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Caught at the border: Don't forget the unaccompanied minors who end up detained

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 10:41am

It is no secret that issues related to immigration and refugees have taken center stage with Trump administration. Rest assured that heated dinner conversations have taken place across the nation, that friendships have been stretched and communities stressed all surrounding the topic of immigration. However, unaccompanied minors are rarely spoken about in the mainstream media. In the first six months of 2016, 27,754 unaccompanied minors were apprehended by U.S. Border Control. These young children are detained and await processing for an average of 35 days.

Take time and imagine 35 days in a detainment center, in an unknown country, with unknown outcomes. Scary, right? Now go ahead and imagine walking into a court room for an immigration hearing where you do not have legal representation. This is your make-it-or-break-it moment, the determining factor for your future. You are a child, and you are alone. Make your case.

As of right now, U.S. law does require the court to provide legal representation to undocumented immigrant persons, including children. Thousands of kids go through an entire court hearing without legal aid, or a full understanding of what is happening. Immigration experts believe that if unaccompanied minors had proper legal representation that nearly 87 percent of children would qualify as asylees, meaning they have a well-founded fear of returning to their home country. However, the lack of representation tends to send these children right back into the violent communities that they are fleeing.

Scary, right?

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Odd years out? In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, new efforts seek to move municipal elections to even years

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 10:02am
Peter Callaghan

Two separate efforts, one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, are seeking to have voters move municipal elections in both cities from their current odd-year schedule to even years, when turnout is higher.

In Minneapolis, the issue is being pushed by Barry Clegg, the chair of the city charter commission, who wants the commission to consider putting the issue before voters, perhaps in 2018. In St. Paul, Peter Butler — a former city budget office staffer and current management consultant — is again circulating petitions in the hopes of putting it on the ballot this year.

The two cities are using different methods for putting the issue before voters, but the efforts have a similar rationale: Voter turnout in odd years tends to be much lower than the turnout in even years. That is especially true during presidential elections.

Numbers from the city clerk shows the average turnout in city elections since 2001 has been 31 percent of registered voters, says Clegg. During years when there is a gubernatorial election, as there is in 2018, the turnout jumps to an average of 59 percent. And in presidential years, voter participation has averaged 75 percent. 

The numbers in St Paul show a similar difference. Over the last eight city elections, the average voter turnout has been 25 percent of registered voters, though there were higher numbers in the two years with contested mayoral races: 2001 and 2005. The numbers are significantly higher in even-year elections, however: 44 percent in 2010; 66 percent in 2012; 40 percent in 2014; and 61 percent in 2016.

Based on the turnout difference alone, Clegg said he thinks “the question quickly becomes not whether we should switch to even years but what’s the best year to do it.”

Butler agrees: “Why even bother with odd-year elections if no one turns out?”

But the turnout number is not their only concern. Both make the case that city elections are decided by an electorate that is not just smaller, but whiter, older and wealthier than each cities’ overall population.

Butler cites 2013 and 2016 turnout data in St. Paul to show that the largest participation in municipal elections there come from the generally well-off wards 3 (covering Highland Park and much of the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood) and 4 (Merriam Park, St. Anthony Park, Hamline-Midway, Como and Mac-Groveland) with the 1st and 2nd next. Badly trailing are voters in the northern Ward 5 and the northeast and eastern wards 6 and 7. But the wards that do not have high levels of participation in city elections have much better turnout when a presidential election led the ballot. 

Less attention on local issues

Both Clegg and Butler acknowledge the arguments for reserving odd-year elections for city and school board elections. Doing so allows local candidates and issues to avoid competing with the attention given presidential, gubernatorial, congressional and legislative campaigns. It is easier to get attention and raise money when local issues stand alone, proponents say.

Barry Clegg

Without agreeing, Clegg said the turnout differences make the argument unconvincing to him. “When less noise means less participation by a factor of half, that’s too high a price to pay, I think,” he said.

Both also acknowledge that voters who turn out for presidential elections may not always make it all the way down the ballot to local government and school races, a phenomenon sometimes dubbed “ballot fatigue.”

Butler looked at the 2016 St. Paul ballot, where a school board race was on the ballot due to a resignation. While 140,210 people voted for a presidential candidate in St. Paul, 92,906 voted in the school race, only 66 percent of the presidential total.

In Minneapolis, elections for the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education are always held in even years. In 2016, the school board candidates attracted the votes of 73 percent of voters who cast presidential ballots. Yet even the lower vote numbers are significantly higher than the expected turnout had the elections been held in odd years. 

The wildcard: RCV

Minneapolis and St. Paul provide a complication that other state cities don’t face: ranked choice voting. By moving elections to even years, election officials would have to produce two sets of ballots  — or a single ballot that contains both traditional voting for one set of candidates and ranked choice voting for others.

Such ballots have been produced in other states, Clegg said, though not yet in Minnesota. Clegg said his commission is not interested in revisiting ranked choice in Minneapolis and instead will look for technical and legal solutions to combining the two types of voting. In St. Paul, there has been talk by the charter commission about putting ranked choice voting in front of voters again, but no formal action has been taken.

Minneapolis adopted ranked choice voting as a charter amendment in 2006 by an almost two-to-one margin. “And 2006 to 2017 is an eye-blink in charter time,” Clegg said.

Added Butler: “You can’t let administrative and technical considerations dictate how you’ll run elections.”

Another question: which cycle? 

The Minneapolis Charter Review Committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the issue. If a decision is made to move ahead, public hearings will be scheduled. But since the next Minneapolis city elections won’t be held until 2021, the commission has time to work through the legal and technical issues that might come up.

One question is whether to shift city elections to even years with the gubernatorial election or even years with the presidential election.  “If high turnout is the goal, the presidential year is the gold standard,” Clegg said. 

If the commission wants to sync municipal voting with presidential elections, it would require the removal of just nine words from the charter. Currently, city elections are to be held in “the year after a year divisible by four.” Removing the words “the year after” in the three times it is used would move elections to presidential years: that is, those divisible by four.

Clegg said he prefers that a citywide vote on the issue be held in 2018, rather than this year — because, well, 2018 would have a much higher turnout. If voters decide to make the change, council and mayoral terms would have to through an adjustment to either shorten them by a year or extend them by a year to mesh with the new election date.

In St. Paul, Butler is trying to place the matter before voters by petition, which requires valid signatures totaling 5 percent of the turnout of the last election. He began last year and collected around 3,600 signatures, short of the 4,400 he needed. He is allowed to carry those signatures over to this year, but since the most recent election is now the higher-turnout 2016 presidential contest, the number of signatures needed has increased to 7,011.

It is mostly a solo effort, though Butler said he has gotten help from some Macalester College students. His deadline for submitting signatures to Ramsey County is July 11.

Sound, fury, signatures: Trump has made little real environmental change in his 100 days

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:47am
Ron Meador

Something didn’t sound right in last week’s headlines about President Trump lifting the ban on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and other portions of the Outer Continental Shelf. It just didn’t seem possible that something so enormous could be accomplished with the stroke of a pen.

And, as further reading revealed, it is not possible. What Trump’s order “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” actually does is call for reconsideration of the existing schedule of lease sales in the Arctic and other zones of the OCS.

Also: a streamlining of permitting processes, a halt to designation of any new marine sanctuaries with oil and gas beneath them until both potential production and environmental impact have been assessed, a review of possible adjustments to the borders of recent sanctuaries designated by both Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and possible repeal of brand-new safety rules intended to lower the risk of blowouts like the Deepwater Horizon.

(And a bunch of lesser stuff, with most objectives qualified by some variation on the all-purpose hedge, “to the maximum extent permitted by law.”)

Which is not to say Trump wouldn’t have simply undone the drilling ban  — along with the sanctuaries, the blowout rules and all the rest  — if he could. But he can’t, in part because the law governing OCS leasing doesn’t provide a way for areas designated as off-limits to drilling to be de-designated by executive action.

What Trump can do, and has done, in his 100-day blizzard of signing ceremonies is to issue orders and memos meant to prove he’s pro-industry and anti-regulation (which we already knew) and that he’s actually accomplishing something substantial (which he is not).

Not yet, at least, and notwithstanding headlines like “Sarah Palin: Trump ‘Makes America Great Again’ by Lifting Obama’s ‘Anti-American’ Offshore Drilling Ban.”

OK, that one’s from Breitbart, what do you expect, but you could find neutrally worded similarities at real news outlets like Alaska Public Radio (“Trump lifts ban on Arctic offshore drilling”) and even E&E News (“ OFFSHORE DRILLING: Trump lifts Obama’s ban as greens promise legal assault”).

* * *

The 100-day grading period for new presidents would be a trifle worth ignoring if it hadn’t been made so important by pretty much every Oval Office occupant since FDR, including Trump, who as usual wants it both ways: after tweeting that the 100-day standard is “ridiculous,” he put out his accomplishments list early.

It was mostly executive decrees, long on national security, border policing and public safety issues, as well as “70 calls to 38 different world leaders”; I didn’t see spotlighted a single issue in the broad area of energy or environmental policy.

Nevertheless, in the assessment of the right-wing Washington Times, “out of all the groups in the liberal coalition, environmentalists may have had the worst of it during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.”

From a more or less opposite viewpoint, Eric Pooley, a longtime journalist who now works for the Environmental Defense Fund, offered this assessment in Time magazine:

The Administration sounds some piercing new alarm every day, making it hard to separate the momentarily disturbing from the truly damaging. But this is essential — especially for the environment. While Trump has flip-flopped on some of his signature issues, he has been totally consistent about protections for public health, clean air and clean water: He wants to dismantle them.

To be sure, the OCS action is not the only Executive Order or Presidential Memorandum that Trump has launched against environmental measures dating back to the Nixon administration, which gave us the Environmental Protection Agency and a suite of laws to cleanse American air and water of industrial pollution poison.

By my count, four more of Trump’s 33 executive orders deal with topics of special concern to the environmentally minded: National Monument designations, energy independence and economic growth, expediting environmental review for “high priority infrastructure projects,” and the “waters of the United States rule” that clarified EPA’s authority over public drinking water sources. (I’m not counting two that deal broadly with regulatory reform or another that calls for “promoting agriculture and rural prosperity” with, you guessed it, more industrial farming.)

