The Spirit of The Village Voice is Alive and Well

Although it couldn’t have come as much of a surprise, news that the Village Voice, so long lefty hipsterdom’s bible of progressive rectitude, was no longer going to be published on paper set off a wail of laments. (Such as it is today, the Voice will still be published online.)

Certainly there’s an end-of-an-era quality to this news. But if the fear is that stories and attitudes distilled, amplified, incited by the Voice will no longer be covered, I just can’t buy that.

The Voice’s historical standing is secure. It is the first publication any informed person thinks of when they hear the phrase, “alternative press.” Loaded with a pantheon of terrific, cogent thinkers like Nat Hentoff, Robert Cristgau, Richard Goldstein, Jack Newfield, Alex Cockburn, Sylvia Plachy, Andrew Sarris, Teresa Carpenter and on and on, the Voice was irresistible reading for everyone hungry to know where the cutting edge of politics, arts and culture was in a given week.

The success of the Voice spawned a coast-to-coast legion of copycats, although few with the Voice’s social impact in their respective markets. Here in the Twin Cities several came and went. The Twin Cities Reader (where I worked) and City Pages competed for two decades, producing dozens of impressive features, hundreds of insightful reviews of film and music as well as, let’s face it, thousands of pretty junky advertiser-friendly “service journalism” plugs. (I accept my complicity.)

Point being, it wasn’t all glory.

The further point being that despite the Voice pulling down the curtain on print, the kinds and even the quality of writing on all of the Voice’s principal topics is available today in an astonishing profusion that I have to think would have gratified people like Hentoff and Jules Feiffer and Ellen Willis.

A daily mix of writing from the likes of Vox, The Daily Beast, Slate, Salon, Esquire (Charlie Pierce, baby!), Vanity Fair blended with the emboldened work of the Trump-era New York Times and Washington Post is, I’m arguing, as good and vital as anything the Voice produced.

Michael Musto — the Voice’s long time chronicler of the city’s gay scene — has a piece out (at the Daily Beast) poo-pooing the lament that all is lost. “Gay journalism” certainly is in some kind of golden age today.

He makes several interesting comments. Among them, this: “… the Voice—thanks to my then-editor, Karen Durbin–gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted about all of that, encouraging me to explore, titillate, and go against the big guns, all while celebrating the fringe characters and underdogs of the city. I was excited and ennobled by the weekly assignment.”

The sad fact of publishing’s economic life is that that kind of freedom — to be excessive, even — grows less and less likely with the overhead of print (and absurd ROI expectations). What writer among those of us who have worked in the Twin Cities hasn’t had the experience of the editor-as-dutiful, fearful accountant carving obscure cultural references, humor, point-of-view, snark and voice out of stories about culture, both political and artistic?

“Straighter yet” becomes the order of the day when your editors are less committed to an engaging, provocative product than to protecting long-term advertising contracts?

I’d like to see an on-line collective of that kind of provocative writing here in the Twin Cities. Obviously no one is going to pay much if anything for it. But someone could do worse than aggregate these cities’ abundant blog work onto a common forum, if only to see what comes of it.

Trump’s Resignation Imminent? There’s A Logic To It.

I take this with a 50-pound block of salt. But the guy saying it has spent an unusual amount of time with Donald Trump and has insights into his, uh, business ethics and intellectual discipline unlike few others outside Trump’s immediate family.

“Art of the Deal” ghost writer, Tony Schwartz, is predicting a Trump resignation is imminent  — fueled by looming, bankrupting indictments from Robert Mueller’s investigation.


Skepticism is always a virtue. But given how recklessly Trump has conducted his business affairs and the vast trail he has left with Deutsche Bank, Russian banks, quasi-Russian banks in Cyprus and on and on, Mueller’s heavyweight team of financial investigators can not being having all that difficult a time building some kind of a case against him. Put another way, they may already have so many choices for indictment their biggest dilemma is picking the worst of the lot.

And remembering that Al Capone ended up at Alcatraz for tax fraud rather than garroting and machine gunning his booze-running rivals and cops, any kind of indictment that puts Trump’s “fortune” in lethal jeopardy would likely be enough for Trump to squeal like a pig and cut, you guessed it … a deal.

The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson has been doing some of the best work explaining Trump’s preposterously foul-smelling [i.e. money-laundering] deals in former Russian provinces. In his latest piece, titled “Trump’s Business of Corruption” he writes about (yet another) absurd-on-the-face-of-it Trump deal, this time in Soviet Georgia.

“I recently spoke with John Madinger, a retired U.S. Treasury official and I.R.S. special agent, who used to investigate financial crimes. He is the author of “Money Laundering: A Guide for Criminal Investigators.” When I told him what [long time Trump advisor Michael] Cohen had said to me [that Trump didn’t have any obligation to know the cash for the deal was being routed through a fraud-riddled Kazakhstan bank], he responded, “No, no, no! You’ve got to do your due diligence. You shouldn’t do a financial transaction with funds that appear to stem from unlawful activity. That’s like saying, ‘I don’t care if Pablo Escobar is my secret business partner.’ You have to care—otherwise, you’re at risk of violating laws against money laundering.”

By now Team Trump has to know what Mueller is probing hardest at, and it is almost certainly squalid crap like these cheesy Russian “deals”, all of which give Putin blackmail leverage on Trump, overt collusion or not. Moreover, as has been noted several times since the raid on Paul Manafort’s luxury condo, getting Trump’s tax returns/records requires Mueller et al meet a lower legal bar than getting a search warrant for Manafort’s property.

Point being, Schwartz is simply doing the math. Seized tax returns + heavyweight financial crimes investigators pouring over ludicrous “licensing deals” in former Russian kleptocracies + nearly total isolation from Congress and U.S. business communities after making common cause with neo-Nazis = Trump alone in a corner where even the 80% support of Republicans can’t protect either his money or prevent him from being re-branded as one of history’s most flagrant swindlers.

I also wonder how much thought Mueller is giving to Trump’s increasingly irrational mental state as that lonely spot in the corner gets tighter and darker?


Nazis? I Don’t See Any Nazis.

So 72 years after The Greatest Generation defeated the racist, totalitarian regimes of Germany and Japan we’ve elected a President of the United States who doesn’t dare criticize … Nazis.

We understand why of course. It’s because, as Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke reminded everyone over the weekend, after the neo-Nazi rally/murder in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“We are determined to take our country back,” said Duke. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.” He later added, “I would recommend you [Trump] take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”

At this point in the Trumpocalypse I hold little hope that refusing to call Nazis “Nazis” and hiding behind a bland White House statement condemning violence will be the turning point civilized people have been waiting for. High profile Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marc Rubio have issued strong … words … saying more or less what Trump can’t bring himself to say. But what they ever actually do about legislating away the roots of racism is a whole other thing. Because they too have Trump’s base problem. Trump’s people are also their people. They don’t stay in office without the 10%-12% red-faced racist vote.

But the thing that jumped out at me watching tape of the Charlottesville rally was the brazenness and bravado of the mostly young-ish men hanging their faces for all the world to see as they chanted Nazi slogans against blacks, Jews and “faggots.” The blow back in the age of social media has been immediate and often hilarious.

Without discounting sheer stupidity, it’s always worth asking why these characters feel emboldened to make such an unashamed public display of their rancid bigotry.

Obviously stupidity and bigotry are hard-wired into human nature. There’ll always be a percentage of the crowd maniacally proud of their animosities. But the point here is that Donald Trump didn’t create this class of raging fools. It’s actually the reverse. This virulent, ermboldened form of racism created Trump.  All he did was step up and exploit a principal facet of the late 20th/early 21st century Republican/conservative message.

