!), a romantic setting (1830s Paris) and a tearjerker ending (“Mimi!”), it never gets old. The opera company will present nine performances with two conductors and main-character casts. Michael Christie and Jonathan Brandini will share the podium. Sopranos Nicole Cabell and Miriam Khalil will alternate as Mimi, tenors Scott Quinn and Adam Luther as Rodolfo, sopranos Mary Evelyn Hangley and Alexandra Razskazoff as Musetta, and baritones Edward Parks and William Lee Bryan as Marcello. FMI and tickets ($25-200). Ends May 21.

Sunday: 43rd Annual MayDay Parade and Festival. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s MayDay blowout is an annual tradition for tens of thousands. A community-wide, community-building event centered on art and rooted in contemporary issues and concerns, it’s a parade, a ceremony, and a festival complete with giant hand-built puppets. This year’s theme: “Imagine, Heal, Resist.” The parade begins at noon at the corner of 25th St. E. and Bloomington Ave. S., travels south on Bloomington to 34th St. E, and turns west toward Powderhorn Park, where a festival continues throughout the day. The MayDay Tree of Life Ceremony begins at 3 p.m. FMI. Free.

Courtesy of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre“Tree of Life” at the MayDay parade

Monday at the Riverview: “The Birds.” Now that spring has sprung and birds are everywhere, it’s the perfect time to watch this scary masterpiece about birds gone wild. The Trylon is presenting its Ninth Annual Hitchcock Festival outside its own wee space and in the larger but still charmingly old-fashioned Riverview and Heights theaters. This screening will be at the Riverview. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($8).

My doctor is my drug dealer in rural America: A cautionary tale

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 8:00am

I became dependent on prescription opiates at the age of 23. My first episode of excruciating abdominal pain occurred as an undergraduate college student. This resulted in having my gall bladder surgically removed. Physicians thought this was the source of my pain and that surgery would prevent any further health issues.

Tina Lingen

Three months later the pain resurfaced, which resulted in numerous emergency-department visits and hospitalizations over the course of 15 years as physicians tried to determine the cause of my abdominal pain.

When a physician can’t diagnose the cause of a patient’s pain, most often the patient is sent to a pain management specialist. This happened to me in my first year of medical school. As a medical student I thought that all doctors had their patients' best interest in mind and trusted that they were practicing evidence-based medicine. Putting it simply, I thought doctors were gods. Unfortunately, I resided in a rural state with one pain management physician. The physician started me on highly potent opiate-based pain medication, Dilaudid (hydromorphone) and Actiq (fentanyl). Fentanyl is not safe for “opioid naïve” patients and is 50-100 times stronger than morphine.

'It's in your head'

While the opiates kept me out of the hospital, I became dependent on them. I was referred to numerous specialists at some of the best research hospitals in the country including Hennepin County Medical Center, The Mayo Clinic, The Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Iowa. I received no answer as to the cause or a diagnosis of my chronic pain. I became labeled a “frequent flier” in the emergency department and was continually told, “It’s in your head,” “You just need therapy,” and “You’re a drug seeker” by numerous physicians. This was frustrating, to say the least, and it became exhausting to advocate for myself.  


After 15 years of debilitating pain I finally received a diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis with the aid of advanced imaging available in Minneapolis. The main symptom of pancreatitis is extreme abdominal pain. I had the luxury of being able to afford a groundbreaking surgery pioneered at the University of Minnesota, and it changed my life. I went from being bedridden in my parents' home to embarking on a new career path in health policy. I was awarded an internship at the National Institutes of Health  and the U.S. Senate and obtained a master's degree in public policy from American University in Washington, D.C.

While the quality of my life improved after the surgery, I remained dependent on opiates. The cycle of seeing a pain management physician every 28 days continued. This consisted of a five-minute discussion with my physician asking, “How are you doing?” and handing me another opiate prescription or increasing my dose as my tolerance to opiates increased.

The CDC guidelines

This cycle finally ended with the decision to move back to Minneapolis this past fall. My current pain management physician properly prescribes opiate-based pain medication based on the 2016 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) opioid prescribing guidelines. The guidelines are intended to decrease inappropriate overprescribing practices and were implemented to curb the opioid epidemic we face in this country. In 2012, 259 million opioid prescriptions were written — enough to account for one bottle of pills for every American adult. The CDC prescribing guidelines may prove to be an effective policy to curb inappropriate opiate prescribing practices. However, physicians are not required to follow the guidelines and may choose to continue to overprescribe and make money off the backs of people suffering from addiction and dependence.

I’m in the process of tapering off of an opiate medication I have been on for a decade. My brain and body are getting used to a life without opiates. I am currently a candidate for a master’s degree in public health at the University of Minnesota. As a current graduate student it is incredibly hard to adjust to this change in my life while still struggling with chronic pain. My academic work has suffered since I started the tapering process in December. However, I am committed to getting opiates out of my life, as I do not want to become a statistic.

I know my story is not unique. I am incredibly lucky I have not become one of the 91 Americans who die each day from an opioid overdose. I’m sharing this in the hope that it may prevent one person from becoming dependent on opiates. Had I known then what I know now I would have questioned my first encounter with a pain management physician.

Tina Lingen holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Minnesota, a master of public policy (MPP) degree from American University, and is a candidate for a master's in public health administration and policy at the U of M School of Public Health.


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Bill creates felonies for Minnesota parents in female genital mutilation cases

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 5:57am
Brian Lambert

That was fast. MPR’s Tim Pugmire reports, “A Minnesota House committee held an initial hearing Wednesday on a bill that creates a new felony crime for a parent or guardian who knowingly allows a child to undergo female genital mutilation, an illegal procedure to which some cultures still cling. Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, introduced the bill after recent news reports about the genital mutilation of two 7-year-old Minnesota girls. The Detroit-area doctor who allegedly performed the illegal procedure was charged. But the parents who took the girls to Michigan were not.”

Lots of ticketsFrom the Star Tribune's Tim Harlow: “Teens reading text messages sent by their parents, motorists shopping for cars and drivers making picks for their fantasy sports teams while behind the wheel. They are among behaviors law enforcement witnessed as they cited more than 1,000 motorists for texting and illegally using their phones while driving during a two-week distracted driving crackdown in April. … Police handed out more citations to drivers who were not wearing seat belts — 1,517 — than to drivers using their phones or distracted in other ways, such as the 52-year-old man in St. Paul holding a chicken in his lap. Charz Sang Xiong, of Rush City, Minn., failed to stop for three pedestrians in a crosswalk with his feathered friend with him behind the wheel.”

The old days of not even getting an invitation to the NIT are over for good. The story at The Daily Gopher says, “At this time last year there was serious internet discussion around whether Richard Pitino would even be the coach of the Minnesota Gophers in 2016-17 after a horrific year, which culminated in single-digit wins and left our heads spinning. Fast forward to today where the University announced it has extended Pitino’s contract by one year, placing him under contract through the 2021-22 season. The extension comes after Pitino oversaw the greatest single-season turnaround of any Division I men’s basketball program last season, improved the Gophers’ win total by 16, made a return to the NCAA Tournament and was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.”

Yes, you might want to talk it over next time. Says Adam Belz in the Strib, “Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau met Tuesday for the first time since Thursday of last week to discuss the selection of a new police inspector for the Fourth Precinct after Hodges rejected Harteau's appointment of Lt. John Delmonico. The two city leaders met at 10 a.m. in the mayor's office for about an hour, and, according to a spokesman for Hodges, discussed ‘a process that will ensure that the mayor is informed and consulted well ahead of any selection the chief makes.’” So no more “Your call”?

Perhaps on that iceberg off the coast of Greenland? MPR’s Riham Feshir says, “Attorneys for police officer Jeronimo Yanez filed a petition Wednesday asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to issue a ruling on a change of venue request that was denied by two lower courts. Yanez is set to go on trial on May 30 for fatally shooting Philando Castile at a traffic stop last July in Falcon Heights. … Yanez's attorneys have been asking for a change of venue for the past two months, arguing it's not possible for the officer to get a fair trial in Ramsey County. Both the district court and court of appeals have denied requests to move the trial.”

Only six more approvals to go. The Star Tribune’s Faiza Mahamud says: “The Minneapolis Park Board on Wednesday voted unanimously to change the name of the city’s landmark lake to Bde Maka Ska, its original Dakota name, in a nod to American Indians who lived near the lake and a repudiation of lake namesake John C. Calhoun, a vice president who was an ardent supporter of slavery.… The push for Bde Maka Ska (“White Earth Lake”) — which won’t be official until it wins approval at the county, state and federal level — is a switch for the Park Board and comes after years of debate.”

Torii says he got the Adam Jones treatment. In the PiPress, Chad Graff writes, “Torii Hunter had coins and batteries thrown at him when he was the Twins’ centerfielder in the early 2000s, and was occasionally targeted with racist epithets in visiting ballparks, he said Wednesday. Hunter, now a Twins special assistant, said Wednesday he wasn’t surprised by this week’s comments from African-American baseball players Adam Jones and C.C. Sabathia, who said they have been called the N-word by some fans at Boston’s Fenway Park.”

Just adding tanks, planes and missiles does not a strategy make

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 2:37pm
Dick Virden

At the senior service colleges where generals like those around President Donald Trump learned their craft, the emphasis is on developing and carrying out sound national security strategy. That means first defining clear goals, then drawing up plans and identifying resources needed to achieve them.

The Trump administration, however, has it exactly backwards. It has, for example, committed to adding major funding for an already plus-sized military establishment, without indicating what the Pentagon will be expected to do or accomplish with the tens of billions in new money.

At the same time, the president has shown little regard for other parts of what make up a smart, balanced and effective national security strategy. He has routinely dissed the State Department: failing to fill top jobs, freezing department officials out of key meetings where their expertise would have added value, and proposing crippling budget cuts. These steps undermine morale and diminish the contribution diplomacy and foreign aid can make to keeping the peace, assisting economic growth, promoting trade or assisting those hurt by natural disasters and wars.

The president’s own secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. James Mattis, knows the score, having declared that, if diplomacy and development are cut, “I’m going to need more ammo.” His point was that reliance on military power alone is a mug’s game; it will lead us to more armed conflict that might have been avoided and to the unnecessary loss of blood and treasure.