(There are also three of his 27 presidential memoranda, all issued Jan. 24, dealing with the Dakota Access pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline and pipeline projects in general. As we learned during that January squall, both forms of presidential directive can be used to accomplish the same types of unilateral dictates, so long as they’re legal. The key differences are that executive orders must be published in the Federal Register, and must cite supporting legal precedent; memoranda may be made public but don’t need to be, if the president should happen to be doing something he doesn’t want to see in the headlines for a change. And they’re allowed to cite precedent, but that’s just extra work....)

* * *

Like the OCS order, these actions mostly direct reviews and reconsiderations rather than immediate repeals or even revisions. Indeed, as David Roberts wrote the other day in Vox:

Trump didn’t scrap Obama’s fuel economy standards — he ordered a review of them. He didn’t kill the federal government’s “social cost of carbon” estimate — he ordered a review of it. He didn’t unleash any new oil and gas drilling — he ordered a review of those rules. He didn’t undo any of Obama’s national monument designations — he ordered a review of them. He didn’t open the Arctic and Atlantic Coast back up to offshore drilling — he ordered “a review of the locations available for off-shore oil and gas exploration.”

This doesn’t put Trump’s actions beyond the bounds of reasonable concern, for we have to assume that his Cabinet heads will do as he wishes  — indeed, will be instrumental in guiding him to determine what he specifically wishes, given his vague grasp of policy and impatience with detail.

And, as Roberts observes with typical concision, the results will probably be damaging to some degree:

Eventually, agencies will lumber into action; rules will be weakened, protections undone. But that will be a long, fraught process, beset at every step by resistance — from agency employees, civil society, and courts. It is impossible to say in advance where the reviews initiated by these EOs will end up. But it is rather odd to tout them as “accomplishments” of Trump’s first 100 days. They aren’t accomplishments; they are promises to eventually accomplish things.

My point today: Though the Trump rollback campaign has garnered some generous headlines, the real battles are still ahead — and if they continue to engage Americans who care about environment in anything like the numbers we just saw at the climate march in Washington over the weekend, and these Americans stay on the case, the outcomes are less than certain.

* * *

Consider this interesting and optimistic parallel drawn by Cally Carswell in Scientific American, reminding us of George W. Bush’s effort to undo a prominent Bill Clinton initiative  — but one that surely had less passionate support than many of Trump’s targets today:

On January 5, 2001, the Clinton administration finalized a new policy called the Roadless Rule, which put 58 million acres of national forest lands off limits to mining, logging, drilling and road-building. Industry and many states balked at the restrictions, environmentalists cheered, and everyone wondered: Would the protections survive? George W. Bush, a former oilman whose campaign promises included opening Arctic lands to drilling, would take office just 15 days later.

Donald Trump’s dark-horse finish in the presidential race last month is raising similar concerns: Is Barack Obama’s environmental legacy doomed? Trump hasn’t articulated a detailed environmental agenda, but what he has said has the fossil fuel industry celebrating and environmentalists girding for battle. And it’s given the Roadless Rule saga new resonance. When Bush took office, he delayed implementation of the rule and lengthy court battles ensued. But after more than a decade of litigation, the rule largely held up. It’s not always easy for a new administration to undo the work of the last.

Alternate-day fasting is no more effective for losing weight than daily calorie counting, study finds

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:43am
Susan Perry

Alternate-day fasting is no more — and no less — effective than a conventional weight-loss diet at shedding unwanted pounds, according to a small study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Nor is alternate-day fasting better — or worse — at improving risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.

But alternate-day fasting does appear to be a slightly more difficult diet to stick with.

These findings may be helpful to people who have struggled to lose weight on a conventional diet — one that requires them to limit how much food they eat each and every day. Alternate-day fasting, which requires restricting calories only every other day, may offer an alternative for losing weight — if you can stay on the diet, that is.

Indeed, several previous studies have suggested that alternate-day fasting is effective for  losing weight. But those earlier studies followed people for only two to three months. The current study observed people for six months and then followed up with them after a “maintenance” period of another six months.

Study details

For the study, a team of researchers recruited 100 overweight or obese adults. Most of the participants (86) were women, and their mean age was 44. 

The recruits ate normally for the first month (to assess how many calories they typically consumed). Then they were randomly assigned to one of three diets. One group was put on a calorie-restricted diet and told to consume no more than 75 percent of their normal daily intake of calories each day. The second group was assigned to alternate-day fasting. They were instructed to alternate between a day of consuming no more than 25 percent of their normal calorie intake (typically about 500 calories) and a day of consuming up to 125 percent (referred to as  “feast day” by the researchers). The third (control) group was not given any instructions about counting their calories and continued eating as they had in the past.

After six months, the groups on the calorie-restricted diet and on the alternate-day fasting diet had both lost 6.8 percent more weight, on average, than those in the control group. 

The researchers also found that the participants in the alternate-day fasting group consumed more calories than prescribed on their “fast” days and less than prescribed on their “feast” days, while those in the daily calorie-restricted group generally kept to their assigned calorie goals.

The participants were then instructed to maintain their weight for another six months. At the end of that period, everyone was re-weighed. The group on the calorie-restricted diet had lost an average of 5.3 percent more weight than the control group, while those on the alternate-day fasting group had lost an average of 6.0 percent more weight.

The researchers then looked at various risk factors for heart disease, including blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol profiles and fasting glucose levels. They found no significant differences between the two intervention groups. 

"The results of this randomized clinical trial demonstrated that alternate-day fasting did not produce superior adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance or improvements in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease compared with daily calorie restriction," the study concludes.

Needed: a long-term solution

As the researchers point out, the study comes with many caveats. Most notably, it started with a relatively small number of participants (100), and then had a high dropout rate. Only 69 of the participants completed the study, and the dropout rate was highest (13 of 34) in the alternate-day fasting group (compared to 10 of 35 in the calorie restriction group and 8 of 31 in the control group).

It should also be pointed out that one of the authors has published a book that promotes an alternate-fasting diet.

Still, both intervention groups in this study did lose — on average, at least — more weight than the people who made no changes in their eating habits. So, doing something would appear to be better than not doing anything — at least, in the short run.

The challenge, as always with weight-loss diets, is keeping the weight off for longer than a year. And doing that requires more than just recommending a particular diet to individuals. It requires substantive changes in how we structure our society, particularly among disadvantaged populations — creating policies that reward the growing and marketing of healthful foods, for example, and the building of transportation infrastructure that enables people to be more physically active right in their own communities.

In other words, getting our national obesity rates down is going to require much, much more than a fad diet.

FMI: The study can be downloaded and read in full on the JAMA Internal Medicine website.

'Crossing Lines' is theme of Penumbra's next season

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:09am
Pamela Espeland

For Penumbra Theatre’s 41st season, Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy wants us to look closely and think hard about interracial relationships. Her theme for 2017-18 is “Crossing Lines”: What happens when the boundlessness of love meets the boundaries of our identities? How can we move beyond the barriers of our skin toward the beating of our hearts?

Sarah organizes seasons around themes. It’s one way in which she diverges from her father and Penumbra founder, Lou Bellamy, with whom she shared the artistic director role for four years. It’s officially hers now.

In a conversation about Penumbra last week at the History Center, moderated by the Star Tribune’s Rohan Preston, Sarah explained, “We discovered very early on that we have different approaches to curating a season. Lou always told me, ‘Go find the best plays, figure out what the through line is and put it together.’ I am more interested in finding a theme that unites a season, so people can have a yearlong exploration of an idea.

Opportunities for exploring go beyond the mainstage plays. Penumbra will continue its “Let’s Talk” series of community conversations and its “Reel Talk” series of free film screenings and conversations, both begun by Sarah to bring people to the theater more often. “I also listened to Lou talk about what that space is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a space where people can come and grapple with issues in a safe, compassionate but challenging way. … When you can produce four plays a year because of the budget, it’s like, how else can we bring the community here?”

“I always viewed the drama, the play, as the opening gambit in a conversation with the community,” Lou said. “That was just the first step. I never formalized all of that interaction in the way [Sarah] has done.”

This year’s “Let’s Talk” topics will include racial identity development, colorblind casting, transracial adoption and “My America,” a look at our nation at a critical crossroads. The “Reel Talk” films are “Loving,” about an interracial couple sentenced to prison for getting married; “Little White Lies,” a documentary about family secrets; “One Drop Rule,” a look at race and the complexities of color; and “Dear White People,” a comedy-drama about a college student who gets real on the radio about racism.

During Black History Month (Feb. 2018), Penumbra will host a series of family-friendly “Sunday Suppers,” communal dinners featuring readings of classic black plays. Later that month, the public will be invited to one of Penumbra’s RACE Workshops to explore race and identity using the tools of theater.

The 2016-17 season was four plays, starting with a stellar production of August Wilson’s “Jitney” and ending with the Penumbra-commissioned musical “Girl Shakes Loose,” on now through May 14. The 2017-18 season has more going on, including a big collaboration with a first-time partner.

Oct. 19-Nov. 12: “Wedding Band: A Love-Hate Story in Black and White” by Alice Childress. Lou Bellamy directs Penumbra’s first production of a 1962 classic from the Black Arts Movement.

Nov. 30-Dec. 24: “Black Nativity.” Lou Bellamy directs the holiday favorite by Langston Hughes, with musical direction by Sanford Moore, choreography by Uri Sands of TU Dance, and the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church Choir.

Jan. 23-March 18, 2018: “The Wiz.” Penumbra partners with the Children’s Theatre Company for the beloved musical based on L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Lou Bellamy directs, Sanford Moore is musical director, Patdro Harris is choreographer and we know (from CTC’s earlier announcement) that the cast includes “American Idol” alum Paris Bennett as Dorothy. “The Wiz” will be staged at CTC.

Jan. 25-28: Roger Guenveur Smith, who brought a fierce and unforgettable “Rodney King” to Penumbra in 2015, returns with “Frederick Douglass NOW” as part of the theater’s annual Claude Edison Purdy Festival, named for one of its founding members.