I’ve been accused of having an obsession with the influence of commercial talk radio, which exploded in popularity in the late ’80s when the Reagan administration repealed The Fairness Doctrine, a broadcast rule requiring equal time rebuttal to charges and claims made against candidates and organizations. The modern “fake news” phenomenon began at this point, with the likes of Rush Limbaugh and literally hundreds of wanna-bes across the country unleashed to preach, without any serious counter argument anything their audience wanted to hear, facts and reality be damned.

Having spent (too much) time covering and being a host in that milieu, I can tell you first hand that at every point the ratings took a slide the answer from corporate executives and their local managers was to … get louder and crazier, or “go harder right,” as my one time boss told us. (For the record I was the token liberal, there to be ritually flogged, supposedly.)

The response from this group of shirt-and-tie businessmen to me asking why the hell they were selling complete nut job ideas like evolution-denial and cults of “Democrat generals” screwing up Dick Cheney’s Iraq war plan was, you guessed it, “Settle down. It’s just business.” “We’re just trying to sell ads, man.” As though stoking and encouraging the delusions and grievances of emotionally immature listeners was no different from talking more Vikings or playing more Taylor Swift.

When you look at the raging faces of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville it’s worth considering how much of that crowd’s sense that they are the rising tide, the great, brave upswelling of true conservatism is based on the 30 years of indoctrination they’ve received from friendly neighbors of yours and mine “just doing my job, man”.

Responsibility for Charlottesville spreads a lot further than The Daily Stormer, which as I see as of a couple of hours ago has been hacked and taken over by Anonymous.

Count on it: Today on Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin: “The Radical Leftists’ War on The Daily Stormer’s First Amendment Rights.”



Estate Tax Exemption Spotlights Minnesota Republicans’ Twisted Priorities

In the first year that Minnesota Republicans took full control of the Minnesota Legislature, they elevated Minnesota’s millionaire heirs and heiresses to the very top of their fiscal priority list.  Representative Greg Davids (R-Preston) says the wealthiest Minnesotans should be able to “keep more of what their mothers and fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers have earned,” so Republicans significantly increased the’ estate tax exemption for millionaires.

To be clear, we’re talking about filthy rich grandfathers and grandmothers,  After all, only the very wealthiest Minnesota estates pay any estate tax.   According to the Minnesota Public Radio:

“Up until now, your estate would have to be worth more than $1.8 million before the Minnesota estate tax kicked in, but that changed during this year’s legislative session.

The tax bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and reluctantly signed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton increases the taxable estate value from $1.8 million to $3 million over the next three years. The top tax rate remains at 16 percent.

Minnesota is among 14 states that impose their own estate tax. Farms and family-owned businesses worth up to $5 million are already exempt.”

So, we’re not talking about the four-, five- or even six-figure inheritance you might get from Aunt Gertie.

All of this is being proposed by Republicans at at time when wealth inequality has reached grotesque proportions, as illustrated by this stunning video:

This is how intergenerational privilege perpetuates: Millionaire heirs and heiresses – having done nothing more than winning the birth lottery by being born into a wealthy family — are exempted from taxation, including for wealth that has already avoided taxation because it is unrealized capital gains.

And on it goes, generation after generation. This is how we get the Donald Trumps and Donald Trump, Jr.’s of the world, entitled scions born inches from home plate crowing about their home run.

To state the obvious, because it apparently is no longer obvious to everyone, this is not in keeping with the American value of “all men are created equal,” which used to be all the rage in America. America was founded in defiance of the British system of aristocracy, which gave power to a small, wealthy privileged “ruling class.”  Abolishing aristocratic forms of inheritance was a primary way the founding fathers went about furthering American equality.

While today’s Republican Tea Partiers don Revolutionary War-era tri-corner hats while asserting that the estate tax is “Marxist,” the truth is that the estate tax has been strongly supported by a number of founding fathers.

Remember Thomas Jefferson, the guy who penned “all men are created equal,”  America’s “immortal declaration?” He promoted the egalitarian values of America’s founding fathers by arguing against the passing of property from one generation to the next:

“The earth and the fulness of it belongs to every generation, and the preceding one can have no right to bind it up from posterity. Such extension of property is quite unnatural.“

Jefferson was hardly alone in this opinion. Similar sentiments were expressed by Adam Smith, the hero of conservative free market advocates, as well as Republican Party icon Theodore Roosevelt.

“The absence of effective state, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.  The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is passed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in … a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

You might guess that someone like Bill Gates, Sr. would be all-in when it comes to increasing the estate tax exemption. But he eloquently explains why the wealthy people need to pay back the community that supported them:

“No one accumulates a fortune without the help of our society’s investments. How much wealth would exist without America’s unique property rights protections, public infrastructure, and academic institutions? We should celebrate the estate tax as an ‘economic opportunity recycling’ program, where previous generations made investments for us and now it’s our turn to pass on the gift. Strengthening the estate tax is important to our democracy.

Consider all of the other alternative ways Minnesota Republicans could have used the $357 million that they are giving to Minnesota’s wealthiest heirs and heiresses over the next two bienniums. They could have used it to improve our transportation or broadband infrastructure,  help vulnerable children access early learning programs to close our dangerous achievement gaps, or expand clean energy capacity.  Those kinds of investments would have paid dividends for all Minnesotans far into the future.

Instead, Republicans made their top priority lavishing more enormous tax breaks on the small number of ultra-wealthy Minnesotans who least need help.

Governor Dayton has already signed the Republicans’ estate tax exemption, so at this point he has little if any negotiation leverage. But if Democrats take control of state government in 2018, this should be one of the first policies they reverse in 2019.  In the meantime, at every campaign stop they should spotlight this outrageous Republican giveaway to the wealthy elite.

From “Dunkirk” to “Detroit”

Despite everything you see and hear and read (including here), somethings are evolving … in a good way. As a lifelong movie fan I’m encouraged — for different reasons — by what I’ve seen in two films now playing in a theater near you.

First, “Dunkirk”. Christopher Nolan’s latest movie shows one of the true master craftsmen of modern Hollywood reining in his worst excesses while continuing to push out from the time-worn parameters of theater-style story structure.

There likely isn’t a movie fan who doesn’t look forward to Nolan’s next project. (His brother Jonathan and Jonathan’s wife, Lisa Joy, handle creative functions for HBO’s “Westworld”.) As far back as “Memento” and “The Prestige” it was obvious that Christopher was someone bringing a remarkably high degree of technical precision and imagination to his story telling, camera and sound work and editing. With the mega-hits of his “Batman” trilogy, especially “The Dark Knight”, he entered the pantheon of modern movie makers in whom studios happily risk gargantuan budgets.

But while, like everyone, I couldn’t help be impressed with Nolan’s command of big set action pieces, like the Batcycle chase through Lower Wacker Drive in “The Dark Knight’s” Gotham (aka Chicago) and the stunning opening, mid-air hijack sequence of “The Dark Night Rises”. And there’s no question he got a freakishly vivid performance out of Heath Ledger in the former.

So yeah, impressed. But I thought kept gnawing at me. llA that talent in the service of what? A comic book story built on a psychopathically sadistic mass murderer (redundancy alert)? Plus, “The Dark Knight” was already too long before we got to the grim ferry-boat scene and The Joker’s extended demise. And the 20 minutes Nolan needed to trim from “The Dark Knight” should have been 40 for “The Dark Knight Rises”, which took a deep dive into the quasi-religious existential angst (of a comic book hero) and left me at least with the odd taste of pretentious gloom and cramped-up gluteus muscles.

