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Why are House Republicans refusing to do anything about distracted driving?

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 2:37pm

An incident happened recently that really drives home why I’ve spent the last few years dedicated to toughening the penalties for distracted driving. Last week, 9-year-old Maddie Vance from St. Paul spent the night in the hospital after getting hit by car driven by a woman too distracted by her cellphone to notice Maddie, her brother, and their teacher in the crosswalk.

Jim Carlson

Maddie’s story illustrates a growing problem both here in Minnesota and across the country. Nationally, more than 3,000 people are dying each year due to distraction-related crashes, and 431,000 people are getting injured. It’s not OK – and as Distracted Driving Awareness Month draws to a close, I wanted to remind readers about a quiet battle over distracted driving happening right now at the state Capitol.

I have authored legislation to help reduce the number of distracted driving crashes. It enjoys bipartisan support. This legislation would require using a cellphone in hands-free mode while driving. While my bill received a hearing in the Senate, and the promise of further review and hearings next year, the House Public Safety and Security Committee refuses to hear it – effectively blocking further progress.

Why is Cornish holding the bill hostage?

This kind of behavior prompts the question: Why would House Republicans try to block this bill? It has both Republican and DFL authors, and is largely noncontroversial. Everyone is in agreement that fewer Minnesotans should die because of  distracted driving. If the legislation passed, Minnesota would join 14 other states and the District of Columbia in banning hand-held cellphone use while driving. So why is Rep. Tony Cornish —R-Vernon Center, chair of the House Public Safety and Security Committee — holding the bill hostage? I encourage supporters of the bill to call him and find out.

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A recent Star Tribune editorial highlighted this very issue – and called for a “stop to the madness.” It highlighted previous work of the Minnesota Legislature designed to encourage safer driving habits – including bills I’m proud to have authored in the Senate.

Under current state law, texting while in traffic is prohibited – and that includes while you’re waiting at a stoplight. It’s also illegal for school bus drivers and teens using permits and provisional licenses to use cellphones at all while driving. Officers can issue tickets for inattentive driving, with $50 fines for a first offense and $275 for subsequent violations.

Current measures aren't enough

In 2015, I brought forward a bill that eventually was signed into law that approved tougher penalties when a driver kills or injures another person while “aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk” behind the wheel. All of these measures have been steps in the right direction. But they aren’t enough.

With less than four weeks left until the end of this legislative session, banning the use of handheld cellphones while driving will likely continue for another year. But rest assured, I can’t forget about what happened to Maddie and so many others like her. I especially will not forget the families who contacted my office or gave heartbreaking testimony in committee about loved ones taken from them by drivers who couldn’t put the phone down for a few moments.

I won’t give up on this issue, and I’ll continue pressing House Republicans to give the bill the fair hearing it deserves.

Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, represents District 51 in the Minnesota Senate.

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Ramsey County looks to reduce homelessness by focusing on most frequent shelter users

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 2:36pm
Kristoffer Tigue

A new Ramsey County housing program hopes to reduce the area’s homelessness rates — while also saving the county money.

Earlier this month, Ramsey County and the city of St. Paul launched the Redirecting Users of Shelter to Housing, or RUSH, a new collaborative effort between the city, county and several foundations and service providers, including Catholic Charities, the St. Paul Foundation and the F.R. Bigelow Foundation. The effort targets the 100 most frequent users of the county’s emergency overnight shelters and aims to put them into permanent housing.

In 2015, the Wilder Foundation counted more than 1,700 homeless individuals in Ramsey County shelters on a single night — up 15 percent since a similar count three years before. And shelter providers say they expect the county’s homeless population to rise even further over the next decade, partially because many individuals who face chronic homelessness continue to have serious barriers to obtaining housing.

City and county officials say programs like RUSH are proving to be effective in moving that population into permanent housing — a move that ultimately saves the county money while also freeing up valuable emergency resources. “We continue to struggle, as cities across America are with homelessness, and we’re getting down into the fine detail now in terms of who’s on the streets, why they’re on the streets and how do we get them off of the streets,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “The most cost-effective solution is to get them into permanent housing.”

A decline in ER visits, arrests and shelter use 

The RUSH initiative isn’t a new model, said Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough. The program is modeled after a similar two-year effort by Hennepin County back in 2012, he said.

That program, called Top 51, which also targeted the county’s highest users of emergency shelters, was successful at getting 79 previously chronically homeless individuals into permanent housing. The result was a 76 percent decline in emergency room visits and a 41 percent decline in ambulance runs for those individuals during the year they were in housing. Arrests for those individuals also dropped 43 percent since the beginning of the pilot, and shelter use dropped to zero.

“What you see is a reduction in the use of services,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. “It’s a reduction in cost … because there’s less use of the jail, less use of detox, less use of the emergency room at the hospital.”

Commissioner Jim McDonough

McDonough said he hopes RUSH will achieve similar results, and in turn, save Ramsey County money by freeing up two of the most expensive beds for the county to keep — namely, emergency room beds and jail beds. Often, homeless individuals are booked into the county jail for petty crimes like loitering, public urination and intoxication, he said, but that’s not where the county wants them. “That’s not helping them and it becomes this revolving door,” McDonough said.

Chris Boese, vice president of patient care services for Regions Hospital, said that because the area’s homeless population typically doesn’t have access to regular, preventative care, they tend to use the hospital’s emergency services as their primary health care line, and only when they get really sick. “It’s chronic diseases; it’s diabetes; it’s cardiac diseases, respitory illnesses,” she said. “A lot of our homeless folks probably have mental health issues, too. It really runs the gamut.”

Tracy Berglund, director of housing and emergency services for Catholic Charities, said getting this group into housing will also free up much needed space at their St. Paul shelters as well. One bed can cost up to $6,500 a year to maintain, she said, and they’re in growing demand each year. “We’re already full,” Berglund said, “and those folks are using up a lot of shelter nights.”

Improving quality of life

Yet Berglund says RUSH isn’t just about saving money, but also about improving the quality of life for a population that can be difficult engage. “The thing you want to remember is that they don’t want to move into housing. They’re fearful of it,” she said. “Some people took up to a year of engagement before we could get them in.”

Many of the top users of shelter space have mental illnesses, chemical dependencies or face other barriers that prevent them from finding and keeping housing, Berglund said. So, the biggest part of the process, she said, is simply building a healthy, trusting relationship.

Once individuals agree to sign on into housing, Berglund said, they’re provided with an apartment that has direct access to wrap around services such as state and county financial aid services, job training, health care services, and mental health and chemical dependency treatment.

RUSH currently has been successful in housing 35 individuals who frequently use shelters so far, Berglund said. Over the next two years, they’re hoping to house the remaining 65. “Getting the most difficult people into housing, it’s super rewarding to see,” she said.

A need for more housing

But Berglund said even with the project off to a good start, there’s still a need for more affordable housing in the county. Currently, the RUSH program utilizes Higher Ground Saint Paul’s 280 shelter units and 193 affordable housing units, which are located on the three floors above the shelter space. 

But Berglund said they need to build more shelter and housing space to complete their project, and to meet the demands of the county. They’re hoping the Minnesota Legislature will pass a bonding bill this year that would provide $12 million in state funding to go towards building a new shelter with 171 affordable housing units located above it, she said. “We need more housing,” she said.

MinnPost file photo by Jana FreibandThe old Dorothy Day Center.

The new building, which will be called the St. Paul Opportunity Center and Dorothy Day Residence, will be built over the old Dorothy Day Center in the heart of downtown St. Paul, and will cost roughly $60 million dollars to complete. So far, Catholic Charities has raised more than $35 million for the project, and they’re hoping the legislature comes through to pass enough in housing bonds to help them complete it.

“As a community, we just have to get smarter or this [homelessness problem] is just going to continue to worsen,” Berglund said. “The solution is affordable housing and we’re not building enough.”

STRIDE Academy was once one of the top performing charters in Minnesota. Now it’s getting shut down

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 2:34pm
Erin Hinrichs

Ask someone outside of Minnesota what they know about St. Cloud and, chances are, they’d know it’s home to a large pocket of Somali residents. The cultural mashup taking place here — in a historically white community that’s had an influx of East African immigrants in the last decade or so — hasn’t always been peaceful.

For instance, the This American Life radio show recently profiled the racial tensions that have come to define the community. And just this past fall, news of an FBI investigation into a knife assault by a 20-year-old Somali-American male at the Crossroads Center made the New York Times.

But plenty of advocates for unity and cross-cultural understanding have emerged over the years. Those involved in a local charter school called STRIDE Academy count themselves among those working toward a new sense of community, one that embraces its newfound cultural diversity as an asset. School leaders feel they have a school model that’s done just that. Four years ago, the school didn’t serve any English Language Learners (ELL), says Natalie Ringsmuth, a parent who joined the school board last school year. It’s currently serving 141 ELL students — 20 percent of the student body.

Today, however, STRIDE is facing closure. While school leaders say they embraced the school’s newfound diversity, they struggled to adapt to the academic needs of their changing student population. The school went from being in the top 15 percent of all Title 1 schools in the state, in terms of students’ academic performance, to being in the bottom quarter of Title 1 schools.

Friends of Education — the school’s authorizer, an entity approved by the state Department of Education to oversee charter school financial management and academic performance — has decided the school’s window of opportunity to turn things around has officially expired.  Yet board members, educators and parents believe the school is providing a valuable service in embracing diversity and  maintain that scores can still improve.

Is the school somehow being penalized for embracing diversity? Or has it just become a bad school?

Enrollment outpacing performance

STRIDE Academy opened in 2005, offering about 200 elementary students in the St. Cloud area an alternative option to the traditional public and parochial schools in the area. It’s since expanded to a K-8 charter school, making it the only school among St. Cloud’s three charters to offer grades 7 and 8. A few of the core qualities that set it apart are its smaller class sizes, focus on leadership skills, and instruction delivery model that groups students by ability, rather than age.

In 2013, the school was recognized by the state for its high test scores and success in narrowing the achievement gap. But as the school continued to grow, it ran into some financial troubles, spurring Friends of Education to issue a corrective contract with the school ordering it to resolve issues of financial mismanagement, the following year. Ringsmuth joined the board during this period of corrective action. From what she gathers, those who started the school simply weren’t equipped to run the financial side of things as the school got bigger.

“There were times 4, 5 years ago where they were wondering how we’d pay salaries and stuff like that,” she said. “I was told it was imperative we be super up to date on our budget. We came up with a plan to get back on track financially.”

During this period, the school went through a change in leadership and began taking steps to accommodate growing enrollment. By 2015, STRIDE had consolidated its two campuses to the newly expanded building on Oakham Lane, about five miles south of downtown St. Cloud.

MinnPost photo by Erin HinrichsSTRIDE interim director Dave Peterson and teacher Joanne Stoermann shown in Stoermann's kindergarten class.

Simultaneously, the student population began to diversify. Four years ago, the school didn’t have any ELL students, Ringsmuth recalls. Then, in a single school year, they jumped from 90 to north of 140. It’s the sort of thing that’s stretched them beyond their means.

“We’ve honestly struggled to meet the needs of staffing,” she said, offering a recent example. “[English Language] teachers are not easy to find in this area, so we’ve had an open EL position for months.”

Toward closure

Those staffing issues may have been complicated by pending talks of school closure that began when Friends of Education issued a letter of intent to not renew its charter contract with the school, largely due to student test scores, in Nov. 2016.