We need all the tools of statecraft

The United States clearly needs a strong military force – and we have it. We also require all the other tools of statecraft – diplomacy, development, intelligence, public diplomacy – to deal effectively with security threats such as those posed by ISIS, North Korea, Russia, Iran and others. Take North Korea, for example. We could conceivably destroy that country’s nuclear capability, but the cost would be impossibly high. Experts tell us that millions of people could die in the initial strikes and counterstrikes. Such a prospect brings to mind what Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said during the Cold War: After a nuclear exchange, “the living would envy the dead.”

That’s why diplomacy remains the preferred option for settling differences with North Korea. Trump himself seems to have belatedly recognized that in asking Chinese President Xi Jinping to use his influence to get North Korean President Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table.

When/if the day for real negotiations arrives, it will not be a winner-take-all poker game. Diplomacy involves give and take from all the players. We’d need clear-eyed negotiators focused on what is in our interest and what is possible. They might need to accept, for example, that forcing the current regime in Pyongyang to get rid of its nukes is an unattainable goal, given that North Korean leaders see these weapons as the only way to ensure their own survival. Some problems cannot be solved, only managed. That pragmatic approach halted Iran’s nuclear progress, no small achievement in the tinderbox of the Middle East.

Credibility of our intelligence is key

If we do reach some sort of understanding with North Korea on its nuclear capacity, we will rely on the ability of our intelligence agencies to monitor compliance, just as we currently do for the Iranian pact about that country’s nuclear industry. The credibility of our intelligence is crucial to verifying these and other potential agreements, such as with Russia, about its actions in Ukraine, or with Syria, about its promise to give up chemical and biological weapons.

For these purposes and more, we need an intelligence community whose reporting and assessments are accepted by our friends and allies. That trust was damaged by the president’s arbitrary dismissal of intelligence findings – particularly about Russia’s interference in our election campaign – that he found inconvenient. Restoring confidence will not be easy.

That’s true also about disparaging our allies, as candidate Trump did in suggesting that NATO was obsolete and that we might quit the alliance if our friends did not pay more of the defense burden. Since taking office, he’s discovered that this question, like so many others, is much more complicated that he imagined. He now says that NATO is no longer obsolete and that our commitment is firm. Whether our friends and adversaries are convinced by the latest statements we cannot know.

Unpredictability isn't good

Unpredictability, or unreliability, is not a desirable quality for the world’s most powerful country. Allies want to be able to count on us in a crunch, and potential adversaries need to know we’ll go to the mat to protect our friends and our values.

We’re told to give President Trump some time, that his approach to national security, like his domestic policy, is still evolving. Sure, it’s still early. And also, as Adam said to Eve, we live in a time of transition. But it would be easier to be hopeful about an emerging national security strategy if we saw evidence that the president recognized that there’s more to it than bluster and the hammer. A successful strategy is one that sets clear, realizable goals and takes full account of all the tools of statecraft in pursuing them. Stay tuned.

Dick Virden is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer. He studied and taught national security strategy at the National War College.  


If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Two Minnesota U.S. House seats will start next campaign as toss-ups, says Inside Elections

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 2:35pm
Eric Black Terry Gydesen/Steve DateU.S. Reps. Tim Walz and Jason Lewis

Unless it is your job to do so, it would be silly to obsess on the likely outcome of elections that are more than a year and a half away, including elections in which we don’t even know who the candidates will be.

But there are people whose job it is to do that, and some among us who are so obsessed that we can’t help but notice. Therefore, forewarned as you are that it’s silly to care, I’ll just let you know that Nathan Gonzales of “Inside Elections” (which was formerly named the Rothenberg Political Report) has released an overview of the 2018 U.S. House races in which he assesses the likelihood that control of each House seat will switch parties. So, for the eight-member Minnesota delegation, Gonzales soothsays as follows:

Two of Minnesota’s House seats will start the next campaign season as toss-ups, namely the southern Minnesota First District, currently occupied by Democrat Tim Walz, and the south suburban/rural Second District currently represented by freshman Rep. Jason Lewis. 

These ratings obviously take into account that Walz, a six-term incumbent DFLer who had a surprisingly close less-than-1-percentage-point win last November, will not be seeking another term because he has announced he will run for governor instead.

In the Second District, Lewis is in his first term and won that race by just 2 percentage points. But the Second District has been won by the Republican nominee in nine straight elections. I'm skeptical that it truly deserves toss-up status but I'm not a soothsayer.


Gonzales rates two more of Minnesota’s districts, the Northeastern Eighth and the far western Seventh, as “lean Democratic.” But these ratings should also be viewed with caution until the two incumbents clarify their plans.

The Eighth has a long history as a DFL stronghold (DFLers have carried it every election but one since 1946) but has been trending much redder over recent cycles. Further complicating the forecast, the current incumbent, Rep. Rick Nolan, is publicly considering running for governor and, even if he doesn’t do that, will be 73 on the next Election Day.

The tall, skinny Seventh District, which covers almost the entire western border of Minnesota, is really a solid-red district except that it really really likes its Blue-Dog DFLer incumbent, Collin Peterson. One of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Peterson has won every election since 1990, most by comfortable margins. But Peterson may be the only DFLer who can hold it, and he will be 74 on Election Day 2016. I suspect Gonzales, and everyone else who engages in such exercises, will change their rating for the race in a flash if Peterson decides to retire.

Minnesota’s Third District, covering the western suburbs of the Twin Cities, looks like a swing district by some measures. It has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in the last three cycles. But in House elections, it loves moderate pro-business Republicans like Jim Ramstad and Erik Paulsen. Paulsen, the current incumbent, has won it five times by margins ranging from comfortable to landslide. The DFL often seems to think it can give him a scare and, perhaps in recognition of that, Gonzales rates it “Republican Favored,” which is the last, least competitive category he uses, except for those districts that are so solidly red or blue that he doesn’t bother to rate them at all.

Paulsen has been raising campaign funds aggressively and even spending it so far in 2017 faster than most incumbents. That could be because he's worried, or because he wants to scare off likely competitors, or it might just be because Paulsen is really good at fund-raising. The Strib reported that "Paulsen ... spent far more defending his congressional seat last year than any other Minnesotan in Congress: $5.8 million. Most of that was on media advertising — more than any of the 435 other members of the U.S. House, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C." Paulsen is also wary about casting votes that might become controversial and is among the few Republicans at the moment who hasn't said how he will vote on the current version of Trumpcare.

In the spirit of that last not-even-worth-rating category, Gonzales doesn’t provide a rating for the solidly Democratic Fourth (St. Paul) and Fifth (Minneapolis) where the incumbents Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison are viewed as prohibitive favorites if they seek another term. And the same (except in reverse partisan terms) for the Sixth District (biggest city: St. Cloud), which has elected three different Republicans and no Democrats over the last eight terms and where Gonzales apparently considers Republican incumbent Tom Emmer safe enough that he doesn’t bother rating the race.

Minneapolis park board to take final vote on renaming Lake Calhoun

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 12:00pm
MinnPost staff

Sounds like a long process ahead. The Star Tribune’s Faiza Mahamud reports: “The Minneapolis Park Board will take its final vote tonight to expunge the name Lake Calhoun in favor of Bde Maka Ska, the lake’s original Dakota name.  … If the name change passes, the Park Board would need to send a request to the Hennepin County Board, which would have to hold a public hearing, vote to approve the change, then make a proposal to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR would have to appeal to U.S. Board of Geographic Names for federal use and final approval.”

Scary situation in Bemidji. The Pioneer press reports: “A school bus filled with elementary students was heading south on Irvine Avenue Northwest at about 7:40 a.m. when it was struck by a car heading east on South Movil Lake Road, and the bus came to rest on its side in the ditch. Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said the car failed to stop at a stop sign there. … All students involved were taken to Sanford Bemidji Medical Center for examination and will be transported to their schools, according to a release from district Superintendent Jim Hess.”

Trouble for UnitedHealth. Bloomberg’s David Voreacos  and Zachary Tracer report:UnitedHealth Group Inc. was sued by the Trump Administration, which claims the insurer’s California Medicare program made false or fraudulent claims for payments after failing to adjust for the health risk of patients enrolled in its plan. … The Justice Department said Tuesday that it joined an eight-year-old whistle-blower lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act that focused on payments made to the company for its Medicare Advantage Plan. Medicare Advantage organizations, like the one UnitedHealth runs in California, receive fixed monthly payments for each enrollee. Those payments are based, in part, on patient-risk scores that weigh their medical conditions in the previous year.”

What will this mean for acquisition rumors? The Star Tribune’s Kristen Leigh Painter reports: “General Mills said this morning that its president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey L. Harmening, will become chief executive on June 1. … He succeeds Ken Powell, who has been CEO and chairman since 2007. Powell will remain chairman until his retirement, likely next year.”

In other news…

More complicated than it sounds: “Minnesota Republicans want to eliminate ‘welfare for politicians’” [Pioneer Press] 

Only took 40 years: “The Suicide Commandos make another record” [City Pages]

There goes your afternoon: “Twin/Tone Records opens its video vault on YouTube” [City Pages]

Oh, we see what you did there: “In dairy-obsessed Wisconsin, plan just too 'gouda' to fail” [MPR]

Impressive: “At 95, a Duluthian is the oldest hockey player in the world” [MPR]

For urban lawmakers, there's a common theme in the Legislature's budget proposals: messing with Minneapolis and St. Paul

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 11:14am
Briana Bierschbach Peter Callaghan

With only Democrats representing Minneapolis and St. Paul at the state Capitol, lawmakers from Minnesota’s two largest cities didn’t expect life to be easy under a Republican-controlled Legislature.

And so they've been at odds with Republican legislators all session over provisions like pre-emption, which would bar local governments from setting their own policies on issues such as a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and banning plastic bags in grocery stores.

But the struggles go beyond paid leave and plastic bags. Minneapolis and St. Paul lawmakers say they are having to fight on seemingly every front these days, as they struggle to maintain state support for everything from light rail transit to bus routes and pension plans.

It's part of a growing political divide that’s been exacerbated by demographics. As the cities' populations swell with younger voters who tend to lean left, districts in rural Minnesota have come to be dominated by older voters who tend to vote Republican. The effects have mostly played out in Minnesota’s last two elections, with Republicans picking up nearly a dozen House seats and six senators from rural areas.

With Republicans now in control of both chambers, they’ve shifted policy priorities to focus on districts outside of the metro — parts of the state that GOP lawmakers say have been left behind in recent years.