Prior to “Dunkirk”, “Inception” was my favorite Nolan film. But it was an extraordinarily imaginative story saddled with a corny ’80s-style James Bond snowmobile shoot-out that added 15 minutes of standard-issue “action” to an already long-ish movie that was compelling for reasons far, far more interesting than some third act gun play.

With “Dunkirk” Nolan seems to have accepted that less really is more, keeping his tri-furcated story to a tight 106 minutes while giving his audience all the eye-candy and intensity they can bear.

Again, as a film fan, as someone hungry for a movie that tells its story visually, using all the tricks of craft available to a modern director (operating on a nearly blank check studio budget), “Dunkirk” is a vitalizing experience. The conceit of the three separate story lines, a week, a day and an hour, is clever on the face of it. But it is Nolan’s craftsmanship and discipline, evident in how he binds separate sequences, from the boats in the water to the squadron of Spitfires cruising by overhead. His maintains the audience’s bearings because he is so precise with details of the action, like the reverse angle and sun direction on the planes when we see them from the water looking maybe 20 minutes after we first see the boat from the pilots’ vantage above. That level of control is repeated perhaps a dozen times.

Likewise, the sound effects. I have a friend who went out to complain to the theater manager — twice — that the audio was cranked far too loud. (Others have as well.) But it didn’t bother me either time I saw it in Imax at Southdale. Far from it. From the ticking clock, (Nolan’s own watch, the story goes), to his use, again, of the Shepard tone to create the sense of ever-escalating aural intensity, the film’s sound effects (and score) will inspire years of imitators.

Goggle-eyed fans, critics and other filmmakers have referred to Nolan as this generation’s Stanley Kubrick, in terms of his commitment to craft, and were he alive I think old Stanley would be flattered by the comparison. Nolan is that good. But where Kubrick went that Nolan has yet to go — think “Dr. Strangelove”, “2001”, “A Clockwork Orange” and “Eyes Wide Shut” (a movie that gets better every time I watch it) — is filmmaking like a truly independent, confident artist, that requires audiences rethink a wide range of hard set presumptions and emotions … while feeding them a rarefied version of the genre spectacle (war movie, sci-fi, gang dystopia) they’re accustomed to seeing.

Given that Nolan is in a position to shoot any story he likes with a studio budget 99% of other filmmakers can only dream of, the challenge I’d like to see him take on, if only once to see how it plays, is an adaptation of ambitious novel. Something that doesn’t require a cast of thousands, a hired air force and the sinking of four ships.

I don’t know what I’d recommend, but the other day I was reading an article about Carlos Castaneda. The film version of “A Separate Reality” could be great fun for someone with Nolan’s gifts.


As for Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit”, what’s encouraging here is the determination of both Bigelow and her screenwriting partner Mark Boal … and 31 year-old producer Megan Ellison, boss of Annapurna Pictures, which by virtue of young Ms. Ellison’s father, super billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle software fame, is for all intents and purposes a new Hollywood studio.

“Detroit” has no chance of even getting in the shadow of the box office haul “Dunkirk” is taking in. As a movie going experience it is visceral, but hardly pleasant. The subject matter is the notorious Algiers Motel incident amid the Detroit riots of 1967. Three black teenagers died of gun shots at the hands of white Detroit cops without any evidence they had the gun the cops came looking for.  Its central sequence in a motel hallway, is a relentless exercise in psychological torture and physical abuse. And Bigelow’s intent is to make her audience endure it as much as the survivors did as is possible on a movie screen.

You want a truly unhinged objection to “Detroit”, try reading this from The New Yorker.

(Says the writer, Richard Brody, “As I watched this protracted scene of captivity, terror, torture, and murder in the Algiers Motel, I wondered: How could they film this? How could a director tell an actor to administer these brutal blows, not just once but repeatedly? How could a director instruct another actor to grimace and groan, to collapse under the force of the blows? How could a director even feel the need to make audiences feel the physical pain of the horrific, appalling police actions? I wondered the same thing while watching “Detroit” that I did when watching ‘Schindler’s List’, another film about atrocities that is itself an atrocity.) Dude, take a walk around the block and try that again.

I too have some complaints about Boal’s script, (the bona fide facts of the incident have never been settled), and would advise Bigelow that the darting, constantly shifting camerawork is an effect best used judiciously rather than as a visual theme. But what’s encouraging here is that Bigelow, Boal and Ellison have taken an indisputably relevant topic, the much too frequent criminality of American police forces, and set it loose in our suburban multi-plexes. Not sure Warner Brothers would finance the same movie.

For all its faults, and the film industry’s nauseating, cynical obsession with gun violence is at the top of its worst offenses, (and yeah, that trailer before “Detroit”?, that’s Bruce Willis in the Charles Bronson role in schlockmeister Eli Roth’s remake of the vigilante wet dream, “Death Wish“), Hollywood’s limousine ultra-liberals continue to be a prominent force in shifting public attitudes on vital social issues. There was racial equality. There was gay acceptance. Numerous superb anti-war films have countered the John  Wayne bullshit. And, although this has a long ways to go, Bigelow and Ellison are putting their names, reputations and (enviable pool of) money into making brave comment on the critical issue of racial police violence.

We are currently led by fools and Hollywood, when it isn’t stroking the violent fantasies of the emotionally insecure has sold itself to the fan boy culture of comic book super heroes. But here and there the art form is still pushing boundaries and taking conscionable risks.



33% and Still Falling. What Happens When Trump Burns Through His Base?

With his approval rating now down to 33% in a credible poll — a 7% slide in a month — Our Orange Leader has now begun burning through even his most credulous and reliable fans — namely white folks without a college education. More of them now disapprove than approve of the way he’s going about the business of “draining the swamp”, “rolling a hand grenade into the halls of Congress”, saving them from Sharia Law or whatever it was they wanted most when they voted for him.

With his recent blather about letting the cops rough up the “animals” they arrest, banning transgender troops from the military, restricting immigration to people who already speak English and (apparently) have lucrative jobs waiting for them in the States and sending alt-right centerfold Stephen Miller to defend it all, Trump has plainly been advised, most likely by Steve Bannon, that given the trend lines since January 20 he has to goose the enthusiasm of the hardest of his hard core and the hell with everyone else.

My concern, and I hear it echoing more frequently in recent days, is that with almost no one of any credibility in the government trusting a damned word he says, what happens when he, which is to say “we”,  have to deal with a truly serious crisis?

I’ve heard people wonder about a natural disaster like Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy. But the country’s emergency response apparatus, connecting with state and local authorities, is self-directing enough to deal with that kind of calamity.

My real concern, and I heard it again this morning from fusty old John Podhoretz, the generally affable conservative pundit on “Morning Joe”, is this:  What goes down in a military situation?

North Korea tops everyone’s list, and for a lot of good reasons.

But my worry is that we haven’t yet reached the floor of Donald Trump’s unique combination of incompetence, delusion and cynicism.

Point being: As he — inevitably — feels more and more vulnerable to total, unequivocal humiliation and financial ruin as a result of the Mueller investigation into what has very likely been a career of money-laundering for Russian gangsters, he will need a major distraction. A distraction of the military kind that rallies not just his low-information base but enough tribal Republicans to temporarily restore “presidential” status.

A not so preposterous possibility is that Trump/Bannon will seize on some incident, possibly regarding North Korea, perhaps some place else, and ratchet it up far beyond what is required in terms of military response in hopes of rallying the fraction of the population so poorly informed and forever willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt.

