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Our indifference jeopardizes our quality of life

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 8:00am
Gov. Arne Carlson

Minnesotans have traditionally seen their quality of life as something uniquely special to our state. An iconic Hamm’s beer commercial showed waterfalls and lovable bears dancing to "from the land of sky blue waters.”

MinnPost file photo by James NordFormer Gov. Arne Carlson

Minnesota was the land where business, government, academia, religion, nonprofits and the media worked together to improve the quality of life for all. The focus of our leadership centered on “community” and “we.” The goal was always to be the best: the best in health care, the best in educational opportunities, the best in the arts, the best in protecting the great outdoors for all, the best in economic opportunities. Always, the best.

Two recent stories are but the latest examples of our lax attention to those things that make Minnesota special. The first story detailed the Legislature’s intent to reduce spending on state parks at a time when public need is significantly growing. Although Gov. Mark Dayton has budgeted an $8 million increase, the expected result is likely a compromise that will leave the park system underfunded thereby necessitating reductions in service.  The second story dealt with the low water levels of White Bear Lake and our failure to properly develop and fund a comprehensive water management policy. Somewhere the Hamm's bear is crying.

How about smarter spending?Paul Ostrow

Proposed federal budget cuts will threaten our vibrant arts community and scientific research. Additionally, cuts to health care and transportation will further strain state and local budgets. The answer is not always more taxes. How about smarter spending?

Undoubtedly, the least intelligent spending in recent decades involves the outsized public share of the $1.1 billion Vikings stadium. Barron’s magazine rated it the third worst sports deal in history. Remarkably the "deal" keeps getting even worse. We ought not to fool ourselves — we are talking real money!

The following facts are beyond dispute:

  • The state and city of Minneapolis floated $498 million in bonds for the building of the stadium.
  • The state approved a law limiting taxpayer contributions to that $498 million. No additional dollars from government were to be spent.
  • In clear violation of that legal limit, the Metropolitan Council and the City of Minneapolis continue to pour more public monies into the project.
  • Vikings’ owner, Zygi Wilf, has successfully transferred his financial obligations under the stadium bill to provide parking and suitable open space to Minneapolis taxpayers. We outlined our concerns in a letter hand delivered to the mayor and City Council during the budget process on Dec. 7 (Carlson/Ostrow letter). None of our concerns has been addressed.
  • Virtually every penny of revenue generated by the stadium will either go directly to Wilf or toward even more stadium improvements that will serve only the interests of Viking ownership. This includes over $6 million per year generated by non-Viking events.
  • These additional subsidies to the Vikings have occurred without elected officials holding any public hearings and often no real public disclosure.
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The tragedy here is the ease with which rules and laws can be pushed aside when powerful interests and their army of lobbyists want the public’s money. But when quality-of-life issues like the arts, parks, water quality or homelessness arise they must fight for the crumbs.

We must insist on a new agenda

Minnesotans deserve better governance. However, that will not come about simply because we wish it. Our outrage must be transformed into active participation. We must write letters to the editor, our Legislature, the governor, attorney general, and state auditor. We must insist on a new agenda, and we must have new leaders.  Our indifference is our worst enemy.

We would propose the following agenda to preserve our quality of life:

  1. Let’s spend wisely: The creation of a new LEAP (Loaned Executive Program) for both the state and the City of Minneapolis. The first LEAP program was one of Gov. Wendell Anderson’s major accomplishments. A similar program was used in Minneapolis a decade ago. These programs involved using the expertise of business executives to improve the cost effectiveness and understandability of operations. Government that is not subject to the pressures of competition must periodically be challenged to innovate and increase cost effectiveness.
  2. Support small business development: Create a small business commission for the purpose of reviewing the impact of governmental regulation on the ability of a small enterprise to survive. The purpose is not to disassemble necessary and protective laws but rather to make certain we are not placing unnecessary burdens on those struggling to grow. Their success is our success.
  3. Re-create the State Planning Agency: We need a defined set of goals and objectives to plan our way into the future. This agency should have the ability to prepare state and local governments for the accelerating changes in our workforce, our economy, and our environment.
  4. Restore long-term financial planning: While a six-year time frame may be a stretch for some lawmakers, there is a need for defined guidelines in order to avoid the cycles of feast and famine. Demographic changes and federal budget cuts make financial planning more critical than ever.
  5. Best practices for public-private partnerships: When critical to the state's quality of life, the public sector needs to partner with the private sector. We must be as smart about our money as the private business attempts to be with its money.  At a minimum, this must include the following:
  • Development of a cost-benefit analysis to determine the public gain vs. the public cost.
  • The public’s negotiating team should at a minimum have talent and experience comparable to those representing team owners.
  • A full vetting of all private business partners comparable to a bank examination and a business plan that also covers issues of cost sharing and profit sharing.
  • Taxpayers should be treated as shareholders and, as such, permitted to attend annual meetings where performance and public concerns are reviewed.
  • Issues of cost incurred by taxpayers attending sporting events should be addressed. Taxpayers who pay for facilities should not be priced out for being a fan.
  • All rules of openness in government and full transparency relative to review of financial disclosures and expenditures must be followed.
How to regain public trust on the stadium

Specific to the stadium project, the following actions are critical to regain the public's trust:

  1. A full-blown compliance audit of the entire stadium project by the legislative auditor.
  2. A legal review by the state’s atorney general with a focus on the processes used by government entities to circumvent the legal spending limits.
  3. Requiring the MSFA to verify annually that spending limits are being honored and that the team's legal responsibilities are being enforced.
  4. An annual recommendation followed by a public hearing as to the best use of public revenues generated by non-Vikings events to include reimbursement of public safety and infrastructure costs, surrounding park and other improvements or other public needs.         

We believe that with intelligence and prudence we can enhance the quality of life for all Minnesotans. However, our active involvement is key.

Arne Carlson is a former governor of Minnesota (1991-1999). Paul Ostrow is a former president of Minneapolis City Council.

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Shooter who wounded five at Jamar Clark protests sentenced to 15 years

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 5:52am
Brian Lambert Hennepin County Sheriff's OfficeAllen "Lance" Scarsella

MPR’s story says, “Allen Scarsella, the Bloomington man convicted of shooting and wounding five men at a protest over the 2015 police killing of Jamar Clark, was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison. The shooting happened Nov. 23, 2015, a little over a week after Clark was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer. … During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Scarsella, who is white, was motivated by racial bias to shoot the protesters, who are all black. The prosecution showed jurors a trail of racist text messages that Scarsella sent to his friends.”

It was not without controversy. The MPR trio of Matt Sepic, Cody Nelson and Brandt Williams say, “... as [Hennepin County Attorney Mike] Freeman tried telling reporters he was pleased with the sentencing, and that he had pressed the harshest charges possible, he got cut off. ‘No you did not Mike Freeman,’ said Cameron Clark, Jamar's cousin and one of Scarsella's victims. ‘He should've been hit with [attempted] murder ... please don't lie in front of these people, 'cause I could've been dead.’ A bullet nearly missed one of Clark's main arteries. … ‘If that was me, I would've been looking at 25-30,’ said Clark, who, along with Scarsella's other four victims, is black.”

New and imaginative ways to look even sleazier. Thomas Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle says, “Wells Fargo branches across the country deliberately targeted “undocumented immigrants” to open savings and checking accounts in order to meet aggressive sales goals, according to court documents obtained by The Chronicle. In sworn declarations obtained by Burlingame plaintiff’s attorney Joseph Cotchett, former employees describe a scheme in which Spanish-speaking colleagues would visit places they knew were frequented by immigrants (including construction sites and a 7-Eleven), drive them to a branch and persuade them to open an account. Some employees would give the immigrants $10 apiece to start an account. The events described in the declaration go back a decade.” 

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And not all that far out of that vein, Brian Bakst at MPR says, “Nearly a decade after the collapse of a staggering $3.7 billion fraud scheme engineered by businessman Tom Petters, Minnesota lawmakers could rewrite rules governing who must fork over money to victims. A measure contained in a wide-ranging state budget bill would limit the recovery of investment income earned by charitable or religious organizations that accepted gifts from Petters or his associates. The law change is backed by some charitable foundations confronted by claims from a court-appointed receiver.” Which reminds me, has Denny Hecker been transferred lately?

Evergreen headline #4,212. Says the Strib atop a Jim Spencer story: “Minnesota businesses think tax cut could spur investment.” The story itself says, “Minnesota’s businesses are awaiting the full details of President Trump’s tax plan, but so far they like what they see. At the core of the proposal administration officials outlined Wednesday is a plan to cut the corporate income tax rate from 35 to 15 percent. Executives said that could spur the capital investments that the president is counting on to offset the huge loss of federal revenue that will result from the tax plan.”

Why does this not surprise me at all? According to the AP, “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that he won't remove Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke from office over the death of an inmate who was denied water for seven days. Walker said while he has the authority to remove Clarke, he doesn't feel it's his job. He acknowledged that reports about the 2016 dehydration death were concerning, but said it's up to voters to decide Clarke's fate and judge his oversight of the jail.

Blogger Rob Levine, a reliable thorn in the side of trendy thinking on education issues, is out with his latest. Says Levine, “Charter advocates over the years have provided high-sounding notions of teacher and parent created schools, teacher-led schools, and have promised unprecedented educational innovation, achievement, and ‘accountability’. But it's difficult to start a school – it takes money and expertise … . The charter school movement, however, is awash in money, and it has developed a pipeline for funneling that cash into new charter schools. One foundation – the Walton Family Foundation – heirs to the Walmart fortune, has started or helped to start 70 Minnesota charter schools, or 28 percent of all charter schools ever opened in the state.”

The crummy weather? It ain’t going away soon, or for long. Says MPR’s Paul Huttner, “Metro slop storm potential Monday? It’s still too early to buy the farm on this one. But several models suggest the next inbound low pressure storm Sunday into Monday may be cold enough for some (potentially heavy) sloppy snow in or close to the Twin Cities. I know.”

What is journalism’s role in the age of social media?

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 1:54pm
Liz Fedor

Fake news is a phrase that wasn’t uttered in April 1997 when the Red River swamped the neighborhoods of Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn.

Liz Fedor

When my Grand Forks Herald colleagues and I reported on the devastating flood damage and the fire that ravaged 11 downtown Grand Forks buildings, nobody took to social media to attack our news stories. After tens of thousands of residents fled their homes because of the onslaught of water, they turned to the news media to learn when the water would recede and when they could return to rebuild their homes and neighborhoods.

Most of our newsroom staff remained in the Red River Valley to report on events as they unfolded. We worked out of a makeshift newsroom in a Manvel, N.D., school and several of us felt fortunate to have a place to sleep on the floor in a house outside Manvel.

Kept publishing, thanks to Pioneer Press partnership

The Herald’s downtown offices were flooded and one of our key buildings was merely rubble after the fire was extinguished. The day of the fire, some of my Herald co-workers with copy editing and page layout skills flew out of Grand Forks to set up shop in the St. Paul Pioneer Press newsroom. The helping hand from the Pioneer Press meant everything to us at the Herald because our world was falling apart.

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Our partnership with the Pioneer Press allowed us to keep publishing. The Herald was printed in St. Paul, flown to Grand Forks and then distributed at regional centers in North Dakota and Minnesota where flood evacuees were staying.

Twenty years ago, the country was less polarized and people did not live in like-minded digital silos.

People turned to the Herald

When people returned to Grand Forks and East Grand Forks to muck out their basements and reassemble their lives, they turned to the Herald for accurate information and to take part in the public debate about how to rebuild the cities.

At the time, I was the Grand Forks city government reporter and I chronicled the many tough choices that faced public officials. They needed to decide where to draw the lines for permanent flood protection and what public investments to make to help flood victims, rejuvenate the economy and restore the infrastructure.

During the months of deliberations, some citizens contacted me because they felt local government officials were ignoring their concerns or perspectives. I wrote about their issues and the politicians responded.

When the mayor said she had received a large anonymous contribution and could use the money to fund lobbying expenses, I knew the contribution’s source must be revealed to the public. I deduced the money came from a large construction company and verified the sourcing. Then I reported the contribution source because the company had received multiple large contracts from the city and was under consideration for more projects.