In an email, Beth Topoluk, executive director of Friends of Education, highlighted a few points spelled out in the authorizer’s final determination. First, in 2013, the Minnesota charter law changed, requiring authorizers to consider improved student learning and achievement as the single “most important factor” in determining whether or not to renew a charter contract with a school. Topoluk maintains that STRIDE leadership did not provide any information, data or alternative assessments showing signs of improved student learning since the series of warnings they began receiving in 2014. Secondly, all student groups — including white, black, ELL, and those who qualify for free-and-reduced price lunch — “showed progressive decline in individual student growth such that no student group had average growth last school year.”

Standardized test data shows that school’s test scores bottomed out last year at 44.7 percent of the students testing proficient in reading and 43.6 percent proficient in math. This year’s MCA scores, which have yet to be reviewed by the state Department of Education, are showing a “slight uptick,” says STRIDE’s interim executive director, Dave Peterson.

“The downward trend of about five years has now been disturbed, stopped. We look at it and say, ‘Well is it too little, too late? Because the decision by the authorizer was made based on last year’s test scores and they were not good,” he said. “My view of this school is it’s ideally suited to perform a needed function — educationally, culturally, socially and economically — because it embraces diversity in a way in which it can maximize how all students learn. To me, it’s unfortunate that this ideal design is not having a chance to continue.”

Scrambling to keep the school alive, the school board diversified, brought in new leadership talent and began addressing operational inefficiencies. 

Fighting to keep the doors open

STRIDE representatives attended a hearing with Friends of Education this past March to plead their case for staying open, once more. But at this point, their only hope is that Friends of Education has a last-minute change of heart and reverses its decision to close the school at the end of this school year.

“When all an authorizer looks at is test scores, then our diversity becomes our weakness,” Ringsmuth said, illustrating a challenge many school face when learning to accommodate immigrant students who are not learning not only English, but also school norms and how to use a computer that the standardized tests are administered on.  

While the possibility of rebounding appears slim, Board Chair Sara Fromm met with Topoluk early Wednesday morning to lay forth one last pitch for keeping the school’s doors open another year to see if they can turn things around. In Fromm’s opinion, closure may be a legal course of action. But it could have “inadvertently discriminatory outcomes.”

“I don’t think they understand our population, or the St. Cloud area. That’s troublesome for me,” Fromm said of their Wayzata-based authorizer.

She says many of the school’s new ELL students are dealing with very challenging life circumstances — whether that includes having been born in a refugee camp, or having parents who didn’t receive any formal education themselves. Within the ELL population, she argues, these students are some of the most vulnerable because their lack of familiarity with the English language is compounded by the unique stressors faced by refugees. Yet, standardized tests don’t capture these nuances.

“My concern is that using the term EL [English Learner] …. it whitewashes the actual reality of what our kids are going through and how were trying to help them,” Fromm said. “It’s really hard to expect a kid to do well on the MCAs when they’re coming out of such traumatic living situations.”

MinnPost photo by Erin HinrichsSTRIDE interim director Dave Peterson: "My view of this school is it’s ideally suited to perform a needed function — educationally, culturally, socially and economically."

In many respects, she views STRIDE as a microcosm of the greater St. Cloud. The school is a pilot program, of sorts, for how the greater community can work through the growing pains of accepting a new community, she says. Listing a few examples, she says the staff has engaged in conversations over how to reimagine school uniforms and lunches that accommodate the needs of all students.

“It truly is a diverse population — not just racially, but in term of economics and how kids see themselves,” she said of STRIDE. “I think that’s part of the reason I’m really pushing this. I see this potential in STRIDE. I see us being able to exist together and learn from each other. And that’s an education to me.”

Too little, too late?

Topoluk’s recent email to MinnPost indicates some of these changes may have come too late. She had a group called Class Measures — a national third-party organization that provides school evaluation reviews — take a close look at STRIDE Academy in January. “That evaluation concluded that an ineffective learning environment exists, expectations are too low, and there is a general absence of academic rigor and purpose,” she wrote. “When is that acceptable for any child?”

On April 6, 2017, Friends of Education issued a final determination, reaffirming its original intent to not renew its contract with STRIDE.

STRIDE leadership is already taking the necessary steps toward closure, so that families have time to scope out their options. That includes working with the neighboring public school district to line families up with alternative placements.

Tami DeLand, director of communications and community engagement for the St. Cloud Area School District, says they have the capacity to accommodate STRIDE students, many of whom were at one point enrolled in the district before leaving to attend STRIDE. So far, they’ve had nearly 80 enrollments for the upcoming school year.

That still leaves about 114 staff members out of a job, come June 30. Given this uncertainty, Peterson says he’s been very impressed with how professionally teachers and support staff have handled everything. “My experience has been that the staff … somehow manages this awesome task of being able to come here every day with as optimistic an outlook as they can, because we know that rubs off on the kids.”

Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, says he’s been in conversations with Friends of Education as they contemplated what course of action to take. A charter closure is a traumatic event for everyone involved, he says, but this certainly isn’t the first time this has happened in Minnesota. Historically, over 50 charter schools have been shut down for poor academics, for mismanagement or a lack or management, or for not adjusting to financial realities soon enough, he said. In the case of STRIDE, if its downward trajectory was, in fact, tied to an influx of ELL students, then that should have been factored into their authorizer contract much earlier.

“Unless you've amended your goals during the contract period to reflect new realities, the school’s authorizer is supposed to close the school,” he said, reflecting on STRIDE’s current academic outcomes. “That actually proves the system is working the ways it’s supposed to.”

Recall effort launched against Hopkins officials over diverted 169 traffic

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 1:28pm
MinnPost staff

Nothing riles people up quite like cars. The Star Tribune’s Tim Harlow writes: “A big traffic flap is brewing in Hopkins where a group of residents fed up with rogue motorists cutting through neighborhoods to bypass the official Hwy. 169 detour has launched an effort to oust the mayor and four city council members, claiming they have not done enough to address the problem.”

Sounds like a healthy relationship. The Star Tribune’s Adam Belz and David Chanen report:“Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges learned that Police Chief Janeé Harteau would appoint Lt. John Delmonico as inspector of the North Side’s Fourth Precinct 90 minutes before police announced the decision. … The mayor urged Harteau to come to her office for a meeting, and Harteau declined, according to sources with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. … Finally, Hodges said that either Harteau needed to undo the appointment of Delmonico, or Hodges would undo it herself. Harteau left the task to the mayor, and Hodges issued a statement late Wednesday overruling the decision.”

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Water mess. City Pages’ Susan Du reports: “Members of an Amish community in southeast Minnesota have been sued, fined thousands of dollars, and threatened with the dismantling of their homes if they don't install sewage systems. … They've remained intractable in their belief, however, that the Bible has directed them to disobey. … Led by Ammon Swartzentruber, Menno Mast, Amos Mast, and Sam Miller, the Swartzentruber Amish are suing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Fillmore County in return, claiming that the government's incessant demands that they alter what they do with their wastewater violates their right to religious freedom.”

Two in a week. MPR’s Tim Nelson reports: “For the second time this week, a pedestrian has been struck and killed on a metro freeway. … The latest incident happened early Friday. The State Patrol said the driver of a pickup truck lost control and rolled his vehicle on northbound Interstate 494, just south of Interstate 394 in Minnetonka around 1:15 a.m. … Authorities said the driver, a 31-year-old man from Sartell, got out of the vehicle and tried to cross the northbound lanes of I-494, but was struck by an oncoming car and killed.”

In other news…

Troubling: “Eagan Firefighter Sues Chief, City Saying He was Demoted Because He's Gay” [KSTP]

Hero: “Mayo nurse named Immunization Champion” [Rochester Post Bulletin]

Sad: “Ex-finance official allegedly embezzled more than $100,000 from Hamline U” [Pioneer Press]

Nice: “After 17 years Birchbark Books continues to center Native stories, space amid society of erasure” [Twin Cities Daily Planet]

FYI: “Construction to close entrance road to Terminal 1 at MSP Airport this weekend” [KMSP]

Why higher ed funding could be a major sticking point in budget negotiations at the state Capitol

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 11:13am
Briana Bierschbach

Steven Rosenstone has spent years testifying at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul, and in one of his final appearances, he had a warning for legislators. 

Rosenstone, the outgoing chancellor of Minnesota State, the network of 30 colleges and 7 universities with 54 campuses across the state, led the system for the last six years. With only two sources of funding — tuition and state support — the system has struggled to balance revenues with expenses, which has led to faculty layoffs, closed programs and delayed replacement of aging technology and equipment.

In response, Rosenstone and other officials requested $178 million in new state funding for the next two years. So he was surprised when he saw the House and Senate higher education budgets. The House proposed $93 million in new spending, while the Senate's bill included $53 million over the next two years. But that wasn't all: the budgets also require Minnesota State to freeze tuition for students, which will mean the system has no option but to make more cuts, Rosenstone said.

“Ours is not a nice-to-do request,” Rosenstone told legislators in a hearing this week. “Ours is a must-do request.”

Rosenstone was just one in a series of those who testified Tuesday arguing the legislative budget bills don’t go far enough for Minnesota’s network of colleges and universities, especially at a time when the state has a $1.65 billion budget surplus. School officials say colleges and universities were hit hard during the recession, and state funding hasn’t rebounded to keep up with inflation. 

“This is a lose-lose proposition,” said DFL Rep. Gene Pelowski, the former chair of the House higher education committee. “There are going to be large cuts, and we have a $1.6 billion surplus. The students are the ones who are going to pay.”

Republicans say there's a reason for their position — that state government growth and administrative bloat is out of control, and that smaller increases in funding well help keep that in check. Meanwhile, tuition freezes will keep the cost of college down, they say.

But that position — plus a handful of controversial changes to higher education policy — is the major source of tension between Republicans in control of the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton as they try to negotiate a two-year budget plan and finish the 2017 session on time. “We increase funding for higher education, but we still have to be reasonable,” said Republican Rep. Bud Nornes, chair of the House higher education finance committee. “The state budget is growing so much automatically and we have to try and rein that in a bit.” 

Budget woes and tuition freezes

Minnesota’s higher education budget isn’t all that complicated. The state currently spends about $3 billion over two years on higher education, with most of that money going to Minnesota’s two main higher education systems: Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota. Those two institutions together get about $2.5 billion in state support, with most of the remaining funds going to the Office of Higher Education, which administers a state program that delivers grants to students across Minnesota.

State Rep. Gene Pelowski

For decades, lawmakers here had a reputation for spending more on higher education that most other states, leading former Gov. Rudy Perpich to nickname Minnesota the “Brainpower state.” That funding hit its peak in 2008 at about $3.5 billion for the biennium. But then the recession came, and funding for higher education took at hit. By 2013, funding had gone down to about $2.5 billion over the two year budget period. 

That year, lawmakers said the economy was on the mend and they wanted to bring those investments back up. Dayton and a DFL controlled Legislature agreed to put $250 million more into higher education in the next two-year budget. Two years later, under a divided Legislature, Republicans and Democrats agreed to put $166 million more into higher education.

None of the proposed higher education budgets this year would bring Minnesota back to that 2008 peak, but they all would increase funding. On Friday, Senate and House Republicans proposed a joint spending target of $113 million more for higher education over the next two years, somewhere between the $100 million Senate bill and the $150 million House proposal. That's still much lower than Dayton's spending target for higher ed: $318 million in new funding for 2018 and 2019.  

The University of Minnesota is hit the hardest in the House and Senate bills, receiving $22 million more over two years in the House bill, and about $34 million from the Senate over that same time period. Those are small increases, at least compared to the university’s budget request: $147.2 million. Even Dayton comes in far lower than the university’s request, proposing $68 million for the school compared to $125 million for Minnesota State.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, the Republican chair of the chamber’s higher education committee, said Republicans, much like Dayton, came in lower for the university because the institution has more options than Minnesota State to find revenue.