Never mind the response from the 61% who believe Trump is the fool they’ve always suspected. The question at that point becomes what does the Pentagon do? I’ve mentioned this before, because we all suspect — with the highest level of certainty — that the best of the classified information not just on Trump-Russia but Trump’s psychology is available to and a regular topic of conversation among US intelligence and military management.

So … Trump orders a strike, not just with a bunch of missiles blowing up a deserted air base, but a full scale attack with actual, regular commission troops-in-harm’s-way on a purported enemy with an ability to strike back.

What happens when the CIA, Pentagon, etc. receives that order? Given the unprecedented amount of leaking aimed at ridiculing and neutering Trump politically, I think we’ve passed the point where career generals and admirals will reflexively submit to the normal chain of command. As I say, I’m dead certain they already know — far better than we do — what they’re dealing with Trump and Team Trump, and have every reason to assume Trump is too compromised and incompetent to be obeyed in a lethal situation with any level of uncertainty.

Perhaps a bigger problem is that professional terrorists and Vladimir Putin presume the same thing.




It’s Time for an All-Female Police Force


It’s no surprise that “What to do about the police” has become a the hottest topic in the current Minneapolis mayoral race. What is surprising, and as dismaying as it has always been, is the still pervasive thinking that police brutality or to speak more broadly, “the police culture” will be revolutionized by changes that are in no way revolutionary.

There’s an old joke in Europe about the difference between Heaven and Hell. It goes like this:

HEAVEN is a place where the British are the police, the Germans are the mechanics, the French are the cooks, the Italians are the lovers, and it’s all run by the Swiss.

HELL is a place where the British are the cooks, the Germans are the police, the French are the mechanics, the Swiss are the lovers, and it’s all run by the Italians!

The line about the Germans is worth injecting into the conversation about the Twin Cities/America’s police culture, where conventional wisdom continues to turn on the belief that conventional nostrums, properly tweaked, will eventually, some day, some how, produce the result we all want. Never mind that “all” of us hold wildly opposing ideas of what is wrong and what needs fixing.

Following the call-and-response on various Facebook pages or in newspaper comments section is never a good way to start or end your day. In the aftermath of the killing of Justine Damond … by a panicked rookie cop in one of the metro area’s safest neighborhoods … there is a clear Trump base-like percentage of people adamant that the only reasonable response to a terrified rookie cop gunning down a woman in her pajamas is  … you guessed it, a freer license for cops. A less-fettered license to “do their jobs” to stop the overwhelming criminal horror being produced by “non traditional” interlopers, mainly Muslims.

While the majority of us express far (far) more educated, informed and enlightened thinking about “what to do about the police”, the gamut of most-discussed solutions runs from “greater outreach to communities of color” to different “prevention strategies” and so on … and on … pretty much re-repeating every idea ever tried before and hoping this time for a different, better result.

To get all realpolitik about it, it is time for the very fundamental question of whether men, especially young, aggressive males should be policing American neighborhoods to be put on the table for non-facetious discussion. Studies have repeatedly shown that men, young and inexperienced men in particular, enforce the law in a substantially more aggressive, physical and violent manner than their female colleagues.

Put another way, the propensity to physical assertions of authority and dominance is genetic, biological and a fact of human existence.

I’ve been saying for a while now that one of the key red flags for any police applicant should be how badly they want to be a cop. Applying the Hell-is-a-German-police force idea, (non-facetiously), it is a question of the depth of the applicant’s authoritarian psychology that should worry applicant screeners.

The disqualifying issue is connected to how police work has been represented in the press and popular culture for centuries now. Namely as a largely militaristic profession, with unambiguous military-style male authority figures dictating orders and an unambiguous authority lent to every (predominantly male) who can pass a community college-type course and put on a badge. With the badge and gun comes an alpha status unavailable or at least far more ambiguous in most other jobs. This is heroic imaging for many boys.

As in Germany and everywhere else in recorded human society, there are people who can handle this authority-given-by-authority with self-discipline. But in the United States, where cops are under stress from an out-of-control gun culture, there is a much too high a percentage who can not, and the consequences for the regular screw ups of that faction are not tolerable.

Flushing every male out of the entire Minneapolis police force and replacing them with women is a radical idea worth considering. The women may be as young and as experienced as the men they replace, but genetically and culturally women are far, far more likely to use (profanity free) verbal persuasion than a fist to the head or a bullet to the stomach to de-escalate situations.  (What’s the cost of sucking up the men’s pensions compared to the regular pay-outs for excessive force and the cratering community confidence … before the Damond killing?)

Troglodytes like union chief Bob Kroll and the Chicken Little Trump-base percentage living in terror of incipient Sharia Law, convinced the only solution to a rampant minority-driven crime wave is to double down on a military police force (the “Full German” response)  should be treated like the fools they are. Serious changes have to be made and the only thing the Kroll-Trump crowd is serious about is their paranoia.

Violent crime rates have been falling in the majority of American cities for well over a generation, (and here’s another), (and another), and as far as daily police work goes, revenue-creation via citation writing is nearly as important to cities as breaking up domestic disputes and reporting stolen cars. Point being, we don’t need the extra height, weight and muscle of an adrenalized 28 year-old male wearing his first badge and clutching his service revolver in his lap as he patrols … friggin’ southwest Minneapolis … to achieve enforcement results equal to what we’ve got now.

It’s impossible to imagine how the women (the British in the old joke about Europe) could do any worse.

The boys could then have more time to concentrate on getting their Italian act together.





Faces and Stories from Central Nevada

Part out of curiosity and partly as an excuse to get out of the 97 degree sun hammering down on Main St. Ely, NV, I stopped in the shade of a combination thrift shop/art gallery. As I paused idly inspecting the goods in the window a cheery 60-ish Indian lady waved for me to step in.

“All the work is done by Native artists from the area. Come in, look around. I’m sure you’ll find something you like.”

She went off to rejoin three other women beading at a table by the front window and I turned to give myself a tour. Most of the art work was fairly typical western fare. Sunset landscapes. Wild horses charging across the high desert. Remote watering holes. Derelict windmills. But in a side room an entire wall of 11 x 14 oil paintings of “Heroes of the American West.”

I turned away at first, not all that interested. But then I turned back, struck by one of my recurring curiosities. The “Heroes of the American West”? John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, James Arness, The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Festus, Miss Kitty and on and on. “Heroes”. But not even Tonto made the wall of heroes created by the local Native American artist. Even more to the underlying discordance, neither did Cochise, or Sitting Bull, or Chief Joseph or Sacajawea, or hell, Jim Bridger or Lewis & Clark.

Every “hero” on display was, as is so often the case in a culture “educated” with pop mythology,  a purely Hollywood creation, which is to say the invention of old school studio heads, many of them first generation eastern European Jews with an uncanny feel for what Americans (and the world) wanted to believe about the Old West and relive, over and over again in endless permutations. In short, in Hollywood’s telling and our understanding, The West was/is a vast land for the taking and holding by strong, generally silent alpha male vigilantes with quick and deadly trigger fingers. By men, and a few admiring women, who applied justice as needed and as they saw it.

Now the Native artist who created the portraits in the gallery in Ely may have had nothing more than the usual starving artist’s commercial interests in mind — i.e. give the people what they want — but the essence of my recurring slap of reality, one that’s amused and dismayed me for years — was reaffirmed.