Feb. 8-18: “Joy Rebel.” The Claude Edison Purdy Festival continues with the world premiere of Khanisha Foster’s play about multiracial identity.

April 26-May 20: “This Bitter Earth.” Talvin Wilks directs the regional premiere of Harrison David Rivers’ play about an interracial gay couple contending with the politics of their love.

Subscriptions go on sale Thursday, June 1, at 10 a.m.

The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, May 2) at the Southern: Candy Box. Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA DANCES is sharing a residency at the Southern with two other dance companies and several choreographers. Tonight at 7 p.m., Robin Stiehm’s Dancing People Company will perform four dances linked by yearning for human connection. At 8:30 p.m., ARENA will perform “Picturing That Day,” inspired by cruise ship entertainment with art by Jim Hodges and music of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. The evening will begin with a 5 p.m. Happy Hour work-in-progress performance by Jensen Dance. FMI and tickets (one show or both; includes Pick Your Price options; ARTshare members free). Happy Hour is a suggested donation.

Photo by Christopher DrukkerRegina Carter

Wednesday at the Dakota: Regina Carter: Simply Ella. Carter has been someone to follow since the mid-1990s, when she started recording as a leader. Arguably the finest jazz violinist of her generation – and a 2006 MacArthur fellow – she follows her heart and digs deeply into wherever it leads, whether it’s to the music of Detroit, her hometown; Niccolo Paganini’s Guarneri violin (she was the first jazz musician and African-American to play that priceless instrument); music of the African diaspora; or, most recently, the extensive and varied catalog of the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, whose 100th birthday it is this year. Carter has said that Fitzgerald’s music “makes me feel love when I hear it,” and that’s how we feel when we hear Carter play. Touring behind her latest release, “Ella: Accentuate the Positive,” which looks beyond the obvious hits to lesser-known gems, she’s traveling with her own band: Alvester Garnett on drums, Marvin Sewell on guitar, Chris Lightcap on bass and Xavier Davis on keys. 7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-40).

Wednesday and Thursday at Crooners: Randy Brecker. Trailing six Grammys, the tireless and versatile trumpeter/flugelhornist/composer will move into the Dunsmore Room for two nights and four sets. His far-ranging career to date has included gigs and recording with Clark Terry; James Taylor; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Horace Silver; Bruce Springsteen; Larry Coryell; Parliament/Funkadelic; Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; Stevie Wonder; Poland’s Bialystok Philharmonic. and his late beloved brother, tenor saxophonist Michael, who died of leukemia in 2007. Brecker’s band here will include pianist Tanner Taylor, who now lives in Iowa, and area masters Gordy Johnson on bass and Phil Hey on drums. This is a big deal for the little Dunsmore, which keeps raising its own bar. 7 and 9 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($15-30; $60 dinner show).

Photo by John AbbottRandy Brecker

Thursday at Common Good Books: “Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers.” Jonis Agee, Morgan Grayce Willow, Ka Vang, Shannon Olson and Kathryn Kysar are among the accomplished contributors to this book about moms and mother-daughter relationships. Published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, it’s now in paperback, so you can buy one for you and one for Mom, because Mother’s Day is just around the corner (May 14). 7 p.m. Free.

Thursday at the U’s Continuing Education and Conference Center: Headliners: Patricia Hampl: “The Art of the Wasted Day.” Award-winning author Hampl thinks we should all slow down. She has been writing about slowness and the life of the mind since “Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life” and has followed those threads through “A Romantic Education,” “Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime” and now “The Art of the Wasted Day,” an ode to idleness, due out later this year. She’ll give us a sneak peek as she closes out the 2016-17 Headliners season. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20).

Now at the History Theatre: “Sweet Land, the Musical.” What began as a short story by Will Weaver (“A Gravestone Made of Wheat”) and became an acclaimed indie film is now a musical having its world premiere at the History Theatre. Every immigrant story seems current these days, no matter when in time it is set, and this one tells of a young German woman who comes to Minnesota to marry a bachelor farmer post-World War I, when anti-German sentiments still run hot, and has a tough time. Ann Michels is Inge Altenberg, Robert Berdahl is Olaf Torvik in a show created and led by women. Perrin Post wrote the book and directs; Dina Maccabee composed the music; Laurie Flanigan Hegge penned the lyrics. FMI and tickets ($25-$52). Thursdays-Sundays through May 28.

Silently destroying Minnesota's campaign financing reforms

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:00am
Sen. John Marty

What if Republicans repealed Minnesota's campaign finance reforms and nobody knew about it? Unfortunately, that is happening right now.

Sen. John Marty

Both the Minnesota House and Senate recently passed legislation to repeal the heart of Minnesota's campaign finance reform laws. These were major reforms adopted on a bipartisan basis 40 years ago in the wake of the Watergate scandal and were strengthened after an ethics scandal in the early 1990s. 

Despite widespread disgust at the corruption of our democracy from powerful special interests and deep frustration at the Citizens' United ruling, which allowed more big money into politics, there has been no public outcry about this effort to repeal Minnesota's reforms, even though this will make the situation worse.

Why the lack of outcry? Simply put, the public doesn't know about it. I have not seen a single news report about the issue, perhaps because the repeal is buried in the large budget bill that funds state agencies. It takes just four lines hidden in a lengthy 56-page bill to destroy four decades of campaign financing reform.

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The law being repealed established campaign spending limits for candidates. Those spending limits are tied to public financing to help give new candidates and those without a lot of money a chance to compete without relying on wealthy interests to fund their campaigns.

Virtually all candidates for the Minnesota Legislature and constitutional offices currently abide by the spending limits. If this repeal is signed into law, in 2018 there won't be any restriction on how much a candidate can spend.

People who care about the future of our democracy should be outraged. Year after year, politicians and the courts have been steadily turning our democracy over to the highest bidders, turning our elections into auctions. Well-funded interests can win enough close races to determine who controls government.

As a candidate who has rejected all PAC and lobbyist money, I am concerned that candidates who reject special interest money will have no chance of winning, and that legislators will become even more beholden to the interests of the big donors who fund their campaigns.

Major changes in state policy such as this should not be buried in budget bills. Senate File 605, the State Government Appropriations Bill that contains the repeal of the campaign finance reforms, is in conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language. The one conferee fighting to block it is Sen. Carolyn Laine, the only DFL member of the committee. Unless the Republican conference committee members have a change of heart, or unless the governor vetoes the bill, Minnesota's campaign finance reforms will be gone.

If we believe that our state should be governed by the will of the voters, not the desires of wealthy donors and powerful interests, we need to speak out now. For the sake of our democracy, we need the legislature to remove the repeal language or for Gov. Mark Dayton to veto the bill.

John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a state senator. He first published this article in his newsletter, “To the Point!” which is published by the Apple Pie Alliance.

Want to add your voice?

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

Republican leader disavows 'repugnant' Facebook post about Rep. Keith Ellison

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 5:59am
Brian Lambert

The Pioneer Press’ Rachel E. Stassen-Berger writes: “Just two days after Jennifer Carnahan was elected chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, she dealt with a Facebook post from she called 'repugnant hate speech.' The post, from the 7th Congressional District Republican Party, called Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison a 'head Muslim goat humper.' Hours after being asked her thoughts about the post, Carnahan tweeted: 'The hate speech from the 7th CD GOP does not reflect our party or the 7th CD. As chair, I will not tolerate this activity in our party.'  … A few hours later, Carnahan said the person who made the post had resigned.”

Never mind. Stribber Libor Jany reports, “Minneapolis police Lt. John Delmonico, whose appointment last month to lead the Fourth Precinct provoked a public outcry and turned into a clash between the city's mayor and police chief, withdrew his name from consideration on Monday. The sudden announcement came days after Mayor Betsy Hodges, in an unprecedented move, publicly overruled Chief Janeé Harteau's decision to appoint him, saying that the one-time police union head was the wrong fit for the job. When reached by phone on Monday, Delmonico said that while he was disappointed by the outcome, he would ‘continue to do the good things that the North Side does every day and that it has for the last eight months.’"

St.Olaf’s protest against racist speech has caught the attention of The Washington Post. Writes Lindsey Bever, “Administrators at a liberal arts college in Minnesota canceled classes Monday to meet with students following a weekend of protests against hate speech on campus. Hundreds of students at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., staged a peaceful protest Saturday evening inside a student union building after racist expressions against students.”

The phrase “death wish” comes to mind. Paul Walsh of the Strib reports, “A motorcyclist who was caught on a Fargo interstate going 140 miles per hour has crashed 14 months later near the same spot and died, authorities said. Tanner Beighley, 24, of Fargo, was heading south on 45th Street and struck a car exiting from northbound Interstate 94, police said. The car had the green light at the time, police added. No one in the vehicle was hurt.”

Foreshadowing its collapse, obviously. Christopher Snowbeck of the Strib writes, “A new state report finds health insurance coverage grew significantly in rural Minnesota during the early years of the federal health law. Overall, the uninsured rate among residents under age 65 declined significantly between 2011 and 2015 in both rural and urban areas, landing in both segments at just 5 percent, according to the study released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health.”

So as not to crush their entrepreneurial spirit. In the PiPress, David Montgomery writes, “Both the Minnesota House and Senate voted this year to limit what internet service providers can do with their customers’ data. But those provisions have been dropped from a compromise bill unveiled Monday. Lawmakers say the language could still be added back into the bill in the three weeks remaining before this year’s legislative session ends … .” 

The lobbyist speaks. MPR’s Tim Nelson has this on the bribery scandal in St. Paul. “The lobbyist at the heart of a government corruption investigation in St. Paul spoke publicly for the first time Monday, as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension confirmed it has launched a criminal probe. Lobbyist Sarah Clarke said she met with council member Dai Thao at a St. Paul coffee shop in February about food packaging, and that remarks by Thao, who is also running for mayor of St. Paul, made it uncomfortable. ‘He said at one point that he needed resources, to which my client responded that they would be happy to provide him with additional information,’ Clarke recalled. ‘Again, he said he needed resources to spread his message.’ There was little doubt among the clients she attended the meeting with what Thao meant, said Clarke.”