When an attorney told me that I should “get on board” and not ask questions about a city development proposal, I told him it was my responsibility to ask questions on behalf of citizens.

No substitute for in-depth reporting

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Grand Forks flood this month, I cite these examples of journalism accountability reporting because we need serious journalism now more than ever.

We cannot solve many of today’s vexing problems through Twitter or other social media channels. There isn’t a substitute for in-depth reporting and there are good reasons why all citizens should cherish the First Amendment that safeguards the role of a free press in our country.

Denigrating the news media has become a popular sport. But it is at our own peril if we weaken institutions that are essential for providing fact-based information and promoting intelligent debate in our communities.

While the news media face financial challenges and negative salvos from some citizens, we can all be heartened by the fact that there are still many dedicated journalists who are holding fast to journalism values and pursuing the truth.

Optimism increased

In late March, my optimism for the journalism profession was increased when I attended a meeting at Minnesota Public Radio in downtown St. Paul. Key executives at MPR brought together journalists from the Twin Cities and rural Minnesota as well as news organizations focused on covering communities of color.

I saw tremendous commitments from those in attendance to give voice to Minnesotans from every race, ethnicity, income level and political persuasion. By coming together as a journalism profession, I felt a common sense of mission to do our best work to serve our communities.

When I covered the Grand Forks flood and its aftermath, I knew what I did was extremely important to the people in my community who fell along the entire political spectrum. In 2017, we need to take advantage of the public square that is provided by credible media organizations.

If we isolate ourselves on social media in like-minded camps, we will remain divided. We need to understand each other and have common facts before we can tackle community problems. Social media is not a substitute for real journalism in a functioning democracy.

Liz Fedor is an editor at Twin Cities Business magazine. The Grand Forks Herald staff won a Pulitzer Prize in the public service category for its coverage of the 1997 flood.

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

City Pages tells story of Minneapolis sanitation worker fired for Jamar Clark leak

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 12:46pm
MinnPost staff

City Pages’ Cory Zurowski tells the tale of Al Ditty, a city sanitation worker who leaked information about a planned police raid on the Jamar Clark protest at the Fourth Precinct. Ditty lost his job as a result and eventually took his own life. Of the many questions raised by the report, the biggest has to be about KARE’s actions here: “In Al’s mind, the stage was being set for violence. Believing that he had nowhere else to turn, he decided to summon outside help. At 9:59 p.m., he emailed KARE-11 TV. … ‘Black lives matter tip,’ read the subject line. Included in the message was a copy of the police department’s plan. ‘This is going down Saturday and Sunday morning,’ he wrote. … By midnight, police officials inside the Emergency Training Operations Facility on 37th Avenue Northeast were reading his email. Someone at KARE had sent it to police spokesperson Scott Seroka, a former reporter at the station. It included the tipster’s AOL address. … (KARE President John Remes would only say that the station is still ‘investigating what may have happened with this story.’)”

Ah, that’s the dysfunctional legislature we know and love. MPR’s Tim Pugmire reports: “Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt says DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is wasting time by refusing to engage in budget bill negotiations this week. … Daudt, R-Zimmerman, met privately Tuesday with Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to discuss budget matters. There are less than four weeks left in the 2017 session. … After the meeting, Daudt told reporters that the governor still insists on waiting until House and Senate negotiators resolve their differences before he joins the talks. Daudt made it clear that he doesn’t like the governor’s approach.”

It’s happening! MPR’s Brian Bakst reports: “The U.S. House voted Tuesday to clear a potential obstacle to Minnesota's bid to host Expo 2023, also known as the World's Fair. … Legislation sponsored by the full Minnesota delegation was approved on a voice vote. It gives the U.S. Secretary of State the authority to rejoin the Bureau of International Expositions. … U.S. membership in the organization lapsed in 2001. Non-members don't get the same consideration for expo bids.”

Who’s got room for a ward convention? The Star Tribune’s Adam Belz reports: “The Minneapolis DFL is scrambling to set a new date for the Sixth Ward city council endorsing convention, after arrangements with St. Mary’s University fell through. … The convention was supposed to be Saturday, May 6, but now local party officials must find a new venue after St. Mary’s decided against hosting the convention at the St. Mary’s University Center at the corner of Park Avenue and E. 26th Street.”

In other news…

Finding a warmer welcome here in Minnesota: “Somali Refugees Are Leaving Arizona in Large Numbers; Here's Why” [Phoenix New Times]

From the University of Minnesota into history: “Tay Zonday talks 'Chocolate Rain' on its 10th anniversary” [Popjournalism]

Well deserved: “Podcast 'In the Dark' wins Peabody award” [MPR]

Plans for residences, food hall in Minneapolis industrial area clear major hurdle

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 11:30am
Peter Callaghan

Rejecting the counsel of the city’s planning staff, the Minneapolis Planning Commission has recommended approval of a comprehensive plan amendment that would allow an incursion of residential development into an area of southeast Minneapolis currently set aside for industrial uses. 

By a 7-1 vote, the commission on Monday sided with a request by developers John Wall and Jeffrey Barnhart to recommend carving out 9.4 acres from the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial Area in the city’s Prospect Park neighborhood. The move will trigger a set of land use requests that would allow development of a residential tower and food hall near the United Crushers grain elevator and the Surly Brewery.

The recommendation would have to be approved by the Minneapolis City Council’s zoning committee and the full council before being sent to the Metropolitan Council for review. If successful there, the developers could return to the city with a detailed proposal and a request to rezone the land just north of the University of Minnesota’s transitway, which connects the school’s Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.

“This is a legacy project,” said Barnhart. “I’m trying to do something amazing.” Only nine of the 21 acres owned by Wall would be open for residential use. The rest would be developed under industrial zoning.

But Barnhart called the residential tower and food hall the core of the plan, saying it is needed to help pay for needed road and infrastructure improvements as well as green space and district stormwater sharing. “I convinced John Wall this was a good idea,” Barnhart said. “So if it flops, you can blame me.”

Bigger issues at stake

Though there was no community opposition — the Prospect Park Neighborhood Association is a major supporter of the move — the issue was important enough for city staff that it advocated for a rejection of the comp plan amendment. In a staff report, planners from the Minneapolis community planning and economic development department said that preserving land for future industrial uses is part of the city’s adopted land use policies as well as the comprehensive plan.

There is a worry that land available for industrial uses in the city is declining — that most of the land currently zoned for industrial use is not in play because it is either owned by the railroads, is polluted or is chopped up into undesirable parcels.

Planners felt that if the council wants to review those plans it should be part of the pending top-to-bottom review of the city’s comprehensive plan, which is supposed to guide the city’s policy decisions on land use. “It’s not about what might happen at the site eventually,” Beth Elliott, a principal project coordinator for the community planning and economic development department, told the commission. “It’s whether it is in the best interest of the city.”  

Among the staff conclusions were that: “The proposed change would not be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan goals and policies, and would be premature given that critical conversation and analysis are currently underway regarding employment and employment disparities as part of the citywide Comprehensive Plan update.”

“Under the policies of the current Comprehensive Plan, which have been reaffirmed multiple times, it is not in the City’s interest for redevelopment of this land to be used for uses other than industrial or office,” the department found.

City of MinneapolisThe John Wall owned property subject to this week's planning commission vote is at the lower-left corner of the South East Minneapolis Industrial area.

Jack Byers, the planning manager for the city, said industrial land makes up less than 4 percent of the city’s 54 square miles, and much of that is owned by the railroads.

“If you take all of that existing land owned by those railroads and take that out of the mix you are really left with something much, much smaller,” Byers said. “The calls that we always get from our colleagues in CPED economic development is they are working with folks who want to move into the city, to bring jobs into the city and they can’t find tracks of land large enough.”

Commissioners were sympathetic to the planning staff’s concerns, but a majority also felt the Met Council’s schedule for comp plan reviews allowed for an amendment of the existing plan. Other findings were that the area involved was not likely to draw industrial uses, that it is adjacent to a light rail station and has seen extensive residential and retail development since the current plan was approved more than a decade ago.

“The staff made a very strong case for not changing the designation of this area,” said commission president Matthew Brown. But he also noted the changes in the area, the most significant being construction of the Green Line and the location of the Prospect Park station, and the call for higher density development near transit stations in the city’s current comprehensive plan.

“We’ve seen very significant development interest and that area transform very rapidly,” Brown said. “I think there’s more development interest than any of us expected.”

Brown said he was interested in the historic preservation potential of the Harris Building, the location for the proposed food hall. Finally, Brown said needed roads and other infrastructure are not likely to be paid for by the city and are more likely funded by developers as part of higher-density development.

No interest in original plan for site

The University of Minnesota Transitway forms the boundary between land uses in the area. To the south, residential uses are permitted, and the number of new apartment buildings there is evidence of that. The city is promoting those uses with a street redo called Green 4th Street, which will run from Malcolm Avenue to 25th Avenue SE.

But north of the busway, no residential use is permitted. That’s why the developer asked for an amendment to the comprehensive plan.

The details of the development were not at issue before the commission. They will come if the comp plan amendment is approved and the developer returns for a rezone and plan approval. But the amendment request did contain some information about what might be built, including a 12-story apartment tower, some commercial space as well as the possible rehabilitation of an old industrial structure known as the Harris Building. Badly damaged by a fire in early 2016, the brick building could become a food hall, perhaps including a craft distillery, restaurant vendors, bakers, wine sellers and produce markets.

City of MinneapolisResidential buildings would be permitted in the property outlined in blue under an action taken this week by the Minneapolis Planning Commission.

Wall told the commission he has been trying for nearly two decades to fulfill his original dream for the property, a research park associated with the University of Minnesota. The idea was to have spaces were innovations crafted at the university could be incubated into marketable products.

He was unable to find interest, including from the university. As his comp plan amendment application put it: “The market simply does not demand what the decade-old land use guidance calls for.”

Wall said he resisted trying to develop the area for uses such as single-level warehousing and equipment storage. “We believe this will bring more jobs and more tax base than the industrial zoning.”

The plan was backed by the Prospect Park Neighborhood Association, which has expressed excitement about some of the features that could be included in the development.  “The opportunity is now and we don’t want to miss this,” said Richard Gilyard, an architect and active member of the neighborhood association and many other planning groups in the area.

U of M concerns

Any development like that envisioned by Wall and Barnhart would need additional roadways and pedestrian crossings of the U of M transitway. Currently, the only crossing is at Malcolm Avenue SE, a passing familiar to visitors of the Surly Brewery.

Monique MacKenzie, director of planning for the U of M, told the planning commission the university is concerned about safety along the transitway, and said there is a need for careful planning of additional crossings.

Currently, buses travel every five minutes in both directions to take students and staff between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, and travel at speeds of up to 40 mph.

The addition of more cars, bikes and pedestrians as development increases north of the transitway will increase conflicts with buses, she said. “We have one to two near misses a week between our transit drivers and somebody, either in a vehicle, on a bicycle or on foot,” she said.

To address the issue, the U of M wants a signal at Malcolm. And while an additional crossing is needed, school officials would prefer that it to be close to TCF Bank Stadium.

Melissa Hortman still isn't sorry

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 10:51am
Briana Bierschbach

As part of her job as a Democratic representative in the Minnesota House, Melissa Hortman sees “flashes of anger” nearly every day. Legislators often snap at each other in committees or after long debates on the House floor, she said, comments that are usually heard by only a small group of people. 

In other words, most comments at the Legislature — even angry ones — go unnoticed by the general public. 

But on April 3, Hortman rose on the Minnesota House floor to criticize a handful of legislators who were off in a side room while several female legislators of color rose to speak against a bill being debated to increase penalties for protesters who block freeways.

“I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room,” Hortman said. “But I think this is an important debate.” 

Several Republicans, enraged by the comment, accused her of being a racist. One asked Hortman to apologize to the members she had just called out. “I’m really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored,” she said. “So I’m not sorry.”