The preponderance of Western mythology, which is inseparable from our shared American mythology, is largely a pulp fiction. The West of our accepted legend is for the most part a commercial creation by savvy businessmen (and essentially no women). And since it has had no match from a compromised public education system, it has evolved vigorously for a hundred years. As a result we live submerged in a historical psychology where Tom Mix meets Hopalong Cassidy meets John Wayne meets Clint Eastwood meets the Marlboro man meets Ronnie Reagan under a Stetson atop a quarterhorse meets George W. Bush wearing jeans with a big belt buckle clearing brush.

Millions of us grew up with this stuff. (Hell, as first taught to me, George Armstrong Custer was another great American hero. To which in this context you can fairly say, “At least he was real.”) I’d be lying if I didn’t say some part of this fantasy is why given any opportunity I head out West.

As we know well, what we want to believe is at least as powerful as what is authentic and true.

Anyway, as promised, here are some shots of people I crossed paths with while winding around central Nevada earlier this month.

I posted this one from the road. (L-R) It’s Rich the bartender, Linda, Bubba and Janet the Tuscarora, NV. postmaster. What I didn’t mention earlier is that I had been asking various macho dudes in their F-350s and Ram 2500s about getting across the 90 miles of gravel from Tuscarora to Golconda. The general reaction, after surveying my low-riding rental unit, was, “Mmmm. It gets rough. Winter was pretty bad, and they haven’t graded it. You’d be better off going back through Elko and taking [I-80].”

But when I asked Linda, who I’m told has a degree from Northwestern and recently jumped into a corral pen to wrestle a bull calf out of danger, she gave me that sage pause, the slow turn of the head and without dropping her shades to emphasize her point, said, “Oh hell, you’ll make it. Go slow. Watch where you’re going, and don’t do anything stupid.”

I believe that’s something we can all live by on whatever road we take.

Here is another repeat. My apologies. Janet the Postmaster (left) spent the first half of the summer keeping an eye on and helping out the four college girls in the picture, only one of whom was from “The West” (Bozeman) as they did field work for the U.S. Geological Survey. During the day their job was to walk the vast sage desert and count game birds, a summer gig they picked up via the Texas A&M website. According to Janet, their accommodations were pretty spartan, no showers or indoor plumbing. But from talking to the girls at their going away party it was obvious they had had a hell of a good time. Needless to say, a flock of the local young roosters, a couple of whom had the girls in a kind of flip cup billiards tournament when I left, were taking their own bird count.

Connie and Bill at the Toyiabe Cafe in Austin, NV. Connie, the waitress is a skinny spark plug, chatting up everyone who walks in. Each of whom is “darlin'” or “sweetheart”. Other than The International, a place down the street covered with Trump and “Make America Great Again” banners, the Toyiabe is the only place to eat in town, unless you count a Snickers bar from the Chevron station. Bill, her busboy is a damaged soul trying to get his life back together — or so I was told (at length) by the gals sitting out front of The Owl Bar the night before. (See below.)

Drug problems led to law problems led to losing contact with his wife and child, who are down in Tonopah while he rents a room from Mary (below) one of Austin’s primary landlords. But she’s told him that his no-accountant twin brother is persona non-grata on her property and should stay that way for Bill’s own good if he wants to get back with his family.

But bad brother was parked out front of the cafe the next day when I drove by after closing time.

(L-R) Susan, Mary and Mary’s granddaughter Jazzy, up from Vegas for the long holiday weekend. Mary owns several properties in Austin, which looks like a primary destination on a map but is down to a population of barely 200 these days.

Stopping to chat with these gals is an example of the sort of thing you only do if you’re traveling alone. Holiday weekend withstanding there was nothing going on in town, at least not until the bar across the street opened later for karaoke. So, spotting the ladies cooling in the evening shade out front of The Owl, which Mary owns, I asked if they’d mind some company. They didn’t and within a very short time I had a low down on several of Austin’s key characters.

Susan told a story of growing up in another gold mining town “up north” and how as grade schoolers in a company town the kids were let out of class and bused over to the mine every six weeks or so to watch the pouring of a full gold brick.

Truckers making the climb up over the summit, Jazzy’s friends dragging main waiting for karaoke and a couple well-lubricated good old boys in unmuffled pickups either waved in passing or stopped by to exchange jokes and gossip.

At one point Mary mentioned “going to town” for groceries, which made me realize that other than milk and bead and Mountain Dew at the Chevron station I hadn’t seen a grocery store … for a very long time.

“No, we got to go to Battle for supplies, pretty much.” “Battle” being Battle Mountain up on I-80, 90 miles north.

Susan also had a good story of driving over the summit late one afternoon when the sheriff and a wrecker went howling past. When she caught up with them they had stopped and were tending to a guy in a “little red convertible” who had been stunned by a hay bale falling off a big rig and directly into the passenger well of the convertible.

“Thing filled the whole car. I don’t know how he steered it over to the side. Funniest damn thing.”

Lisa Lani (right) and her sister (missed her name) in front of what is locally known as “The Hess ranch”, 40 or so miles down the Monitor Valley road. A sucker for ghost towns and deserted ranches, I pulled in to find the sisters, their husbands and another guy talking next to a huge F-350. I quickly learned that Lisa and sister were born in Austria, not far from Hallstadt, but were picked up and moved to this place as grade schoolers, living here until they went away to college.

When I started peppering them with questions one of the husbands groaned, “Oh christ, I told you we’d never get her out of here.”

The short of it is, as Lisa tells it, dad and a small crew worked something on the order of 50,000 aces up and down the valley, which has a minimal source of water. A dozen or more out buildings, including ranch hand bunk houses, are a testament to the size of what was once here.

Fortunes declined. The family sold the ranch and moved into the smaller white, wood frame building in the back ground.

But for a long time, said Lisa wistfully, it was an idyll. The girls rode their horses south down the valley to a one room mud brick school house, now also in ruins, where the teacher both lived and taught. When they were old enough for high school dad drove them the 80-mile round trip up to Austin, morning and afternoon.

“It was wonderful. People tell me they can’t imagine being this far away from everything. But every day was beautiful. The desert isn’t empty like people say. It’s full of life and the colors change every minute of the day. I loved it here.”

You see signs for Ione, NV. 70 to 100 miles away. So you think you’ll stop by, gas up, have a beverage and see what the locals have on their minds. But when you get to Ione, the guy you meet is John Howe, who with his wife are the sole residents of Ione.

“I’m sort of the caretaker, you might say,” he told me after watching me taking pictures of a the inevitable boarded up saloon and a neatly groomed little park with a historical marker telling about Ione’s (very) short-lived boom era.

“The fella that owns that place,” said John who wears a serious looking hearing aid, pointing to a freshly painted and re-roofed house, “He owns most of what you see. Up there,” pointing to the hillside behind him, “he put in a trailer court for people to rent out. But the state came in and said he had to shut it down, because he didn’t have a license. The trailers are pretty good-sized. A couple are three bedroom. You can have any of them if you pull them out of here.”

Sure enough a half-dozen badly deteriorated mobile homes were parked up on the ridge above Ione.

John has his work cut out just keeping the critters from claiming them completely.

A couple of miles up the mountain from the old ghost mining town of Berlin is Icthyosaur State Park. The story goes that back about 90 years ago a geologist and pal trying their luck at prospecting for gold were poking around when the pal noticed some odd-looking rocks. The geologist, knowing a few things about odd rocks, figured out pretty quickly that they weren’t … rocks. He packed a sample up and sent it off to an archeologist friend. One thing led to another and the young park ranger in the picture above is standing on the final resting spot of at least nine of the largest marine mammals that ever lived, Icthyosaurs, which grew to 70 feet in length, could dive the ancient oceans to a depth of 3000 feet and enjoyed a 160 million year reign as masters of Earth’s primordial seas.