Oh hell, leave it for a special session. Says Tim Pugmire at MPR: “Minnesota lawmakers are still looking for a compromise on Real ID. House and Senate negotiators began meeting last month to work out the differences between their competing bills, which would bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID law. But the conference committee hasn’t met recently, and there are no meetings currently scheduled. The issue is important because Minnesotans will soon need an ID that meets the federal standard to board a commercial flight.”

I’ve never liked raccoons. Another MPR story says, “Minnesota is seeing a rising number of cases of canine distemper contracted by dogs and spread by raccoons, state conservation officials said Monday. Cases have been confirmed in Olmsted and Yellow Medicine counties and sick raccoons also have been reported in Dodge, Winona and Kandiyohi counties, the state Natural Resources and Health departments said in a statement.”

Eric Black wins Sigma Delta Chi Award for online column writing

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 3:22pm
MinnPost staff

MinnPost columnist Eric Black has won a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. The award, announced on Monday, was for Online Column Writing, independent website. 

The Sigma Delta Chi Awards recognize exceptional professional journalism produced in 2016. According to the awards announcement, "Judges selected 85 honorees from more than 1,300 submissions. Entries included selections from television and radio broadcasts, newspapers, online news outlets and magazines."

The awards reception will take place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on June 23.

Eric, whose 2016 work was edited by Roger Buoen, was honored for an entry of five columns on national politics and policy. They can be viewed here: 

Among other winners writing about national politics were David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post for “A Portrait of Donald Trump” and George Saunders of The New Yorker for "Trump Days." 

Other Minnesota winners were David Unze, Kirsti Marohn, Stephanie Dickrell and Jenny Berg of the St. Cloud Times for deadline reporting: "Heinrich confesses to Wetterling's death."

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St. Paul asks for police investigation of Thao allegations

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 12:32pm
MinnPost staff

A police matter now. The Star Tribune’s Jessie Van Berkel and Pat Pheifer report: “St. Paul city leaders have asked for an investigation into an allegation that St. Paul mayoral candidate Dai Thao’s campaign solicited a bribe. … Thao, who is also a City Council member, fired his campaign manager Saturday after Fox 9 News reported she attempted to solicit a bribe from a lobbyist. According to the news report, Thao repeatedly told the lobbyist ‘he needed resources so he could spread his message,’ which gave the lobbyist the strong impression that Thao was also talking about a campaign contribution. … On Sunday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman contacted Police Chief Todd Axtell about the news.”

A balanced report on Sunday’s vaccine scare-mongering session. MPR’s Matt Sepic writes: “[Asia Dahir of Spring Lake] was among 90 people — many of them also Somali-American — who came to a Lake Street ballroom in Minneapolis Sunday night for a meeting organized by five anti-vaccine groups. Their message: autism is the real epidemic, not measles. … For an hour they listened as businessman and vaccine skeptic Mark Blaxill downplayed the risk of dying from measles. Blaxill, whose adult daughter has autism, repeatedly emphasized the purported but discredited link between vaccines and autism. And he claimed public health research on the matter is rife with fraud. … Not true at all, says Dr. Andrew Kiragu of Hennepin County Medical Center. Kiragu was one of at least three pediatricians who sat in the audience quietly fuming as Blaxill clicked through his Powerpoint slides. … At the end, Kiragu took the microphone and told the audience that the autism-vaccine link is bogus.”

Get that snowbate while you still can! Variety reports: “Home of the gargantuan Mall of America global shopping magnet, and a land of pristine landscapes, Minnesota also offers filmmakers modern urban skylines, pastoral farms, thousands of lakes and watersports, the renowned Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center – and a folksy vibe epitomized by native son Garrison Keillor’s iconic public radio show ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’ … Last but not least, Minnesota’s so-called Snowbate incentive program provides a rebate of up to 25%. … For a minimum spend of $100,000, the rebate stands at 20%. If the spend rises to $1 million or more, the rebate rises to 25%. There’s a $100,000 compensation cap on non-resident above-the-line talent. …”

No time to hold town halls what with all that fundraising to do. The Star Tribune’s Maya Rao reports: “U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who spent more on his own re-election last year than any other Minnesotan in Congress, is continuing to spend big this year as he prepares for what is likely to be another competitive race in 2018. … Now Minnesota’s senior elected Republican in Washington, Paulsen in the previous election cycle 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. ”

In other news…

Better luck next time: “Target CEO took home $9.1M last year, but didn't get incentive bonus” [Star Tribune]

Point proven: “Five years later, Lake Elmo may rejoin Washington County library system” [Pioneer Press]

Includes Minneapolis’ own Natedogs: “Vote Now: 2017 Hot Dog Vendor Of The Year” [Mobile-Cuisine.com]

Minneapolis Council Member Cano wins DFL endorsement after contentious ward convention

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:41am
Peter Callaghan

It took a while — and it won’t accomplish all that the DFL probably hoped for in an endorsement — but Ward 9 incumbent Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano received her party’s support for re-election.

In fact, it took four ballots and the walkout of her chief rival and his delegates at the ward convention Saturday before Cano could give a fiery acceptance speech.

“This campaign is not about me,” Cano said in the auditorium at South High School. “It is about the thousands of workers and families that we are helping by advancing the $15 minimum wage unapologetically.”

Cano said she would call on her supporters again over the summer “as we seek to unify our ward” to solve racial inequity and “lead the resistance across the nation.”

But it wasn’t a unified ward that was on display just a few minutes earlier. As the votes were being counted on the fourth ballot, challenger Mohamed Farah led his delegates in a walkout, saying the convention was biased. In each of the first three votes, Cano had come within a handful of votes to reach the 60 percent needed, though Farah had been successful in blocking her from reaching the official threshold for endorsement. By the time the fourth ballot was announced, she was just two delegates shy, with 18 delegates having voted for neither Cano or Farah.

After Farah and his delegates left the room, Cano’s supporters suspended the rules to allow the remaining delegates to endorse her by voice vote. That they did, and the convention adjourned.

Farah’s call for a walkout appeared to have the support of the third candidate seeking the DFL endorsement, former Ward 9 Council Member Gary Schiff. When Farah first spoke about the bias at the convention, it was with Schiff at his side. And another motion by Farah’s to adjourn without an endorsement was seconded by Schiff.

On Sunday, Farah said will run for the office regardless of the outcome of the convention and that he’ll be challenging the ward convention results with DFL officials.

Tensions over adjournment rules

The convention didn’t start off so contentious. For the first several hours Saturday, the rancor that had been evident in the ward’s March precinct caucuses wasn’t apparent, at least not on the surface.

Following the precinct gatherings in March, all three candidates filed official challenges with the Minneapolis DFL, complaining of delegates who were not properly elected, and the ward credentials committee — made up of three members from each of the three campaigns — worked through 33 challenges. All were resolved unanimously.

At the ward convention, though, tensions began to rise during the debate over adjournment. Convention officers struggled to keep nondelegates from entering the floor. And though no serious disruptions occurred, the incident was not without casualties: A sergeant at arms brought in by the party from Duluth lost a tooth during one scrum of pushing and shoving.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanAs the votes were being counted on the fourth ballot, challenger Mohamed Farah led his delegates in a walkout, saying the convention was biased.

At issue was a party rule that prevents adjournment until 3 p.m. or until at least four ballots had been taken — whichever happened first. Some delegates interpreted that as a requirement that the meeting adjourn when either of these thresholds was reached, not simply that it could be adjourned once one of those things happened.

“We are so close to an endorsement,” said delegate Aisha Gomez, who is also Cano’s council aide at City Hall. Endorsing a candidate “would make the DFL relevant, which frankly it isn’t in other wards around the city.”

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Another Cano delegate said the endorsement would free her supporters up to fan out across the city to work against other candidates who weren’t supportive enough of progressive issues.

But Farah delegates said that the three ballots showed there wasn’t a 60 percent majority, and that not adjourning was akin to holding delegates hostage. “We have three viable candidates,” said Farah delegate Rand Retterath. “We can all go home and do what we can to make sure our candidate wins.”

Cano had the most support among the 276 delegates, taking 57.09 percent of the first ballot. The second ballot count was nearly identical to the first. Schiff lost six votes, Cano lost one and Farah gained two while “no endorsement” gained three. But on the third ballot, Cano gained two delegates, and on the fourth, she gained four more. Then came the walkout.

No endorsement would have been a victory for Farah — as it has been in some other wards where incumbents have been blocked from getting the imprimatur of the party. But the other council members who have either lost the DFL endorsement — or suffered a non-endorsement —  faced challenges from their left, from activists either connected to Black Lives Matter or the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

Cano, however, is well connected to both camps. She has been endorsed by Our Revolution, the political organization that spun off from the Sanders campaign; and she was one of the most visible council members at the 4th Precinct occupation in 2015 after the shooting death of Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanFarah’s call for a walkout appeared to have the support of the third candidate seeking the DFL endorsement, former Ward 9 Council Member Gary Schiff, right.

Farah, however, is challenging Cano because he says she doesn’t represent everyone in the ward, especially those who have disagreed with her. On Saturday, he repeated the charge that there have been attempts to keep some people, including Somali voters, from fully participating in the process. “I came into the DFL party thinking everybody had a chance,” Farah said during the lunch recess. “If you are a citizen then you should be able to make a vote and be a delegate. But I have been experiencing many instances where voters are being suppressed just because they disagree with a candidate.”

“If your City Council member is disagreeing with you, you might as well move out of Ward 9 and get another City Council member who cares about you,” he said.

Those same themes were repeated later as he led the walkout. Farah, the executive director of Ka Joog, which offers outreach and services to Somali-American youth and families, said he will take his campaign to the November election despite not getting the endorsement.

Federal budget compromise funds Southwest light rail

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:29am
Sam Brodey Peter Callaghan

The budget compromise to fund the federal government, reached over the weekend in Washington but still pending final approval by lawmakers, had one detail of particular interest to Minnesotans: it includes funding for the Southwest Light Rail project.