Yet DFL legislators say many of the policies being proposed this session go beyond trying to help Greater Minnesota. Instead, DFL lawmakers say the moves are part of a campaign to target DFL-represented districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul — and exacerbate the urban-rural divide. “It’s been driven by politics and not by reality,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. “That’s why they are doing this, for political reasons. But it is going to hurt the state.”

Loving buses. Or not.

Among the biggest struggles of the session, say DFL legislators, is over maintaining funding for transit projects and bus routes in the Twin Cities. On Monday, Republicans from the House and Senate announced they'd reached a compromise agreement on a new transportation budget that puts about $30 million of new funding into Metro Transit over the next two years - $15 million per year. 

MinnPost photo by Briana BierschbachMetropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck

But Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck said that funding level falls far short of what’s needed, and that it would leave a $35 million hole in Metro Transit’s budget each of the next two years — a situation that could lead to a 10 percent reduction in bus routes. 

“That’s just treading water,” Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said of the proposed funding for Metro Transit. “That’s not any expansions. So all their chest beating about how they love buses — I don’t see it in their bill. When [light rail] is up there, they love the buses. But when it comes time to fund the buses, it doesn’t quite happen.” 

At the same time, the transportation proposal includes new funding for road and bridge projects across the state and a few select western and southwestern suburban bus lines. It also includes pilot projects for bus routes in Republican districts. “It’s hard for us to look at our partners and say, ‘Some parts of the region are getting new dollars while others are not,’ ” Duininck said. 

Killing CTIB — and inviting lawsuits?

Another sticking point for the urban lawmakers: The Republican transportation budget would require all future light rail lines to get legislative approval, and would halt the construction of controversial Southwest Light Rail Line by barring the Metropolitan Council from using a controversial borrowing mechanism — known as “certificates of participation” — to pay for the project. That mechanism became necessary last year, according to the Met Council, because legislative Republicans balked at providing state funding that had been expected to complete the project. 

The bill also essentially dissolves the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), a five-county agreement in the metro that levies a one-quarter-of-1-percent sales tax to pay for transit projects throughout the region. The dissolution of CTIB would supersede a joint powers agreement — a contract between the five counties that controls how the body operates and how revenue is allocated.

Dissolving CTIB might sound familiar: The board tried to disband itself earlier this year on its own terms, a move that would have allowed Hennepin and Ramsey counties to double their transit sales tax (to one-half of 1 percent) and take over all nonfederal construction funding of light rail lines. The money available under that plan would be enough to complete funding for Southwest LRT and the Bottineau Blue Line extension, as well as the transit improvements on Ramsey County’s Riverview Corridor and Rush Line. But Dakota County — which is planning to leave CTIB at the end of 2018, anyway — vetoed the move because the terms offered by the other four counties weren’t generous enough.

Not surprisingly, all seven Dakota County commissioners on Tuesday endorsed the parts of the plan that pertain to the county and CTIB.

The language in the current Republican transportation bill requires a public vote before the five metro counties can increase the sale tax above the current quarter-cent. And even if such a vote were successful, the counties and the Metropolitan Council would be prohibited from spending any money on new rail lines unless approved by the Legislature. Only Hennepin and Ramsey counties had been planning to double the sales tax and use the revenue to complete funding for transit projects.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanCommissioner Peter McLaughlin

McLaughlin said the proposal could put a chill on future uses of joint powers agreements, which are commonly used by school districts and local governments across Minnesota. And at a Wednesday meeting of CTIB, Jay Lindgren, a bond attorney for the Dorsey & Whitney law firm, called the forced dissolution of the regional body a "litigator's dream."

"I don't want to overdramatize this," said Lindgren. "But it's a fact — because it would be unwinding something in a way I haven't seen before."

“The facade is gone here,” McLaughlin said. “This is an anti-transit, anti-metro bill that will have very negative repercussions for the economic future of the region. I haven’t spoken to the governor directly yet, but I can’t imagine that this is anywhere close to meeting his requirements.” Indeed, Twin Cities legislators’ biggest ally on budget issues is DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who has pushed back on cuts to Twin Cities’ aid and mass transit.

And yet, House Republican Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said the new funding for Metro Transit in the bill was a “big step” in terms of finding agreement with Dayton. An earlier proposal from the House included no new funding for bus routes in the Twin Cities.

With recent proclamations from the governor that he could sign a transportation bill without a gas tax increase, Torkelson said he’s optimistic about getting something passed this year. “The financial structure of the bill is pretty well balanced, it does touch all parts of the state,” he said. “It puts a significant amount of money into the highway distribution fund, and a significant amount of money for local roads and bridges.” 

He also said the transportation bill is open to more changes, particularly on light rail issues. Like McLaughlin, Torkelson has some concerns about changing CTIB and the precedent that sets for other joint powers agreements around the state. “I don’t want to pass a bill that is only going to get vetoed,” he said. “Passing a transportation bill is really hard, and it’s not pretty. I fully realize how challenging it is. I intend to work with the governor and get something passed.”

From pensions to construction projects 

Transportation is not the only issue legislators from Minneapolis and St. Paul are concerned about, though. There is also a $10 million reduction in annual planned state contributions to the city of Minneapolis’ employee pension fund, as well as the repeal of an agreed bond repayment — of $140 million — for the Minneapolis Central Library in downtown Minneapolis.  “The downtown library is a regional asset,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis. “When you cut that, it looks like a cut to Minneapolis. But it’s a cut to the region.” 

State Rep. Greg Davids

For his part, House Taxes Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, said the $1.13 billion bill doesn’t go after any city in particular. In discussions with Senate Republicans, Davids says he successfully advocated for the removal of a provision that cut Local Government Aid just for Minneapolis, from $78 million a year down to $50 million a year. 

“We went through every line to put this thing together and one of our considerations was: Would the governor sign this bill?” Davids said. “All this bill does is help a lot of people. Nobody is being attacked in this bill. There are a lot of provisions in here for the metro and for the rest of the state.”

Legislators from both cities are also closely watching what happens with the bonding bill — a package of construction projects typically passed in even-numbered years in Minnesota. Last year, a $1 billion proposal that fell apart in the final hours of the session included a handful of projects in Minneapolis and St. Paul that were anticipating funds. Twin Cities lawmakers would like to see a package passed this year to make up for the delay.

But in the House’s $600 million bonding bill, released Monday, Minneapolis gets a total of $1 million in funding — for the Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery restoration project. St. Paul gets $13 million, all for the Science Museum of Minnesota.

In fact, a number of projects that were included in last year’s bonding bill are gone — projects like Catholic Charities’ Opportunity Center and Dorothy Day Residence in St. Paul. Tim Marx, Catholic Charities president and CEO, said the organization was going to update results of private fundraising for the center at its annual Dorothy Day Center breakfast in St. Paul on Friday. The organization’s goals were close being met, and construction was set to start this summer — all they needed was $12 million in the state bonding bill to complete the project. That funding was included in the bonding bill that fell apart last year, and this year, Dayton and Senate Republicans support the project.   

But the funding wasn’t in the House’s bonding bill. “That is just extremely disappointing given the amount of effort that has gone into this work, the support that it has received and the critical timing,” Marx said.  “We simply can’t be in a position of this uncertainty when we’ve built this level of public-private partnership, when we have investors who are thinking about walking and when costs are increasing.”

And while Dorothy Day is located in downtown St. Paul, the shelter has served people who come from 66 of the state’s 87 counties.

Hurting the 'economic engine' of Minnesota

The bonding bill also includes language that caps the amount that can be spent out of the state’s local bridge fund at $7 million, which some legislators say is a direct hit on Minneapolis and St. Paul, since they’re the only cities in the state that tend to have bridge projects that cost more than that amount. Two bridge projects, in particular, Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul and the 10th Avenue SE bridge in Minneapolis, cost $48 million and $31.9 million, respectively.

For his part, House Capital Investment Chairman Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said this is one of the largest bonding bills ever passed in a nonbonding year, and it had a tight focus on road projects, clean water infrastructure and maintaining state facilities. 

“All of these projects were visited and vetted over the last two years,” Urdahl said. “The focus is squarely on improving our state’s infrastructure, sticking with the priorities during what is, by definition, not a bonding year. This is the first step in our process to get projects rolling.”

Still, when DFL legislators look at the volume of cuts and restrictions aimed at the cities, they say it looks more like a political campaign than a serious attempt at enacting effective policies — a tactic that could end up hurting all of Minnesota, they say. “We are the economic engine of the state,” said Hausman of St. Paul. “The bulk of the state’s tax dollars are generated here and they are sent across the state, and we are happy about that. They hurt the whole state if they hurt the economic engine.” 

Meet the student support model that’s going national. It’s been incubating at St. Louis Park High School for 18 years

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 9:55am
Erin Hinrichs

As the outgoing superintendent of St. Louis Park Public Schools, Rob Metz, puts it, many schools are experiencing “initiative overload.” There are so many academic and behavior interventions and models and frameworks circulating through the education sector that it can be hard to decide what, exactly, is worth the effort.

But Metz is confident that the student support program that’s helped close the achievement gap in his district can work in schools across the state. It’s already working in schools in other states. It’s working in rural districts. It’s working in urban districts. No matter the student demographics, the results are the same: increased attendance rates, decreased discipline rates, increases in credits earned and test scores, and more.

It’s called Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR). The framework was developed by a former school counselor in the district, Angela Jerabek, who saw a need to create a comprehensive support system for ninth-graders struggling to make the transition to high school.

In brief, students are assigned to cohorts with a set group of teachers. These teachers take turns leading a weekly relationship-building activity with students. They also meet weekly with each other to review students’ grades, at a very granular level, so they can discuss any concerns and problem solve together. Depending on the situation, they invite students — along with their parents, administrators, student counselors and other support staff — to engage in various interventions, as needed.

On paper, it doesn’t sound all that innovative. But it has at least one really important qualification that most support models are lacking: It’s backed by a powerhouse of evidence, funded through federal grants.

The BARR program is the recipient of three federal Investing in Innovation Fund grants, which are aimed at developing, validating and scaling up evidence-based practices that improve student achievement or growth. The BARR team has already trained staff at 47 schools across nine states, including California, Texas and Maine. They’re currently working with a five-year, $20 million grant to expand the program to at least another 120 schools, Jerabek says, with a long-term goal of reaching 250 schools by 2021 and establishing five notable, national hubs.