State Sen. Michelle Fischbach

But University of Minnesota Rochester Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle warned that the most likely way to make up the gap is a 5 percent increase in tuition for students on all campuses. The University of Minnesota is older than the state itself and has constitutional autonomy, so legislators can only suggest that officials cap tuition, not actually force them to do so. “We’ve worked really hard to keep the lid on tuition and we did so in direct response to your concerns, and because it’s the right thing to do,” Lehmkuhle said. 

Pelowski said recent scandals within the U of M athletics department have looked bad for the for the school and its administration, but he also believes the proposed cuts are politically motivated. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen the base funding request for the U basically being ignored,” He said. “The main University of Minnesota campus is in primarily Democratic districts in Minneapolis.”

For their part, Republicans acknowledge a focus on rural Minnesota campuses. The Senate bill includes a loan forgiveness program for veterinarians practicing in rural areas; $3 million in supplemental aid to two-year campuses in Greater Minnesota; and funding to address a shortage of teachers in certain geographic regions. “Being from rural Minnesota, I see see that these programs are a vital part of the community in a lot of those areas,” Fischbach said. “Those two-year colleges are doing a lot with worker development right in their own communities.”

Republicans said they also wanted to focus more funding on the state grant program, which helps students from low and moderate-income families pay for Minnesota colleges or universities. Republicans in the Senate want to put $10 million more into that program, with the House pitching more than $30 million in new state grants. 

But if Dayton’s going to sign any budget bill, the overall higher education budget number will ultimately have to move up, said Larry Pogemiller, Dayton’s commissioner of the Office of Higher Education. “If we don’t invest near the governor’s level,” he said, “tuition will go up and quality will deteriorate.”

Stuck on policy

Funding isn’t the only hiccup in the higher education budget bills — they also include a handful of policy provisions that Dayton opposes.

The University of Minnesota angered Republican legislators in 2015 after a senior spokesperson mistakenly told a reporter the school did not use human fetal tissue in research on campus. But word spread that wasn’t the case: Most research involved human subjects requires approval from a special board, but fetal tissue studies didn’t involve living subjects, so researchers had discretion to use it without extra oversight.

House Republican’s higher education budget would require any research involving human fetal tissue to get approval first from an institutional review board. That research would be subject to legislative audits.

Steven Rosenstone

The House bill also requires state colleges and universities to automatically admit Minnesota residents who recently graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. It’s a model used in states like Texas, but Dayton and higher education officials oppose the approach. “That keeps us from doing a holistic review of all students,” Lehmkuhle said. “Many high schools don’t track class rank because it’s a disincentive for people to take challenging courses.”

Students are also pushing back against a provision that would prohibit Minnesota State from charging new student fees to pay for certain programs or activities. Several student groups have testified and written to legislators opposing the move, because they are the ones who ultimately decide how those fees are used on campus.

There are a few policy ideas Democrats could possibly get behind, like asking the university develop an outreach and recruitment program for students in greater Minnesota, and the creation of a campus sexual violence prevention and response coordinator position. But Dayton wants policy provisions to be discussed and passed in a separate higher education policy bill. “This would provide more transparency and accountability for decisions,” Pogemiller said. “Policy decisions, unrelated to specific investments, could impede budget negotiations.”

Nornes said it’s fairly common for higher education budget and policy measures to travel in one bill, but he’s open to moving them into separate bills if it gets in the way of a final deal. Republicans in the House and Senate plan to finalize their differences by Monday. 

“The policy language, it’s quite limited,” he said. “How much of it continues to be in the bill, we’ll have to see.”

MinnPost launches a new weekly newsletter: D.C. Memo

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 11:07am
Andrew Putz

If nothing, else, there's one very Minnesota thing you could say about the news that's been coming out of the nation's capital over the last few months: It's been interesting. 

It's also clear that it's the source of intense interest among readers. Which is why we're excited to announce the launch of our newest newsletter: D.C. Memo. Written by MinnPost Washington correspondent Sam Brodey and delivered each Thursday afternoon, the weekly newsletter will provide a one-stop source for finding the most informative, insightful and entertaining coverage coming out of Washington.

In fact, the D.C. Memo will not only offer Sam's well-curated perspective on the week’s news, but will also point subscribers to must-read stories, and give them an early look at what to expect in the days ahead. Or as Sam says: “The underlying idea is this: in a moment where a lot of people are looking anxiously to D.C., I’d like to give readers a view of the capital through a distinctly Minnesota lens.”

To make sure you get your D.C. Memo each week, sign up here.

Here's one promise we know Trump is not going to keep

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 9:16am
Eric Black

Perhaps it’s a waste of time and pixels to remind people of President Trump’s campaign promises. I also have a problem, which I’ve mentioned before, that I can’t understand the explanation that Trump’s supporters took his campaign statements “seriously but not literally.” To me, it’s hard to make those two words align in a coherent way. And the problem is exacerbated when so many of the campaign statements were phantasmagorical.

So now we have Trump’s tax reform plan. Well, not really. We have a one-page summary in which every statement prompts about 1,000 questions. Basically, everyone’s tax rate goes down, but almost all deductions go away, which makes up for some – but certainly not all – of the cost of the lower rates.

Rich people and corporations get the biggest benefits, by far. But almost every taxpayer pays less. Details to come. Personally, I think I’ll wait to assess this until a full plan has been released and analyzed and scored non-phantasmagorically by neutral experts, most especially by the Congressional Budget Office.

Trump used to say that the revenue gain from doing away with deductions will offset the revenue loss from the lower rates. Some of that offset is certainly possible. But, here’s a small prediction. The honest scorekeepers will decide that the plan will add massively to the federal deficit and debt. Massively plus.

Spending cuts will be proposed to offset some of the lost revenue. Many of the spending cuts will be compromised down. The net effect will be to add massively, massively, massively-plus to the national debt.

I don’t claim to know whether such a plan or anything resembling such a plan will be adopted. But I do know that Trump will not keep one of his many phantasmagorical campaign promises. He often railed against and promised to do something about the deficit and debt picture, and implied he had ludicrous or unspecified ideas about how to make it better. But on some occasions he went further.

Last April, in an interview with the Washington Post, Trump pledged to pay off the national debt over the next eight years. He didn’t just promise to balance the budget in the final year of his second term. (He won’t do that either, but it’s a less insane promise). He said he would pay off the debt. Here’s the story.

OK, maybe he didn’t use the words “pay off” to describe what he would do to the debt. He said he would “get rid” of the debt, which may suggest that because of his famed deal-making ability he would negotiate some of it away. Color me skeptical.

Because of the ludicrous nature of so many things he said as a candidate this one got lost in the mix, although he came back many times to the idea that he had a secret plan to get rid of the deficit (or the debt, he seems to use the terms interchangeably, leading one to wonder whether he knows the difference). But if you read that Post story linked above, it appears that Trump really meant he had a plan to “pay off” the debt over eight years, a statement that might be delusional or just a lie.

As an example, he was asked by Miss America’s Outstanding Teen what he would do about the $18 trillion dollar “deficit.” (That figure actually must refer to the debt, not the deficit, but Trump repeated the mistake in his reply, thus):

TRUMP: All right. Well, what we're going to do, I mean we do, and by the way it's not $18 trillion, it's now $19 trillion. So we have now $19 trillion in deficits (sic). $19 trillion, you know if you look, we owe! When I say that, we owe, this is what you're talking about, we owe $19 trillion as a country. And we're gonna knock it down and we're gonna bring it down big league and quickly, we're gonna bring jobs back, we're gonna bring business back, we're gonna stop our deficits, we're gonna stop our deficits, we're gonna do it very quickly.”

MANY IN AUDIENCE shouted: “HOW?”

TRUMP: “Oh, how! Are you ready? Number 1, we have tremendous cutting to do. You have a Department of Education that is totally out of control, massive costs. And, you know, most of the, and some of the Republican candidates like Common Core. I'm totally against Common Core. I want local education. When I'm in New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina, I want – so important. So we're gonna have that. 

We're gonna save on Department of Environmental Protection, because they're not doing it. They're not doing their job, and they're making it impossible for our country to compete. And many, many other things. Hundreds of billions of dollars is going to be saved, just in terms of running government. 

In addition to that, I'm gonna bring millions of jobs back into this country. OK, darling? Thank you.

Maybe, when he told the Post he would get rid of the debt, he meant the deficit. Should we be bothered by a president who hasn’t mastered that distinction?

Anyway, the last time the U.S. government had a period when it wasn’t running a deficit (meaning a balanced budget or a small surplus) was during the Bill Clinton years. The last time the U.S. government ended a year with no debt was 1835.

I once described myself as a moderate deficit hawk, which caused some mockery of the term in the discussion thread. I don’t have any illusion that the U.S. government will “get rid” of the debt in my lifetime, and I don’t think that’s an important goal. I also think that in times of historically low interest rates, it makes sense for the nation to borrow money to make long-term investments, like infrastructure and educating the future workforce, that will contribute to economic growth and in a long-term sense pay for itself. But on a year-to-year basis, I think a moderate goal would be to have the total debt grow more slowly than the GDP. It’s our big, strong economy that makes it possible to carry our massive multitrillion-dollar debt.

Although the current incumbent is not going to balance the budget and not going to “get rid of” the debt, and both measures are likely to get worse during his tenure, especially judging by tax his proposal, if he asked me I would tell him that a rational goal would be to try to get the GDP growing faster than the debt is growing.

The 'Choosing Wisely' campaign is five years old; why we should all be celebrating its success

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 8:40am
Susan Perry

The Choosing Wisely campaign is now five years old.

It’s a birthday we should all be celebrating.

Launched in 2012 by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation in collaboration with Consumer Reports, the campaign is designed to help physicians and patients choose medical care that is (in the words of the campaign):

  • supported by evidence
  • not duplicative of other tests or procedures already received
  • free from harm
  • truly necessary

In other words, the campaign’s purpose is to help all of us make more rational, evidence-based and, ultimately, safer decisions about our health care.

That means not being afraid to ask your doctor pointed questions: Do you really need a CT scan for a headache? Or a bone density scan for osteoporosis? Or antibiotics for sinusitis? Or a blood test for vitamin D?

Over the past five years, the Choosing Wisely campaign has compiled detailed but easily accessible resources to help patients ask these and other questions about hundreds of medical tests and treatments that are often either overused or that provide little benefit — and in some cases cause harm. The recommendations come from several dozen medical societies in the United States and around the world. (The campaign has gone global.)

Signs of progress

Choosing Wisely has been criticized, mostly for not going far enough with its recommendations. But the campaign has had an impact, although it’s too early to know how much of an impact, says Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria in Canada, in an article published this week on the Minnesota-based HealthNewsReview website.

“It is certainly being studied to see where it may be impacting patient care,” writes Cassels. A Canadian survey, he points out, found that about one in 10 patients in that country is aware of the campaign, and another report found that 62 percent of Canadians “feel there is too much unnecessary health care, such as giving routine mammograms to average-risk women in their 40s.”