Under the compromise, which funds the government through the end of the fiscal year, SWLRT will receive $10 million from the Federal Transit Administration. The budget includes the project as one of four that are anticipated to receive a full-funding grant agreement between federal and state authorities. That agreement would lock in over $900 million in federal support for the project over the course of construction. The others are in Maryland, Washington state and California.

Officials at the Metropolitan Council had been optimistic that the full-funding grant agreement would be reached this year. President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint injected some level of uncertainty: he proposed to cut funding for the feds’ so-called New Starts program, which funds SWLRT and other transit projects.

Republican negotiators in D.C. did not see those cuts through to the budget agreement, and agreed to provide over $1.6 billion to New Starts programs.

"This is encouraging news, " said Met Council Chair Adam Duininck. "The inclusion of SWLRT in the proposed budget is an indication that the federal delegation understands the project is a key piece of our region's transporation infrastructure."

As the staff was preparing the statement, agency spokesman John Schadl quipped: “It’s a good morning here at the Met Council.” The agency is on track to make submit its application for the agreement later this year - likely sometime in the sumer. Once approved, construction can start with an expectation that it could begin this fall. Passenger service is expected to begin in the first half of 2021.

The $1.858 billion, 14.5-mile extension of the current Green Line train has been controversial, first for its route and then for its funding problems.

The route goes from Target Field Station to Eden Prairie but must pass through the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis along the way. Neighbors objected that the route — which includes new bridges over the Kenilworth channel and a tunnel south of there. A lawsuit was filed challenging the decision. A federal judge found that while the Met Council got very close to prejudging the environmental review of the route, it did not cross the line into illegality.

It also went through a cut in scope when cost estimates increased in 2015.

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Email Address * First Name * Last Name * Subscribe There has also been an ongoing fight between Republicans in the state Legislature and the Met Council over what was to have been a 10 percent funding share. The Met Council and the five-county Counties Transit Improvement Board have since come up with a funding mechanism that avoids a state contribution.

Even with the state government no longer a funding partner, some GOP leaders have tried to urge the new federal Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to halt the full-funding grant agreement. That brought letters from Gov. Mark Dayton and local government officials to Chao to support the agreement.

The federal government will pay $929 million — half of the total costs for the extension — with the remainder shared by CTIB and the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority. The Met Council has been proceeding with the project with local funds, some of which will be reimbursed once federal money starts flowing. The council has approved the purchase of rails cars and has been holding briefings for potential contractors.

 

Amid Thao campaign turmoil, Carter extends lead for DFL endorsement bid in St. Paul mayor's race

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:07am
Peter Callaghan

Melvin Carter III continues to lead the battle for the DFL endorsement in the St. Paul mayor’s race after the completion of the party’s seven city ward conventions. But whether Carter has enough delegates to be the party’s choice — he needs 60 percent — must await the citywide convention set for June 17.

Once the Ward 7 convention adjourned Sunday afternoon, Carter had collected 156 delegates out of 500, outpacing rivals Dai Thao with 107, Pat Harris with 93 and Tom Goldstein with 14. The 60 percent threshold requires winning 300 votes, somewhat less if all 500 delegates elected over the last two weekends don’t show up at the city DFL convention on June 17.

The wildcard for the campaign to replace outgoing Mayor Chris Coleman is the 130 currently uncommitted delegates. Carter would have to win all of those plus another 14 to win a 500-delegate-convention endorsement. But at least five uncommitted delegates elected from Ward 3 ran on a platform of having no endorsement in the mayor’s race.

While the uncommitteds may already favor a candidate, that will only become apparent at the city convention. That’s because they became delegates elected to support either one of the St. Paul school board candidates or specific issues, such as “equitable justice for all,” “$15 Now,” “Pro Ranked Choice Voting,” or even “Tell Me More.”

Absent an endorsement, the two candidates who said they would drop out if someone else received it — Carter and Thao — would be released from that pledge. Harris has said he will run regardless of who get the endorsement and Goldstein said he would decide once the process is complete.

The number of delegates in each of the seven wards is based on the size of their DFL vote in the last two general elections. The three wards that are generally wealthier and whiter — the 2nd, 3rd and 4th — have 282 combined delegates. The wards that are generally more diverse — the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th — have 218 combined delegates.

Turmoil around Thao campaign

The two bits of drama in an otherwise uneventful Ward 3 convention Sunday were whether Harris had violated the rules by having too many signs in the Highland school building (he didn’t), and whether City Council member Thao would show up at all (he didn’t). Thao’s campaign is in flux after a news report Saturday that the candidate and his campaign manager may have solicited a campaign contribution in exchange for a change of opinion on an issue facing the city.

Thao fired his campaign manager after being asked by FOX 9 about the meeting and an email exchange with the lobbyist. The allegation is that Thao and his campaign manager linked the council member changing his stance on an issue affecting the lobbyist's clients with a contribution. “We will certainly rethink this issue,” read an email from Angela Marlow, Thao’s campaign manager.

The exchange followed a meeting between Thao, the lobbyist and the lobbyist’s clients during which Thao also asked for “resources” for his campaign.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanOnce the Ward 7 convention adjourned Sunday afternoon, Melvin Carter III had collected 156 delegates out of 500.

It is unusual that Thao would not make an appearance at the Ward 3 convention. Normally, a candidate would at least have a table staffed with staff and supporters. Up until the allegation was made public, Thao has appeared at each ward convention.

In Ward 3, he did have a delegate create a subcaucus on his behalf that attracted just 10 of the 341 delegates in attendance. That earned him three delegates to the citywide convention. He did much better in Ward 7, where he appeared and led the efforts to secure delegates. With 52 delegates available, the ward gave Thao 30, while eight went for Carter, seven for Harris and seven uncommitted.  

Coleman: ‘appropriate authorities’ investigating allegations

According to the Pioneer Press, Thao told delegates that he had met with a tobacco lobbyist “but allegations of impropriety in their exchange were a ‘bait and switch’” and he would be exonerated by the facts as they emerge.

Coleman said he has been in contact with Police Chief Todd Axtell and the matter is being looked into. “Anytime you have an allegation of any kind of impropriety on the part of an elected official, I think you need to take those very seriously,” the mayor said.  “It is already being looked into by the appropriate authorities.” Axtell issued a statement Sunday night that he is asking the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to conduct the investigation.

Coleman, attending ward conventions for his campaign for governor, declined to say whether the federal government was involved. The mayor, who has not endorsed any of the candidates seeking to replace him, said an investigation will be done by the appropriate agency, “whether that is the St. Paul Police department or another agency.”

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanIt is unusual that Dai Thao would not make an appearance at the Ward 3 convention.

Should Thao discontinue his campaign before the convention, his delegates could vote for any nominated candidate. But that is true of any delegate to the city meeting since DFL rules do not bind them to the candidate they were elected to support.

“It is allowed and somewhat common for delegates to be persuaded to another candidate between the Ward and City Convention,” said St. Paul DFL Chair Libby Kantner. “So in terms of who a delegate could vote for, from a rules standpoint, it would not make any difference if a candidate dropped out.” A candidate, however, must be formally nominated at the convention to receive votes.

Update: This story was corrected to show that the distribution of delegates to each ward is based on the DFL vote in the last two general elections, not just the last election.

One principal’s Twitter invite and the budget realities he wants to share

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:06am
Erin Hinrichs

When it comes to K-12 education funding, educators look to the Capitol for regular increases to the basic formula to help cover the rising expense of things like building utilities. Recent increases, however, have done little to keep pace with inflation, placing pressure on educators to increasingly rely on school levies, the philanthropic generosity of community members and the creative ability of those within each school building to do more with less.

This year, Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a 2 percent yearly increase to the basic formula for the next two years, earmarking $371 million of the state’s $1.65 billion surplus to help schools pay for the basics. The Senate has proposed a 1.5 percent increase for the same time period, adding $274 to the basic formula. And while the House recently accepted the Senate’s $300 million education budget target during conference committee negotiations, it released the lowest basic formula allocation proposal earlier this year at $207 million, or a 1.25 percent yearly increase for the next two years.

As the three parties debate the overall budget, education leaders across the state are already knee-deep in the budgeting process for the upcoming school year. In the St. Paul Public Schools district, as is the case in many districts, Principal Ryan Vernosh is grappling with budget cuts. In his district, the crunch is particularly acute. In part due to declining student enrollment, the district is facing a $27.3 million shortfall for the 2017-18 school year. 

Looking to help make the big-picture school funding debate less abstract, Ryan Vernosh turned to social media. A couple of weeks ago, he tweeted an invitation to Republican House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin to “take a look at my school’s budget w/ me” after she was quoted saying she thought districts could “make it work” with less than a 2 percent increase to the basic formula.  

Given Vernosh’s background as the 2010 Minnesota Teacher of the Year who’s now completing his first year as a principal (at Maxfield Elementary, where he started out as a teacher) — combined with his experience as a former communications employee for the district — he’s uniquely positioned to help break down the school-level realities of the education funding debate at the capitol. As of last Friday, he says Peppin hadn’t taken him up on his offer. But here’s a look at what he would have said.

A rough breakdown

Maxfield Elementary serves roughly 315 students in Pre-K through grade 5. Offering a brief rundown of student demographics, Vernosh noted that his school has the highest rate of students who qualify for free-and-reduced price lunch in the district. It also has some of the highest special education percentages, along with some of the highest rates of chronic illness and asthma. And about 30 percent of his students have experienced homelessness this year alone, he says.

“So when legislators are debating a 1.25 to 2 percent [increase] on the formula, they need to see our story. They need to see how those decisions will impact the services we can provide here,” he said.

He couldn’t go into specifics yet, since the school board isn’t scheduled to finalize the budget until sometime in June. But he says all school principals in the St. Paul district received their preliminary school budget allocations right before spring break and he’s heard from his colleagues that the cuts “ran very deep,” even at schools with projected enrollment increases, like the one he oversees.

TwitterPrincipal Ryan Vernosh tweeted an invitation to Republican House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin to “take a look at my school’s budget w/ me.”

Speaking generally, he explained that one of the first things to go is discretionary funding for school materials, like supplementary curriculum materials, school supplies for students in need, paper for the copy machine and new books for the school library.