It's safe to say the public noticed the incident. Since early April, Hortman's comments have been covered in dozens of news outlets and garnered her thousands of tweets to @melissahortman, including a mention from New York City Mayor Bill Deblasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray

Thirty- and sixty-second videos of Hortman popped up online and fans filled her inbox with more than 3,000 emails from as far as Australia and the Netherlands. Her words even inspired a protest at the Capitol, where women and men carried signs that said “Sorry, not sorry. We support Melissa Hortman." T-shirts were printed with “I will not apologize” on them.

“The fact that went viral was completely unpredictable and totally surprising,” Hortman said from her St. Paul office, pointing to a basket stuffed full of letters people sent her since the comments went viral. “It was nice how it made people feel.” 

It’s a lot of attention for an attorney and mother of two from Brooklyn Park who is still getting her sea legs as the new minority leader in the House. Being in the minority often means feeling unheard, she acknowledged, because the Republican majority controls what bills are taken up in committees and ultimately passed. 

But Hortman sees the incident as part of her role as a watchdog to the majority party in the House, whether through participating in debates or through monitoring budget bills, and serve as an ally to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in budget negotiations. And when it comes to issues for which Republicans will need Democratic votes in the coming weeks — namely, transportation funding and a package of construction projects across the state — she could play an even bigger role. 

On a political path

By age 10, Hortman knew she wanted to be a politician. She watched the 1980 campaign unfold between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan, who ultimately won the race by a landslide. “I thought, if he can do it, I can do it,” Hortman said. “So at 10 I decided I would be the first woman president.”

That life goal helped solidify her career plans at the age of 14, when she started learning about former U.S. presidents and members of Congress in a social studies class. All her favorite presidents, like Abraham Lincoln, were also lawyers. Hortman, who grew up in Spring Lake Park and Andover, didn’t come from a family of lawyers. The only lawyer she’d ever known growing up was a family friend who came to Christmas parties. “That was the closest thing I had to any sort of a personal connection to anyone who was a lawyer, so I knew basically nothing about it until I went to law school,” she laughed.

She got a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston University, spending some time in Washington, D.C., in an internship for Al Gore and working in constituent services for former U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Hortman said she “fell in love” with Washington, but knew that if she wanted to run for Congress or the U.S. Senate one day, she needed to live in her home state. She got her law degree from the University of Minnesota and her first job out of law school was with legal aid, suing landlords who “wouldn’t provide heat or exterminate cockroaches,” she said.

In one such case, a woman sued her landlord for not providing her unit with a furnace; instead of paying for one himself, the landlord asked the woman to try to get a free one through an assistance program, which the woman thought was dishonest. “[The landlord] embarked on a sort of campaign of terror,” Hortman said, and she eventually secured the woman and her family a large discrimination settlement.

Around the same time, Hortman got involved in her local DFL organization and was helping recruit someone to run against her area’s Republican representative, Bill Haas. He had sponsored a Minnesota version of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Before redistricting in the early 2000s, however, Hortman’s district was a tough one for Democrats to win. And when no one came forward to take on Haas, activists asked her to do it. Hortman wanted to have a political career in Washington, but she hadn't considered running for the state Legislature before. And she had planned to wait until her two young daughters graduated from high school. “We couldn’t find anyone else, so I said, 'OK,' ” she said. “I thought it would be a good exercise.” 

It was 1998 when Hortman ran — and lost — in an election that saw Jesse Ventura take the governor’s office. She sat out the 2000 election but was recruited to run again in 2002, the year DFL U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the election. Once again, she lost.

She didn’t think she had another campaign in her until former DFL Sen. Don Betzold asked her to try one more time, in 2004. Hortman obliged. That year, she won. 

‘Swim like hell’

Now leading the 57-member House DFL caucus, Hortman is responsible for thinking about Democratic members' elections in 2018. In fact, a big part of her job as minority leader is trying to help her caucus reclaim the majority, which they lost three years ago.

She’s hoping 2018 is a lot like 2006, when Democrats in the state House picked up 19 seats. “They flipped 19 seats, I need to flip 11 seats,” Hortman said. “I’m hoping that America is at least as dissatisfied with Donald Trump as they were with George W. Bush.”

MinnPost photo by Briana BierschbachCards of support are on display in House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman's office.

Part of Hortman’s pitch to become minority leader is her record of winning races in a tough district. She won that 2004 race by 402 votes. And even after she won her seat, she was repeatedly targeted for defeat by outside groups. “I had to take three whacks before I won the seat and I’ve had competitive races since I got elected,” she said.

When talking to prospective candidates for 2018, Hortman describes running for the Legislature as a lot like surfing. As much as candidates want elections to be decided by their message and hard work, there are plenty of variables they can’t control.

“You kind of need a wave in some of our districts, but you have to swim like hell if you want to catch the wave when it comes,” she said. 

'I have the governor's back'

But before she gets there, Hortman needs to get through this session. Legislators must agree on a more than $40 billion state budget soon or else state government could go into shutdown mode.

Hortman’s been backing Dayton’s positions on the budget. “[Republicans] don’t need us, so it’s not like we’re moving and shaping a lot of bills,” she said.  “I think the most important thing is that I strongly have the governor’s back here in the House. We’re very aligned. He’s done a good job of fighting for the values we stand for, which is fighting for working families in Minnesota.” 

There are a few issues where Republicans will need Democratic votes, though. That includes the bonding bill, which constitutionally requires 81 votes to pass out of the House. Hortman said she’s had plenty of discussions with her bonding committee members to form a strategy, and the caucus held a press conference Tuesday to put pressure on House Republicans to release their list of projects.

She also expects Republicans will need Democrats to pass a deal to put more funding into the state’s transportation system. Historically that’s been the case, she said, and any deal Dayton would support would have to include some funding for bus routes and mass transit, meaning Republicans could lose plenty of votes within their own caucus. 

“Those are the two bills where they really need us if the speaker is serious about getting something done,” Hortman said. “It’s about holding the majority accountable to recognize that not everybody agrees with them, and they need to consider an alternate point of view if they want to get bills signed into law.”

Though Hortman once pictured herself in Washington one day — she considered running for Congress when Rep. Jim Ramstad retired ahead of the 2008 election — she’s grown fond of the workings in the state Legislature.

“One day, I would love to be speaker,” she said. “[Former Rep.] Martin Sabo told me once: ‘The best job I ever had was speaker of the Minnesota House.’ So I thought, 'D.C. is a cesspool; I don’t want to go there.' ”

Arts forum has sober vibe; VocalEssence's new season

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 9:28am
Pamela Espeland

Last April at the Cowles Center, the first annual Star Tribune Arts Forum brought Mia’s Kaywin Feldman, the SPCO’s Kyu-Young Kim, the Walker’s Olga Viso and the Guthrie’s Joseph Haj together for a public conversation about building and engaging audiences for the arts. Moderated by Graydon Royce, it was a mostly upbeat, occasionally wonky talk among the leaders of strong flagship organizations, during which Feldman suggested that if we really want to help the arts, we should “vote for a president who’s a known arts supporter.” Well, duh, of course we will, thought probably everyone there.

That didn’t happen, so Monday’s second annual Arts Forum, held at the Children’s Theatre, had a different vibe. The topic was “Arts in the Crossfire.” The participants were the Minnesota Orchestra’s Kevin Smith, TU Dance’s Uri Sands, Mu Performing Arts’ Randy Reyes, Springboard for the Arts’ Laura Zabel and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the Minnesota congresswoman and champion for the arts. The mood was on the bleak side, through no fault of the group or returning moderator Royce. It’s the moment.

The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which funnels money to NPR and PBS) all have targets on their backs. (So does the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which wasn’t mentioned but should not be forgotten.) The current president thinks they should be eliminated, their relatively puny budgets zeroed out. We don’t know what will happen, though based on the past 97 days, hope is a thing with bedraggled feathers.

Bright spots at the Forum included Sands’ and Zabel’s perspectives on the urban-rural divide and their efforts to do something about it: opening a Springboard office in Fergus Falls, and TU’s rural arts residencies. Also Reyes’ wry comments on nearly everything. In response to remarks on how arts organizations should open their doors to everyone, he said, “We don’t have a door.” Mu’s next show will take place at the Guthrie’s Dowling Theater in May.

After the conversation, at a mic set up for questions, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts’ Sheila Smith urged us to write and call our representatives in Washington and St. Paul and tell them which side we’re on. You can do that now, if you want.

JazzMN, VocalEssence announce 2017-18 seasons

Nothing says optimism like season announcements.

JazzMN Orchestra’s 20th season will begin Oct. 20 at the Ordway Concert Hall with guest Wycliffe Gordon. A frequent Jazz Trombonist of the Year, Gordon – also a composer, conductor, arranger and educator – is a former member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis Septet. Gordon’s 28 CDs to date include 20 solo recordings. On Dec. 8, JazzMN will move to the Chanhassen for its holiday show featuring guest vocalist Connie Evingson.

March 10, 2018, will find JazzMN back at the Hopkins High School auditorium, its usual swinging stomping grounds, for “The Commission Project,” premiering new works by David Berger, Michael Philip Mossman, John Wasson and other composers. The 2017-18 season will conclude with Grammy-nominated saxophonist Bill Evans, who began his career with Miles Davis. Season tickets are on sale now.

VocalEssence will kick off its 49th year on Sept. 24 with “Finlandia Forever,” featuring music by Sibelius, Rautavaara, Mäntyjärvi and Sariaho, performances by famous Finns Osmo Vänskä and Sara Pajunen, and an audience sing-along to a chorus of “Finlandia.” A “Bach & Bluegrass Jamboree” on Nov. 10 will pair the VocalEssence singers with special guests Monroe Crossing in a program of Bach, gospel bluegrass and the regional premiere of Carol Barnett’s “Bluegrass Te Deum.”

The annual “Welcome Christmas” concerts (Dec. 2-10) will salute Minnesota composers and the 20th anniversary of the Carol Contest. The WITNESS concert on Feb. 18, 2018, will honor the Harlem Renaissance in song, poetry, hip-hop and dance. The VocalEssence Youth Choral Arts Initiative will make its debut, and William Banfield’s chamber symphony “I Trust Harlem Is Still There,” based on the letters of Langston Hughes, will have its world premiere. On April 21, the eve of VocalEssence’s golden anniversary, John Rutter returns to conduct “Feel the Spirit” and a new piece written for VE’s 50th.

Courtesy of VocalEssenceJohn Rutter

In among the subscription shows are a Bach’s Mighty Fortress Community Sing (Nov. 11), the “Star of Wonder” family holiday concert (Dec. 9), a free “Together We Sing” festival (Jan. 13, 2018), a community sing with Rutter (April 21), a “River Songs and Tales Tour” across Minnesota, with Don Shelby as Mark Twain (April 4-8), and the “¡Cantare!” 10th anniversary bilingual community concert. Season subscriptions are on sale now.

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, April 26) at the Loft at Open Book: Lesley Nneka Arimah Book Launch: “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky.” Is there any publication that hasn’t yet given this debut collection a rave review? A new literary star in our midst, Arimah lives in St. Louis Park. Many of the stories in her first book are speculative fiction, aka science fiction or sci-fi. We are dying to read it. Here’s a profile Laurie Hertzel wrote for the Star Tribune. Here’s part of what NPR said: “She crafts stories that reward reading, not because they’re unclear or confusing, but because it’s so tempting to revisit each exquisite sentence, each uniquely beautiful description.” 7 p.m. in the Performance Hall. FMI and tickets ($10).

Now at Pillsbury House Theater: “The Great Divide: Plays for a Broken Nation.” The world premiere of a clutch of 10-minute plays by local playwrights, written in response to our postelection world. Benjamin Benne, Alan Berks, Christina Ham, Katie Ka Vang and James A. Williams wrote the plays; Tracey Maloney, Audrey Park, Mikell Sapp and Ricardo Vazquez play multiple roles; DJ Chamun makes the music. A postshow discussion follows. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, Sunday at 3 p.m. Ends April 30. FMI and tickets ($25; pick-your-price $5-20).