Other signs of the campaign’s impact, says Cassels, include the international Preventing Overdiagnosis Conference, which will be convening for the fifth time later this year, as well as changes at the “grassroots” level. To illustrate those latter changes, Cassels uses the example of what happened when Group Health clinicians in Seattle consulted with Choosing Wisely:

They sought to help physicians understand that patient requests about a test or drug simply may be an attempt to get additional information — and shouldn’t be treated as if the patient wants the test or drug. It was described this way: “Group Health first helped physicians and other providers change their perspective on the situation. For example, they asked doctors to look at patient requests for unnecessary treatment as partially informed inquiries, not a demand for services. Clinicians were encouraged to listen and show empathy to the patient, acknowledge symptoms and ask what could be done to manage discomfort. Then the physician provided better information and educated the patient.”

Five important questions

“In the end,” writes Cassels, “Choosing Wisely is all about asking better, more vital questions.”

With that in mind, here are the five basic questions that the campaigns says all of us should ask our doctors before we undergo any test or treatment:

1.  Do I really need this test or procedure?

2.  What are the risks and side effects?

3.  Are there simpler, safer options?

4.  What happens if I don’t do anything?

5.  How much does it cost, and will my insurance pay for it?

For more information: You’ll find the Choosing Wisely lists of tests and treatments on the campaign’s website. I recommend bookmarking the site, so you have it handy the next time you have an appointment with a doctor.

Jerome Foundation honors playwrights; St. Paul Art Crawl to begin

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 8:29am
Pamela Espeland

Six playwrights have each won $18,000 awards and $2,000 in play development funds as 2017-18 Jerome Fellows and Many Voices Fellows, the Playwrights’ Center announced this week. In a statement, Jeremy B. Cohen, the center’s producing artistic director, called the winners “brilliant playwrights and storytellers … who will lead our country forward, and whose voices you will continue to hear echo across stages around the country.”

The Jerome Foundation has increased funding for Many Voices fellows from $12,500 to $18,000. The Jerome Fellowship, which last year was raised from $16,000 to $18,000, is the Foundation’s longest-awarded program. August Wilson was a Jerome Fellow.

Jerome Fellows spend a yearlong residency in Minnesota. The 2017-18 fellows are Mia Chung, whose play “You For Me For You” has been produced by Mu Performing Arts/Guthrie Theater and others; Twin cities-based playwright Jessica Huang, whose “The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin” recently premiered with the History Theatre; New York-based playwright Tim J. Lord; and Boston native Tori Sampson.

The Many Voices Fellows, all early-career writers of color, receive dedicated support from playwright Christina Ham and introductions to theater leaders in the Twin Cities and Chicago. Both will spend a yearlong residency in Minnesota and one must be based here. The new fellows are Stacey Rose, a theater artist from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Minnesota-based writer Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, whose “Kung Fu Zombies Vs. Cannibals” premiered with Mu Performing Arts in 2013.

Minnesota-based playwright Julia Gay, who was part of the Transatlantic Love Affair ensemble that devised “Promised Land,” seen at the Guthrie in January, was named a Many Voices Mentee. She will receive writing and play development services and a $2,000 stipend.

The Playwrights’ Center has close to 2,000 member playwrights around the world. It serves as artistic home for 25-30 core writers on three-year terms.

Last call for 2017 St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge

What’s your best idea for the arts in St. Paul? You have until midnight tonight (Friday, April 28) to apply for the 2017 St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge and a piece of the $1.5 million pie.

All you need to do is write 150 words about your idea. It must be about the arts, and for a project that takes place in or benefits St. Paul. If you win, you’ll need to find funds to match Knight’s commitment.

Don’t worry about that last part now. If you’re sitting on an idea, what have you got to lose? Go here for helpful tips from the Knight Foundation’s Adam Ganuza.

The picks

Today (Friday, April 28) and Saturday: 36th Annual Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. MSPIFF wraps Saturday night, but there are still dozens of films left to see, many with guests in attendance. And a few tickets are still available to the closing night film, “King of the Belgians,” followed by a party on the A-Mill Artist Lofts rooftop. FMI and tickets.

Tonight at the Ted Mann Concert Hall: Oratorio Society of Minnesota Performs Randall Thompson’s Requiem: A Dramatic Dialogue in Five Parts. A 90-voice auditioned ensemble led by Matthew Mehaffey, the Oratorio Society specializes in large-scale works for chorus and orchestra. Tonight’s program is a world premiere of Thompson’s largest choral composition, a work so challenging it has rarely been sung in its entirety. This will be the first time anyone has performed it in an arrangement Thompson envisioned 60 years ago. His biographer, Carl B. Schmidt of Towson University, will give a presentation at the concert. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35/$25/$15).

Courtesy of the St. Paul Art CollectiveTonight through Sunday in Lowertown: St. Paul Art Crawl.

Tonight through Sunday in Lowertown: St. Paul Art Crawl. Beginning in 1977 with a group exhibition at the Union Depot, the Art Crawl has grown and grown, now numbering some 400 artists in more than 30 locations, plus live entertainment, dance classes, spoken word, guided tours, a community art project and a Caseta del Flamenco at CHS Field. Can you see and do it all in one day? Don’t even try. Go here and page through the catalog for an overview of the Crawl’s size and scope and an idea of the treasures in store. 6-10 p.m. Friday, 12-8 p.m. Saturday, 12-5 p.m. Sunday. Free. FMI.

Tonight through Sunday in Park Square Court: Greater Minnesota Artists Showcase. Work by 42 artists from cities and towns across Minnesota, presented by the Minnesota State Arts Board. 400 Sibley St., Ste. 200. In downtown St. Paul, same hours as the Art Crawl.

This weekend and next in the JSB Tekbox at the Cowles: 2017 Right Here Showcase. Founded by Off-Leash Area’s Paul Herwig, this annual mini-festival spotlights new work by Minnesota-based mid-career performing artists. Weekend One (April 28-30): In “Memory and Desire,” theater artist Ben Kreilkamp imagines his death to look back on his life, especially his relationships with women. Dance artist April Sellers presents “The Animal Corridor,” inspired by female icons including Janis Joplin and prize fighter Ronda Rousey. Weekend Two (May 5-7): Composer/director Chris Strouth deals with “Grief” in a “dark and minimal, sad but not depressing” piece built with live music, recorded sound and performance. Taja Will, dance artist, weaves her evening-length solo work “Bruja/Fugitive Majesty” from her personal mythology. 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. each evening; performers alternate. FMI and reservations. Free.  

Courtesy of MN OriginalJennifer Hedberg

Sunday on your teevee: “MN Original: Ifrah Monsour, Jennifer Shea Hedberg, Eric Mayson, Jane Wunrow, Shapiro & Smith Dance.” Art takes many forms and expressions in the new episode of Twin Cities PBS’ award-winning arts and culture series. Monsour is a Somali-American multimedia performing artist. Her play, “How to Have Fun in a Civil War,” which was produced at the Children’s Theater, is based on her childhood memories of the 1991 war in Somalia. Sculptor Hedberg uses “ice logic” to create spectacular lanterns from globes, sheets, and shards of ice. Musician Mayson and his band perform his song “Aces.” Mixed media artist Wunrow explains how she abandoned art when she became a mother, then returned to it in new ways, using materials, concepts, and methods that fit this season of her life. The episode ends with Megan McLellan and Andrew J. Lester dancing “The Gist” on location in the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. “MN Original” airs Sunday night on TPT 2 at 6 p.m. and again at 10. Watch it online anytime.

Sunday on your device: International Jazz Day Global Concert 2017. On April 30, more than 50 artists representing 14 countries will meet in Havana for a star-studded concert at the historic Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso, recently reopened after extensive renovations. To name a few: Herbie Hancock and Chucho Valdés (artistic directors), Quincy Jones, Till Brönner, Esperanza Spalding, Ivan Lins, Antonio Sanchez, Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, Dhafer Youssef, Marcus Miller. The lineup is an international jazz festival squeezed into a single occasion. Starting at 7 p.m. CST, you can watch the webcast here.

The Republican war on trains is drastically misplaced

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 8:00am
Dave Mindeman

The Republican war on trains is drastically misplaced. Our future does not lie in more asphalt, more cars, and longer commutes. Modern mass transit is our future, yet Minnesota Republicans, as well as congressional Republicans, are saying it is causing a credit-card problem. The reality is that the Minnesota GOP is having a credibility problem.

Dave Mindeman

The recent Community Voices piece, "Don't put another train on our kids' credit card," by Kim Crockett of the Center of the American Experiment, is just another biased treatise, in my opinion.

First she asserts that the national debt will only be increased by funding these train projects — which, frankly, is true for just about any spending project. Defense, roads and bridges, human services — all of it will increase the debt because we do not generate any revenue, even for the things we have committed to fund.

We have been using the kids' credit card not just for trains but for everything. This obsession with tax cuts is the real culprit, not the things we have needed for years. And a good mass transit system will eventually pay dividends because there will be less pollution, fewer traffic jams, fewer single-occupant cars, more development around rail which increases the tax base, lower maintenance costs (as compared to roads), and more construction jobs. Yes, the initial investment is high — but it is not going to cost less if we delay and obstruct.

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Crockett says that "most local and state officials" say no to trains. Well, that is partially true, but only from one party. The Republicans have cast their majority lot with rural Minnesota, where it is easy to demonize mass transit. And as retired Republican legislators begin to overrun county boards, it will only get worse in that regard.

Support for modernizing transit

Democrats overwhelmingly support modernizing our transit. Gov. Mark Dayton supports it. City councils are generally on board. And most of our congressional delegation support it as well.

It shouldn't be a partisan issue. And this is especially true when metro areas are already committing their monetary resources to make this happen. General funds are part of the mix, but not nearly as much as the Republican legislators try to have us believe. Metro sales taxes cover the bulk of metro transit. It is a fair funding mechanism.

Crockett also includes an opinion from the CATO Institute, another GOP think tank:

"Light rail is an obsolete form of transportation that will be made even more obsolete in a few years by self-driving cars," said Randal O'Toole, a CATO Institute senior fellow and public transit expert. "Congress should stop funding light rail, including the Southwest line, as well as other obsolete transit programs, such as an extension of the Northstar to St. Cloud." 

Yes, self-driving cars may be in the works, but you will still have to maintain roads for them. You will probably still have single occupants. And the pollution effects have the same probabilities as human driver cars. It depends on what type of fuel you opt to buy into. So how cars that drive themselves will change any of the things that we look to mass transit to solve is a mystery — and Crockett does not offer analysis for that.

Kill it now, when costs will be higher later?

She tells us that "costs will only rise with time." Well, yes, they will, which is why we must follow through on this now. We have the SWLRT project under way. We have the route laid out. Some of the rail cars have already been bought. So, kill it now?

You know there will come a time when we will want to revisit this. We don't want to come back and start over do we? Like the Dan Patch line study, which was legislatively ended and which local officials want to resurrect.

These are not projects without supporters. The problem seems to be that those supporters just don't offer that same support to obstructive Republicans. 

Minnesota's future should not be a partisan war. Other major population centers are ahead of us on transit solutions. If we want to compete with them for visitor dollars and major development projects, then we need to find better ways to move people and reduce our carbon footprint.

Dave Mindeman lives in Apple Valley. A version of this commentary was published on the mnpACT! blog.

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Immigration arrests up under Trump

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 5:57am
Brian Lambert

They’re all bad dudes and hombres, though.  A Strib story by Mila Koumpilova says, “Immigration agents in Minnesota and surrounding states arrested considerably more people during the Trump administration’s first couple of months than in early 2015 and 2016. But arrests remained in line with those earlier in Obama’s second term. After months of speculation about how much the new government had picked up the pace of immigration arrests and deportations, new data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement offers an early glimpse.”