“In terms of researchers and an academic audience, we’re really well-known by them. We wanted to make sure the model is ironclad, which it is,” she said. “We’re shifting gears to make sure this is more commonly known, and not just from an academic lens.”  

Relationships, data are key

The BARR model underwent a rigorous randomized control trial during the 2014-15 school year. Students in 11 high schools were randomly assigned to either receive supports under the BARR model or not, for one year. The first cohort of schools included a rural school in Maine and two suburban schools in California, representing a wide range in the school size, as well as the percentage of minority students and students living in poverty.

The report, published by the American Institutes for Research, concluded that students served by the BARR model, as well as the participating teachers, showed “statistically significant positive impacts” when it came to reading proficiency, the number of core credits earned, passing courses, teacher effectiveness and more.

Jerabek has been immersed in data collection for more than a decade, in an effort to prove the student-support model she’d developed to support ninth-graders in 1998 actually works. After working as a school counselor with ninth-graders at St. Louis Park High School for five years, she had reached a breaking point.

“When half the students are failing their classes and I’m doing everything I can and students are continuing to fail, I wasn’t feeling successful,” she recalled.

MinnPost photo by Erin HinrichsAngela Jerabek has been immersed in data collection for more than a decade, in an effort to prove the student support model she’d developed to support ninth-graders in 1998 actually works.

Feeling defeated, she went to her administrator to resign, she says. But she was encouraged to tackle the issue from a more systemic approach. Across the nation, ninth grade has been identified as a pivotal year for students, as it often sets a student’s trajectory through high school and beyond. But it’s fraught with some common barriers, including students’ susceptibility at that age to cave to peer pressure, a transition to a new school that disrupts students’ support networks, and increased autonomy for students as they take electives and core classes taught by teachers who are often teaching in silos.

Given these changes, ninth-graders are more apt to fall through the cracks. Research has shown, for instance, that they are 3-5 times more likely to fail a class than students in any other grade. And 70-80 percent of students who fail ninth grade will not graduate from high school.

The BARR model helps ensure that students stay afoot — both in terms of academics and their social-emotional development — by equipping educators with a structured support system. The two key pillars are positive, intentional, relationship building and thoughtful data usage. Taking on the model doesn’t require schools to change curriculum or pedagogy. The two main things a school needs to commit to, Jerabek says, is to coordinating schedules so teachers who have a set cohort of students can meet weekly and to hiring or appointing a BARR coordinator. Staff will receive trainings from BARR staff before the start of the school year and they’ll continue to conduct fidelity checks and offer coaching throughout the year.

At St. Louis Park, they have a full-time BARR coordinator who works with administration to develop the schedule to accommodate six blocks of students and their teacher cohorts in both ninth and tenth grade. It’s no small task, says Scott Meyers, the high school principal. But he says it’s well worth the hassle of grouping teachers by their strengths and, as is the case at his school, building their meeting time into the school day to help ensure everyone can participate. He’s such a strong believer in the model that he’s now hiring ninth-grade teachers that fit BARR.

“We’ve actually changed a good portion of the interview questions we ask a prospective ninth-grade teacher … to really  get the type of teacher you want to be collaborative and fit into this model,” he says, noting that these questions focus on how they get to know kids, how they hold them accountable, and how they interact with other teachers.

Metz, who will be joining the BARR team to serve as its lead administrator of sorts at the end of the school year, says the model may not strike many as being innovative. But after serving in schools for 36 years — many of which he spent at the elementary level —he says that, in many ways, it is.

“BARR is the perfect example of a relationship concept that we take for granted at elementary. I always tell people: ‘In an elementary school teachers teach children, and in a high school teachers teach subjects,'” he says, noting secondary teachers often go into teaching because they have a passion for their content area. “In the old traditional high school model, the subject was the most important thing. This flips that around.”

How it works

While many educators take it upon themselves to build relationships with their students, the BARR model helps ensure that every teacher is making a sincere effort to connect with students on a social-emotional level. Breaking from the normal routine of delivering classroom instruction to foster this connection, teachers in a cohort take turns teaching a weekly I-time lesson. The non-graded lessons, which are laid out by BARR, cover everything from lighthearted ice breaker activities to dealing with grief and loss and cyberbullying.

On a recent afternoon at St. Louis Park High School, a classroom of ninth-graders circled up their desks for an I-time lesson led by their economics teacher. Their agenda for the hour: introduce the student on their right by sharing their name and an admirable trait of theirs, then pass out compliments to each other by playing a heads-down game and then creating compliment cards.

MinnPost photo by Erin HinrichsSt. Louis Park team of ninth-grade teachers discussing student progress during a BARR meeting.

Modeling what the introduction activity looked like, the teacher introduced the female student seated next to her, sharing her name and complimenting her on her equestrian talent. Then she cued the rest of the students to join her in telling that student “Good afternoon.”

“It sounds a little cheesy. That’s because it is. But it’ll be a lot of fun, though,” she said, triggering affirmation from another student in the circle who was familiar with the activity.

As they went around the circle, the students giggled and smiled over revelations that they were a group of talented athletes, artists, musicians and “cool” people.

Whatever the topic, the main objective of these activities is to equip teachers with insight into students’ passions that they can leverage to challenge them academically, and to help teachers better understand what’s going on below the surface with each student.

At their weekly meetings, they pull up each individual student’s grades and troubleshoot together, flagging any behaviors they’re concerned about and brainstorming ways to help ensure the student is making progress.

The power of holding these granular, data-driven teacher meetings at the secondary level is twofold. First off, teachers are better able to notice patterns that might be inhibiting a student’s  progress — whether it be identifying a group of peers who are always off-track when they’re together, noticing a pattern of disruption during a particular time of day, or piecing together the fact that a student who’s failing one class is doing well in every other class.

Kris Erickson, a ninth-grade English teacher who’s been in the district for seven years, says the kids realize pretty quickly that the teachers are comparing notes and holding them accountable — so there’s no pitting one adult against another, or flying under the radar. And the beauty of the collective safety net, she says, is that teachers can divvy up interventions based on who has the strongest connection with a particular student.

“One of the hardest lessons as a young teacher is you want everyone to like you,” Erickson said, noting it’s a relief to know that if some kids don’t like her energetic teaching style she can recruit a colleague to reach out to those who are struggling in her class.

For Yusra Jara, a senior student who credits the BARR program with helping her get through a rough patch that very well could have derailed her as a ninth-grader, the fact that her teachers had time, and a framework, to keep tabs on her during these formative years was crucial. She recalls feeling a bit like her teachers were “on her back.”

“I think I have finally reached the point where I know who I am. They know who I am. Now I have a personality that everyone can connect me to,” she said, noting it’s bold and if you don’t know her well, can be misinterpreted as abrasive or rude. “It was a long four years, but I made it.”

MinnPost photo by Erin HinrichsYusra Jara: “I think I have finally reached the point where I know who I am. They know who I am. Now I have a personality that everyone can connect me to.”

On Trump, Jackson and the Civil War

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 9:19am
Eric Black

The New York Times Tuesday morning roundup of the news, with wry, hilarious understatement, put it this way:

The president’s comments about the Civil War underlined what seems to be a tenuous understanding of the events that preceded his ascension to power.

“Events that preceded [Donald Trump’s] ascension to power” is a snotty way of saying “all of U.S. history.” That’s the thing, or at least one of the things, about which the current incumbent has “what seems to be a tenuous understanding.” That’s “tenuous,” which the dictionary defines as: ”lacking a sound basis, unsubstantiated, weak.”

Trump thinks things are simple until he discovers are they aren’t and then he assumes he is the first to discover as much, as in his famous remark that until February when he discovered it: “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

The president can’t stop flaunting his ignorance. But since he flaunted it repeatedly during the campaign, in ways that our pre-Trump understanding of the unwritten rules of U.S. politics would have meant that he had disqualified himself to be president, this is just one more demonstration that those rules were not only unwritten, they were tenuous, bordering on nonexistent.

Trump's bizarre ramble about the Civil War intermingled with his man-crush on Andrew Jackson who, in Trump’s understanding, could have prevented the Civil War and even had laid a plan to do so. (Although Jackson died in 1845, 16 years before the secession crisis, he was president during the so-called “nullification” crisis, when South Carolina asserted the right of states to nullify, within their borders, the application of federal laws with which a state might disagree.)

'Jackson was really angry'

Jackson disagreed with that theory and succeeded in defeating nullificationism, which is certainly not the same as secessionism. If Trump actually had anything in mind when he said that Jackson – who as I just mentioned died 16 years before the Civil War – had a plan for preventing the Civil war, Trump may have had the nullification crisis in mind. But there is no basis for Trump’s ignorant and bizarre statement: “Jackson was really angry when he saw what was happening with the Civil War.”

Trump has occasionally made favorable remarks about the most beloved figure in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln. If he were a little swifter in the brain, he might have realized that in claiming that Jackson would have averted the war, he is essentially blaming Lincoln for not doing the smart things that Jackson would have done to prevent it.

The current incumbent began his latest display of ignorance by noting that no one ever asks why the Civil War occurred. Really? Really? Here’s the quote:

People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

Omg. Lots and lots of people, many of them brilliant scholars, have devoted volumes to why the Civil War occurred. There are a few theories, some more complicated than others, but the overwhelming consensus on the cause of the Civil War can be summarized in one word: slavery.

So, for the record, Trump was right about something. The Civil War would not have occurred if Andrew Jackson had been president. That’s not because Jackson was smarter or tougher or a better dealmaker than Lincoln. It’s because Jackson was both a southerner and a slaveholder and, as long as he was president, the South would not have felt its “peculiar institution” faced extinction.

Ten presidents owned slaves at some point

Ten of the 15 presidents who preceded Lincoln had been slaveowners at some point in their lives. Eight of those 10 owned slaves during their presidencies. The legality of U.S. slavery had not been seriously challenged, although slavery and participation in the slave trade had been outlawed in most of the rest of the world. (Even “serfdom,” in Russia, was abolished in 1861.)

But slavery had never faced a serious threat of abolition in the United States. It was actually protected by the Constitution (although the framers managed to insert those protections without actually mentioning the word “slavery.”)

Perhaps the thing that “people don’t realize,” to paraphrase Trump, is that Lincoln ran for president in 1860 promising the South that he had no plan to directly threaten slavery in the states where it then existed.

Lincoln was not an abolitionist. Abolitionism, which certainly existed, was still viewed in 1860 as a fairly radical movement, and no abolitionist could have been a major party nominee nor elected as president in 1860.