His school is outfitted with an iPad for every student, but he’s a firm believer that technology can “only go so far in reading instruction.” But outfitting school libraries with current, relevant materials takes resources — the types that often get cut when budgets are tight.

Updating the collection

After the librarian conducted a review of the collection in 2013, they found the average publication year was 1993. She’s since worked to replace outdated materials — like nonfiction books that teachers use to supplement classroom instruction and new books that tap into student’s interests — and has bumped the average age up to a 2000 copyright date.

In terms of classroom supplies, he points out that most teachers already surpass the allotted $250 expense tax deduction educators can file to help compensate for unreimbursed professional development and classroom material purchases. During his teaching years, he recalls buying out-of-pocket everything from backpacks and calculators to toothbrushes and additional snacks for students and families experiencing hunger.

Looking at other areas that may be trimmed, he raised concern over the school’s ability to hold professional development opportunities for its educators. They already utilize a lot of in-house expertise, he says. Funding, however, is needed to compensate teachers for their extra time.

Another budget item that’ll likely see a reduction in funding is parent engagement initiatives. The school has always used Title I dollars, combined with discretionary funding, he explained, to cover the costs of transportation, food and child care for families facing barriers to attending these after-school events.

“That was named as a high priority in our meetings,” he said, referring to community meetings they held to discuss the school’s pending budget cuts. “But the reality is we don’t have as many dollars to offer that to the extent we want to.”

He adds that his students’ parents aren’t always able to volunteer in the traditional ways, like coming in during the school day to help students practice reading or to serve as a chaperone on a field trip.

MinnPost photo by Erin HinrichsPrincipal Ryan Vernosh notes that his school has the highest rate of students who qualify for free-and-reduced price lunch in the district.

“We’re, quite frankly, serving a community that’s been marginalized for generations,” he said of those largely living in the Rondo neighborhood. “Lots of families are working two, three jobs just to get by and are not able to come in during the typical school day to volunteer.”

Fortunately, the school has some longstanding partnerships with external volunteer groups and donors like Target, Americorps, the YMCA and the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood. Each plays a role in supporting students’ social-emotional development, as well as their academic development, Vernosh says. But given new budget realities, he’s needing to re-evalute which contracts will continue to be funded, he said.  

At the end of the day, finding ways to cut back on any of the aforementioned budget categories won’t be enough. The thing his families and educators have said they most want to preserve is the very thing that costs the most: people working at the school.

Paraprofessionals are vulnerable

When it comes to staffing cuts, paraprofessionals — nonlicensed support staff who help teachers with things like providing one-on-one assistance for students with special needs — often find themselves most vulnerable to cuts. These adults are often some of the few role models of color that students have the opportunity to interact with at school. This year, Maxfield Elementary has 13 paraprofessionals on staff.

“As much as we all want to keep the number of people, we know … we’re not there,” he said, interrupting his train of thought to note that, even at current staffing levels, students would benefit from having more educators in the building.

For now, Vernosh is waiting to hear how things shake out at the Capitol. He provided a balanced budget to his district about a week ago. But he’s in a bit of a holding pattern until he’s able to know how much, exactly, he’ll be able to fund next school year.

“We’re all living in ambiguity until the state does commit and districts know exactly what they have to work with,” he said.

Until then, his offer to legislators to come see how school funding battles trickle down to the level of individual school sites still stands.

“We’re right down the road from the Capitol,” he said. “It’s oftentimes an enlightening experience to see the fantastic instruction, engagement, the relationships that we have with our scholars. You can’t help but feel that when you’re in the building. And then to be able to have a real critical conversation, saying, ‘Some of this may not be here next year because of decisions that are being made on the hill.’ ”

A time to act: We must demand that our government work for us

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 9:43am

If ever there was a time to get involved and make your voice heard, it is NOW!

Many changes are taking place in state and national government that affect all of our lives.

Efforts to gut the EPA, weaken environmental laws, and pull out of our commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement jeopardize the well-being of our children and grandchildren and are shortsighted and powered by greed. Thousands of Minnesotans marched for peer-reviewed science and action on climate change these past two weekends. We must demand that our government work for us, the people, not the Koch Brothers, or multinational industry executives who reap huge profits while plundering our planet.

Changes to health care, education funding, mass transit funding, rights to protest, rights to organize, and women's rights threaten to take us back to the dark ages.

One of the best ways to make your voice heard is to join a local group that shares your values. On Saturday, May 6, from 9 to 11 a.m. the Congressional District 2 DFL is hosting a Progressive Action Fair at Falcon Ridge Middle School with guest speaker Rep. Keith Ellison. Come and find a group to join! We will have representatives from more than 20 organizations including Stand Up, Indivisible, Organizing for Action, DFL Environmental Caucus and many more, as well as information on 2018 candidates for governor! The CD2 convention will follow at 11 a.m. with election of officers. Please visit our website: DFLCD2.org for more information or to preregister. Take action now!

Veda Kanitz is  the CD2 arrangements chair, and also the chair of the DFL Environmental Caucus. 

Cancer patients too often misled — with outright fraud and overhyped promises

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 9:14am
Susan Perry

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it was cracking down on 14 companies that sell various pills, ointments, oils, teas and diagnostic devices that falsely — and illegally — claim to diagnose, treat or cure cancer.

The agency gave the companies — who sell their bogus products almost exclusively online — 15 days to correct the violations or face further action, “including criminal prosecutions, product seizures and injunctions.”

Several dozen products are affected by the crackdown. As the FDA acknowledges, it has issued more than 90 similar letters over the past decade. Unfortunately, companies will often just move their products — and their marketing of them — to different websites.

These companies are, of course, preying — and profiting — on the fears and desperation of cancer patients and their families. There is absolutely no evidence that their products have any effect on the disease, and to suggest otherwise is not only cruel, but potentially harmful. Such “miracle cures,” which are unregulated before they go on the market, may contain ingredients that are toxic or that interfere with the effectiveness of prescription medications.

Overhyped ‘breakthroughs’

But conventional medicine shouldn’t feel too smug about the FDA’s crackdown. For it, too, has a history of offering cancer patients false hope, as medical reporter Liz Szabo explains in an article published last week by Kaiser Health News.

The uncomfortable (and seldom told) truth regarding the current state of cancer treatment is this: Many new cancer “breakthroughs” and therapies are overhyped. 

Writes Szabo:

Patients and families are bombarded with the news that the country is winning the war against cancer. The news media hypes research results to attract readers. Drug companies promise “a chance to live longer” to boost sales. Hospitals woo paying customers with ads that appeal to patients’ fears and hopes.

“I’m starting to hear more and more that we are better than I think we really are,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. “We’re starting to believe our own bullshit.”

The consequences are real — and they can be deadly. Patients and their families have bought into treatments that either don’t work, cost a fortune or cause life-threatening side effects.

“We have a lot of patients who spend their families into bankruptcy getting a hyped therapy that [many] know is worthless,” Brawley said. Some choose a medicine that “has a lot of hype around it and unfortunately lose their chance for a cure.” 

Although scientists have made important strides in recent years, and many early-stage cancers can now be cured, most of those with advanced cancer eventually die of their disease.

Allegations of false claims

As Szabo notes, a variety of interests are heavily invested in the overhyping of cancer treatments, including some hospitals:

Hospitals also have drawn criticism for overstating their success in treating cancer. In 1996, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a for-profit chain, settled allegations from the Federal Trade Commission that “they made false and unsubstantiated claims in advertising and promoting their cancer treatments.”

The company’s current commercials — dozens of which are featured on their website — boast of offering “genomic testing” and “precision cancer treatment.”

The commercials don’t tell patients that these tests — which aim to pair cancer patients with drugs that target the specific mutations in their tumors — are rarely successful, [said Dr. Vinay Prasad, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University]. In clinical trials, these tests have matched only 6.4 percent of patients with a drug, according to Prasad’s 2016 article in Nature. Because these drugs only manage to shrink a fraction of tumors, Prasad estimates that just 1.5 percent of patients actually benefit from precision oncology. ...

Spending on ads for hospitals that treat cancer soared 220 percent from $54 million in 2005 to $173 million in 2014, according to a 2016 article in JAMA Internal Medicine. Ads for Cancer Treatment Centers of America accounted for nearly 60 percent of all total cancer center advertising.

(The Cancer Treatments Centers of America issued this statement to Szabo: “We use national media to help educate cancer patients and their families about the latest diagnostic tools and treatment options. … All of our advertising undergoes meticulous review for clinical accuracy as well as legal approval to ensure we tell our story in an informative and responsible manner, and in compliance with federal guidelines.”)

Unexpected consequences

Over the decades, new cancer therapies have been rolled out “with great fanfare,” writes Szabo, only to fail to live up to the expectations. Immunotherapy is one such example:

Researchers have tested immunotherapies against a variety of tumors, leading to approvals in lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer and others.

Such success has led doctors to label cancer immunotherapy as a “game changer.” N­­ewspapers and magazines call it a “breakthrough.” And hospitals laud them as “a miracle in the making.”

Yet these treatments — which were initially assumed to be gentler than chemotherapy — can provoke fatal immune system attacks on the lungs, kidneys, heart and other organs.

And there are no approved immunotherapies for tumors of the breast, colon, prostate and pancreas.

Only about 10 percent of all cancer patients can expect to benefit from immunotherapy, Prasad said.

The personal cost

As the brother of one patient who tried immunotherapy (and several other experimental treatments) before dying of his cancer 3½ years later told Szabo, “I thought we were going to have a treatment where we’d at least have a good block of quality time.”

Instead, those experimental treatments made his brother sicker. He developed flu-like symptoms, nausea and became unable to eat or move his bowels. The treatments also led to dangerous infections that sent him to hospital emergency departments.

“I hope that if something like that happens to me,” the brother said, “I would be strong enough to say no to treatment.”