You’ll stay right here. Says Jon Collins for MPR, “A state appeals court has rejected a request by a police officer's defense team to move his trial for the shooting death of Philando Castile. Attorneys for Jeronimo Yanez wanted the trial to be moved outside of Ramsey County, where they argue it will be difficult to find unbiased jurors. Ramsey County District Court Judge William Leary III rejected that argument earlier this month.”

The Great Buffer Debate continues. Says Don Davis for the Forum News Service, “A new requirement for farmers to provide plant buffers around water has bubbled up to be a top rural issue in the Minnesota Capitol, and not necessarily politically partisan. Farmers say they need more information before the buffer law begins Nov. 1, according to a Democratic-leaning farm group’s report. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s buffer initiative, which lawmakers approved in 2015, was one of the major issues raised during 14 Minnesota Farmers Union meetings held across the state recently. Farmers’ reaction to buffers? ‘It is all over the board’, Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said.”

And now the “pro-skyway” line. A Strib commentary by U of M emeritus professor John Adams says, “The drumbeat to eliminate our venerable skyway system is discouraging  … What’s the lesson for today? One is that retailing follows purchasing power. Taking down the skyways won’t enhance downtown purchasing power. Building more market-rate housing will. I read in the Star Tribune that demand for housing downtown significantly exceeds supply. One downtown feature that residents appreciate is the opportunity to move around downtown — year-round — through the city’s 69 skyways. There are many weeks between May and September when restaurants can push out onto the sidewalks and everyone can enjoy ground-floor street life. But that’s less than half the year. For most residents and visitors, our skyways have become the vital lifeline for downtown Minneapolis.”

29 and counting. The latest MPR story on the measles outbreak says, “The Minnesota measles outbreak is confirmed to have affected 29 children. One of those cases is in Stearns county, state health officials said Thursday. All cases are in Somali-American children between 10 months and 5 years old, and most of them were confirmed to be unvaccinated against measles. Up until now, the confirmed cases were only in Hennepin county, some 80 miles southeast of Stearns.”

“Frisky” whats? Says Aimee Blanchette for the Strib, “Why did the turtle cross the road? No, this isn't the start of a bad joke, it's a serious problem for turtles this time of year as they risk their lives crossing Minnesota's roads looking for love. ‘Right now, turtles are about as frisky as turtles ever get,’ says the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (WRC) of Minnesota. As they move to find their summer and breeding areas, more turtles are being hit by cars and the WRC has been busy repairing dozens of cracked turtle shells.”

And no, there is no permanent replacement yet. Says Stribber Stephen Montemayor, “Discussing his future for the first time since stepping down as U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Andrew Luger said Thursday that he plans to remain a player in national counter-extremism efforts and is in talks to build a network of private-sector groups, saying they are better positioned than government to take the lead. During an interview with the Star Tribune, Luger said he will resume practicing law in the Twin Cities but has told prospective firms that he plans to continue working in the area of preventing violent radicalization and hate crimes.”

For torture survivors, 100 days of fear and anxiety

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 2:18pm

Saturday marks President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. As he took early steps to fulfill campaign promises, the president set in motion policies and practices that profoundly threaten long-held and fundamental human rights protections and that have created deep fear and anxiety among torture survivors in the U.S. and abroad.

Curt Goering

First, there was the blatant discrimination of the executive order that attempted to suspend the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program. Thwarted by the courts, the administration replied with a second travel ban, revealing a deep and persistent desire to shut the door and turn our backs on the worst refugee crisis since World War II. It was difficult to watch these repeated efforts to deny refuge to those fleeing war, and to note Trump’s particular insistence on banning Syrians, knowing all we have learned at the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) through our work with Syrian refugees. After making this chilling comment about Syrian child-refugees during his campaign ("I can look in their faces and say, ‘You can’t come here.’ "), it became hard to reconcile the president’s military response to the child victims of the Syrian chemical attacks.

'A kind of continuous trauma'

These travel bans created fear and anxiety among torture survivors accessing the rehabilitative care we extend at centers in the U.S., Africa and the Middle East. CVT’s clinical teams in Nairobi and the Dadaab refugee camp were compelled to offer emergency counseling after these travel bans. Some of CVT’s clients were in the middle of the years-long process of being vetted for resettlement in the United States when they saw their hopes dashed. “This is creating a kind of continuous trauma for our clients,” Pablo Traspas, country director, CVT Kenya, told Devex. “That means the trauma is not healing.”

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Then, after President Trump’s call for an uptick in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), refugee clients came to the counselors at our St. Paul Healing Center with new questions and worries: “My family back home keeps asking if I’m going to go to jail and will be deported because I’m an immigrant. What can I tell them?” “If immigration comes to my house, I have to let them in, right?” New to our country, these individuals and their families feel the stress and stigma of the executive orders and of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threats to defund sanctuary cities (now blocked by a federal court), publish weekly reports on crimes committed by immigrants and create further barriers to asylum.

U.S. image tarnished

In a few short chaotic weeks, Donald Trump has tarnished the image of the U.S. built over two centuries as a place, although imperfect and inconsistent in our practices, to which refugees fled to escape persecution in other countries. The U.S., once a safe and welcoming refuge to the survivors of violence and warfare, is quickly becoming a place from which hundreds of refugees are now fleeing, feeling safe no longer. This upheaval causes great worry amongst survivors as well as staff at CVT.

In worrisome times like these, it is our clients — survivors of torture, warfare and tremendous atrocities — who teach us about deep human resilience and hope. These brave individuals and their families have looked fear and anxiety in the face and overcome the worst circumstances imaginable. The lives they led in their home countries were upset — destroyed, even — by enormous forces beyond their control. And yet they continue to persevere even if the safety and freedom they sought in the United States may continue to remain just out of their grasp. Their resilience is a source of awe and inspiration when we are confronted with setbacks and threats.

As I look back on the past 100 days, I’m reminded of one of the techniques used in our clinical sessions. In CVT’s 10-week counseling cycle, clients encounter The River of Life exercise. They are asked to draw the river of their life, beginning with birth, sketching symbols and labels for traumatic events as well as for the calm, happy times along the way. Dotted lines are drawn to represent the future, and clients are encouraged to place a symbol of hope on their river.

'There is another day'

Trauma tends to cause people to focus only on the difficult, chaotic moments, but of course lives are a combination of difficult as well as joyful times. A former CVT client at our Ethiopia program recently said, “The River of Life exercise showed me that there is the past, but it’s good to start from where you are now. It makes a difference in my life.” He added, “I have been going from hopelessness to hope. Hopelessness comes from you when you worry too much. Now I’m thinking: There is another day.”

This is a message we can all take to heart during times of trouble. There is another day to hope. There is another day to heal. There is another day to advocate for fundamental human rights. There is another day to resist the deep fear and anxiety incited by President Trump.

Curt Goering is the executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture.

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Hodges overrides Harteau to block appointment of Delmonico to north Minneapolis command position

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 12:01pm
MinnPost staff

Is it OK to ask if this was political? The Star Tribune’s Libor Jany reports: “In an unprecedented move, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges on Wednesday blocked the appointment of police Lt. John Delmonico for a senior command position, the latest chapter in a long-running rift between Hodges and the former police union president. … Hodges overruled Chief Janeé Harteau, who earlier in the day announced Delmonico's ascension to Fourth Precinct inspector, a post that will be vacated when his predecessor, Mike Kjos, assumes his new job as a deputy chief. … In a sharply worded statement released late Wednesday, Hodges said that she hadn't taken her decision ‘lightly.’ ”

Biggest Republican name to enter the race to date. KSTP reports: “Republican state Rep. Matt Dean is entering the race for governor in 2018. … The seven-term lawmaker from Dellwood announced his bid Thursday. Dean's name has been intertwined with health care for years, and he says that will be the central issue of his campaign. … Dean says Minnesota needs a governor who will lead on health care. As chair of the House health care committee, he's spearheaded the GOP's efforts to abolish MNsure.  Dean previously served as House Majority Leader.”

Maybe just run the schools based on whoever sends the most people to protest. The Star Tribune’s Beena Raghavendran reports: “Last week, Minneapolis school board members heard from a large crowd of protesters angry about the layoffs of a number of educators of color. … On Wednesday night, the board faced nearly 100 principals and assistant principals who filled the room for a special board meeting. The school administrators opposed the board’s reinstatement of those laid off. Some said they were hurt and frustrated by the board action, which they said was taken without consultation with those who had to make tough, budget-based decisions about staff cuts.”

Free sample day can be pretty stressful. The Pioneer Press’ Tad Vezner reports: “He was the training director of one of St. Paul’s largest security companies — a man certified on when and how to use Mace. … Which left police mystified as to why Timothy Knutsen would pepper spray an autistic man in the face for eating a cookie from a Cub Foods sampler tray. … Knutsen, 53, of St. Paul, has been charged with two counts of fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct for an incident in Roseville last month.”

In other news…

Yikes, watch out for hangry vegans St. Paul: “St. Paul vegan restaurant J. Selby's 'underestimated demand,' closes to prepare for 'large crowds'” [City Pages]

Another win for zero tolerance: “Trapshooting team photo nixed from yearbook because it showed guns” [Pioneer Press]

Cool signage experiment in St. Paul: “A Simple Change to Make the Walk to Transit Feel Within Reach” [Streetsblog USA]

A little piece of Minnesota history: “Remembering the Whizzinator, America’s Favorite Fake Plastic Penis” [Vice]

How would one know? “Terri Traen on her ouster from KQRS: 'It feels like death'” [Star Tribune]

Sigh: “Worthington Daily Globe gives up on daily newspaper” [MPR]

Go D! “NBA star LeBron James praises local high school basketball team” [Pioneer Press]

YEAH! “Usher, Sam Hunt Added To State Fair Grandstand Concert Series” [WCCO]

As climate change reshapes the Arctic, scientists are struggling to keep up

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:34am
Ron Meador

It is likely that many people alive today will see the end of the Arctic as we know it. The vast expanses of summer sea ice trod by polar bears, the pods of narwhals coursing by, the day-long herds of caribou crossing the tundra, all are threatened by current and future climate change. This change will have an impact on life in the Arctic, and in the rest of the world. This is the stark conclusion from the most complete assessment of Arctic climate in six years. – polar ecologist Martin Sommerkorn, writing in The Arctic Journal.

The accelerating pace of climate change in the world’s Arctic regions has been much in the news for a few years now, but still it is astonishing to see the findings issued Tuesday by a science group that advises the eight-nation Arctic Council.

Rates of warming are now known to be much more rapid than was recognized as recently as 2011, and temperatures have reached levels that cannot not be reversed by any conceivable human actions in the remainder of this century. Among the consequences:

  • Melting permafrost that is collapsing roads, felling forests and absorbing building foundations from Siberia to Alaska, while threatening massive new releases of globe-warming methane.
  • Wildfire regimes more severe than can be found in the record for at least 10,000 years, along with worsening patterns of tree-killing insect infestations driven by warmer, drier conditions.
  • Continuing shrinkage of the sea-ice season at both ends, with a virtual end to all summer ice now probable within about 20 years, along with winter losses that threaten the habitat not only of whales, walrus, seals and bears but the existence of communities that subsist on ice-dependent hunting and fishing practices.
  • Glacial ice and snow melt at rates that will drive global sea levels well above the most recent predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Arctic Council is a 20-year-old joint effort of the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, which exists to track climate and inform policy responses by its members. You could see it a small-scale version of the IPCC.

The council in turn is informed by scores of scientists working through the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme to gather, review and synthesize the best science available.

Council convenes in May

AMAP’s first report on “Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic: Summary for Policy-Makers” came out in 2011. Its second was published on Tuesday in advance of the council’s annual ministerial meeting, which convenes May 11 in Fairbanks, Alaska.