Republicans were also generally not abolitionists, but the party coalesced around the idea that, although slavery could not be ended in any fixed or short time frame, it could be set on a path toward “ultimate extinction.” Putting slavery on that path was the Republican mantra in that era. And that was Lincoln’s position.

Lincoln’s big idea in 1860 was to guarantee the rights of slaveholders in the states where slavery then existed (perhaps because, to do otherwise, would cause a Civil War) but prevent the further spread of slavery into new states as the nation continued its westward expansion. A lot of new territory, acquired in the war with Mexico, had not yet been organized into states. The Lincoln/Republican position was that slavery must be tolerated where it then existed, but that no new slave states should be admitted.

If that plan had worked out over the next years, the predominance of free states might even have reached the point at which a constitutional amendment ending slavery could be imagined. Certainly, southern slave owners could imagine it and were determined not to go down that path.

Some of these considerations fed the impulse to secede, to form a new nation where the right of slave owning would be guaranteed. And secede they did.

Lincoln's position

Lincoln took the position that since the Constitution made no mention of any right to secede (although it made no mention to the contrary either), secession was impossible and that he simply wouldn’t recognize it. But he took no immediate military steps to enforce that view. That led to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, off the coast of South Carolina, and that ended any chance that the issue could be worked out without a war.

I suspect you already knew much of that. Apparently our president doesn’t, which led to his ridiculous statements about Jackson and how he could have prevented the war through superior deal-making prowess.

If you find the history of Lincoln’s evolving views on slavery over his lifetime interesting, I did a full piece on it back in 2013 based on the great work of historian Eric Foner. Thanks to the miracle of the worldwide web, you (and Trump, if he has any interest) can access that piece here.

Oh, and by the way. After his initial remark, which implied that he was unaware of Jackson’s death before the Civil War started, our president took to his favorite medium to indicate that he was well aware of when Jackson died. He tweeted: “President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!”

Trump has not yet attempted to back up either his belief that Jackson saw the Civil War coming (which no historian I have found agrees with) or that Jackson had a plan to prevent the Civil War if he had seen it coming.  

Being unhealthy is not a moral failing

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 8:54am
Susan Perry

In an interview Monday on CNN, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said one of the advantages of the Republican’s proposed repeal-and-replace plan for the Affordable Care Act would be that healthy people wouldn’t have to pay for sick people.

He then attempted to justify that approach on moral grounds.

“It will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy,” Brooks told CNN anchor Jake Tapper. “And right now, those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

Brooks acknowledged that many people have medical problems “through no fault of their own,” and he said society should help them — but he didn’t explain how that should happen.

A widespread belief

Brooks’ view that getting sick is some kind of personal moral failing is, sadly, widely held — by people on the political left as well as on the political right. I’ve heard plenty of left-leaning people try to link the news that someone they know developed cancer or dementia or had a heart attack or stroke to the person’s lifestyle: They point out that the ill person was a meat-eater or worked too hard or spent too little time exercising or weighed too much. 


As if vegetarians and Zen Buddhists and marathon runners and thin people don’t develop serious health problems.

But at least people on the left who think like this aren’t trying to make it difficult for others who have either a chronic or acute illness — or who have been ill in the past (those with “pre-existing conditions”) — to get affordable health care.

That can’t be said of Brooks and his like-thinking Republican colleagues. 

Behavior not the only determinant

Writing in the Huffington Post on Monday, reporter Jonathan Cohn makes an important point that everyone — left, right or center — should keep in mind before assuming that people get ill because they did not “do things the right way” (as Brooks put it).

“Although the precise link between lifestyle choices and health status is fuzzy,” writes Cohn, “the best available research suggests that behavior accounts for no more than half of existing health problems and most likely a lot less ― especially since ‘behavior’ includes factors like obesity that, research has also shown, has a lot to do with environment, genetics and policy choices.”

And let’s not forget that making healthful lifestyle choices — “doing things the right way” — is much, much more difficult when you don’t have the time or the money to make such choices.

Too many of us judge other people’s health-related behaviors through the prism of our own lifestyles.

Real barriers

Take the issue of regular exercise. We may live in a neighborhood with safe and accessible sidewalks and streets on which to walk, run or bike. But many people don’t. We may also have the time each day to devote to exercising. But many people don’t. They commute long distances to work. Or they work more than one job. Or they are a single parent with small children in the home. Or they are the sole caregiver for a disabled relative. Or they have depression or another mental illness that makes it extraordinary difficult to simply leave their bed in the morning.

These are not excuses. These are the realities of daily life for millions of Americans.

I thought of how little we understand and empathize with the struggles of others’ lives (but how quickly we are to judge those lives) when I read a report about Ivanka Trump’s new book. In it she describes — with complete tone-deafness — how she goes into “survival mode” during “high-capacity times,” such as during her father’s presidential campaign last year.

"Honestly,” she writes, “I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care. I wish I could have awoken early to meditate for 20 minutes and I would have loved to catch up with the friends I hadn’t seen in three months, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day.”

Not enough time to get a massage or to meditate. Many working women in the United States don’t have the time or the money — or the paid sick leave — to see a doctor for important preventive health screenings, like a Pap test or a mammogram.

The randomness of illness

Of course, Brooks’ comments on CNN had another huge and much more obvious flaw: Illnesses and medical conditions are often inherited or congenital, or they occur as the result of an accident or other incident over which the person had no control.

People have been attacking Brooks mercilessly about this point on Twitter:

@aravosis @RepMoBrooks Here's my irresponsible 10-year-old boy, born with cerebral palsy. @RepMoBrooks maybe you can explain to him your theory. pic.twitter.com/RYjmc9Bhm8

— Jeff Wilson (@jwilson_detroit) May 2, 2017

@Donna4863 @ncasler40 @whut_the_whut @aravosis @RepMoBrooks I was run over by a car at age 3, leaving me w/ a broken back & lifetime of pain. What was my sin at 3 yrs old @RepMoBrooks ??

— Elizabeth Persisted (@akabeth10) May 2, 2017

@Kris_Sacrebleu @TrumpOutNow @RepMoBrooks Wow Rep. Brooks, I must've done something terribly wrong in my life considering I have Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis! Shame on me!

— Melissa Spaulding (@MelissaSpauldi5) May 1, 2017

On Monday night, ABC late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel underscored the randomness with which illness can strike when he told the poignant story of how his newborn son had to undergo emergency surgery in late April for a severe heart defect, diagnosed immediately after birth.

Kimmel then argued — with both compassion and passion — that no one should be denied health insurance for a pre-existing condition:

We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all. Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition. And if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition.

If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?”

Apparently, we don’t. But we must hope we will, and soon.

FMI: You can watch Rep. Brooks’ CNN interview on the link above. You can watch Jimmy Kimmel talk about his son's health emergency below.

Schubert Club Mix to open with 'The Alehouse Sessions' at Aria

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 8:19am
Pamela Espeland

In late May 2013, when St. Paul’s Schubert Club launched a new series called Schubert Club Mix, the plan was to present classical music in settings less formal than concert halls. Four years in, the settings – and the smart, engaging programing – are working just fine. Mix concerts at Aria in Minneapolis, the Hill Center, TPT’s Street Space and Bedlam Lowertown have sold out or come close. A fifth season was announced this week, adding Summit Brewery as a venue.

As classical music struggles to attract younger, more diverse audiences, does Mix also funnel new listeners to the Schubert Club’s flagship International Artist Series in the Ordway Concert Hall? No, and that’s not its job. “It was never my intention to set it up as a steppingstone to something else,” Schubert Club Artistic and Executive Director Barry Kempton said Monday. More than 50 percent of people who buy tickets for Mix are not crossing over. “They are dedicated to Schubert Club Mix,” Kempton said. “That is how the Schubert Club is delivering concerts they want to go to. It’s for us to respond to how people like to attend their concerts, rather than say that the crowning glory of attending classical music is a formal concert hall.”

The Schubert Club has also had success presenting the chamber group Accordo at Icehouse. But while Accordo is more traditionally classical (and splendidly so), Mix, in Kempton’s words, is “the classical world pushing at its edges,” with “a little more attitude.” Also, and this matters a lot, many Mix concerts are artists and performances we might never see if Kempton didn’t bring them in.

Like, for example, the 2017-18 season launch event on Oct. 12 at Aria, “The Alehouse Sessions” featuring Barokksolistene with Bjarte Eike. Barokksolistene is a Norwegian early-music-on-period-instruments ensemble; Eike is Norway’s leading baroque violinist. They call what they play “just old pop music” and treat it as such. “It’s more like a jam session in a pub than a formal early music program,” Kempton said. “Much less reverential.” Though they will play Purcell. This will be their first time in the Twin Cities.

On Dec. 10 at Aria, Brazilian-American vocalist, composer and pianist Clarice Assad will perform a jazz-inspired program with her world-famous father, guitarist Sergio Assad. This promises to be a warm and intimate evening of music drawn from their first recording together, “Reliquia.” (Sergio and his brother, Odair, will play at the Ordway on the International Artist Series in February 2018. They’ll be joined by Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital, who made his Twin Cities debut last year with the Mix.)

On Jan. 18, 2018, TPT’s Street Space will host composer Libby Larsen’s “The Fantom of the Fair” and other multimedia works inspired by comic strips. Minneapolis-based Larsen has written several pieces to accompany vintage comic strips. She’s also writing a new work for Paul Phoenix, a former member of the King’s Singers, that will “tie it all together,” Kempton said. Phoenix will be one of three singers featured on the program, with soprano Clara Osowski and baritone Aaron Engebreth.

Courtesy of the Schubert ClubColin Currie

Scottish percussionist Colin Currie bangs on almost anything. He also really likes the writings of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Colombia’s master of magical realism. An athletic, energetic solo percussionist who performs with daring and drama, Currie has combined the two – music inspired by Márquez and readings from Márquez – in a program we’ll see at Aria on March 27. Kempton will cast a Twin Cities actor to perform the readings. This one makes our head spin a little.

The season wraps on May 8 with the six-member, New York-based ensemble Third Sound, who will bring an appropriately mixed program including Brahms, Schoenberg, and a world premiere to Summit Brewery. Formed in 2015 by composer and performer Patrick Castillo, the SPCO’s former senior director of artistic planning (2010-13), Third Sound is “a top-class chamber ensemble,” Kempton said, “and the interesting twist here is to hear them not in a formal concert setting but in a beer hall.” Preferably with a pint in hand. What a way to make their Twin Cities debut.