FMI: You can read Szabo’s article on the Kaiser Health News website. You’ll find the FDA’s statement about its latest crackdown on fraudulent cancer products on its website

For Minnesota’s first female sheriff, enforcing prohibition was an ongoing challenge

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 8:35am
Anita Talsma Gaul Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society/
End-o-Line Railroad Park and Museum
Anna Sheerin Lowe

Anna Sheerin Lowe became Minnesota’s first female sheriff when the Murray County Commissioners appointed her to fill her husband’s unexpired term in 1923. Faced with the difficulty of enforcing Prohibition laws, Lowe fulfilled her duties as sheriff and won the respect and gratitude of the community for her three years of service.

Anna Margaret Sheerin was born to Irish immigrants John and Anna Sheerin on March 15, 1861. From her birthplace near Waseca, Minnesota, she moved west with her family to Murray County when she was eight years old. There she grew to adulthood and at the age of nineteen married James “Jim” Lowe, a thirty-one-year-old Scots Canadian recently arrived in the area.

After their August 2, 1880, wedding, James and Anna worked as farmers for the next decade. They quit farming and moved to the city of Slayton when James was elected Murray County Sheriff in 1890. A popular man who “performed the duties of his office fearlessly and honorably” according to a report in the Murray County Herald, James was re-elected in the next eight successive elections.

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During her husband’s long tenure as Murray County Sheriff, Anna assisted James in his duties while raising the couple’s nine children: Minnie, Vernon (who died in infancy), John, Miles, Harry, James, George Kenneth, Charles, and Florence. In the community she became known as “Aunty Lowe” because of her cheerful and helpful personality.

Tragedy struck in August 1923 when James died of a sudden heart attack at the age of seventy-four. Six people applied to complete James’ unexpired term as sheriff: five men and one woman, Anna Lowe. By a 3-1 vote the Murray County Commissioners chose Anna for the position, making her the first female sheriff in the state of Minnesota.

News of her appointment spread across the nation, appearing in newspapers as far away as Pittsburgh and Virginia. These brief articles usually noted that, like her husband, she would not work while armed. However, local newspaper reports on her activities as sheriff never mentioned that fact.

As Murray County Sheriff, Anna faced a number of difficult cases, including a bank robbery, the county’s first automobile theft, and the statutory rape of two local teenage girls. The greatest challenge, however, was the enforcement of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). Local newspapers regularly reported police raids of suspected moonshiners and bootleggers conducted primarily by Deputy Sheriffs Miles Lowe and John Lowe (Anna’s sons) and Henry Stube.

Although it appears that Anna rarely or never accompanied her deputies on these liquor raids, her office came under criticism for its policing of illegal liquor activity in the county. In March 1924 County Attorney A. W. Tierney and Sheriff Lowe called a community meeting to discuss the problem.

County officials expressed frustration that local residents were not reporting those whom they knew were illegally manufacturing or transporting liquor. Community members demanded that law enforcement officials do a better job of enforcing the Prohibition laws, noting how difficult it was for them to “rat out” their neighbors, friends, relatives, or customers.

Despite these difficulties, Anna remained a beloved member of the community and a popular official. When she announced in April 1926 that neither she nor her son would campaign for sheriff in the upcoming election, the editor of the Herald remarked that many would be disappointed. He called the Lowe family’s record in the sheriff’s office “one to be proud of,” marked by earnestness and efficiency.

When Anna’s term officially expired in January 1927, J. V. Weber of the Herald again editorialized on the Lowe family’s service to the county. The paper’s staff and readers, he wrote, felt a “deep and abiding love for her and her deceased husband” and valued their combined thirty-six years of law enforcement.

After her term as Minnesota’s first female sheriff, Anna spent her remaining years in quiet retirement. She died of a stroke in June 1933 at the age of seventy-two.

It was not until 2002 that the state of Minnesota elected (rather than appointed) another female sheriff: Terese Amazi of Mower County.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

May partner offers for MinnPost members announced

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 8:33am
Laura Lindsay

Our next monthly MinnPost members ticket giveaway will start at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2, and feature the following offers:

  • Artistry — One pair of tickets to Wit on Saturday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m.
  • Ordway Center for Performing Arts — One pair of tickets to Broadway Songbook: Hollywood & Broadway on Thursday, May 18, at 7:30 p.m.
  • Cantus — One pair of tickets to Covers: A Pop Concert on Friday, June 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Cowles Center.
  • Northrop — One pair of tickets to Eifman Ballet on Wednesday, May 17, at 7:30 p.m. and one pair of tickets to Diana Ross on Tuesday, July 11 at 8 p.m.
  • Minnesota Orchestra — Two pairs of tickets to Mozart Sinfonia Concertante on Friday, May 12, or Saturday, May 13, at 8 p.m. (you choose the date).
  • The Museum of Russian Art — Two pairs of admission passes — check out what's happening now at TMORA.
  • Park Square Theatre — Two pairs of vouchers to any production in the 2016-17 season - take a look at the current and upcoming shows.

Tickets are distributed via our partner offers page on a first-come, first-served basis to MinnPost Gold and Platinum members, who support our work with contributions of $10 or more per month.

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To take part in this and future giveaways, one must be a MinnPost Gold or Platinum member, have a MinnPost.com user account and be logged in to the site.

Those who make a qualifying donation before 9 a.m. May 2 will be eligible to participate in this month's giveaway. Members can create a MinnPost.com user account and verify their login status in advance via our partner offers page.

If you have any trouble donating, creating a MinnPost.com user account, logging in, or viewing our partner offers page, please contact us at members@minnpost.com.

Also, we would like to again thank the partners who provided our April offers:

  • VocalEssence - Miracle Mass
  • Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library - Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony
  • Minnesota Opera - La Boheme
  • Ordway Center for Performing Arts — West Side Story
  • Northrop — Brian Brooks Moving Company
  • Westminster Town Hall Forum - Otis Moss III: Building the Beloved Community and Richard Haass: Shaping a New Foreign Policy
  • Minnesota Orchestra — Edo de Waart Returns and Lise de la Salle Plays Ravel
  • The Museum of Russian Art — Admission passes.

Youth addiction crisis: Conference to present collaborative solutions

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 8:23am
Andy Steiner

No one is more familiar with Minnesota drug-abuse statistics and policy than Carol Falkowski. As CEO of Drug Abuse Dialogues, an organization that delivers training workshops about drug abuse, and author of the ongoing Drug Abuse Trend Reports, Falkowski has a unique understanding of the impact of substance abuse in the state.

So she was the obvious choice to be keynote speaker at “From Statistics to Solutions: Addressing underlying issues of youth substance abuse,” Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge’s second annual statewide youth substance-abuse prevention conference.

“Carol is the biggest, most well-known drug abuse expert in the state,” said Tracee Anderson, MN Adult & Teen Challenge community engagement manager. “We thought she could bring so much to the conversation, so we were thrilled when she said yes.”

Falkowski, former director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, will open the daylong conference on May 11 at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park.

She said her talk will focus on the state’s opioid addiction crisis and its impact on teens and young adults.

“My remarks will communicate how the landscape of substance abuse today is different than it was even five years ago,” Falkowski said. “These changes are significant, rapidly changing, and they effect the entire state.”

Significant challenges

Rates of opioid overdose in Minnesota have reached “unprecedented” levels, Falkowski said.

“My most recent report on drug abuse trends shows that from 2015-2016, the number of overdose deaths from opiates in Hennepin County went from 97 to 153. That’s a 57 percent jump. In all the years I’ve been reporting these statistics, there’s never been such a dramatic increase in deaths from one year to the next.”

Carol Falkowski

Part of the reason that the landscape has changed is a broader acceptance of drug abuse in the general public, Falkowski said: “For the first time in history 60 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization. When fewer people think drug abuse is harmful, more people use.”

The number of young Minnesotans abusing illicit opioid-based drugs has also increased dramatically, Falkowski said. Dangerous changes in the composition of those drugs are likely a significant factor in the spike in overdose deaths in the state.

“I see some major tipping points in the area of substance abuse,” Falkowski said. “More adolescents are now smoking marijuana than cigarettes. A second issue that is a major game changer in drug abuse is the introduction of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs in into the illicit drug supply. Whether it’s street drugs sold as powders or counterfeit pills that resemble legitimate prescription drugs, both of these things can contain fentanyl, which, because of its potency, can quickly result in overdose or death.”

Falkowski added that there is another drug that has also entered the state, further contaminating the illicit drug supply. “The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office had a press conference several weeks ago on carfentanil, a powerful substance used in sedating large mammals like elephants,” Falkowski said. “Several related deaths have occurred here, and they just had their first in Wisconsin. It’s always been an uncertain proposition when people buy substances illegally. The consequences are now more fatal than ever.”

Conference schedule

Falkowski’s talk will give the conference’s some 450 attendees, who, Andreson said, are largely expected to be professionals in the fields of “law enforcement, public health, government and youth work,” an overview of the latest drug abuse trends. 

Following the keynote, the meeting will be structured in four moderated panels.

The first, titled, “What Are They Thinking? Drug Abuse and the Brain,” will feature a discussion of adolescent brain development and its impact on drug use and addiction.

The second panel is called, “Co-Occurring Disorders and Addiction.” “This is one of the main focuses of this conference,” Anderson said. “Panelists will discuss the role co-occurring disorders have on the addiction process.”

Tracee Anderson

The third panel is titled “Treatment and Approaches.” “We realize that there are multiple settings for treatment,” Anderson said. “Panelists will discuss the different treatment programs available in the state.”

The final panel, “Recovery and Re-Entry into Society,” will have a practical, solutions-focused approach. “We want to focus on what works,” Anderson explained. “It seems that in our culture we can get too focused on admiring the statistics and not moving toward solutions. We really want to break the cycle here and start talking about what’s actually working.” The panel will feature professionals who specialize in re-entry after substance abuse treatment.

Highlighted panelists include: Tim Walsh, vice president of long-term recovery and mental health, MN Adult & Teen Challenge; Gloria Englund, certified recovery coach and founder of the Twin Cities-based recovery support organization Recovering u; Randy Anderson, drug counselor and overdose awareness activist; and Healther Gallivan, Melrose Center clinical director.

Solutions-oriented

Anderson said that last year’s conference was praised by attendees because the focus was forward-thinking, with opportunities for sharing successful collaborative strategies combined with a realistic perspective on the crisis at hand.