Thursday at St. Mary’s Lake Calhoun Event Center: Hokyoji Zen Practice Community Presents Peter Coyote. Registration was requested by April 12, but tickets are still available to this fundraiser for the community, and it sounds so interesting it’s worth a try. For $20, you can attend a 5:30 p.m. reception with hors d’oeuvres, beverages and live music by Dean Magraw, Doan Brian Roessler and Marc Anderson; at 6 p.m., Emmy-winning actor and Zen priest Hosho Peter Coyote will present a program based on his memoir, “The Rainman’s Third Cure: An Irregular Education.” The event will raise funds for a new Practitioners’ Hall at Hokyoji. Register here.

Thursday at the Fitzgerald: “National Geographic Live! Exploring Mars with NASA Engineer Kobie Boykins.” A dynamic young engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Boykins is on the front line of Mars exploration. He’s been gung-ho Mars since 1997, when he worked on the “Pathfinder” mission. He designed the solar arrays that power the Mars rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity.” Check out his Twitter feed. Boykins thinks we people of Earth should – and will – go to the Red Planet one day. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-55).

Saturday at the Dakota: Bill Charlap. The New York-based, Grammy-winning pianist is a true master of the great American songbook. He and his trio – Peter Washington on bass, Kenny Washington on drums – have been together for 10 years. This will be sublime. Their latest release is “Notes from New York,” and you can listen on Spotify. FMI and tickets ($20-30).

Monday at Crooners: Delfeayo Marsalis. Last September, the trombone-playing member of the Marsalis clan released a new CD called “Make America Great Again!” Recorded with his Uptown Jazz Orchestra, it’s part protest, part get-up-and-dance, full of the sounds and flavors of Marsalis’ hometown of New Orleans. He won’t bring his band, but he’ll be in good company: Rick Carlson on piano, Nathan Norman on drums and Steve Pikal on bass. 7 p.m. in the Dunsmore Room. FMI and tickets ($25/$50 dinner show).

Hot tix

Superstar soprano Renée Fleming is not quitting opera, as was earlier reported. But the Met’s new production of Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” is her farewell to one of her signature roles, the 18th-century princess Marschallin. No wonder tickets are selling fast for the Met Live at the Opera broadcast on May 13, her final performance. An encore screening (not live) is scheduled for May 17. Mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca is Octavian, the 17-year-old count. Go here and enter your ZIP to find your nearest movie bigaplex.

Aerobic exercise and resistance training can strengthen cognitive abilities in midlife, study reports

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 8:59am
Susan Perry

Over 50?

Well, here’s yet another good reason to get off of the couch and into an exercise program:  A large new study reports that aerobic exercise, resistance training and even, perhaps, tai chi can improve the cognitive abilities of adults aged 50 and older — regardless of the current status of those abilities.

The authors believe their study — a review of 39 randomized controlled trials published as recently as last fall  — is the most comprehensive examination to date on the connection between exercise and cognitive function in older adults.

Plenty of previous reviews and meta-analyses have looked at this topic, but those results have been inconclusive because they tended to focus on a single type of exercise or limited the publication years from which they chose their studies, say the Australian researchers who conducted the current review.

Those researchers decided, therefore, to address the existing research gaps by not imposing similar limits. Their results were published online Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Key findings

All of the 39 studies analyzed for the review assessed the effects of at least four weeks of some kind of physical exercise intervention on the cognitive function of adults aged 50 or older. The adults lived “in the community” — in other words, not in nursing homes.

The exercise interventions used in the studies included aerobic exercise (activities like brisk walking, swimming and biking), resistance training (muscle strengthening), “multi-component” exercise (a combination of aerobics and resistance training), tai chi and yoga.

The studies assessed the effects of these interventions on several types of cognitive abilities, including global cognition (overall brain capacity), attention (the ability to focus on one thing while ignoring distracting stimuli), executive function (the ability to perform high-level cognitive processes, such as goal-setting and decision-making), and both long-term and short-term memory.

The Australian researchers’ analysis of all that data revealed that aerobic exercise and resistance training — when done separately or in combination — improved cognitive function “regardless of baseline cognitive status.”

“The effect of exercise on cognition was statistically significant for all [cognitive] domains, except global cognition," the researchers write.

Tai chi — but not yoga — also appeared to bestow cognitive benefits, but the researchers say the tai chi results involved too few people to produce definitive results.

“Tai chi may be a promising intervention aimed at brain health for the over 50s, although further high quality randomized controlled trials are required to confirm the benefits shown in this study,” the researchers note.

Possible reasons for benefits

Background information presented in the study offers several possible explanations for why exercise enhances cognition: by promoting the growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis); by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which brings more oxygen and nutrients to the brain; by decreasing potentially harmful pro-inflammatory processes; and by reducing damage to brain cells caused by oxidative stress.

How often and how long do older people have to exercise to reap the cognitive benefits observed in this review? The authors scoured the data to get an answer. They found that “exercise of between 45 and 60 [minutes] in duration, of moderate or vigorous intensity and of any frequency or length is beneficial to cognitive function.”

In other words, it appears that doing anything is better than nothing. 

“The findings suggest,” the researchers conclude, “that an exercise programme with components of both aerobic and resistance-type training, of at least moderate intensity and at least 45 min per session, on as many days of the week as possible, is beneficial to cognitive function in adults aged [50 or older].”

Definitely time to get off the couch.

FMI: You’ll find the study on the British Journal of Sports Medicine's website

'Trump' teases MinnRoast 2017 appearance

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 8:34am
MinnPost staff

President Trump, who sometimes moonlights as Twin Cities radio personality Brian "BT" Turner, would like to invite you to MinnRoast 2017, this Friday at the Historic State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. He probably should have locked the door to executive office first …

Lauren Adbill: Netflix’s '13 Reasons Why' could have a 'deeply negative effect' on young viewers

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 8:13am
Andy Steiner

Because she understands that adolescent suicide is a serious issue in the United States, Lauren Abdill, like many of her colleagues in the field of suicide prevention, was cautiously excited when she heard that Netflix was going to produce an original television series based on “Thirteen Reasons Why,” the best-selling young adult novel by Jay Asher.

The show’s creators appeared to be listening to suicide prevention experts. “Before production, some of the leading professionals in the suicide-prevention field met with people who were working on the show,” Abdill said. “It sounded like the group had great conversations about how to illustrate the larger impact of suicide and how to talk about suicide with young people. There was a sense that this show could have a positive impact on their audience.”

So, when the Netflix’s edgy adaptation, titled “13 Reasons Why,” aired with what many mental health professionals considered to be dangerous messages about suicide, Abdill, a master's in social work student at St. Catherine University, decided to make her outrage public. She wrote an op-ed piece, “There’s no reason to buy ’13 Reasons Why’ imagery,” which appeared April 15 in the Star Tribune. Abdill’s commentary strongly encouraged parents and other caring adults to step in and talk to teens about what they were learning from the series.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Adbill, who plans to become a therapist focused on treating adolescents. The University of Maryland grad told me she is interning as a crisis counselor at Richfield-based Crisis Connection.  

MinnPost: How did you develop your interest in suicide prevention?

Lauren Abdill:  After college, I worked as communications manager for Active Minds, a national college mental health awareness organization based in Washington, D.C. Active Minds was founded by Alison Malmon. When she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Alison’s brother died by suicide. After her brother’s death, she wanted to join a mental health awareness organization, but there wasn’t one on her campus. So in 2002 she founded Active Minds in her dorm room. Fifteen years later, Active Minds has 400-plus chapters all over the country.  

MP: Were you always interested in a career in mental health?

LA: I was a journalism major in college. I came into my job at Active Minds thinking I was a communications person who just happened to work at a mental health organization. But somewhere along the way I started to feel like I was a mental health advocacy professional who just happened to be working in communications. That’s when I decided to pursue my master's in social work and eventually complete all the licensing requirements to be a therapist. I have depression. So I have seen firsthand how powerful and life-saving therapy can be.  

MP: What inspired you to speak out about “13 Reasons Why?”

LA: Active Minds does a lot of suicide prevention work. Through my work with the organization, I got educated about issues surrounding suicide, especially as they relate to the adolescent and college-age population. Suicide is a major issue among adolescents. It is the second-leading cause of death on college campuses. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed seriously. So that’s why I’m very angry about Netflix’s adaptation of the book “Thirteen Reasons Why.”

MP: How did you learn about the show?

LA: I’m a member of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS). The association runs a listserv. Some chatter started popping up a few months ago saying that Netflix was working on a show based on the book “Thirteen Reasons Why,” which is about teen suicide.

Before the show came out, the message we were hearing in the suicide prevention community was, “This seems promising. We had these great discussions. The show’s producers are aware of how important this issue is.” But then the show came out and it quickly became apparent that not only did the producers not listen to the experts, they did the exact opposite of their recommendations. It was a worst-case scenario.

MP: “13 Reasons” includes a graphic depiction of a suicide. Is that an example of the kind of thing you’re talking about?

Courtesy of Lauren AbdillLauren Abdill

LA: Yes. The depiction is incredibly upsetting. I’ve known people who have thrown up after seeing it. The show’s creators took the depiction to the next level in a way that is vivid and horrifying. They showed her mother finding her body. What’s frustrating is the creators of the show have now been saying that they made the scene horrific on purpose because they wanted to illustrate how serious suicide is and how it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But they actually make things worse when they are so graphic and explicit.

It was almost like the Netflix representatives sat down with a group of people who have spent their entire careers studying suicide prevention, people who have attempted suicide or who have lost a loved one to suicide, and then they said, “Thanks, but we think we know how to do this better.”

MP: By making the show edgy, gritty and controversial, do you think Netflix was trying to draw more attention and awareness to the issue of teen suicide?

LA: If Netflix was really interested in raising awareness about adolescent suicide there are a lot of things they could have done. Instead they chose to exploit the issue of teen suicide to create a really popular, really controversial show, a binge-worthy show. It is the most popular show [on social media] that Netflix has ever put out.

MP: Bad press drives up ratings.

LA: What they’ve gone for is the sensational angle. Another aspect of the show that frustrates me is the fact that “13 Reasons” places a lot of blame on the people around Hannah for her death. That sends a really terrible message to folks who have lost someone to suicide. There are millions of suicide survivors in the U.S. To give the impression to survivors that their loved one’s suicide is their fault is irresponsible and cruel.

MP: How does the plot of “13 Reasons Why” differ from the book?

LA: The book handled Hannah’s death differently. It never explicitly said how she died. There is no description of a suicide scene. At the very least Netflix could have followed the book, which is in line with suicide-prevention recommendations. These recommendations are not to describe or depict the means of a suicide. That limits contagion.

For Netflix to not only change the original plot of the book but to also go against the expert recommendations so brazenly is infuriating. We are now seeing the effects of that decision. Members are posting on the AAS listserv that they’ve had young clients come forward and tell them that they have been thinking of killing themselves like the young girl in “13 Reasons Why.”  It’s hard to confirm a direct correlation, but we do know that the show could have a deeply negative effect on a vulnerable population of young people.

MP: How do you think Netflix should respond to this controversy?

LA: Netflix could take the show down. We’re seeing widespread negative effects among young people who may have been thinking about dying but now have a concrete plan in mind. But I’m not expecting Netflix to take the show down. It is really popular show. At the very least they could donate some of the revenues from the show to suicide prevention organizations like Active Minds, the JED Foundation, SAVE, or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The JED Foundation and SAVE put together a set of talking points related to this show. Most of the talking points come from the AAS listserv. Anther thing Netflix could feasibly do is link to the talking points on their website.

MP: How should parents talk to their kids about this show?

LA: We’re hearing from parents who are saying, “My 12-year-old watched this show and I only just heard about it.” The focus of my editorial was to say to parents, “This is something that your kids are likely going to see. You might not hear about it unless you ask them directly. Talk to your children about this show. See how they are responding. Help them process their feelings. Talk to them, support them, and tell them about suicide prevention organizations. Let them know it is safe to talk to you about suicide.” The show is already out there for kids to watch. Now parents need to step in.