The Schubert Club has a global reach, seen in its International Artist Series and also the Mix. The current visa squeeze is having an impact on the performing arts. So far this year, visa issues have forced the Cedar to cancel a show by Somali singer Aar Maanta, the Northrop to cancel a performance by the South Korea-based Bereishit Dance Company, and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series to replace Swedish-Iranian singer Mariam Wallentin with Poliça frontwoman Channy Leanaugh in a May 9 concert at the American Swedish Institute. So we had to ask Kempton if he’s having preliminary visa anxiety.

“It hasn’t happened to us yet,” he said. “It would appear that things might be changing in terms of how easy it is to get a visa. So we’ll have to keep an eye on it.”

Series packages are on sale now. Single tickets ($30) go on sale Tuesday, Aug. 1 at 11 a.m.

The picks

Thursday at Westminster Town Hall Forum: Richard Haas: “A World in Disarray: Shaping a New Foreign Policy.” The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, former chair of the multiparty negotiations in Northern Ireland in 2013, principal adviser and director of policy planning under Secretary of State Colin Powell and special assistant to George H.W. Bush, author or editor of 12 books on American foreign policy, Haas should have plenty to say worth hearing. At Westminster Presbyterian. Forum at noon, music by Melanie Ohnstad and Tesfa Wondemagegnehu at 11:30 a.m. free and open to the public. [Full disclosure: MinnPost is a co-sponsor of the forum.] If you can’t be there, you can listen or watch online later

Thursday at the AC Hotel: “Future: Made Here” launch. Hennepin Theatre Trust and Andersen Windows team up once again to fill otherwise vacant windows along Hennepin Ave. with art. The theme: the future. The number of windows: 42. The number of local artists involved: 40, plus 120 students. Joan Vordebruggen – whose idea this was, years ago, in her own Whittier neighborhood, before she was the Trust’s director of public art and placemaking – will lead group walking tours at 6 and 7 p.m. Believe us when we say that a Joan-led tour is the way to experience a new “Made Here.” The launch event will also feature DJ Mad Mardigan, street performers, buskers, and sidewalk goings-on between 5th and 10th streets along Hennepin. Starts at 5 p.m. FMI. Free.

Friday at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church: 2017 Twin Cities American Guild of Organists Member Recital and Reception. They should give this a buzzier name, like Organapalooza or Organnaroo. Ten TCAGO organists will perform a program of Bach, Buxtehude, Schumann, Grieg, Dupré, Aaron David Miller and more on OLG’s four-manual, 68-rank 1988 Austin pipe organ. The concert will be followed by a festive reception. 7:30 pm. Free and open to the public. And yes, the Bach is the Prelude and Fugue in D.

Photo by Michael HaugThe Rose Ensemble

Friday and Sunday: The Rose Ensemble: “American Roots: Harmonies That Shaped a Nation.” The Rose is on tour with this popular program that traces the evolution of America’s musical heritage across the centuries. Songs include Shaker and Appalachian tunes, English ballads, bluegrass, “Wayfaring Stranger,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “The Sweet By and By,” and more. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6 at Ascension Catholic Church; 3 p.m. Sunday, May 7, at Landmark Center. Both concerts are free.

Sunday at Lakewood Cemetery Chapel: 113 Composers Collective: New Music for Voices: The Gregorian Singers. Oooooh. An afternoon of new music performed by the ensemble-in-residence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Lake-of-the-Isles, in the jewel box of a chapel designed by Harry Wild Jones and modeled after the Hagia Sophia. With works for choir and voice by Helmut Lachenmann, world premieres from 113 composers Joey Crane, Sam Krahn, Joshua Musikantow and Tiffany M. Skidmore, and Call for Scores winning composers Nicolas Marty, Santa Bušs and Ignacio Baca-Lobera. 4 p.m. $15/$5 students/under 18 free. FMI.

Hot tix

Next Tuesday, May 9, at the University Club, Mayte Garcia, Prince’s first wife, will read and sign copies of her new book, “The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince.” Each ticket includes one copy of the book. Additional copies will be available for purchase. Hosted by SubText Books. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30).

Heads up

On Wednesday, May 17, the University of St. Thomas’ Selim Center will host a conversation between former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat, and former U.S. Senator David Durenberger, a Republican, titled “When Politics Was Not a Blood Sport.” Which seems impossibly long ago. But bipartisan friendships and partnerships were once the norm, and maybe they can be again someday. MPR’s News Editor-at-Large Gary Eichten will host. Nostalgia, for sure, but also lessons for all of us as citizens. In the Anderson Student Center, Woulfe-North Hall, University of St. Thomas St. Paul Campus. 7 p.m. FMI and registration ($30; includes dessert and beverage service). Registration deadline May 8.

The real truth about history: It evolves as new insights and perspectives become clear

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 8:00am

"It’s time for truth telling at Fort Snelling" was the intriguing headline on an opinion piece appearing in Monday’s MinnPost.

Melanie A. Adams

At the Minnesota Historical Society, we couldn’t agree more. It is time to tell the truth —the many truths — at Historic Fort Snelling. And that is exactly what we intend to do in time for the fort’s bicentennial in 2020.

History — like life — never offers us a singular, universal understanding, but rather a collection of truths shared from diverse perspectives. Together, these perspectives create a more complete understanding of the past, and how it impacts our lives today. History is how we understand the past, and that understanding evolves continually as new insights and perspectives become clear.

Recognizing the past's complexity

Where we might once have understood and represented the past as straightforward — as lists of important dates, key battles, great men, and authoritative narratives — we now recognize the complexity of the past, its people and events.

For example, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, published works in the 1920s arguing for the social benefits of slavery and its benign nature as an institution. His view held sway for more than 50 years. Teachers taught it, and students studied it. Phillips’ work earned him awards and a teaching position at Yale University. Only when later scholars explored different primary sources (and asked new questions of the plantation diaries and records Phillips used) did conflicting stories come to light. If MNHS had told the story of slavery in 1940, it likely would have relied on this broadly embraced scholarship that presumed the superiority of white men. And it likely would have been seen as “objective.” 


At MNHS, we are challenged to preserve our historic resources while re-examining traditional sources, exploring new sources, and inviting new voices into the conversation. Our work to preserve and interpret the paintings associated with the Minnesota State Capitol, and the history of Historic Fort Snelling does just that. The Capitol artwork project included months of study, discussion, and thoughtful input from the people of Minnesota and legislative leaders. As our interpretive plan for the paintings unfolds, we have invited a wide range of reviewers to vet drafts of the material, including the author of Monday’s opinion piece. All voices are welcome.

Guided by many sources

Our current revitalization project at Historic Fort Snelling — which includes expanding the site’s interpretation — calls for us to engage with community partners in new and more meaningful ways. The historic fort is located at Bdote, the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, and the story of the area goes far beyond the four walls of the fort. To that end, a Dakota Community Council has been formed, and collaborative initiatives are under way with independent historians, veterans, Ojibwe people, African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and others so that we can work as partners to tell the full, complicated story of Minnesota’s first National Historic Landmark. We’re guided by many sources, including the Minnesota Historical Society Press’ new book “Fort Snelling at Bdote,” which provides a synthesis of research and perspectives, a new lens through which to more fully understand this important place.

These collaborations are part of a new interpretive approach that expands the diverse stories of the people who crossed paths here on Dakota homeland for more than 10,000 years — beginning with Native Americans and continuing through the last 200-plus years, when the site’s history also included the stories of soldiers, enslaved people, immigrants, and fur traders.

Let me be clear. We are not replacing or eliminating factual history at Fort Snelling. MNHS does not seek to censor, replace, or eliminate history. We seek to uncover, interpret, and share more broadly the unique stories of American history that happened here in Minnesota.

Without question, the story of Fort Snelling cannot be told completely without sharing the history and perspectives of Native Americans. And, without question, we must share the history of the fort itself as the best-known military outpost in our state, a place with memories for generations of Minnesotans who have served our country.

Certainly, we will present the Civil War-era history of the fort, in part by discussing that Minnesota was a leader and a critical mustering ground for troops. But the story would be incomplete without discussing the site as a foothold of U.S. expansion into Dakota homeland and its role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. 

The story is also incomplete without sharing the histories of enslaved people who lived at the fort, among them Dred and Harriet Scott. Their experience, enslaved in a free territory that would become Minnesota, and their fight for freedom, which rose all the way to the Supreme Court and resulted in the infamous Dred Scott Decision, would ultimately help pave the way to the Civil War.

A range of perspectives

Engaging the public in history today requires offering up primary sources, including oral histories, that reflect a range of perspectives. It means enabling the visitor or reader to examine the information, consider the interpretations, and reach his or her own conclusions. Done successfully, a public history experience leaves you asking more questions, wanting to learn more, and, perhaps most importantly, connecting history not only with worldwide movements, but also with your own life experiences.

As historians, we do not own or determine the truth and, fortunately, we’re less likely to pronounce final answers or “the” authoritative narrative. We are committed to rigorous history, continuously improving our work, and listening to and serving all Minnesotans. The proof will be in the pudding. We invite all Minnesotans to visit all 26 MNHS historic sites and museums, and draw your own conclusions about what history means to you.

Melanie A. Adams, Ph.D., is senior director of guest experiences and educational services at the Minnesota Historical Society.


If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Lauderdale man who shot two Somali-American men claims self-defense

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:57am
Brian Lambert

Self-defense? At MPR, this from Brandt Williams: “The attorney for a Lauderdale man accused of shooting and wounding two Somali-American men told a Minneapolis court room that his client fired his gun in self-defense. Anthony Sawina's trial began Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court. One of the victims countered that they were on their way to prayers and had given no reason for anyone to shoot. Sawina faces nine felony counts including attempted premeditated murder. Hussein Gelle, 22, said he and his four friends, Hanad Abdi, Abdulahir Aden, Abdirahman Hassan and Abdullahi Mohamed Yusuf were on their way to early morning prayers last June after playing basketball. Gelle testified that Sawina approached their stopped car. According to Gelle, Sawina, who is white, said some vulgar things about Muslims that Gelle and his friends challenged.”