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One item of business will be a handoff of the council chairmanship from the United States to Finland, which from a polar bear’s view is a good and a timely thing, considering the Trump administration’s hostile indifference to climate science.

But the main focus will be on what that science shows about how “the Arctic as we know it is being replaced by a warmer, wetter and more variable environment,” with “profound implications for people, resources and ecosystems worldwide.” Key excerpts:

The Arctic was warmer from 2011 to 2015 than at any time since instrumental records began in around 1900, and has been warming more than twice as rapidly as the world as a whole for the past 50 years. January 2016 in the Arctic was 5°C warmer than the 1981–2010 average for the region, a full 2°C higher than the previous record set in 2008, and monthly mean temperatures in October through December 2016 were 6°C higher than average for these months. Sea temperatures are also increasing, both near the surface and in deeper water.

Sea ice thickness in the central Arctic Ocean declined by 65% over the period 1975–2012 …. [continuing] a long-term downward trend. A record low minimum sea ice extent occurred in 2012 and a record low maximum sea ice extent occurred in 2016. Older ice that has survived multiple summers is rapidly disappearing; most sea ice in the Arctic is now ‘first year’ ice that grows in the autumn and winter but melts during the spring and summer.

Since at least 1972 the Arctic has been the dominant source of global sea-level rise. Seventy percent of the Arctic’s contribution to sea-level rise comes from Greenland, which on average lost 375 gigatons of ice per year—equivalent to a block of ice measuring 7.5 kilometers or 4.6 miles on all sides—from 2011 to 2014. This is close to twice the rate over the period 2003–2008.

After the Greenland ice sheet, the largest Arctic contributions to sea-level rise will come from glaciers in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska, and the Russian Arctic, along with glaciers surrounding the Greenland ice sheet. when all sources of sea-level rise are considered (not just those from the Arctic), the rise in global sea level by 2100 would be at least 52 cm for a greenhouse gas reduction scenario and 74 cm for a business-as-usual scenario. These estimates are almost double the minimum estimates made by the IPCC in 2013.

The report estimates the global costs of responding to Arctic climate change at somewhere between $7 trillion and $90 trillion by the end of the century. Big numbers, but quite a range between them.

Good for shipping, bad for roads

At local and regional scales, the report is rife with examples of what lies ahead, often based on what’s already happening.

Transportation via ship will benefit as the shrinking ice extends the open-water season, which has already increased by one to three months since the late 1970s, depending on location.

However, thawing of surface water and permafrost is collapsing ice roads, on which many rural communities are dependent, and also promoting more landslides (a problem lately for the Bovanenkovo gas field in Siberia) and spring flooding (which cut the Dalton Highway to Alaska’s North Slope oil fields for three weeks in 2015).

The softening of permafrost threatens the stability of homes and other buildings, such that “the bearing capacity of building foundations has declined by 40-50% in some Siberian settlements since the 1960s.” The thaws also threaten to taint freshwater resources with pollutants that had been locked in ice.

Shortening of the pack-ice season along Arctic coasts is promoting faster erosion of shoreline lands and exposing coastal villages to higher risks of damage from storm-driven waves.

Most of these scenarios may be at least partly avoidable, in theory.

The report concludes that if all the objectives of the Paris accord on climate change were met, “the duration of snow cover would stabilize at roughly 10 percent below current values by the end of the century, and permafrost losses would stabilize at 45 percent of present day levels.”

Out of date before publication

That is, if the pace of change as currently measured remains the same. But as Walter Meier, a NASA scientist who helped prepare the report, explained to Sabrina Shankman at  Inside Climate News, the forecasting is confounded by both the increasing rates of Arctic change and the slow pace of scientific study and publication – including the peer-review process that this report went through, which can consume a year or longer.

"The report is almost out of date before it gets published," he said.

* * *

While we’re on the topic of rapid, climate-driven shifts in Arctic systems and landscapes, consider this stunner reported Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience:

In a process that normally takes at least thousands of years, a river in the Kaskawulsh Glacier of Canada’s Yukon Territory reversed course in a matter of months last year.

Instead of flowing north  to the Bering Sea, via the Slim and Yukon rivers, the water is now heading south to the Pacific Ocean. And the cause was unusually warm spring weather that enabled the meltwater to cut a new channel through normally frozen terrain at comparatively breakneck speed.

It’s an example of a process that geologists call “river piracy,” and according to a fine piece by John Schwartz in The New York Times, this form of riparian theft “has generally been associated with events such as tectonic shifts and erosion occurring thousands or even millions of years ago. Those earlier episodes of glacial retreat left evidence of numerous abandoned river valleys, identified through the geological record.”

Not any more, at least in parts of the far north, where “radical reorganizations of drainage can occur in a geologic instant” – in this case, draining a lake and isolating a bunch of  cabins reachable only by boat, and turning a rushing watercourse into a canyon that’s pretty much silent and dry between dust storms.

Why we're on the verge of a trade war with Canada (yes, Canada) over milk (yes, milk)

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:13am
Sam Brodey

Last week, President Donald Trump was hot on the stump. At a campaign-style event at a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the president was praising the American-made products of the local company. But, as he is wont to do, Trump veered into airing his grievances over a duplicitous trade partner.

“Some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers,” he bellowed. “We’re going to call [them] and we’re going to say, ‘What happened?’ And they might give us an answer, but we’re going to get the solution, not just the answer, OK?”

“It’s another typical one-sided deal against the United States and it’s not going to be happening for long.”

As they did during the campaign, these tough-on-trade lines earned thunderous applause. So which country had done the U.S. wrong this time? Was it Mexico, who’s been outsmarting the U.S. at every turn? Was it the perennial punching bag, China, perhaps?

It was neither of those countries. It was worse: Trump was talking about Canada.

Yes, Canada. America’s friendly northern neighbor, close military ally, and second-largest trading partner. Canada and the U.S. hardly ever fight about much — not since 1814, at least. What did the Canadians do to get such a public flogging from the president of the United States?

It has to do with complex Canadian dairy policy, desperate Midwestern farmers, and the potential for a whole lot of spilled milk.

A ‘loophole’ in NAFTA

There’s no question that the U.S., and Minnesota in particular, share a strong bond with our northern neighbors. That’s most evident in trade: Canada and Minnesota do roughly $19 billion in annual trade, and Canada buys $4.4 billion worth of Minnesotan goods.

Dairy products constitute a small part of that trade, but it’s significant enough to make a big difference for some Minnesota farmers. With just over 3,700 dairy farms, Minnesota is the country’s sixth-largest dairy producer, and its eighth-largest exporter of dairy. (California and Wisconsin are the first and second-largest producers in each category, respectively.)

In 2014, Minnesota exported $322 million worth of dairy: nearly a quarter of that went to Mexico, while 10 percent went to China and eight percent went to Canada.

Why does more Minnesota dairy end up on refrigerator shelves in China than in those across the border in Canada? It’s because Canada is notorious for tightly controlling its dairy industry with a supply management system that closely matches dairy supply with demand through strict quotas and price controls.

In order to keep foreign milk, including U.S.-produced milk, from flooding its market, Canada levies high tariffs on imported milk — tariffs that are explicitly allowed under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

That strategy has led to higher dairy prices in Canada, protecting farmers, and largely walling off the Canadian market from foreign producers like the U.S. The low Canadian market penetration for the U.S. under NAFTA — around three percent — is a perennial source of frustration for the U.S. dairy industry and its supporters in Congress.

According to Marin Bozic, a dairy industry expert at the University of Minnesota, dairy is a particularly protected sector even by the standards of agriculture, widely considered the most constrained of global commodity trade sectors.

For a time, though, U.S. producers found a way to get around that: ultra-filtered milk. A relatively recent innovation, ultra-filtered milk is what you get when you strain milk to separate its biggest proteins from the more liquid skim. It’s mainly used to make cheese and yogurt.

Canada employs a system that places different pricing restrictions on various classes of dairy products, but it did not include ultra-filtered milk as a dairy product within that structure.

As a result, Canadian processors could get ultra-filtered milk from the U.S. at a far cheaper price than milk product from Canada. “Call it a loophole, or an unintended channel through which we were able to export dairy products to Canada,” Bozic explains.

This loophole turned out to be lucrative for the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016, Canada was the largest U.S. market for ultra-filtered milk, with over $100 million in sales, accounting for about 15 percent of total U.S. dairy exports to Canada.

In March, that stopped: faced with a glut of domestically produced skim milk, Canadian authorities decided to drastically cut its price. Suddenly, Canadian producers that had been buying U.S. ultra-filtered milk could get Canadian-produced skim milk — a product that can be used to produce the same kinds of foods — for a much lower price. Overnight, the US ultra-filtered milk export market to Canada disappeared.

The Canadians had publicly been considering that move for some time, but its implementation set off shock waves south of the border. With Canada no longer buying U.S. ultra-filtered milk, a major exporter of the product, Wisconsin-based Grassland Dairy, informed some of its farmers that their milk was no longer needed.

Nearly 100 dairy farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota received letters from Grassland; it’s believed that 19 of them were Minnesotan.

Spoiling for a fight

In the low-margin dairy industry — one in which families often invest millions of dollars to eke out a middle-class paycheck — Grassland’s move potentially spelled doom. Milk production typically peaks in the spring. If pickup trucks stopped arriving on May 1, the affected producers would take a huge hit.

Farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota openly mulled retiring early, or shuttering altogether and denying the next generation of farmers the opportunity to take up the family business. They scrambled, frantically calling processors in the region that would take their milk — with a perishable product, they had a very limited time window in which to do it.

It’s unclear how many Minnesota farmers continue to search for buyers, but the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, the leading trade group for Minnesota dairy farmers, believes that all its members who have been affected by the crisis have found buyers for their product.

According to Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers’ Union, this crisis was more dramatic than anything that has happened to dairy farmers in the past. “I’m not aware of anything else that has had this effect on our dairy farmers,” he said. (The U.S. dairy industry, in a letter to top D.C. officials, claims Canada’s protectionism on ultra-filtered milk costs them $150 million a year.)

But there are still a number farmers in Wisconsin and elsewhere who are facing significant financial consequences if they do not sell off their milk, and their predicament is attracting concern from Congress, and the president.

Trump, who won Wisconsin in the election and whose administration features several high-profile Wisconsinites, is clearly listening. Upon returning to Washington last week, Trump said what Canada has “done to our dairy farm workers… It’s a disgrace.”

On Tuesday, Trump told press, “People don’t realize Canada’s been very rough on the United States… They’ve outsmarted our politicians for years.” That talk prompted a call between the president and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that was either amicable (according to Washington) or rather contentious (according to Ottawa). 

Sensing a sympathetic ear in the White House, dairy-state politicians from both parties have joined Trump in criticizing the Canadians, and called on him to take further action. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz, urged Trump in an April 13 letter to take on Canada over the ultra-filtered milk decision.

Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, has been a vocal critic of Canadian dairy policy for years, and is pleased — if somewhat exasperated — that the topic is finally getting some attention now.

Peterson believes Canada’s move is protectionist and violates its trade obligations. “What the Canadians are doing, the reason they shut ultra-filtered milk down, for them to maintain their supply management system, they have to have control of everything that happens in dairy in Canada,” he told MinnPost. “If someone can get in around the system, it hurts their overall progress.”

“I think this is clearly a violation of the WTO and NAFTA agreement. If this was to go through the regular process, there would be a complaint filed with the WTO. There would be a case, and I think Canada would lose.”

Blame Canada?