Trump's unfavorables are high, but so is current support from his voters

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 8:06am
Eric Black

I don’t know whether Donald Trump and his campaign team were smart or lucky or both. He won the presidency with neither a majority nor even a plurality of the popular vote, because he got just enough votes in just the right places to turn 46.1 percent of the popular vote into 56.9 percent of the electoral vote.

Every day since he won, he has set a record, in the history of polling, for having the lowest approval rating at that point in a president’s first term. Here’s a summary of a recent Washington Post/ ABC News poll taken earlier this week, including the historical comparisons that show just how horrible these numbers are:

The president’s approval rating stands at 42 percent, the lowest recorded at this stage of a presidency dating to Dwight Eisenhower. Trump’s 53 percent disapproval rating is 14 percentage points higher than Bill Clinton’s 39 percent disapproval in April 1993, the worst before Trump. Eight years ago, then-president Barack Obama’s approval was 69 percent, his disapproval 26 percent.

The Post-ABC poll finds 43 percent of Americans said they strongly disapprove of Trump’s performance. That’s also the worst by far of any president since George H.W. Bush by more than double. In the spring of 1993, 21 percent said they strongly disapproved of Clinton’s performance.

And yet there is one more paragraph in the Post’s story on the poll that must be noted:

There are no signs of major slippage in support among those who voted for Trump. His approval rating among those who cast ballots for him stands at 94 percent. Among Republicans, it is 84 percent. Asked of those who voted for him whether they regret doing so, 2 percent say they do, while 96 percent say supporting Trump was the right thing to do. When asked if they would vote for him again, 96 percent say they would, which is higher than the 85 percent of Hillary Clinton voters who say they would support her again.

In short: As the 100th day of his presidency approaches, the voters who put Donald into the Oval Office are sticking with him. Only 2 percent wish they could take back their vote for him. Substantially more of those who voted for Hillary Clinton regret voting for her than do Trump voters regret voting for him.

Why we need liberal studies now more than ever

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 8:00am

A nationwide attack on liberal studies gains momentum in Minnesota. A proposal at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities seeks to remove an eight-credit requirement for courses in liberal studies. To do so perpetuates and aggravates a real problem of social ignorance at Metro State, within Minnesota, and in our nation.

Jose Leonardo Santos

This problem made a woman in her mid-40s cry in my class. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her usual cheer become confusion, then terror. My heart broke as she choked back tears.

She’d seen a slide connecting Hometown, Minnesota, to worldwide processes of change. 74 percent of new jobs here will require postsecondary education. Cities keep growing. Other regions and farms stagnate or suffer drain. Whites will drop significantly as a proportion of the population, since most of Minnesota’s population growth will be nonwhite through 2035.

Confronting reality

Why her tears? The facts hurt. Since birth, my student lived right in the center of everything on that slide. She simply didn’t know it. Confronting the reality of the home she grew up in frightens her. At no point in her education — not through family upbringing, elementary school, or high school — did she ever gain an awareness of the social world around her.

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Liberal studies courses confront this problem head on. I put facts in front of students who simply refuse to believe them. Can’t be, they think. It's too different from the world I believe in. Free trade can’t really lead to outsourcing. Wage gaps between men and women aren’t real. Art can’t improve people’s health. Donald Trump could not have really won the presidency. This inability to cope with any reality outside personal experience threatens Minnesota’s livelihood. We’re not ready for what the next 20 years brings.

The attack on liberal studies does more than just leave students who confront the real world weeping. It leaves our state vulnerable to itself. Sticking only to classes within a major might develop focus, but not greater awareness. Business leaders, politicians, and other leaders who don’t know anything about you, how you live, or what’s happening around us are dangerous. They make choices based on what their personal experience and profession tell them is true about Minnesota, not what is true. That makes Minnesota a victim of their job training.

Limited awareness

It’s not just leaders who need to take a course. Cities don’t know about towns. Farms don’t know about cities. Each fears the difference. Some of us know nothing about any workplace we don’t work in, even if it's next door. Our awareness of others is often limited to whether they are like us or not. Politically, it's becoming impossible for us to function as a group. It's time to make America learn again.

The choice is simple. We need a population that is not alienated by itself. We need leaders who have an understanding of Minnesota grounded in reality, not just the reality of their workplace or profession. We need liberal studies now more than ever.

Jose Leonardo Santos is an associate professor of social science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Metropolitan State University.

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Minneapolis Mayor Hodges talks about decision to reveal sexual abuse

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 5:50am
Brian Lambert

After revealing on Monday she was sexually abused as a child, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges spoke to Kare: “Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges says it is time to talk about sexual assault. That is why she's sharing her story of being sexually abused as a child. …'Last fall, I met with a University of Minnesota student who is a survivor of rape there. She was talking to me about her story, her experience with police. It was in that meeting that I realized — I'm a public figure, I haven't told my story, it would be useful right now if I had because I could have that conversation with her. … ," Hodges told KARE 11's Jana Shortal in an exclusive interview.”

It wasn’t for lack of marketing. Patrick Kennedy of the Strib says, “A delay in new commercials and slower sales have led to an inventory glut for MyPillow, and the Chaska company has laid off 140 of its 1,600 employees, CEO Mike Lindell said. ‘I was so devastated by having to do it, but we don’t have room to make any more pillows’, Lindell said. ‘When we get our advertising done we are going to be hiring back’. MyPillow does direct-to-consumer marketing, and new advertising drives consumer purchases. Lindell said he’s been working on new commercials since January.” Really? More commercials?  

It wasn’t The Big One. The Mankato Free Press has a story saying, “Forceful enough to shake the fortress-like Blue Earth County Courthouse and to rattle buildings across the Minnesota River Valley, the tremor that rolled through the city Tuesday morning made more than a few Mankatoans think ‘earthquake.’ What it actually was, according to Mankato police and officials at the Jefferson Quarry, was a scheduled blast at the quarry that was amplified by atmospheric conditions to create the equivalent of a 2.8 Richter scale temblor.”

Cops and rescuers out on the St. Croix are not happy with the dude and his half sunk 52-foot yacht. Says Mary Divine in the PiPress, “After a 52-foot yacht crashed on the St. Croix River in Bayport early Sunday morning, the law enforcement response was swift and sweeping. Among the agencies that responded to the call of a man missing in the river at 2:50 a.m. Sunday: Washington County, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Lakeview Emergency Medical Services. Divers from fire departments in Bayport, Stillwater, Mahtomedi, Scandia, Lower St. Croix Valley and Woodbury were called in to search the river after the man’s girlfriend told police that she last saw the man ‘kind of swimming, kind of standing’ in the water. After a full day of searching, authorities heard from the man’s attorney on Monday morning. Jason Elgersma, 36, of Minneapolis, was ‘alive and well’, the attorney said. … [Police] checked the boat and river for possible victims and found a flotation device and a duffel bag on the shoreline directly west of the boat. According to Cmdr. Andy Ellickson of the Washington County sheriff’s office, the duffel bag contained: a pair of wet jeans, a belt, Elgersma’s U.S. passport, his iPhone and his wallet, which contained Elgersma’s expired driver’s license from Wisconsin. The wallet also contained $2,007 in cash.”

Probably has a good dental plan, too. In the PiPress Josh Verges says, “The St. Paul school board has reached a three-year contract agreement with its next superintendent. Joe Gothard, 45, will make $232,000 next year, up from the $195,200 he gets as superintendent of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district. The board unanimously approved the contract Tuesday night.”

Too bad, he could have done a set at the Thirsty Pagan. Amanda Coyne in the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, “Paul McCartney’s a little confused. Tuesday morning, the former Beatle announced a concert for Duluth’s Infinite Energy Center. But some of the promotional materials aren’t pointing to metro Atlanta, but to Duluth, Minnesota, a port city on Lake Superior. We still loved you when you were 64, Paul, but at 74, you’re getting a little dotty. But McCartney fans in metro Atlanta needn’t worry. The show is still on for July 13 in Duluth, Georgia.”   

Eeeew. Says Samantha Bengs of the Forum News Service, “A southeastern Minnesota couple have been charged after an underage girl went to police, saying she had been exploited by the pair in their “sex room.” Michael Lowell Germain, 43, and Heather Laverne Germain, 49, appeared in Goodhue County District Court on Monday on multiple charges of criminal sexual conduct. The girl contacted Goodhue police in January and said she was being sexually assaulted and exploited by the couple, who she said were ‘swingers’ and have a ‘sex room’ in the attic of their garage, according to the criminal complaint.” 

So they’re stealing tombstones from the garden paradise of western Minnesota? In the Brainerd Dispatch Tom Cherveny says, “A father and son in Montevideo are charged with felony theft for allegedly removing the gravestone from the burial plot of the wife and mother of the two. John Wendell Albrecht, 74, and John Darron Albrecht, 47, will make their first appearances May 1 in district court. … Information in the criminal complaint indicates that there is a conflicted relationship between members of the family. Four siblings do not have a relationship with John Albrecht Sr., while one daughter and John Albrecht Jr. do. When Sandra Albrecht died, the complaint stated that Albrecht Sr. ‘was very specific that he quickly wanted the body buried’. He had also instructed the funeral director not to inform his children about the burial.” I mean, what family hasn’t gone through that?

On that Wells Fargo board vote yesterday, Gillian Tan at Bloomberg writes, “I've previously written that a board refresh would be a good move, and the result could indeed have been different if the bank's largest shareholder, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. hadn't used its roughly 10 percent stake to back all of the nominated directors. If the Warren Buffett-led conglomerate had instead pushed for a level of accountability, at least four existing board members would have been shown the door and each forced to farewell more than $300,000 in director fees, including Chairman Stephen Sanger.  One or all of them should even consider the selfless move of stepping down of their own accord, especially since such departures wouldn't be viewed negatively by investors.”

MN GOP chair Downey sends letter decrying his would-be successor, Chris Fields

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 2:00pm
MinnPost staff

The knives have come out in the MN GOP chair race. The Star Tribune’s J. Patrick Coolican reports: “GOP Party Chairman Keith Downey released a letter to a party committee questioning the judgment and competency of Deputy Chairman Chris Fields just days ahead of the election for party officers in St. Cloud Saturday. … Downey is not running for reelection and is widely considered to be a likely candidate for governor. … But the letter, which is supported by voluminous attachments, makes clear Downey does not want Fields — who is running for party chair — to be his successor. … It details what it calls inappropriate correspondence and public statements and failed attempts at organizing and fundraising.”

Nicollet Mall is still a thing? City Pages’ Cory Zurowski reports: “‘Construction on Nicollet reaches peak,’ crowed the City of Minneapolis in an announcement last week. … Count mayoral candidate Tom Hoch among those who were none too impressed with the city's self congratulation. … His beef: Mayor Betsy Hodges has failed to communicate with the public about what's going on with the $50 million overhaul of Nicollet Mall, the 12-block chunk of Nicollet Avenue that knifes through the heart of Minnesota's largest city.”

Something is rotten in the city of Crosby. The Brainerd Dispatch’s Zach Kayser reports: “A city hall lawn transformed Monday into a bitter display for just how the town's residents feel about its mayor—who's looking at felony charges. … Protesters calling for embattled Crosby mayor Jim Hunter to resign were separated by police barricades from those demonstrating in support of him. About 25-30 were in favor of Hunter, 10 against. Although there were some outbursts, the two sides mostly just stared at each other and talked amongst themselves.Two Crosby police officers stood in front of the doors to make sure things didn't get out of hand. The overcast sky threatened rain, but the drops didn't fall until both sides had gone inside. … Hunter, 68, was arrested last month. Along with other alleged crimes, Hunter is accused in the criminal complaint of swindling his lover's husband out of $90,000 through the sale of his business.”

Promise not to do it again? The AP reports (via WCCO): “Wells Fargo’s top management and board of directors apologized to investors and faced a series of protesters Tuesday at the first big shareholder meeting since a scandal over sales practices led to an executive shake-up, fines and a dented reputation. … Chairman Stephen Sanger said, ‘We are deeply sorry,’ as he addressed shareholders. And CEO Tim Sloan called it ‘unacceptable.’ That follows apologies already given to customers and employees. Sloan, who got that job in October, has repeatedly talked of making things right with customers.”