The quarry on which the ranger is standing has been picked over for decades and is now enclosed, sealed away from the elements. My question was: “What’s the theory for how all these giant animals came to die in this precise spot?”

The answer — or best theory — is that on one particular day somewhere in the Icythosaurs’ run from 225 to 65 million years ago, back when this hillside, now at 7000 feet elevation was the coast of an ocean, a poisonous red tide swept in. This particular pod of Ichtyosaurs, possibly swimming in a deep cove, all fed off the same diseased algae, died shortly within hours, sunk to the bottom, were quickly entombed in sediment and spent the next countless millennia turning to stone.

Don’t let that happen to you.

There’s a reason most of the vehicles kicking up huge plumes of dust on Nevada’s back roads have gigantic, $500 apiece 10-ply tires. You don’t want this to happen.

The thought of blowing a tire on a rental car designed for casino parking ramps — is never far from your mind, especially when you come upon this caravan of vacationers (and their staggering amount of motorized recreational vehicles) — pulled over on the side of the road 45 miles from the nearest paved road and easily 90 miles from any “service.”

The ringleader of this repair operation, the guy in the red shirt, was barking orders to the teenage boys to pay attention to how you crank down the full-sized spare, (a truly useful skill set out in the back country, so pay attention kids.)

Any stoppage for any reason is an occasion to pop another beer, and the gal holding one here asked if I was thirsty. (I declined, on the grounds, as the other gal said, “We’ve been out four days and they aren’t that cold anymore.”)

The bigger problem for me was an Austin Powers moment talking to the ramrod shouting instructions. His badly sunburnt face was punctuated by the biggest damn zit I’ve seen on an adult in 20 years. A real high beam beacon positioned smack dab in the center of his beet red forehead.

I couldn’t carry on a conversation because of it.










Interesting couple. Larry and Rene, (although her nom de travel is “Desiree”), from Delray Beach, Florida. She’s an on-line professor for Florida Atlantic. He used to be in journalism, but is now selling real estate in the much-recovered Palm Beach County market. Since she has most of the summers off and can check in on-line, they’re on one of their annual two/three-month road trips. They passed by — in their Subaru Forester — while I was pulled over with the caravan fixing the flat tire, and I found them a couple of hours later in Dirty Dick’s Saloon in Belmont, which is as far as I can tell is a ritual pit stop for everyone coming down the Monitor Valley.

The two had a very impressive list of previous destinations on their resume including one still on my bucket list … the Saline Valley deep back in Death Valley. As Larry — who has a kind of Ken Burns affect to his speech and manner — told it, the crew they came upon out there in the way, way back country, was well-outfitted for the environment. Big trucks, big tires, extra gas and extra water, and quite obviously a heavy supply of “some kind of hallucinogens”. “Desiree” soon picked up the vibe that that wasn’t exactly their scene and they moved on.

When she admonished Larry, “no politics!”, (the Trump shit show is not their thing but there’s no point stirring up bad feelings with complete strangers), he shifted the conversation to the moral dilemma of truly full disclosure in the coastal Florida real estate market, where, as Larry tells it, high tide/storm ocean flooding because of rising sea levels is already effecting neighborhoods people are still avidly interested in buying into.

And no, Desiree does not like having her picture taken.











Sue, (if I remember right), one of the bartenders at Dirty Dick’s, proudly wearing one the celebratory hats another gal was handing out. Besides making change for my latest cold Corona she’s telling me that the cash register behind her hasn’t left the bar in over 50 years.











Lori and Bill, (again, as I remember it, since the names came pretty fast and the mix of beverages and sun played with my head.) Lori is what you might call Belmont’s local “doer”, the gal who is in the middle of every organized activity and events. At one point she took me by the elbow and gave me a tour of the photos hanging on the walls and ceiling of Dirty Dick’s. Photos that included deceased husbands branding cattle and doing other bona fide cowboy things. Also included were cow gals in fine, funky outfits lassoing and generally looking good on their horses. One of them included “Birdy”, who at that moment was tending bar and had poured my most recent beverage.

At one point I overheard her going on about “the Kretschmer girls” who sang with the Pea Vine Valley Pickers the night before. They did a helluva job, she said, “they sounded great”. Did I mention her full name is Lori Kretschmer?

Bill (possible sic) is a retired Air Force officer. He is clearly one of the area’s solid citizens. Where he sits others congregate. At one point he came over as I was rocking on the front porch waiting for the big Fourth of July parade to start and said, “I can take only so much of this. By three or so I’ll need some space. If you’re interested I could show you some spots farther up the mountain, over toward Manhattan, places that are really worth getting to.” It was an attractive offer, but, as I told him, my schedule, such as it was, required I get in range of Beatty by nightfall, plus I kind of doubted my dust-caked rental vehicle would survive the abuse of the mountain side roads.









Gordon here, sitting on the front porch of Dirty Dick’s, was, he says, a foreman for a long while at the giant Round Mountain gold mine on the other side of Shoshone Mountain in the Big Smoky Valley. The staff is not an affectation. Nor is the Dylan shirt. “The best ever,” he said. “Never anyone better. Unless it was Leonard Cohen.”

The mining company that has already shaved off and excavated Round Mountain is now following a vein of gold — really just fractions of ounces per ton — which may mean taking down all the company infrastructure near their colossal open pits and moving Nevada State Highway 376. As Gordon explained it, the giant valleys of central Nevada are all alluvial fill, hundreds of feet deep. With all the equipment — and an entire company town — in place, it makes sense to just keep digging.








Every society and every community has its alpha male, and by my measure the guy in the black hat is Belmont’s. I never got his name, because every time I bumped into him two or three other people were trying to get his attention. Clearly, being acknowledged by the guy held honor for those who negotiated themselves in his orbit.

What I know for sure is that he played the night before with the aforementioned Pea Vine Valley Pickers, “and a dozen fifteen [other] times over the year.” And when the big Fourth of July parade kicked off, led by two vehicles, one a Nevada State Trooper and the other a local Sheriff, (who I believe were husband and wife), Mr. Alpha here was the guy who trotted out as they moved slowly down the main drag waggling cans of beer at the grinning officers.









Revving up for the parade, the local gals, just down hill from the old Belmont Court House in the RV encampment, were in good tune if not exactly in full Rockette-style step.

The whole day was rich Americana. But I couldn’t help but notice that the entire definition of patriotism on display — in word and ceremony — was attached to the military. The full range of the idea of independence and freedom, for anyone of any race or religion? Not nearly so much as honoring their men who had and were serving.








Genetics are destiny. Mom (left) is one of the kazoo-playing patriotic ladies and stands about 6’2″. Bouncing baby boy is three or four inches taller and a densely-muscled 280 to 300 pounds. NFL defensive end-sized, although maybe a little heavy-footed for that position. Little sister though is at least as tall as mom and a stone cold statuesque stunner. Something tells me dad was not Wally Cox.









Bob Perchetti, in the white Stetson, “owns a third of Tonopah”, according to one guy on Dirty Dick’s front porch. For sure he owns Tonopah’s semi-legendary Clown Motel, which recently had a run of bad press because of that “The Great American Clown Scare” that went around the country last year, playing off Stephen King’s “It” with malevolent, murderous clowns.