Until Canada releases specific details for how it is pricing certain dairy ingredients, however, it will be difficult to determine whether or not it is violating its WTO obligations.

The U of M’s Bozic is skeptical: “It’s being portrayed as a trade issue, but Canada, I believe they may actually be within the letter of the trade agreement,” he says. “I don’t think they’re necessarily violating the trade agreement, they just price milk differently now.”

According to Lucas Sjostrom, director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Canada has to bear some of the blame for what U.S. dairy farmers are going through. “I have a lot of Canadian friends yelling me at this week,” he said. “I don’t think it’s Canada’s fault, but Canada’s switch definitely caused this… A trade change did cause this issue.”

The Canadians, naturally, have bristled at this blame Canada strategy. Though top Canadian politicians and industry officials have expressed regret at the plight of U.S. farmers, they have largely claimed it is a crisis of the U.S. industry’s own making.

Indeed, the U.S. has significantly increased its dairy production in the 21st century. Decreasing production costs and higher dairy prices led the U.S. to grow its exports from four percent of total milk production in 2005 to nearly 15 percent now — a period Bozic calls the “golden decade” for American dairy. (U.S. dairy exports now total about $5 billion.)

Canadians are now saying that the crisis is an unfortunate cost of the U.S. producing too much and getting too deep in the volatile export market.

“Let’s not pretend that we’re in a global free market when it comes to agriculture,” said Trudeau last week in Toronto. “The U.S. has a $400-million dairy surplus with Canada… So it's not Canada that is the challenge here.”

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, said her country’s dairy market is “in fact more open to imports than the U.S. market is… On dairy, we are fully compliant with all our NAFTA and WTO commitments.”

Canadian dairy groups have been more forceful, with the chief of Dairy Farmers of Canada accusing the U.S. of using Canada as a “scapegoat” for their own problems. The Canadian dairy farmers contend that U.S. ultra-filtered milk has cost them $172 million.

What can be done?

A resolution in trade court months or years from now, however, would be cold comfort to the dairy farmers harmed in the next 60 days by this crisis.

There are a range of options at the federal and state level to help ease farmers’ pain, experts say, but time is running out for them to have a significant effect.

Unlike with other commodities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture can’t simply buy up a massive quantity of milk. It’s perishable, and part of the issue is that U.S. dairy processors are operating at close to capacity. Even if they wanted to, they could not take much more milk to process into dairy products.

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Email Address * First Name * Last Name * Subscribe Bozic says the quickest solution is for the USDA to “write a one-off check to each of these farms… as an emergency loan without recourse that they wouldn’t have to pay if they go out of business, so they make it through the next 60 days.”

In any event, it’s likely that milk from affected producers will get dumped and not reach the market — potentially up to one million pounds of milk a day in some areas, Bozic estimates. That's not a great look for U.S. dairy, he says, in a country where millions still suffer from hunger. “It’s going to be ugly for a while."

For his part, Rep. Peterson says he has a hard time imagining that the affected producers will not find a buyer for their milk. “I think it’s a stretch to say that if ultra-filtered milk can’t be sold to Canada that these farmers will be put out of business,” he said.

But will any short-term ugliness strain the U.S.-Canada relationship in the long term?

The Trump administration appeared to hit back at Canada on Tuesday, when it approved a 24 percent tariff on certain lumber products from Canada. That move raised the prospect of a protracted trade fight between the U.S. and Canada across various industries; it also raises the stakes for Trump’s promise to renegotiate its trade commitments with Canada under NAFTA.

Those in the Minnesota agriculture world are eyeing ripple effects of all this across different agricultural sectors. The ag economy is a deeply interconnected one — the prices of soybeans, corn, and grains that go into livestock feed are closely watched by dairy farmers, just as crop growers watch the price of milk.

The Minnesota Farmers’ Union’s Wertish says “no doubt” there is concern among farmers he talks to about other actions Canada might take in response to Trump’s aggressive approach.

Maybe Canada’s balance is fine for dairy, Sjostrom says, “but in the business of farmland, the business of producing protein, whether it comes out as soybean, corn, potatoes, you can export all those things.”

Canada, he says, “is right in a way, self-sustaining in the dairy industry. But this is a system. You can call it a closed system but anytime you’re importing and exporting — this is a big world we live in.”

Does the demise of the Fairness Doctrine explain the 2016 election?

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 9:41am
Eric Black

I haven’t thought about the demise of the Fairness Doctrine in a long time. But a very smart post-election discussion by two Princeton political historians brought it to mind as a possible key factor in explaining not only the result of the 2016 election but in the growing polarization of our society across partisan and ideological lines, a polarization that contributes to the demise of compromise and often seems to be rendering our society ungovernable.

Any such notion is susceptible to exaggeration. So proceed carefully if you are inclined to think it through. I just want to put it on the table as we – some of us at least – struggle to understand what has happened to the news-and-politics continuum over recent decades.

For background: Before the age of cable TV, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates TV and radio broadcasting, enforced a rule call the Fairness Doctrine. TV and radio stations were expected to have a certain amount of news and public affairs programming as a condition of holding their licenses but were required to be relatively even-handed and allow for a range of opposing views to be broadcast. This led to the early decades of TV news being dominated by the old-fashioned, so-called “objectivity” model personified by Walter Cronkite. The contemporary model of Fox and MSNBC catering to a conservative or liberal audience would have violated the doctrine.

Maybe that sounds like official censorship to you, but the Supreme Court was asked that question and ruled that the Fairness Doctrine was permissible under the First Amendment because of the limited number of broadcast licenses.

Cable TV blew the limits off that number, and now the internet has further reduced any limits on how many voices can be heard. The FCC dropped the “fairness” rule in 1987. Fox, MSNBC and talk radio have prospered with a lineup that caters to a left- or -right-oriented audience that apparently likes to have its biases confirmed and reinforced.

The ideological hardening of the right was often said to have been facilitated by what some call the “Fox news effect,” referring to the tendency of the Fox News Network to preach and constantly confirm a one-sided set of conservative facts and arguments. MSNBC may have a similar effect on the left, but has a smaller audience and a smaller impact.

This piece from the Pew Research Center includes a bar graph showing the huge domination of Fox as the main source of news for Trump voters, more than double the numbers of Clinton voters who favored any news sources.

More than a year ago, I interviewed The New Yorker magazine’s Hendrik Hertzberg just as Trump was establishing his dominance in the Republican field. Hertzberg argued that not only Fox but right-wing talk radio was “infantilizing” some conservatives into a fairly simple good-versus-evil analysis of all policy matters. Hertzberg analogized this trend to the battle between heroes and villains of professional wrestling.

Well, if that’s what it was, it seems to have worked. We have a president who casts many complicated policy matters in simplistic good-vs.-evil terms (and, as you have perhaps noticed, his side is always the side of goodness).

So, to loop back to where I started: For a recent weekend of alumni events, Princeton University staged a conversation between two eminent historians of U.S. politics, Sean Wilentz and Kevin Kruse, about the meaning of the election in historical context.

The transcript of the conversation is here, and includes many big insights, coupled with the usual disclaimer that, as historians, they can draw on the past to create a context for understanding the present, but not to predict the future. I often wish all the TV pundits would stop asking each other what’s going to happen next and/or pretending that they know.

But, if you can handle the modesty of that disclaimer, Wilentz and Kruse provided a lot of context that actually made me feel a little better about the present moment. A few excerpts below, starting with the one that set me off on the Fairness Doctrine. 

From Kruse, talking about the role of the Newt Gingrich revolution in Republican congressional politics in paving the way for the Trump moment: “Well, with the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 by the Reagan administration, and the rise of first talk radio and then the internet, you have a very fractured media landscape in which you don’t have to offer both sides. You instead press one point of view very aggressively. And so you had the rise of Rush Limbaugh, the rise of Matt Drudge. You had the creation of, then, Fox News. And there were efforts on the left to try to counter this. They were never as effective as those on the right. But you see the media landscape start to fracture, and so politics becomes incredibly polarized.” 

Also during the discussion, Wilentz commented that recent polarization has created “A dynamic … that has led to a radicalization of both parties so that neither party’s really a party anymore.” 

Kruse: What do you mean, not a party?

Wilentz: In the sense that the middle is gone. I mean, political parties historically in American history have always been filters. They’ve always been coalitions, and they act as a stabilizing force in American history. We’re Americans and we’re never going to agree about everything, and there ought to be conflict in politics.

But up till now it had been run by parties that had coalitions which, in effect, helped stifle some of those arguments before they became part of a general election. That has fallen away. You had a party structure in the last election on the Republican side that collapsed in the face of a challenge from outside. Say what you will about the president, he was not a Republican particularly before he ran for president. He was able to take that party’s base and move it elsewhere. That’s unthinkable, I think, in a party era. 

Later, Wilentz asked Kruse: “So where did Trump come from? I mean, how do we explain this? 

Kruse: Well, we’ve seen all the parts of Trump before. We’ve seen the nativism. We’ve seen the hostility and the use of immigration as a political issue. We’ve seen the nationalism. We’ve seen the conservative populism, the people like George Wallace. I think that what’s really novel here is that these different things that had existed in isolation have come together and really swept away both the conservative opposition that we saw in the primary, and then swept away clean in the general election. We’ve seen bits and pieces of this before, but his success came from putting those together and fueling them in a way that we’d never seen before.

Wilentz: I think that’s right. The question is why did it come together now rather than before? I mean, the Trump phenomenon, people are saying, is not just an American phenomenon, right? There’s Brexit. There’s everything that’s going on in Western Europe. There’s the Russians, always out there somewhere. I’m wondering whether the events of 2008 — the financial collapse — were such a shock to the political system and the ways in which people live their lives that someone like Trump could emerge. 

When Trump came down the escalator in Trump Tower, no one thought anything was going to happen. But what I think he understood was that the Republican Party had lost touch with its base. Finally the base turned around and basically flipped them the finger and said, “We’re going with this guy.” The issues that he was talking about — like trade — those are all explicable coming off of 2008. But I also think the political dynamic went back further and that finally ... maybe Trump is Thermidor. Trump is the end of the process. 

Finally, an exchange in which Wilentz calls it ironic that Hillary Clinton lost as a result of working class voters defecting to Trump — ironic because Bill Clinton had been the most recent Democrat to draw working class voters back to the Democrats:

Wilentz: I think 2008 did change the landscape, especially for the Clinton wing of the party. Hillary Clinton had to run against some of her husband’s actions because the world had changed in 2008. One of the ironies was that Bill Clinton brought a section of the white working class back into the Democratic Party. He took some of those Reagan Democrats back. Those are the people who ended up electing Trump. The irony couldn’t be greater. The Democrats are going to have to figure out again what they’re about.

Kruse: I think it’s also about how they made their appeal. I don’t want to bash identity politics here, but to some degree they played up not just issues of her being the first woman, but also Trump’s sexism. Rather than play ads about moderate Republicans who couldn’t look their daughters in the eye, they should have been playing ads about working-class contractors that Trump stiffed. It’s what they did with Romney — presented him as the boss who fired you, and everybody could relate to that. And I think if you play those ads in Michigan, that’s going to resonate with people a lot more. 

Wilentz: I don’t think that the candidate [he’s referring to Hillary Clinton] used the words “jobs” or “infrastructure” from the convention on, for example. Politically dopey. 

The full Wilentz-Kruse discussion is here.

Colonoscopy should follow positive FIT within 9 months, researchers conclude

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 9:26am
Susan Perry

Waiting up to nine months after a positive fecal immunochemical test (FIT) to have a follow-up colonoscopy is not associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer according to a large study published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

But waiting longer than nine months does increase the risk — as well as the risk of having advanced-stage disease when the cancer is diagnosed, the study found. 