In other news…

Activists want St. Paul to be cool like Minneapolis: “State immigrant crime victims find disparities in visa program” [Star Tribune]

Very low: “Minneapolis police warn about pet poisonings after several reports” [Star Tribune]

Bless him: “Republican candidate joins the Ward 7 race” [Southwest Journal]

He’s from Duluth: “Minnesota Native Running for Governor in Virginia Really, Really Wants You to Know He Loves Confederate Statues” [Slate]

A sport for the tiny house era: “Gotta catch 'em small: Growing “micro-fishing” trend has Twin Cities roots” [The Growler]

So there you go: “Adrian Peterson reaches deal with Saints” [Star Tribune]

MinnPost Picks: on albinism, the Icelandic language, and the fight over 'This is Spinal Tap'

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:09am
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Seattle implemented a $15 minimum wage two years ago. Here's what Minneapolis could learn from that fight

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:09am
Peter Callaghan

It’s tempting to look back at the first successful fight for a $15 minimum wage and figure it was inevitable: Seattle, 2014. Wealthy city. Booming city. Left-of-center politics. A large base of progressive activists.

But David Rolf, the president of SEIU 775 and one of the leaders of the drive to increase the minimum wage in the city to $15, said it was anything but a sure thing. “To start with, we were the first,” Rolf said last week. “We were in completely uncharted territory.”

Even after a minimum wage and paid leave ballot measure was successful in the city of SeaTac, which surrounds the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the thought that Seattle might do the same “was an idea that at the time seemed absolutely crazy,” Rolf said.

But it happened. And as dozens of cities and counties have followed, Seattle has been held up by both supporters and opponents of city-only minimum wage ordinances as evidence for both how it was accomplished — and how it is being implemented.

MinnPost talked to three key figures in Seattle's 2014 $15 minimum wage fight, not only to explore the similarities and differences with the current situation in Minneapolis, but to see what advice they might have for the players looking to craft a new ordinance here. 

The labor leader

Rolf founded SEIU 775 in 2002 and has grown the membership to 44,000 members in Washington and Montana. He also serves as an international vice president for the union, which has been a leader in state and local campaigns on minimum wages, paid leave and fair scheduling. 

Rolf chronicled the Washington state and national campaigns in his book “The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America.” The effort began in what some might consider an unlikely place, the recently incorporated city of SeaTac, which had grown up around Seattle's international airport. Like most airports, the businesses around it employ lots of low-income workers, including many recent immigrants.

But the 2013 ballot proposal there wasn’t just a minimum wage ordinance. Instead, the proposed law packaged an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a paid leave benefit, a requirement that employers offer more hours to current part-time workers before hiring additional employees, and a strict ban on wage theft. Rolf called it “the mother of all living wage ordinances.”

Despite a well-funded opposition led by the largest carrier at SeaTac, Alaska Airlines, the measure passed that November by just 77 votes. “SeaTac prototyped the whole thing,” Rolf said.

By the time the effort moved up I-5 to Seattle, backers of the $15 wage campaign had two options: to launch another initiative campaign — or focus on the mayor and city council. Mayor Ed Murray and all nine council members had supported the issue during the 2013 election. And the Seattle Chamber of Commerce had taken a pragmatic position: Members figured that something was going to pass, so they should spend their time trying to work out the details rather than waste their efforts trying to kill it outright. 

David Rolf

“It’s hard to say, ‘Go to hell’ when the mayor and all nine council people and a majority of the business community are all saying, ‘We want to sit down and negotiate with you,’” Rolf said “We never gave up the threat of a ballot measure, but we wanted to try negotiating first.”  

Still, there was a limit to what labor and progressive activists would compromise on. They wouldn’t settle for less than a $15 an hour minimum wage. And while a phase-in of the wage increase was likely, “We weren’t going to settle for a phase-in period that put McDonald’s at $15 in 2025 or something like that,” said Rolf. 

A committee appointed by Mayor Murray, the Income Inequality Advisory Committee (with Rolf and old-money Seattle scion Howard Wright as co-chairs), ultimately crafted a plan with carve-outs for tip credits and for employers who provided health insurance.

Wait, did we say tip credit? Called a “tip penalty” by activists in Minneapolis, the issue has become the hot-button aspect of the debate over $15 minimum wage in Minnesota, with Mayor Betsy Hodges and a majority of the council pledging not to support such a credit in whatever is passed. In his book, Rolf called tips the most difficult negotiating point when it came to dealing with small, locally owned restaurants. “They were the cause of the majority of the drama in Seattle,” Rolf said. “They wanted a full-scope, traditional tip credit which no one was interested in giving them.” As with Minnesota, Washington state did not have a tip credit in its state minimum wage at the time. 

In Seattle, as in Minneapolis, local restaurants made the case that labor was a high percentage of their costs and that a large percentage of low-wage workers needed time to adjust to a different wage system. “I’m not sure I believe it, but that was the politics of it,” Rolf said. 

At the same time, what Rolf called “the traditional bad guys” — fast food chains, chain retail and national restaurant groups — got no special consideration.

The final plan, which went into effect on April 1, 2015, was based on a compromise proposal offered by a Chamber of Commerce official. Large employers (those with more than 500 employees) had three years to get to $15; large employers that offer health insurance had a four-year phase-in window. Smaller businesses had up to six years to get to $15, with different phase-in schedules based on whether they offered benefits and employed tipped workers. Finally, by 2025, every employer in the city will have to pay at least $18 an hour. 

“So the minimum wage rises at different levels depending on other features of the enterprise,” Rolf said. “Is it large, is it small? Do they have health care? And for smaller restaurants only do workers get to take home tips. We didn’t do it as a tip credit. We did it as four different classes of enterprise." 

“A very simple idea — $15 an hour — got expressed in a very complex policy,” he said.  

Would the plan look different if it were crafted now? Yes, said Rolf.

“If we were going this summer after 20 million Americans were already covered by a minimum wage law, we’d have been, ‘Let’s do a three- or four-year phase-in, a dollar a year till we get there, and leave it at that.” And Rolf said he did not think the ordinance has caused hardship for restaurant servers.

"I haven't seen data to suggest this," he wrote via e-mail. "If server income went down, I'd generally expect labor shortage and further wage increases. We have 2.9 percent unemployment here, so if servers were dissatisfied, they have a lot of places to go."

What advice would Rolf offer activists and union leaders in Minneapolis?

“It often takes as much effort to do something small as something big,” he said. “I’m convinced that in either SeaTac or Seattle we would have faced the same level of opposition had we tried to raise it by 75 cents, to $10.18. For that reason, we shouldn’t spend our lives doing small things.”

The restaurateur

Dave Meinert owns some of Seattle’s most popular restaurants and nightclubs, including the 5 Point Cafe and Big Mario’s Pizza. He is also a music promoter and manager of bands, including for artists such as Fences and the Lumineers. He organized a popular block party and cofounded a political movement that repealed a teen dance ordinance that restricted access to live music to underage patrons. That led to the creation of a political committee, JAMPAC, to support candidates who supported music and nightlife.

He was one of the people asked by Murray to serve on the work group. In the end, however, he called the process a “charade.” He said he thinks the process was designed primarily to benefit the SEIU and, in turn, the local politicians who benefit by the union’s campaign support. “Labor wants to pass laws that encourage union membership, mostly focused on big businesses,” Meinert said. “If SEIU or UFCW could get McDonald’s to unionize, they’d get hundreds of thousands of new members.”

Very few restaurants are unionized, and very few workers affected by the minimum wage debate are union members, Meinert said. But when servers and bartenders tried to get involved in the issue, he says, they were attacked by Working Washington, a group founded by the SEIU, and the alternative newspaper, “The Stranger.” It caused the servers organization to disintegrate.

Meinert is in favor of Seattle's minimum wage ordinance. But he also thinks that once the tip credit ends, the law will hurt restaurant workers more than restaurant owners. Many larger restaurant groups not eligible for the tip-credit phase-out have already rolled the increased costs into prices or have shifted to a service charge model, in which a 20 percent surcharge is added to each tab.

While tips are kept by the server, service charges go to a restaurant owner, he points out, who then can use the revenue to cover the higher wages both in the front of the house (servers, hostesses, bartenders) and the back of the house (cooks and dishwashers).

While some restaurants with service charges still provide a space for tips — money that goes directly to the server or bartender — others have removed a tip line from their credit card slips. (Upwards of 80 percent of restaurant and bar tabs are paid with cards, not cash.) “Ultimately, many businesses in Seattle didn’t fight for the tip credit because they wanted that excuse to raise prices and get rid of tips so they could control the money,” Meinert said. “You have this ironic thing happening where labor is fighting to give owners control of the money.”

Meinert says his restaurants still use a traditional tipping model but will switch to a service charge when the tip credit phases out in 2020. When that happens, hourly wages may go up but total income will not, he said.

Stacy Booth/Where SeattleDave Meinert

And he strenuously disagreed with activists who say that workers in cities that don't have tip credits do not experience reductions in tips for tipped workers. “For activists to say, ‘Don’t worry, workers. It’s all going to be the same,’” he said, “It’s just patently untrue, and we know that with real-world examples in Seattle.”

Meinert said he laments that the debate became so polarized — and that it continues to reverberate three years after passage of the Seattle ordinance. Just last week, after Tweeting that he was opening the third location for his pizza restaurants, a former writer for The Stranger replied: “Damn you, $15 an hour minimum wage! (Amirite, @davidmeinert?)”

It is a common reaction to any news about economic well-being by a business that opposed or wanted changes to the ordinance, implying that all of the predictions of doom were overstated. But Meinert said such critiques miss the point. Seattle, he notes, does not have $15 minimum wage for most workers right now. “If you like the minimum wage structure in Seattle, then you’re agreeing that the phasing it in over time and giving a tip credit and health insurance credit is the right thing to do to make it work,” he said. “And I agree. It’s working because we phased it in over a long time and we have a tip credit.”

His advice for restaurant owners in Minneapolis? “Don't worry about it because at the end of the day it’ll benefit you. It’s the workers who should be worried.”

The council member

Sally Clark was in her second term on the Seattle City Council when the committee she chaired took up the minimum wage ordinance. Before winning election, Clark had been director of community resources for the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, and she resigned her council seat in 2015 to become regional and community relations director for the University of Washington.

As a candidate, Clark recalls being asked about the minimum wage, especially when meeting with labor groups. “I said yes, in concept, people need to be paid more,” said Clark, who described herself as a run-of-the-mill Democrat and a progressive. “But I said it was not ideal for Seattle to do it alone. I’d rather see it done at a wider level” for fear that it would create competitive disadvantages for Seattle employers.

But then came the financial collapse, the foreclosure crisis and the Occupy movement, which, she said, “lit a fire under people on the larger issue of economic equality. “People said, ‘We’re tired of waiting for a larger regional approach,’ ” Clark said. “ ‘It has to start someplace, and we want it to start with you guys.’ ”

While it was certain the Seattle council would pass something in 2014, there were conversations about the number. “Should it be $15? Should it be $12? Should it be $13.25?” Clark said. The SeaTac vote, however, set the wage. And when the task force reached its agreement, “that’s when the gun went off.”

Sally Clark

The council still faced protests as it worked on the issue, mostly from the Socialist Alternative, a party that had just elected the city’s first socialist since 1916, and the affiliated $15 Now campaign. Clark said they complained that the council should adopt a $15 wage and apply it immediately and across the board. “If you don’t do that, obviously you are beholden to those corporations who are knocking on your door,” she said, paraphrasing the protesters’ message. “But I don’t recall getting visited by a lot of big companies. People at Amazon weren’t quaking in their boots over the minimum wage.”

The mayor and the council were more interested in what she termed a “flight path to $15” that worked for all of the parties on the working group. “It was about getting everyone to yes,” she said. “It was maybe not on the perfect flight path, but it was a flight path everyone would respect and live under.”