Pretty much relatedThe AP says, “A Minnesota man who pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for firebombing a Somali restaurant in North Dakota is fighting the amount of money he has been told to repay. Matthew Gust, of East Grand Forks, Minn., filed a motion Monday asking for a court-appointed attorney to help him appeal the nearly $269,000 restitution order for the fire at the Juba Coffee House in neighboring Grand Forks in December 2015. Gust is serving a 15-year prison term. Gust says in a handwritten note that he didn’t know how much he was supposed to pay until receiving notice on April 4. He calls it ‘a very high amount’ of money.” Mr. Gust has a presidential way with words.

After 39 years, I’m still going with, “Yes, dear.” In the Strib, Sharyn Jackson writes, “A Twin Cities area couple is getting a late-in-life dose of stardom. Married almost 75 years, John and Evie Kasper’s mega-long-term-relationship is the subject of a video that’s inspiring viewers around the globe — to the tune of 40 million views. Danni Munro interviewed her grandparents when they hit the 70 years together milestone. In her video, the couple share tips on how they’ve managed to stay together so long. Among them: Never carry a grudge, and always kiss goodnight.” Not leaving your socks all over the house helps, too.

Hard to go wrong ripping Steve Bannon. Al Franken got some licks in Tuesday. For Raw Story, David Edwards writes, “Justice Department attorney was at a loss for words on Tuesday after Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asked him how President Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as chief strategist impacted hate crimes in the United States. At a Senate hearing on religious hate crimes, Special Counsel For Religious Discrimination Eric Treene argued that there was not enough data to fully address the rise in religious hate crimes. … Sen. Franken wondered what message the White House was sending to perpetrators of hate crimes by placing former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon in Trump’s inner circle. …  ‘I’m curious what message you think it sends to individuals who may engage in that kind of reprehensible behavior when the president selects Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.’”

The GOP Facebook post about Keith Ellison got a lot of attention ‘round the world. At carbonated.tv, Alice Salles writes, “The Republican Party has had its share of race-related scandals in the past, but nothing could have prepared us for the latest story coming straight from the Minnesota Republican Party. … While the person responsible for the post “no longer represents our party,” the MNGOP Seventh District Facebook page reported, it's disheartening to see this happening, especially when the image used on the social media page attacked not only a Muslim lawmaker but also countless others who are struggling to flee war.” 

Troubling. Says Beatrice Dupuy in the Strib, “A Burnsville High School music teacher charged with criminal sexual misconduct with a student turned himself in to authorities Tuesday after he broke the conditions of his release by messaging another teen. Erik Akervik, 29, posted bail on April 13 and was released from jail after he was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old male student and sending nude pictures of himself via Snapchat to a 15-year-old student. Under the conditions of his release, Akervik was prohibited from contacting anyone under the age of 18. Burnsville police learned that on April 26 Akervik used Instagram to message a 15-year-old male he met in his work as a youth choral director for Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Akervik asked the teen to follow him on Instagram, according to the Dakota County attorney's office.”

They’ll be ramping up Vision jet production. Dan Kraker at MPR reports, “After more than a decade designing and building a first-of-its-kind aircraft, weathering a major recession, and securing $100 million from a Chinese-owned company to jumpstart the project, Cirrus Aircraft has finally won federal certification of its 'Vision' jet. That means the Federal Aviation Administration will no longer have to inspect and certify every aircraft that comes off the production line in Duluth. ‘They've watched us enough to know that we can safely and smartly replicate the building process’, said Ben Kowalski, the company's vice president of marketing and communications. Cirrus is banking its future on the success of the jet, the first single-engine, personal jet to hit the market.”

MRP’s Dan Gunderson says: “The federal government says Minnesota is failing to provide adequate dental care to low-income children and risks losing funding. Some dentists say they can't afford to provide care for patients on government programs. Minnesota is among the states with the lowest reimbursement rates.”

In the PiPress, Mara H. Gottfried writes: “St. Paul police are investigating a report that someone passed bad checks to Girl Scouts, getting away with more than 600 boxes of cookies throughout the Twin Cities. The Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys office in St. Paul contacted police Friday to say they received nine worthless checks — with the same name on them — for Girl Scout cookies in St. Paul, Maplewood, Minneapolis, Shakopee, Brooklyn Park and other locations, according to Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman. The Girl Scouts were scammed of about $2,400, he said.”

And finally, from the PiPress: Cats. “For the first time in about five years, a tiger cub has been born at the Minnesota Zoo. The female Amur cub was born at the Apple Valley zoo at 7:58 p.m. April 26, weighing in at 1.7 pounds.” 

As House leadership searches for votes on health bill, two Minnesota Republicans are keeping mum

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 4:10pm
Sam Brodey

Health care is the most talked-about thing on Capitol Hill right now, but a few members of Congress — including two Minnesota Republicans — aren’t saying much about it.

The GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, titled the American Health Care Act or AHCA, fell apart in March because it couldn’t win enough support from the moderate and conservative wings of the party.

Last week, the once-dead bill got new life: Rep. Tom MacArthur, a New Jersey moderate, and leaders of the hard-line Freedom Caucus agreed on an amendment to the AHCA, which would give states a path to opting out of key provisions of Obamacare.

Though that move pleased many conservatives, the new language is creating problems elsewhere in the House GOP. Stalwart Republican members and supporters of leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan — who is still strongly backing the bill — have fled, saying they can’t support the amended legislation.

The margin for error for the GOP is growing razor-thin: assuming unanimous Democratic opposition, they can only afford to lose 22 of their own. They already have lost 20, so all eyes are on the dwindling pool of members who remain undecided.

Two of Minnesota’s three Republican representatives, Reps. Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer, are in that group: neither has taken an official position on the newest version of the bill as House leadership aims to bring it before lawmakers soon.

Paulsen needs to review the text

Paulsen, the Republican who has represented the west metro’s 3rd District since 2009, is generally a reliable team player for GOP leadership. He supported the first version of the AHCA, and voted to pass it in the Ways and Means Committee.

Since the MacArthur language was introduced last week, though, Paulsen has not taken a position, and has been evasive in his replies to press questions.

On Friday, Paulsen informed MinnPost that he was still reading the text of the amendment, which was posted to the website of the House Rules Committee the previous Wednesday night. He said to check in with him on Tuesday about his position.

On Tuesday, when asked about his position, Paulsen told MinnPost the text “hasn’t been posted yet.” When asked about the amendment in question — whose text was released the week prior and is currently being debated and scrutinized in Congress — Paulsen said he was still waiting for it to be posted.

There are a few reasons why Paulsen could be holding out. For one, even though the new version of the AHCA was sold as a compromise, the language is scaring off a broad range of Republicans because of what it could mean for coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

The amendment would permit states, starting next year, to apply for waivers exempting them from foundational elements of Obamacare that the AHCA would, in letter, keep in place.

Concern centers around states’ ability to opt out of Obamacare’s community rating and essential health benefits provisions, both of which protect those with pre-existing conditions from being charged more for their coverage by insurers.

This has prompted right-of-center Republicans, and even more conservative ones, to announce their opposition. Missouri Republican Rep. Billy Long, a Trump supporter and stalwart Republican, said the MacArthur amendment “strips away any guarantee that pre-existing conditions would be covered and affordable.” (Politico called it a “surprise defection.”)

Paulsen has indicated that any weakening of pre-existing condition protection would be a deal-breaker for him. In a form letter to a constituent dated April 14, Paulsen said the following: “Any reform efforts should maintain important provisions that expand access to health care. These include protecting patients with pre-existing conditions, allowing dependents up to age 26 to stay on their parent’s plan, and prohibiting insurers from placing lifetime caps on the amount of care they will provide.”

(The AARP, which opposes the health care bill, argued that the MacArthur amendment could threaten protections against lifetime caps on care, too.)

Paulsen is also one of 23 Republicans who won districts carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. (CD3 voters preferred Clinton to Trump by nine points, but delivered Paulsen another double-digit re-election victory.)

The Eden Prairie congressman, then, faces a tough calculus. He has faced intense heat from some constituents over his stance on health care reform. If he supports this version of the AHCA, it could have significant negative political ramifications for him. At the same time, Paulsen is historically reluctant to depart from leadership, and with such a narrow margin, they’ll need his support on this.

Emmer leaning yes?

Into his second term in Congress, Emmer has also established himself as an ally of GOP leadership: he holds a top post at the party’s House campaign arm and helped whip support for the first version of the AHCA.

Emmer has not publicly said where he stands on the latest version. (MinnPost has contacted his office for comment — we’ll update if we hear back.)

For a one-stop source of the most informative, insightful and entertaining coverage coming out of Washington, subscribe to MinnPost’s D.C. Memo.

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Email Address * First Name * Last Name * Subscribe The Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller, who has been tracking the AHCA very closely, has a public whip count that lists Emmer as one of 14 Republicans who are leaning yes. (Paulsen is one of 13 purely undecideds.)

Compared to Paulsen, the political stakes for Emmer — the incumbent Minnesota Republican with the safest district — are relatively low for this vote, at least in the short term.

It could be the long view that is giving him pause, says Steven Schier, professor of politics at Carleton College. “Efforts by the House GOP to amend the Affordable Care Act have thus far proven unpopular,” he told MinnPost. “It seems that whichever political party takes charge of changing health care incurs a considerable political penalty. That helps to explain the wariness of Reps. Paulsen and Emmer regarding support of the latest House GOP health reform plan.”

The Minnesota outlier is freshman Rep. Jason Lewis. He told MinnPost last week that he plans to support the version of the AHCA as proposed.

It is unclear when, or if, the health care bill will come up for a vote, but GOP leaders have said it could be as soon as Wednesday.

Position Description: Director of Finance & Operations

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 2:00pm
Andrew Wallmeyer

About MinnPost 

MinnPost is an online-only news publisher best known for its coverage of Minnesota politics and policy. We are proudly nonprofit, nonpartisan and member-supported. Founded in 2007, MinnPost has grown to become one of Minnesota’s most respected news outlets and a national leader in the nascent nonprofit news industry. In two of the last three years it was named among the nation’s three best outlets of its size by the Online News Association.

We are looking for a Director of Finance & Operations to join our executive team and manage our growing business, which currently has an annual operating budget of about $1.6 million.

About the position

The Director of Finance & Operations reports to the Publisher/CEO and works closely with the Director of Advertising and Director of Development on cross-functional organizational goals. This individual plays a critical role in the management of several areas of the organization: finance, business planning and budgeting, human resources, administration, and IT.