At first I thought he was some local politician for the way he made a point of shaking every hand he found,, including mine. “Nice to meet you, I’m Bob” he said. “Nice to meet you,” I replied. “I’m a tourist”.











Never got this dude’s name. But he arrived early and stayed late.








As far as the inner-mountain West goes, this is about as ‘Murican as it gets. Right down the lot full of pickups.

I kept an eye out for the cliche open-carry chowderheads playing Clint Eastwood-meets-name your favorite movie vigilante, but came across only one anywhere, a blubbery guy packing heat while checking out the quilts for sale at Belmont’s Old Court House Art Fair. But then you never know when ISIS is going to parachute into a ghost town and terrorize the quilting ladies.

Fella’s gotta be ready to be The Hero.









July Fourth, 2017. The flag ceremony. Belmont, Nevada.

It’s Good To Be Zygi

In 2011, taxpayers gave billionaire Minnesota Vikings owner Zygmunt “Zygi” Wilf quite a gift, an even bigger gift than some realized at the time.

Taxpayers invested about half a billion public dollars to help Mr. Wilf construct his $1.1 billion business headquarters, U.S. Bank Stadium.  The State contributed $348 million, and another $150 million came from a Minneapolis hospitality tax. (While it’s often reported that Mr. Wilf paid the remainder, much of the remainder was paid by private interests — the NFL, personal seat license holders, and U.S. Bank.)

This was an extraordinary taxpayer subsidy for any business owner, much less a controversial one worth $5.3 billion who has been found liable by a New Jersey court for breaking civil state racketeering laws.

But Mr. Wilf’s gift from taxpayers went well beyond that $498 million.  State leaders also allowed the billionaire to keep 100% of the increased business value that he has realized since his publicly subsidized business headquarters was authorized.  It turns out, that’s quite an increase.  According to a Forbes magazine estimate, in 2011, the year before the approval of the stadium, Wilf’s business was worth $796 million.  The most recent Forbes estimate puts the value at a breathtaking $2.2 billion.

That’s a tidy little increase of about $1.4 billion, with a “b,” over just six years.

Not all of that $1.4 billion gain is due to the new $1.1 billion stadium and its income-generating capacity, but much of it is.  It’s now clear that if the billionaire owner had financed his business’s building the old fashioned way — without taxpayers footing half of his bill — he would easily have recouped the full amount of his business investment, and then some.  Clearly, Mr. Wilf did not need us.

In 2011, many predicted that Minnesota taxpayers would be making a very rich man substantially richer.  But it’s still breathtaking to watch the money flooding in.  Skol Zygi.

The Public Deserves All Available Information in the Justine Damond Shooting … Now.

While no more outrageous and appalling than the police killing of Philando Castile and the nearly 600 others (many unarmed minorities) gunned down by American law enforcement officers this year alone, my reaction shifted slightly from the moment I first heard that two young Minneapolis cops were involved in the death of a 40 year-old white woman in her pajamas.

Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in Castile’s death despite clear evidence he panicked, purely and simply, at a seat-belted black man with a woman and child in the car. So my reaction to Saturday’s night’s events was that yet again the city and the shaky reputation of the police will suffer as a result of a very poorly vetted and trained officer sent out on the streets with a license not just to enforce the law but to act as summary executioner should he feel “a threat to his life.”

The twist in this incident that places the responsibility on a Somali cop, a two-year veteran of the force, sets the sadly normal racial dynamic askew. As of today, Tuesday, the public — which is vast considering the international attention the story has received — is waiting for even the most basic explanation from city officials.

The delay in explaining what happened, if not why, is inexcusable. There are only two witnesses, Officer Mohammed Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity. Where is their version of the event? We’re told from early reports that Harrity was “stunned” by the gunfire and that Noor has issued his condolences to the family of the dead woman, Justine Damond.

We’re told Damond, who made the 911 call had run out to speak to the cops and was in some kind of conversation with Harrity, the driver, when Noor shot her. For me, the “conversation” part is critical. If she said anything to Harrity it should have been obvious she was not the suspected attacker, which suggests Noor shot her for some reason other than panicked fear, as in Yanez’ case.

If there is “some other reason” this thing is going to get very, very weird.

My assumption is that there was no actual conversation between Damond and Harrity, other than perhaps Damond running out from the darkness into the alley trying to get their attention … at which point Noor panicked and began shooting out the patrol car across his partner’s face.

The fact that Damond was killed by a shot to the abdomen suggests she was still several feet from Harrity’s side window when Noor opened fire. Up against the door in “conversation” with Harrity she would have been struck in the chest or face.

The point being, this element of the incident can and should be explained now, not days and weeks from now. Even if Harrity and Noor are telling conflicting stories, an event this high-profile involving — to understate the obvious — critical public employees, requires extraordinary expeditiousness and transparency.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario that dampens down the already burgeoning racist demonizing of the on-line alt-right. That disease will spread even if there isn’t a whiff of affirmative action, racial quotas or special “outreach” in Noor’s hiring. The alt-right crowd isn’t exactly in the facts game, as we know.

Getting expeditious with bureaucratic formalities may not spare the local Somali community a fresh round of venom from racists, but it will provide responsible citizens a foundation of fact upon which to assess the hows of a cop who shoots a pajama-clad woman in one of the safest, quietest neighborhoods of the city.


A Policy Agenda For Minnesota’s Next Progressive Governor

In 2018, progressive Governor Mark Dayton will be retiring, and Minnesota voters will be selecting a new chief executive.  To retain control of the Governor’s office in 2018, Minnesota Democrats need a compelling policy agenda. It goes without saying that they also need a compelling candidate, but this discussion is about policy.

What constitutes a compelling policy agenda? First, it’s bite-sized. It can be quickly consumed and remembered by casually engaged voters. It’s more like five proposals, not fifty proposals. That doesn’t mean leaders should only do five things as a governor, but it does mean that they should only stress and repeat five-ish policies as a candidate, so that the agenda can be remembered.

Second, a compelling policy agenda delivers relatively bold change. It’s not merely about protection of the status quo from the bad guys, or small incremental improvements (see HRC campaign). It’s aspirational, and not limited to ideas that currently have the necessary votes to pass. If a candidate has to scale it back after elected, so be it. But they should run with a bold vision.

Third, a compelling policy agenda needs to have popular support beyond the political base. After all, a campaign agenda is about winning votes.

Fourth, it’s is easy to understand. Few have the time or inclination to study the intricacies of a 15-point tax reform plan, so candidates should stick to things that most can easily grasp and embrace.

Finally, a compelling policy agenda must be directed at Minnesota’s most pressing problems. It shouldn’t merely be about kowtowing to the most powerful interest groups, as is so often the case. It must actually be about the problems that most need fixing.

What fits those criteria? In no particular order, here’s my recommendation for a progressive gubernatorial candidate’s agenda.