Her recollection of the politics of the tip credit mostly matches that of Rolf and Meinert. Servers and bartenders weren’t really a factor, especially those from lower-priced restaurants. It was restaurant owners — more than other businesses — who were the voices asking for consideration. She characterized the argument like this: “Let me figure out how to pay for this over time by still allowing tips to be counted until I can see how it shakes out, so I can have better equity between the front of the house and the back of the house.”

“The tip credit is so hard,” Clark said. “It is complicated to work through.”

Her advice for Minneapolis? “Set a deadline for when you want to be done and be done. At some point, you’ve got to call the question,” she said. She also suggests investing in an evaluation. That is, make sure someone is independently measuring the impacts and reporting back to the policy makers with the news, both good and bad.

And finally, Clark said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Impact on restaurants

It should be noted here that both SEIU’s Rolf and former Council Member Clark agreed with Meinert that the payment model in Seattle restaurants is changing. Rolf said there are four models in use: restaurants that haven’t made any changes yet; those that increased prices and eliminated tips; those with service charges and no tipping; and those with service charges but that also provide space for tipping.

Larger restaurant groups, not just national chains but chef-owners with a handful of restaurants in the region, have been quicker to go to service charges because they are too big to qualify for the tip phase-out. “If a restaurant has eliminated tipping, I don’t tip,” Rolf said. “If there is space for a tip, I might tip but not the full 20 percent or 25 percent.”

Clark said, “it is still really fuzzy for people. “Anecdotally, I think people are not automatically doing 20 percent the way Seattleites were previously. Maybe 15 percent. Maybe 10 percent.”

In Minneapolis, whether tipped workers will see a decline in tips is a primary point of disagreement between activists pushing against a“tip penalty” and restaurant workers and owners insisting on the “tip credit.” At dueling rallies last week in front of the Buffalo Wild Wings near TCF Bank Stadium, the conflict was illustrated with signs and chants.

“My Pay. My Tips,” chanted servers and bartenders.

“NRA go away. We deserve better pay,” chanted those with $15 Now, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.

A group of servers and bartenders in Minneapolis have built a more resilient activist group than in Seattle, and they want restaurant owners and managers to guarantee that all workers make at least $15 an hour. But they also favor letting owners pay the $9.50 state minimum wage first and only increase their payment to workers to $15 if the server or bartender doesn’t make at least that much in tips. Without such a tip credit, the servers worry that their restaurants will stop accepting tips and pay wages out of service charges — a change that will cost them income.

Activists cite studies that suggest tipping doesn’t decline regardless of whether there is a tip credit. They argue that all workers should be under one pay system — One Fair Wage — and that pressure to get more tips causes workers to overlook harassment and abuse from customers and managers.

They also worry about tip skimming and wage theft, something a lawsuit alleged is common at Buffalo Wild Wings. At one point during the confrontation John Patrykus, a bartender at Mystic Lake Casino and the Minneapolis Events Center, crossed the 10-foot no man’s land and spoke with Andrea Pittel, a pro-minimum wage volunteer. Afterward, Patrykus said he wishes the two groups could sit down and work out a compromise. “We need a meeting with those guys because 90 percent of the time, we agree,” Patrykus said.

Need an afternoon energy boost? Stair walking may be more helpful than caffeine, say researchers

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 8:44am
Susan Perry

If you’re looking for an energy boost during the day, but you don’t want to drink coffee or other caffeinated beverage, you might want to head toward the nearest staircase.

Spending 10 minutes walking up and down stairs appears to provide a greater burst of energy than ingesting 50 milligrams of caffeine, according to a small but still intriguing study published recently in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

And you apparently don’t have to break a sweat on the stairs to get the effect. Just doing the activity at a low-to-moderate pace seemed to be enough to re-energize people, the study reports.

Stair walking may, therefore, offer a simple, inexpensive — and healthy — way to get a quick pick-me-up in the afternoon, when the body’s natural circadian rhythms can cause your energy levels to flag.

And it’s a way of getting that energy boost without resorting to caffeine, which, if taken in mid- to late afternoon can interfere with your sleep later that night, leading to fatigue again the following workday.

A common problem

As background information in the study points out, feelings of low energy or fatigue are common among workers in the United States. One national survey found that 38 percent of American workers, particularly women, said they had been tired while at their jobs within the previous two weeks.

Many factors can, of course, cause fatigue, including a physical or mental illness, inadequate diet and physical inactivity, but one of the most common causes is sleep deprivation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 40 million American workers, or 30 percent of the country’s civilian workforce, get six or fewer hours of sleep each night — less than then seven to nine hours recommended by sleep experts for adults.

Study details

For the current study, researchers at the University of Georgia, recruited 18 college students, all women between the ages of 18 and 23. They were healthy, but described themselves as chronically sleep deprived, getting less than 6½ hours of sleep most nights. The women were not highly physically active, but they were not completely sedentary either. They were also caffeine users, consuming an average of 40 to 400 milligrams of the stimulant daily.

To test the energizing effects of caffeine versus stair walking, the researchers brought the women into a laboratory for three experiments on three separate days. At the start of each experiment — and again at the end — the women underwent several verbal and computer-based tests to assess their mood, their level of motivation (to perform work-related tasks) and their ability to permit certain cognitive tasks.

The women were then given either a tablet containing 50 milligrams of caffeine (about the amount found in an 8-ounce can of soda or in one-third to one-half of an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee) or a tablet containing a placebo, after which they were asked to remain seated for 30 minutes. Or they were instructed to spend 10 minutes walking up and down several flights of stairs.

“We found, in both the caffeine and the placebo conditions, that there was not much change in how they felt,” said study author Patrick J. O’Connor, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Georgia, in a released statement. “But with exercise they did feel more energetic and vigorous. It was a temporary feeling, felt immediately after the exercise, but with the 50 milligrams of caffeine, we didn’t get as big an effect.”

Limitations and implications

This study comes with plenty of caveats, of course. Most obviously, the number of participants was quite small, and they were homogenous — all young, healthy female undergraduates. The findings might not hold up in larger, more diverse populations. Also, the participants self-reported their sleep patterns — and whether they had obeyed the researchers’ rule to not consume caffeine within six hours of participating in the experiments. Any inaccuracies in those self-reports could have skewed the results.

The amount of caffeine given the participants also seems low — less than a typical cup of coffee.

Still, as already noted, low-intensity stair walking is a free and, for most people, easily accessible physical activity, and it doesn’t require changing in and out of exercise clothes — or showering.

So you might want to give it a try the next time you find yourself experiencing a temporary afternoon slump.

But there another set of steps you should also take: the ones that will help you get enough sleep.

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

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of caffeine the study cited as giving less of a boost than 10 minutes of stair walking.

Stephan Pastis of 'Pearls Before Swine' on learning from Charles Schulz and Bob Dylan, and hiding behind the curtain

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 8:42am
Pamela Espeland Courtesy of Andrews McMeel PublishingStephan Pastis

Syndicated cartoonist Stephan Pastis is a rat. And a pig, a goat, a crocodile and a zebra. Creator of the popular daily comic strip “Pearls Before Swine,” he learned from Charles Schulz of “Peanuts” fame that the only way to write a fully dimensional character is to base it on some aspect of yourself, because you don’t know anybody else well enough.

So Rat, the main character in “Pearls,” is Pastis’ unfiltered id. “He’s that voice we all have when somebody cuts you off on the freeway or takes advantage of you, or you’re on hold with your bank,” Pastis said in conversation a week ago. Pig is “the sweet, dumb, innocent, childlike part.” Goat is “the part that reads all the time and is always trying to learn new stuff.” Larry the Crocodile comes from a silly voice he used as a child, and put-upon Zebra is just trying to live his life, but everyone wants to eat him.

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Pastis is also a rare bird. He figures the odds of becoming a syndicated cartoonist are one in 36,000. Each syndicate chooses maybe one new strip each year from thousands of submissions. Five out of six new strips fail. “It involves a lot of rejection for many years, which I went through.”

Today he’s one of the superstars. “Pearls” appears in more than 750 newspapers. There are “Pearls” T-shirts, hats, plush characters, calendars and dozens of books. The nine-city book tour for his latest collection, “Pearls Hogs the Road,” will bring him to Magers & Quinn tomorrow night (Wednesday, April 26).

When we spoke by phone last Tuesday, Pastis was lying in his yard in California.

MinnPost: Becoming a syndicated cartoonist with a daily strip is almost impossible. You’ve also called it a zero-sum game. What does that mean?

Stephan Pastis: Something has to go out before something goes in. No matter what goes out, no matter how old it is, I guarantee you it has fans. So you don’t go in with a clean slate. You go in as the guy who knocked that other strip out, even though you had nothing to do with the decision. It’s already hard enough to get readers interested in a new strip, and that just makes it tougher.

People get very attached to comic strip characters. I think in some cases those characters are closer to them than some of their own distant relatives. I think they’d be sadder if a comic strip character were to die than one of their own relatives. It depends on the relative, I suppose.

MP: Even though cartooning is so competitive, some very big names – Charles Schulz, Scott Adams (“Dilbert”) and Darby Conley (“Get Fuzzy”) – were nice to you and helped you in your early days. Why?

SP: It’s sort of like how at the end of an NBA game, where they’ve been fighting like crazy, the players hug each other. On the one hand, they are your competition, but on the other hand, there are so few people in your club who understand what you go through to produce a daily strip that it forms a bond. The very people you should be competing against and are competing against you are the most supportive, at least in most cases. It’s kind of weird.

MP: In 2014, Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”) came out of retirement to draw three “Pearls” strips. You got his attention with a strip that used “Calvin and Hobbes” as a pick-up line.

SP: I had a friend who was working with Bill on a book. They gave me his email address, so I wrote to him, and I opened with this comic strip I had just published, where I’m in a bar trying to pick up women. I tell one I do a comic strip, and she asks which one, and I tell her “Calvin and Hobbes” and end up in bed with her.

That’s a good strip to send to your best buddy you’ve known your whole life, probably not the smartest strip to send to a guy you’ve never spoken to who happens to be Bill Watterson. But I did it, and he had a great sense of humor. He said something like, “Oh, yeah, that used to happen to me all the time.” And then he blew me away by saying, “Would you mind if I came back and drew your strip for a few days?”

That would be like a first-year film student getting a call from Martin Scorsese, who says, “I have a film coming up. Would you mind directing it?” It was mind-blowing. And I couldn’t tell anybody. That was the one condition. I couldn’t tell anybody we were going to do this until after all three strips had run.

MP: You were a lawyer for 10 years. Did that prepare you at all for your career as a cartoonist?

SP: Yeah. I so disliked it that it has been a dog nipping at my heels for years. I just want to run from it. I’m always reminded that I have to stay at least moderately funny so I don’t have to go back.

Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing

MP: Besides the tip on writing characters, what are some other things you learned from Charles Schulz?

SP: Everything. It’s such a fundamental question. It’s sort of like oxygen, so you don’t notice it. You just live by it. I guess it’s best explained if you look at what came before. If you look at anything pre-1950s, the tone is generally slapstick and the reactions are overstated, and the punch line ends with a guy with his mouth dropped open and an exclamation point over his head.

So Sparky [Schulz’s nickname] comes along and he changes all that. The tone can be dry. The pacing can be slow. The topics can be anything you want – philosophy, theology, depression, lost love. He does for the comic strip what another Minnesotan did for music. Bob Dylan comes along and suddenly the song doesn’t have to be about love anymore. It can be about anything. Sparky did that for comic strips.

MP: And he came from St. Paul.

SP: If you see the world as most American cartoonists do – the syndicated guys – St. Paul is the Mecca of American cartooning. If a shrine to cartooning is ever built, it will be built in St. Paul. If cartoonists ever go to pray anywhere, that will be it.

MP: In “Pearls Before Swine,” you goad the censors and mock older strips like “Family Circus.” Your characters drink, smoke, swear, and knee each other in the groin. For a time, people thought you and your real-life wife, Staci, were getting a divorce, because you wrote strips where she threw you out of the house. Why do you do it, and how do you get away with it?