“With this study we have strong evidence that a colonoscopy should be performed within several months of a positive fecal screening test,” said lead author Dr. Douglas Corley, a gastroenterologist and research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, in a released statement

A recommended option

Colorectal cancer — cancer of the colon or rectum — is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and the third most common cancer among both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, about 136,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease, and about 52,000 die from it.

FIT is widely used around the world for colorectal cancer screening, although less so here in the United States, where colonoscopies are more common. In recent years, however, Americans have begun to use FIT more frequently, due largely to its effectiveness, low cost and ease-of-use. (The test can be done at home and then mailed to a laboratory.) The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force includes the annual FIT among its recommended screening methods for colorectal cancer.

If the results of a FIT come back positive, the patient must have a follow-up colon examination, usually a colonoscopy. During the colonoscopy, the doctor performing it will look for and possibly remove any cancerous or pre-cancerous polyps.

Recommendations for how quickly that follow-up exam should take place have varied, however, due to a lack of good, strong evidence. The current study set out to gather that evidence.

Study details

For the study, Corley and his colleagues examined the medical records of 70,124 Kaiser Permanente patients between the ages of 50 and 75 (the ages for which colorectal cancer screening is recommended) who received a positive FIT result between 2010 and 2013. Among those patients, 2,191 were eventually diagnosed with colorectal cancer, including 601 cases of advanced-stage disease.

The researchers then compared the cancer diagnostic outcomes for patients who received a follow-up colonoscopy within eight to 30 days with those who had received it within various later timeframes.

They found no significant differences in the risk for colorectal cancer or for the risk of that cancer being advanced when the follow-up colonoscopy was done within nine months. But if the follow-up was done 10 to 12 months after a positive FIT result, the risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer increased by about 50 percent, and the risk of having advanced disease almost doubled.

For people who waited longer than 12 months, the risks were even higher: Those individuals were twice as likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and three times as likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease.

‘As soon as feasible’

The researchers make clear in their study that these results do not prove a causal relationship between delaying the follow-up colonoscopy past nine months and a greater risk of being diagnosed with the colorectal cancer. Other factors, not yet identified, may explain their study’s results, they stress.

But the researchers do say that their study’s findings “raise the possibility that by the time a lesion is detectable by FIT, further lesion progression might occur as soon as 6 to 12 months after a positive FIT result.”

One of the study’s co-authors, Kaiser Permanente gastroenterologist Dr. Theodore Levin, says the findings should be reassuring to patients who receive a positive FIT result and are unable to immediately have the follow-up colonoscopy.

“It is a lot of effort for patients to arrange a colonoscopy, given the need for time off work and scheduling someone to accompany them home,” he said in the released statement. “Our study shows that you should get your colonoscopy done, and you should do it s soon as is feasible.”

But any time within a few months, he adds, “is reasonably safe based on these data.”

FMI: You’ll find an abstract of the study on the JAMA website, but the full study is behind a paywall.

Ordway season to include Black Violin and 'A Rap on Race'

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 8:49am
Pamela Espeland

The Ordway did a bit of rebranding before announcing its 2017-18 season. The World Music & Dance Series is gone, replaced by the Music & Movement Series. Full name: “Music & Movement: Global. Local. Relevant.” The change was made “to more accurately reflect what these artists bring to the stage, the platforms from which they speak and the connection to the community,” series curator Dayna Martinez said in a statement. We just want to call it M&M.

The season is filled with some of the most popular and requested acts in the Ordway’s history. It also includes edgy and groundbreaking choices.

The series of nine performances runs from late October into early May 2018.

On Oct. 25, Diavolo presents “L.O.S.T.” The diverse team of dancers, designers, choreographers, and engineers presents its newest works, “Passengers” and “Cubicle,” each considering what divides and unites us, both co-commissioned by the Ordway. Nov. 17 brings Black Violin, an evening of classical, hip-hop, rock, R&B and bluegrass music performed on violin by Wil Baptiste and Kevin “Kev Marcus” Sylvester, accompanied by turntablist DJ SPS and a drummer. Put a Post-it on Jan. 13, 2018, when Spectrum Dance Theater presents “A Rap on Race.” Imagine a conversation that took place in 1970 between James Baldwin and Margarate Mead (it really did, and it was recorded). Now imagine MacArthur fellow and Pulitzer nominee Anna Deavere Smith and Bessie Award-wwinning choreographer Donald Byrd re-imagining that conversation as an evening of theater.

Cure the winter blahs with Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience on Feb. 10. Two-time Grammy winner Simien is one of the most respected and accomplished artists in American roots music today; he and his band have performed more than 7,500 concerts to date. The return of South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo is always a cause for celebration. Look for them on Feb. 23. March 6 brings singer and passionate human rights activist Lila Downs, raised in Minnesota and Oaxaca.

On March 24, Camille A. Brown & Dancers presents “ink,” the final part of a trilogy about culture, race and identity that began with the Bessie Award-winning “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” and continued with “BLACK GIRL:Linguistic Play.” This performance takes place at the O’Shaughnessy. In 2015, Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq gave a hair-raising, otherworldly performance at the Walker; she’ll be here April 20. On May 5, Ordway favorite Pilobolus presents “Shadowland,” conceived in collaboration with Steven Banks, lead writer for “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

All performances are at the Ordway except Camille A. Brown & Dancers, which will be at the O’Shaughnessy.

Subscription packages are on sale now. Single tickets will be available starting in May.

‘Lone Star Spirits’ stays put another week

You have seven more chances to see Josh Tobiessen’s “Lone Star Spirits” at the Jungle – or see it again to laugh, get to know the characters better, and take another look at Sarah Bahr’s amazing set. Arrive early for a close-up view, when you can buy a beer from the bar on the stage.

Sarah Rasmussen directs; Tobiessen is her husband. The cast includes the marvelous Terry Hempleman, whose history with the Jungle reaches way back. There isn’t a dull moment.

“Lone Star Spirits” was set to close May 7 but has added seven more performances and will end May 14. FMI. Tickets here ($30-45). Our review.

Garrison Keillor gets back on the bus

What a way to turn 75. Garrison Keillor, who has left “A Prairie Home Companion” to that MacArthur genius, mandolin-wielding whippersnapper Chris Thile (more about that below) is celebrating his 75th by packing for a 39-day, 28-city coast-to-coast bus tour that starts Aug. 8 in Appleton, Wisconsin, and ends Sept. 15 in Cary, North Carolina.

At each stop on the “Prairie Home Love & Comedy Tour,” he’ll give a two-hours-and-change show of stories, love duets, Guy Noir and The Cowboys sketches, poetry, and a Singing Intermission. Joining GK will be sound-effects maestro Fred Newman, music director Richard Dworsky and the Road Hounds (Larry Kohut, Richard Kriehn and Chris Siebold). The first part of the tour will also feature Heather Masse and Aoife O’Donovan.

The tour includes no Minnesota dates. FMI and tickets.

Courtesy of Mick ManagementStephen Colbert’s bandleader Jon BatisteGuests are announced for two more “A Prairie Home Companion” shows

Chris Thile, who doesn’t even live here, will be in Minnesota for two live “bonus” broadcasts of APHC at the Fitzgerald on May 13 and 20. After a successful 13-episode pilot season, two shows were added.

Guests on May 13 include singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, Stephen Colbert’s bandleader Jon Batiste and comedian Emma Willmann. On May 20, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, singer-songwriter and former ’Til Tuesday member Aimee Mann and comedian Hari Kondabalu will join the show.

Limited tickets are available to each. Shows start at 4:45 p.m. If you can’t go in person, you can listen on the ray-dee-oh or watch live via a video stream from the Fitz.

The picks

Today (Thursday, April 27) through Sunday at the Illusion: “Wiesenthal.” Tom Dugan wrote and stars in the true story of the Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter who brought more than 1,100 war criminals to justice. Times vary. FMI and tickets ($26-45).

Thursday and Friday at the Ordway Concert Hall: Alexandre Tharaud. The acclaimed French pianist makes his Schubert Club International Artist Series debut with a program of Scarlatti sonatas, Rachmaninov’s Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op. 3, Ravel’s “Miroirs” and Mahler’s “Adagietto” from Symphony No. 5. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 10:30 a.m. Friday. FMI and tickets ($28-67).

Thursday through Sunday at Mia: Art in Bloom. It’s that time each year when Mia fills with flowers – 165 fresh floral arrangements inspired by and paired with art. Art in Bloom is Mia’s most popular fundraiser, with ticketed lectures, demonstrations and luncheons, but it’s also free to anyone who walks in the door. (This year’s presenters include Princess Giorgiana Corsini of Tuscany.) There’s a family event Saturday from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., and complimentary 45-minute docent tours of the floral displays take place all four days. Here’s a schedule. FMI.

Friday and Saturday: Lyra Baroque Orchestra: Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. All six, performed as Bach intended on the Baroque instruments for which he wrote them. With Marc Destrubé on violin, Justin Bland on Baroque trumpet. 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Rochester, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Hamline’s Sundin Hall. Preconcert talks at 6:45 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10-25).

Saturday all over: Independent Bookstore Day. Coffee and doughnuts, story times, sales, readings, local authors, merch, maybe beer in the evening, depending on where you are. Plan to wander and fill up a book bag or two. Pick up an Independent Bookstore Day Passport and collect a stamp at each store you visit. Five stamps get you a special edition map; with 10 more, you can enter to win literary prizes. Here’s a list of participating stores. Visit all 18 and try for the grand prize, a ton of books and excellent swag.

Courtesy of the OrdwayTU Dance

Saturday at the Ordway: TU Dance. The world premiere of New York choreographer Ronald K. Brown’s “Where the Light Shines Through,” a story of solidarity and perseverance co-commissioned by the Ordway, with traditional music recorded by Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba and other artists. Also on the program: “Footprint” (2015) choreographed by FGioconda Barbuto in collaboration with TU Dance; Kyla Abraham’s “Candle” (2015) and “Matter” (2016) choreographed by Uri Sands. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($22-42).

Why can’t cats resist thinking inside the box?

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 8:33am
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Come early to enjoy pre-show music by Katia Cardenas at MinnRoast 2017

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 8:05am

MinnRoast’s 10th Anniversary Extravaganza hits the stage at the Historic State Theatre tomorrow evening, Friday, April 28.

Theatre doors open for seating at 7 p.m., and pre-show music by Katia Cardenas and her band will start at 7:15. The show starts at 8.

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Katia graduated from Macalester in 2010 and a few years later decided to pursue a professional singing career. The Jazz Police blog called her the “fastest rising star on the Twin Cities jazz scene.”

MinnRoast has become a highlight of the Minnesota political calendar, bringing policymakers, entertainers and journalists together to poke fun at one another and the state we all love in songs, skits, videos, and monologues.

This year’s cast includes Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tom Emmer, Mayors Betsy Hodges and Chris Coleman, Legislators Karin Housley and Ilhan Omar, singer/songwriter PaviElle French, rapper DJ/FRND, vocalist Maria Jette, the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus and many more.

Buy MinnRoast 2017 tickets

Multiticket sponsorships – which include a VIP pre-show reception – start at $500 for first-time buyers. MinnPost Gold and Platinum members are eligible for a 25% ticket discount on show-only MinnRoast tickets. To get the discount code, become a Gold or Platinum member by donating $10 a month (or more) and contact Development Director Claire Radomski at cradomski@minnpost.com or (612) 455-6954.