Primary responsibilities include but are not limited to:


  • Create and manage organization’s annual budget; provide reporting to senior leadership on budget progress throughout the year
  • Manage accounts receivables and payables processes
  • Maintain accurate payroll processing
  • Oversee completion of annual tax return and audit with contracted accounting firm
  • Create internal budgets for purposes of grant application/reporting, event planning, and membership campaign efforts
  • Manage organization’s financial accounts (checking, savings, investment)
  • Manage payment accounts for sustaining donors; reconcile donor accounts with accounting records for accurate reporting


  • Ensure that H/R processes are consistent in regard to hiring practices, performance evaluations and employee recordkeeping
  • Work closely with external vendors for IT management, office supply and equipment ordering/maintenance
  • Correspond with large board of directors regarding annual giving, meeting coordination and committee involvement
  • Manage some administrative functions for member-cultivation and fundraising events


  • Advise the Publisher on business strategy and operations as a member of the Business Leadership Team, along with the Director of Development and Director of Advertising & Sponsorship

Qualifications & Salary

Strong candidates will have:

  • 5+ years of professional experience in financial management, preferably in leadership roles
  • a solid understanding of standard GAAP accounting principles
  • the ability to collaborate effectively while working independently
  • a mastery of accounting (Quickbooks preferred), spreadsheet (Excel and Google Sheets preferred), and CRM (Salesforce preferred) software

Experience working with board members, in nonprofit organizations, and in data quality management is a plus, as is a passion for independent journalism and mission-driven work. An MBA or equivalent is preferred but not required.

Anticipated salary range of $55,000 to $65,000, based on experience and qualifications.

Application process

Send résumé, cover letter, and salary expectation to jobs@minnpost.com. No phone calls, please. 

Position is open until filled. Interviews expected to begin late May. Expected start date in June.

MinnPost is hiring a finance director

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 2:00pm
Andrew Wallmeyer

MinnPost, one of the country’s leading nonprofit news organizations, is looking to hire a Director of Finance & Operations to join our executive team and manage our growing business, which currently has an annual operating budget of about $1.6 million. 

The Director of Finance & Operations is a leader in our business staff, overseeing MinnPost’s finance, business planning and budgeting, human resources, administration, and IT activities. This person reports to the Publisher/CEO and works closely with the Director of Development and the Director of Advertising & Sponsorship as a member of our business leadership team.

We are looking for someone who is excited to build on MinnPost’s current momentum and help direct the organization’s future growth, and passionate about our mission to provide high-quality news and analysis for people who care about Minnesota.

Successful candidates will have prior experience as a financial manager, exceptional attention to detail, the ability to thrive in a rapidly changing environment, and have demonstrated skill in both directing their own work and collaborating as part of a team.

Those who are interested in applying should review the position description and send a résumé and cover letter to jobs@minnpost.com. (No phone calls, please.)

Edina may raise tobacco-purchase age to 21

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 12:16pm
MinnPost staff

This was an option? MPR’s Dan Gunderson reports: “Edina Mayor Jim Hovland thinks his city is starting a movement in Minnesota. … The Twin Cities suburb is poised to become the first city in the state to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The City Council is expected to approve the measure Tuesday evening. … Hovland compares the change to a move to eliminate smoking in public places.”

Can’t be good for the northern Minnesota economy. The Duluth News Tribune’s Brooks Johnson reports: “Cloquet’s match and toothpick factory is closing, and 85 people will lose their jobs there as a result, owner Newell Brands announced Monday. … The plant produces Diamond matches and toothpicks, a business that New Jersey-based Newell sold last month to Georgia-based Royal Oak Enterprises LLC. The new owners of the brand decided not to take the Cloquet operation with them.”

Minnesota … disunited. City Pages’ Cory Zurowski writes: “A section removed from these rabid throngs inside TCF Bank Stadium was a small contingent of equally-pumped spectators. They call themselves the Mill City Ultras. Based on two signs group members were holding, apparently all is not kosher in the world of organized fandom for Minnesota's newest pro sports franchise.  … ‘Our passion is not for sale!’ read one of the Ultras' poster boards. … It turns out that this group, numbering maybe a few dozen or so, are distancing themselves from the existing fan clubs. The reason behind the fracture, they claim, is because the team's relationship with the established supporters groups is a bit too cozy, blurring the line between impassioned purists and PR shills.

Rated arf. The Pioneer Press’ Chris Hewitt reports: “Are your pooches ready for their close-ups? … Perhaps believing that cats have had the limelight for too long, courtesy of the popular video festival that began at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Aquatennial has announced the Candid Canines Film Fest. … Results — which seem likely to include somebody sticking his head out a car window and somebody else discovering peanut butter for the first time — will be screened from 4 to 9 p.m. July 20 at Target Field Station in Minneapolis (pets are welcome).”

In other news…

Your degree from Comics College is about to be worthless: “Uptown Minneapolis condos force out Minnesota's oldest comic book store” [City Pages]

Really taking their time: “United Properties gets another extension for $350M tower on Nicollet Mall” [Star Tribune]

Grape news: “After earlier rejection, Minnetonka council votes to allow Total Wine outlet” [Star Tribune]

Time to get the garden going: “Sunnier, drier, milder days ahead; safe to plant now?” [MPR]

Nooo: “The excellent Tanpopo Noodle Shop in St. Paul is closing” [City Pages]

A year in, Minnesota's chief inclusion officer reflects on the successes and challenges of diversifying state government

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:03am
Ibrahim Hirsi

A year ago, James Burroughs took the helm of an effort aimed at increasing the percentage of people of color who work in state government — an ambitious attempt to create a state workforce that mirrors the racial and ethnic diversity in Minnesota.

To get there, Burroughs dedicated his first four months as the state’s chief inclusion officer to meeting with leaders from various underrepresented communities across the state.

Those meetings taught Burroughs two important lessons: first, that many qualified professionals of color don’t have networks to alert them about career opportunities in state government; second, that many applicants never even make it onto the radar of the government’s hiring managers.   

Burroughs also learned that professionals of color don’t see the state government as an ideal destination for prospective employment. Among the reasons is — as scores of leaders from the African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-Americans communities told Burroughs — professionals of color who have been with the state for decades oftentimes feel stymied in their efforts to get higher level jobs or leadership positions.  “A lot of them hadn’t had opportunities to move up,” Burrough said. “They didn’t necessarily feel valued and included.”

Establishing relationships

After the community engagement meetings, Burroughs, an attorney and longtime leader on equity issues in Minnesota, decided to find ways to establish relationships and trust between major organizations that serve communities of color and state leaders.

So he held a series of events with the St. Paul-based Coalition of Asian American Leadership, LatinoLEAD and the African American Leadership Forum, explaining the work his inclusion office does and asking them to become partners in the state’s effort to diversify the workforce. For each meeting, those organizations sent 30-40 representatives to meet with executive leaders from the state’s human resources department and commissioners to discuss employment opportunities with the government.

“We talked about opportunities to partner with them,” Burroughs said. “We built that trust, and we let people know that if they’re interested in getting a job with us, here is the process you take.”

Beyond engaging communities of color, Burroughs also has been trying to convince his own colleagues in leadership positions — who have been skeptical about the state’s diversity initiative — that recruiting for diversity doesn’t necessarily equate to lowering employees’ standards or qualifications. He said that he explained that the inclusion office was meant to expand access to career opportunities to qualified professionals of color who may not know about career opportunities at the state.

“Changing that culture internally has been one of the main challenges,” Burroughs said. “But I think we’re doing a good job in making people understand that.”

Professionals of color job fair

Burroughs has begun collaborating with other people and organizations who have trying to diversify the state’s workforce.   

One of those he turned to was Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, founder of the People of Color Career Fair, the twice-a-year job event aimed at connecting people of color to top employers — including state, county and city governments as well as educational institutions, foundations and private companies in the Twin Cities metro area.

At its meeting last week, the career fair drew more than 1,500 professionals of color to the Minneapolis Convention Center for networking opportunities with recruiters from 30 employers, including the University of Minnesota, Medtronic, Comcast, Target and US Bank. “Most of the people in this room have bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees,” said Smith-Akinsanya of the job-seekers.

Various agencies from the state were also present at the event — which featured Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman — to share information and collect resumes from potential state employees.

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim HirsiJames Burroughs, right, decided to find ways to establish relationships and trust between major organizations that serve communities of color and state leaders.

It’s too early to say how many people the state recruited from last week’s career fair, Smith-Akinsanya said, but a similar event she hosted last year led the state government to hire eight African-Americans for leadership positions, including a new director of the department of recruitment, retention and affirmative action.

Those new hires are among the 1,650 black employees currently working for the state, which has nearly 35,000 workers. Of those, about 29,000 are white; 1,165 are Asians; 679 are Hispanics; and 2,000 are Native Americans and others who didn’t specify their race.

Over the past five years, the state has seen a gradual increase in the number of employees who are members of racial or ethnic minorities. In 2012, for instance, 8.3 percent of the state’s workforce were people of color — a number that increased to 9.3 percent in 2014 and to 11.5 percent last year.

On top of increasing the number of its minority employees, Burroughs said, the state has “exponentially increased” its applications from communities of color since the inception of the inclusion office. “Now, people from these communities are receiving positive information about the state’s hiring process from their own communities,” he added. “They’re talking about that we’re really serious about diversifying our workforce.”

Pathway programs

The inclusion office has also created a pathway program in collaboration with local nonprofit organizations — including Urban League, Project for Pride in Living, Summit Academy and others — to train job-seekers of color who don’t have the education or skills to acquire state jobs. “We needed to create a pipeline for people of color and people with disabilities to make sure we have that pipeline going,” said Burroughs.

Like many major employers across the country, the state has seen skilled-worker shortages in departments that are losing employees to retirement. In fact, the state is expected to have a shortage of 100,000 in the next three years.   

To fill some of those jobs, Burroughs’ office is partnering with vocational schools that are already training the people they need for positions available within the state government. “It’s not a training program,” he said, “but a recruiting strategy around how they can get us some of those folks.”

When they join the state’s workforce, Burroughs added, the new employees will have a career pathway in place — which means they’ll have opportunities to move up the career ladder and even develop leadership skills in the next several years.

The state’s career pathway program is also working with local organizations — such as Ujamaa Place and Better Futures Minnesota — that are serving formerly incarcerated Minnesotans who are now willing to turn their lives around.

“We’ve made some strides,” Burroughs said of his first year on the job. “But we still have a long way to go.”

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