SP: You know what you have to be if you’re a cartoonist? You have to be the 11-year-old you once were who passed notes in class when the teacher’s back was turned to make your buddy laugh. Not a lot of thought goes into it, just the desire that you want to laugh, and you want to make the other guy laugh. To me, it’s funny to make fun of “Family Circus.” [Note: Bil Keane didn’t mind; he and Pastis became friends.]

The Staci story was interesting because I didn’t think anybody would care about my marriage other than me. But they did. Staci got calls from a lot of people who wanted to know what had happened. I did an interview for the Washington Post where I explained it wasn’t true. It still makes me laugh. I love stuff like that.

MP: Do you ever get nailed?

SP: It’s a high-wire act. You get a thrill from it. It becomes an adrenaline rush. I’ve done this for 16 years, and you learn where the third rails are. Some would surprise you. You mention a disease, even in passing, and it will mean that you are making fun of that disease or people with that disease. Mental, physical – they’ll kill you. Sex is borderline. Drugs are borderline. Mention a political party or a religion – especially a religion – and they’ll go crazy. You wander into things and find yourself in a lot of trouble. By and large, I can avoid the big ones. And then you just hit weird ones. Cyclists have a very poor sense of humor.

Another part of the high-wire act you can’t plan is sometimes the timing is just bad. Like you’ll do a strip that has a joke about airplanes, and you did it six months ago, and that day an airplane crashes, so you look like you’re making fun of it. That can happen.

It’s really fun when it all goes well, less fun when it doesn’t.

MP: How far ahead do you write?

SP: I used to write a year ahead. I’m now six months ahead, which is still long for a cartoonist, but well ahead of deadline. If I want to comment on something, I have to substitute it in. I have to tell the syndicate and get them to put it in. People think I can do a strip today and it’s in the paper tomorrow, but that’s not how it works. The closest I can get is four weeks away, which is quite far off.

MP: So how does it work with Garry Trudeau, whose strips are very current?

SP: Garry has a special dispensation from the Pope. Because of his status, he has been on a two-week lead time for years, which apparently creates lots of problems in terms of how newspapers lay out the page. But I guess it works and they’ve made that exception. So, physically, can it be done? Yes. Would they do it for me? No.

MP: Are you ever tempted, especially these days, to do more political commentary or go after real people?

SP: Yeah. Constant struggle. So Rat became president on the day Trump became president – no coincidence. He tweets a lot. No coincidence. So I am doing that, in a subtle way.

But here’s the struggle that takes place if you’re me: On the one hand, if you don’t go after something you feel strongly about, you feel like a sellout for not doing it. You feel like you’re someone who’s scared and not taking advantage of the space that you have on the page. On the other hand, if you’re a strip like me that’s generally not political – I don’t do “Doonesbury” – it’s sort of like somebody invites me into their living room to play Bach on a violin and I smash the violin and start playing Sex Pistols. I didn’t get invited in for that reason. So it sort of feels like a betrayal to some extent to go dramatically political if I’ve never shown that.

I know there are cartoonists who would disagree with me, and they might be right. I don’t know the answer to this, but there is an element when you’re in the newspaper of being a guest in someone’s house, and they can tolerate some behavior, but if you really pull a switcheroo on them they can get upset. So I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should go after it more.

Another thing is, if you reveal your cards and who you are politically and anything else, people can get a handle on you, and you never want people to get a handle on you. My idol on that is Dylan, because you thought he was a folk singer – nope, he’s going to go electric. And you thought he was a rock star – nope, he’s going to play country. And you thought he was country – nope, he’s a born-again Christian. He kept wearing different hats and you could never catch up. It’s the artistic version of whack-a-mole. Like you think you’ve got him and you can peg him, but then he disappears and comes up in a different hole.

I think when you’re a cartoonist or any creative person, it’s important to hide behind the curtain to some extent. Otherwise they’ll peg you too easily.

Stephan Pastis will present “Pearls Hogs the Road: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury” at Magers & Quinn on Wednesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. FMI. Free.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Two aging wolves persist as presence of an Isle Royale icon fades slowly away

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 8:41am
Ron Meador

Just two aging wolves survive on Isle Royale, the annual winter survey of wolves, moose and now beaver populations has confirmed.

The sightings announced last week were made in January and February and were not really a surprise. Although no actual wolves had been seen a year earlier, the tracks of two wolves were abundant during the previous survey, and at times indicated that the aging pair was healthy enough to engage in “side-by-side cavorting.”

Nor does their persistence through another year, in perpetually difficult conditions and without the support of a surrounding pack, change their dimming outlook or the policy decisions that will be made over the next six months or so.

But the new observations add some dispiriting detail to the picture of this iconic species fading slowly to black in a place that was once among its leading refuges.

The two survivors, a 9-year-old male and 7-year-old female, were seen with sufficient clarity this year to establish that they still have their canine teeth, according to Rolf Peterson, the longest-serving researcher in the Isle Royale project. A wolf without canine teeth is profoundly handicapped in taking down the moose that are its principal food source on the island.

Still, the researchers saw only three moose kills that appeared to have been made during the 46-day period of the aerial observations, from January 18 to March 4.

In addition, the wolves were seen early on to be feeding on a calf they had killed before the study period, and later to be scavenging the remains of an adult moose that had probably died of starvation rather than predatory attack:

The moose had been an old bull with necrotic teeth. The percent fat content of its bone marrow was 12% (normal is > 70%) — indicating that it was in a state of severe nutritional depletion at the time of its death … the carcass was buried in snow and the sternum had not been consumed.

As for the possibility of reproduction, that question has been more or less answered, and in the negative.

Ineffable familial relationship

The survivors are a remnant of the Chippewa Harbor pack, siblings who share a mother; in addition, the female is the daughter of the male, creating a relationship permutation that Peterson told me last year is one we don’t even have a word for.

On February 27th, the two wolves were observed again near their kill on Tobin Creek.  This time the female was obviously in estrus and the male courted her incessantly, but to no avail.  The female responded to the courtship advances of her father with intense aggression, perhaps an example of incest avoidance behavior that is generally present among animal species.

And just as well, probably. Their last offspring, a pup born in 2014, was seen from the air during the 2014-15 winter survey, at about 9 months of age, displaying a stunted tail and probable spinal deformity that indicated a short life span. By last winter’s survey this wolf, too, had disappeared.

The Chippewa Harbor Pack has not produced any viable pups since the alpha male died, along with two pack mates, in a historic mine shaft in December 2011. Under present circumstances reproduction is not expected.

And completes a cycle that began with the wolves’ arrival on Isle Royale in the late 1940s, continued through the formation of three packs with combined membership typically in range of 18 to 27 animals, then reversed in 2009.

Since then the population has fallen from 24 to the surviving pair, a consequence of many factors with the “genetic depression” of decades-long inbreeding in the lead position.

Park service's timetable

By this fall the National Park Service hopes to reach a final decision on what to do about replacing the wolves, having signaled last December that its preferred approach was to try to maintain the island’s modern-day ecosystem by locating and importing new mainland wolves in a program whose details remain unsettled. It’s possible, though far from certain, that a new wolf population could be in place by the end of 2018.

In an announcement of this year’s study issued by Michigan Technological University, its academic home, Peterson said:

If you took wolves from different groups, you might want to space them as much as you could away from each other, just because they’re all trying to figure out the new landscape and establish territory, and you know, they won’t all get along necessarily. But there’s a limit to how much you can manage that sort of thing. You know, the wolves have to figure a lot of that out on their own.

In the meantime, the long-predicted impacts of wolf’ loss continue apace.

Since predation essentially ceased six years ago, the moose population has been growing by more than 20 percent per year and is estimated in the new survey at 1,600 animals, despite thawing/refreezing patterns that crusted the snow and made counting difficult until mid-February, when fresh powder “greatly improved counting conditions to what could be described as slightly worse than average.”

The moose are now a predominantly youthful population, too, which suggests that “if recent growth rates persist for the next 3-4 years, the population will double in size.”

That is bad news for the balsam fir forest in particular, which had been recovering to its healthiest state in a century or more until the wolves went into their current decline.

… Recent evidence [is] that stunted balsam fir stems, browsed for decades and less than one meter tall, had started to grow in the past decade prior to 2012 when the moose population began to increase rapidly. These short fir trees, some established as seedlings as long as 40-50 years ago, now represent the final cohort of short fir that could grow into seed-bearing trees of the future. This is the species’ last chance because the parent trees are reaching maximum life-spans and most have died and fallen over in the past 25 years.

As for beavers, a secondary food source for wolves, this year’s study found that the “population has continued to increase, a pattern initiated when the wolf population collapsed in 2010-2012.  There were almost 300 active beaver sites in 2016, a three-fold increase in the past half decade.”

The report does not discuss the implications of the beaver surge in much depth, but anybody who spends much time at the intersection of woods and water can appreciate their capacity for reshaping landscape — especially, perhaps, in an isolated island system that confines them as effectively as it long excluded wolves.

* * *

The full report from the Isle Royale annual winter survey for 2016-2017 can be read here.

On Donald Trump's newfound inner strength to avoid certain TV coverage

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 8:40am
Eric Black

Being president has changed Donald Trump, for the better, or at least he thinks so. He has developed the inner strength to do something that he never thought he could do, or at least he says so.

And what is that thing? That thing is to watch TV news about himself on channels or shows that say mean things about him.

The revelation of this amazing new strength that the president has developed – and I mean really surprising and amazing – provides the climactic ending of a long interview that Trump granted recently to Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

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If you think I’m being snotty about it, well, maybe I am, but I am not exaggerating even slightly how big of a deal the president made about it, and how surprising he found it that has developed this new strength to not listen to criticism or, at least, to not watch TV when he is being criticized. I’ll attach that portion, the climactic ending, of the long interview.

The AP published a transcript of the whole interview. You can read it here. I encourage you to do so, although there isn’t much in it that I would call “news.” You might be taken aback at how staggeringly inarticulate, bordering on incoherent, and how self-obsessed Trump can be and how fragile his ego seems, if you actually read this many paragraphs in a row of him talking.

But perhaps you have grown used to it. He, himself, says he is doing great so far, but that doesn’t surprise him. What surprises is the ability I mentioned above. Here’s that portion, which is how the interview ends:

TRUMP: OK. The one thing I've learned to do that I never thought I had the ability to do. I don't watch CNN anymore.

AP: You just said you did.

TRUMP: No. No, I, if I'm passing it, what did I just say (inaudible)?

AP: You just said —

TRUMP: Where? Where?

AP: Two minutes ago.

TRUMP: No, they treat me so badly. No, I just said that. No, I, what'd I say, I stopped watching them. But I don't watch CNN anymore. I don't watch MSNBC. I don't watch it. Now I heard yesterday that MSNBC, you know, they tell me what's going on.

AP: Right.

TRUMP: In fact, they also did. I never thought I had the ability to not watch. Like, people think I watch (MSNBC's) "Morning Joe." I don't watch "Morning Joe." I never thought I had the ability to, and who used to treat me great by the way, when I played the game. I never thought I had the ability to not watch what is unpleasant, if it's about me. Or pleasant. But when I see it's such false reporting and such bad reporting and false reporting that I've developed an ability that I never thought I had. I don't watch things that are unpleasant. I just don't watch them.

AP: And do you feel like that's, that's because of the office that you now occupy —

TRUMP: No.

AP: That you've made that change?

TRUMP: I don't know why it is, but I've developed that ability, and it's happened over the last, over the last year.

AP: That's interesting.

TRUMP: And I don't watch things that I know are going to be unpleasant. CNN has covered me unfairly and incorrectly and I don't watch them anymore. A lot of people don't watch them anymore; they're now in third place. But I've created something where people are watching ... but I don't watch CNN anymore. I don't watch MSNBC anymore. I don't watch things, and I never thought I had that ability. I always thought I'd watch.

AP: Sure.

TRUMP: I just don't. And that's taken place over the last year. And you know what that is, that's a great, it's a great thing because you leave, you leave for work in the morning you know, you're, you don't watch this total negativity. I never thought I'd be able to do that and for me, it's so easy to do now. Just don't watch.

AP: That's interesting.

TRUMP: Maybe it's because I'm here. I don't know.