This year’s event will have a similar focus, she said.

“The basis of this conference is about prevention and how we can work together to prevent young people from going through a terrible addiction. The youth years are a prime time for teachers, doctors and other key adults to develop good relationships with youth so they don’t have to go through addiction.”

Falkowski said she remains convinced that the best prevention strategies are multipronged.

“They key to effective prevention boils down to the same message being delivered by different messengers. Those messengers are families, schools and communities. Too often if you talk to parents and they will tell you they talk to their kids about drug abuse. But if you talk to kids they’ll say that their parents don’t talk to them about it at all. And  schools are sometimes reluctant to address drug abuse until some horrific tragedy strikes. Likewise communities are often reluctant to dive in because they don’t want to be labeled as a ‘drug-abusing’ community.' ”

But desperate times like the ones we live in now call for desperate measures, Falkowski said: “Given the gravity of this situation, everyone needs to get past their hang ups and do whatever they can to have meaningful conversations with the young people in their lives about the actual risks involved in drug use.”

Events like this conference can be a way to get the message across that everyone in the community can help to slow the rate of addiction and overdose death in the state, Falkowski said.

“Everyone has a role to play in reversing the opioid crisis. If people are unclear about what their role is, hopefully an event like this will provide clarity. I want to use my talk to light a fire under people so they realize that they have a role to play in fighting this crisis.” 

It’s time for truth telling at Fort Snelling

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 8:00am

The bonding bill at the Minnesota Legislature includes a $34 million request from the Minnesota Historical Society (MnHS) to make sorely needed repairs at Fort Snelling and introduce new interpretations.

Mary Bakeman

But what history will be told? Fort Snelling was built in 1820 by the U.S. Army as a citadel to keep European powers at bay: the French after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the British after the War of 1812. An Indian Agency was established nearby to stop the warfare between the Ojibwe and the Dakota. The latter had already conquered or driven the Otoes, Iowas and other small groups from the area.

Then Fort Snelling served as a mustering ground for America’s wars, sending more than 25,000 troops to the South to preserve the Union and eliminate slavery; to the Spanish-American War; as well as to World Wars I and II, when nearly 300,000 men and women were inducted into service there.

The fort provided troops that protected immigrants as Minnesota was opened to settlement and guarded Indian reservations from white incursion. In 1862, when the Dakota killed more than 650 settlers including more than 100 children under the age of 10, Fort Snelling hurriedly provided supplies and newly enlisted troops before eventually sending them south. From its very beginning, the fort’s story has centered on military protection for the region and the nation.

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The story planned by MnHS focuses on a Dakota Indian story that is important but minor in comparison to that larger story of the military. The MnHS says it intends to work with its Indian Advisory Council, including representatives of all federally recognized Minnesota tribes. It also established a new group, the Dakota Community Council.

Yet there is no Military or Veterans Council to ensure that the larger military story is told.

MnHS’ recent publication "Fort Snelling at Bdote" offers clues to what that interpretation could contain. The small primer is based on secondary sources and not primary research into either archeological findings or reports from before the fort was built. Recent oral tradition is used as fact without verification. With that many taxpayer bonding dollars requested for Fort Snelling, we deserve better.

This replacing and elimination of factual history echoes MnHS’ recent decisions on art at the newly restored state Capitol. Several paintings were deemed "controversial art," and therefore needed to be censored. War-related art was a vital part of architect Cass Gilbert’s vision for the building. MnHS determined to totally remove from the Capitol the only two paintings that memorialize the Dakota War of 1862, a training ground for many Minnesota troops heading south and the watershed event in Minnesota history.

"Attack on New Ulm" is going to the James J. Hill House. The other, "Eighth Minnesota at Killdeer Mountain," remains in storage with no plans for display. That battle involved more Minnesota troops than other Civil War battles and ended Dakota raids into the state. Its strategic importance was abundantly clear to the generation that built the state Capitol. It is troubling that the MnHS’ publicly funded historians now choose to censor it.

Gilbert’s vision for his 1905 edifice included more than honoring those Minnesotans who had served in past wars, including the Dakota War. He also picked out milestone topics from Minnesota history. Two concern the Dakota and are also deemed controversial.

Francis David Millett’s masterpiece "The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux" is based on an eyewitness sketch by Frank Mayer, who was at the actual event. It was the first work selected for the Governor’s Reception Room, but now will be exiled to the third floor, along with "Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony." The explanation given? It is possible to do “more robust interpretation” there.

Really? Will all voices be heard, or only those wanting to erase — or at minimum revise — history? With MnHS’ seeming flight from military matters and any potential disagreements with vocal Dakota, it seems unlikely that factually based, multidimensional interpretation will be possible, either at the Capitol or at Historic Fort Snelling unless something changes soon.

Controversy and differences of opinion have been part of American life from the beginning, as have battles over ideas, ideals, and land. Minnesota is no stranger to controversy. It is time for MnHS to gird its collective loins and return to authentic history that allows for conversation, debate, and understanding on controversial topics, especially in our public facilities.

Mary Bakeman of Roseville is an independent historian, speaker, author and former managing editor of “Minnesota’s Heritage: Back to the Sources.” She volunteers at the Minnesota Historical Society.

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St. Paul mayoral candidate fires campaign manager after TV report

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 5:58am
Brian Lambert

Bounced. A Tom Lyden story on FOX9 led to a St. Paul mayoral candidate firing his campaign manager. Says Lyden, “As a result of a Fox 9 Investigation, a candidate for St. Paul Mayor and current City Council member Dai Thao, has fired his campaign manager for allegedly soliciting a bribe from a lobbyist in exchange for a vote. The Fox 9 Investigators were independently tipped off to a text message exchange between the lobbyist and the campaign manager. Fox 9 is not naming the lobbyist, the clients represented, or the issue involved in the text messages.”

A new boss at MNGOP: In case you missed it from the weekend, The Pioneer Press’ David Montgomery writes about the new leader of the Republican Party of Minnesota: “In March 2016, Jennifer Carnahan attended her first Republican Party caucus. On Saturday, Carnahan became the Republican Party of Minnesota’s chair. Her meteoric rise over the past 14 months reflects a desire for outsiders in the era of Donald Trump — and the controversies stirred up by Carnahan’s biggest opponents during their much longer careers in GOP politics.”

At St.Olaf no less. MPR’s story says, “St. Olaf College in Northfield says it's investigating recent incidents of reported racism on campus. Saturday night, hundreds of students held a sit-in protest in the campus commons. They say the school isn't doing enough to support them or make them feel safe. … On Saturday, a student reported receiving a threatening note left on her car. The note used a racial slur and read, ‘I am so glad you are leaving soon.’ Other students have reportedly found similar notes on their cars in recent weeks. Students who organized the protest say they plan a campus-wide boycott on Monday, and will not attend classes.”

An elephant tranquilizer? Stribber Dave Chanen reports, “At first, the cluster of deadly overdoses reviewed by the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office this winter gave no indication that a new opioid hitting the streets was instantly killing its users. The victims each showed telltale signs of drug abuse, but their autopsy tests came back negative for the most commonly abused substances. Nearly two months after the first reported overdose in late January, medical investigators were stunned to learn that the drug carfentanil — used to tranquilize elephants — could be responsible for at least nine other deaths. The Drug Enforcement Administration went public with the discovery 30 hours after it learned of the results.”

The Congressman has been supporting several economies. Says Maya Rao in the Strib, “U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s unsuccessful bid to chair the Democratic National Committee wasn’t cheap. The Minneapolis lawmaker spent at least $207,821 on travel, airfare and hotels during the first three months of 2017, according to election reports filed this month. Ellison spent campaign funds on a whirlwind cross-country tour, visiting Detroit, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Miramar, Fla., Houston, Oklahoma, Philadelphia, Laramie, Wyo., and Providence, R.I. He dropped $21,897 on event expenses, including renting space in the Baltimore Convention Center … . Ellison was authorized to set up a DNC race account through a 527 organization or congressional campaign account, choosing the latter because it offered greater disclosure of his spending. In all, Ellison spent $879,852 since Jan. 1.”

So we taxed Blair Walsh too highly? Conservative Reason.com serves up this theory for why Minnesota sports teams don’t win anything. Courtesy Eric Boehm: “Of the 13 metropolitan areas in the United States currently hosting teams in each of the four major professional sports leagues, none have been waiting longer to celebrate a championship than the Twin Cities. One possible reason why? Minnesota's high personal income tax rate. ‘You get a lot of complaining about professional sports in Minnesota, because this problem is especially acute there,’ Dr. Erik Hembre, told The Washington Post this week. ‘People complain about, 'Oh, we can't get good free agents. It really hurts us.’ Hembre, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, claims to have found a direct relationship between state tax rates and the success of professional teams based in those states. His research shows that, since the mid-1990s, a ten percentage point increase in income taxes correlates with a 2-3 percentage point decline in team's winning percentage.” So if we moved Joe Mauer down a couple tax brackets he could then hit a ball in the air to right field?

Hit-and-run in Minneapolis. In the PiPress, Kristi BelCamino reports, “A man was killed in a multi-vehicle crash Sunday morning on Blaisdell Avenue South when two drivers ran a red light, causing a four-vehicle pile-up. Police say about 9:36 a.m. the drivers of two different vehicles on Blaisdell Avenue South ran a red light, crashing into two other drivers who were heading west on 26th Street, according to Minneapolis police Sergeant Catherine Michal. Five adults were injured in the crash, including a man who was a passenger in one of the cars traveling west on 26th street who was pronounced dead at the scene. … Three of the people in one of the vehicles that ran the red light fled on foot.”

Also on the crime blotter, KARE-TV reports, “The Pine County Sheriff’s Office says the two girls wanted in connection with a Hinckley stabbing have turned themselves in. The sheriff's office reports the two girls, both 17, are believed to be connected with a stabbing in Hinckley on Wednesday. The sheriff's office is not releasing any further information about the incident, including whether or not the three parties knew each other. Authorities say the stabbing victim, a male, suffered life-threatening injuries … .”