  • MinnesotaCare for All Option. Allow all Minnesotans to buy into the MinnesotaCare public health insurance program. This will put competitive pressure on private insurance companies to keep premiums down, and ensure Minnesotans will always have a coverage option, even if health plans pull out of the market.
  • Transportation Jobs Fund. Increase the gas tax by a nickel per gallon — one penny per gallon per year over five years — and put the proceeds into an untouchable fund that will put Minnesotans to work improving the state’s roads, bridges and transit system. This will lift up the portion of the workforce that is struggling the most, and ensure Minnesota has a competitive economy and quality-of-life into the future.
  • Achievement Gap Prevention Plan. Ensure every child under age five has access to a high quality early learning program, starting with the children who can’t afford those programs on their own. This will prevent low-income children from falling into Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gaps, gaps that opens before age two, lead to lifelong inequity and pose a grave threat to our economic competitiveness.
  • Fair Share Tax. Create a new, higher tax bracket for the wealthiest 10% of Minnesotans.  During a time when income inequality is the worst it has been since  just prior to the Great Depression (1928), the wealthiest Minnesotans are paying a lower share of their income in state and local taxes.   Adjusting the state income tax is the best way to remedy that disparity.
  • Super-sized Rainy Day Fund. Increase the size of the state’s rainy day fund by 25%. This will control taxpayers’ borrowing costs and help keep Minnesota stable in the face of 1) an economy that, after the longest period of economic expansion in history, may be due for a downturn and 2) a federal government that is threatening to shift many fiscal burdens to states. Bolstering the rainy day fund will also communicate to moderate voters that a progressive will be a level-headed manager of their tax dollars.

Yes, worthy issues are left off this agenda.  But we’ve seen time and again that when Democrats try to communicate about everything, they effectively communicate about nothing.  Long, complex “laundry list” policy agendas may please the interest groups who are constantly lobbying the candidates and their staffs, but they are simply too much for busy voters to absorb.  As legendary ad man David Ogilvy preached, “the essence of strategy is sacrifice.”  To be heard, many things must be left unsaid.

This kind of progressive gubernatorial policy agenda would be simple enough to be understood and remembered, but not simplistic.  It would be relatively bold and visionary, but not pie-in-the-sky.  It would be progressive, but swing voter-friendly.

This agenda would put Republican opponents in a political bind, because these progressive proposals are popular with moderate swing voters.  The partial exception is the Transportation Jobs Fund, where swing voters are conflicted.   Surveys tell us that gas taxes are somewhat unpopular, particularly in exurban and rural areas, but the transportation improvements that would be funded by the higher gas tax are very popular with voters of all political stripes, as are jobs programs.  On that front, one key is to guarantee that tax proceeds could only be spent on improvements, something many skeptical voters seem to doubt.

If such an agenda were sufficiently repeated and stressed by a disciplined candidate, fewer Minnesotans would be lamenting that they “have no idea what Democrats stand for.” Most importantly, this agenda also would go a long ways toward fixing some of Minnesota’s most pressing problems.

Why Have DFL Progressives Stopped Pushing For Progressive Tax Reform?

Every year, we hear the State Legislature endlessly debate “water cooler” issues, such as Sunday liquor sales and legislator pay. Meanwhile, we hear almost nothing about more fundamental issues of governance, such as whether we have a taxation system that treats Minnesotans fairly.

When you look at Minnesotans’ effective state and local tax rate — the proportion of income paid in combined state and local taxes – it’s clear that we don’t have a progressive system. That is, we don’t a tax system where the rate of taxation increases, or “progresses,” as income increases.  This chart based on Minnesota Department of Revenue data paints a pretty clear picture:

Note: Department of Revenue study authors point out that “effective tax rates in the 1st decile are overstated by an unknown but possibly significant amount.” If you want to know why, there’s an explanation on page seventeen of the study.

However, even disregarding that first bar for the purposes of this discussion, we can certainly say that Minnesota has a state and local tax system that is not very progressive. That is, it is not taxing Minnesotans according to relative ability to pay.

As you can see in this chart, local taxes in Minnesota are particularly regressive.   Compared to other income groups, the wealthiest Minnesotans are paying the smallest share of their income in local taxes.  So if state lawmakers want tax fairness for Minnesotans, and they can’t rely on local officials to reform local taxes, then they need state taxes to be more progressive to offset those regressive local taxes.

Before my conservative friends trot out their tired old “socialism” rhetoric, they should read the words of Adam Smith, the father of free market economic theory who conservatives worship, on the subject of progressive taxation:

“The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess … It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

Republicans should also keep in mind that the nation’s first progressive income tax was enacted when the revered father of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln signed the Revenue Act of 1862.  A few decades later, Teddy Roosevelt carried on this Republican tradition when he strongly advocated for progressive taxation:

I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in . . . a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, . . . increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

The fact is, until relatively recently Republicans were comfortable with much higher top income tax rates than they are today. While the top rate under Democratic Presidents Obama and Clinton was 40%, the top rates were 91% under Republican President Eisenhower, 70% under Republican President Nixon and 70% under Republican President Ford.

So, to my right wing friends, you’re embarrassing yourselves when you call progressive taxation “Marxism.”  For more than a century, progressive taxation was mainstream Republican thought.  Don’t let the uber-wealthy interests who seized control of the Republican Party in more recent years blind you to that fact.

To my friends in the center, spare me the “be reasonable” lectures you deliver every time progressive taxation is proposed.  Unless moderates also view Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford as wild-eyed extremists, you need to stop characterizing progressive taxation proposals as being somehow “radical.”

Finally, to my progressive friends, show some courage and leadership.  Don’t get so obsessed with shiny objects, like the Sunday liquor sales issue.  Don’t shy away from fighting to make our state and local taxation system more fair.  It’s time for DFLers who are “progressives” in name to become more progressive when it comes to substance.

Justice for Castile v. the Authoritarian Juror

The charge, “So we have reached a point where it’s been proven a cop can do anything he wants when stopping or confronting a black person?” is entirely valid and worth broad discussion in the wake of the “not guilty” verdict in the Philando Castile case.

But leaving police hiring criteria and training aside for minute, what is it about juries, supposedly a random sampling of every day Americans that leads them to reject a seemingly cut and dry situation like this one, where a nervous young cop panics and kills a man who by the weight of 99% of available evidence was being fully compliant?

The questions I think ought to be rolled more heavily into the mix of topics related to the Jeronimo Yanez verdict and (the rare) other cases where cops are brought to trial, are these:

1: A shrewd defense attorney like Earl Gray, (he of the “it shouldn’t even have been charged” quote), has to have developed a well-tuned sense for jurors with an authoritarian mindset. “Authoritarian” is often confused as solely the attitude of the dominating personality, the one demanding or manipulating others to his will. But in jury selection the “authoritarian” aspect refers to those on the receiving end, people who have been acculturated to give uncritical respect to any authority figure, be they parents, teachers, government leaders or cops. When you’re raised to defer to the judgment of such people — people you regard as superiors, and with bona fides well beyond you’re own — it becomes an enormous leap of intellectual courage as a juror to see any such person being in critical error, much less guilty of felony behavior.

2: Added to that is the relative ease — or so it seems to me — with which defense attorneys are able to gum up what objective critical faculties remain in average jurors with a kind of absolutist concept of “reasonable doubt”. In this case “reasonable doubt” was laid heavily upon jurors trying to decide whether Yanez actually did see a gun — i.e. Castile going for the weapon he told Yanez he had on him. The end result of their thinking being that since there was “reasonable doubt” about whether Castile was not going for his gun, authoritarian-minded jurors gave the authority-figure the benefit of the doubt and voted for acquittal … because, you know, they were in “reasonable doubt” about what actually happened.

i don’t know what the solutions to these issues are.

Perhaps, in the latter, more articulate jury instructions from the presiding judge on what “reasonable doubt” means and doesn’t mean

But on the former, the prevalence of the powerful authoritarian impulse built into a society (I would argue human nature) trained by family, institutions and culture to accept the judgment of anyone in a position of authority, I suspect we have a monumental problem for every prosecutor who follows Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s path and takes the case of a panicky cop before a jury of peers.


Opioid Abuse Crusader To Crack Down On Safer Opioid Alternative

The Affordable Care Act repeal, which will lead to 23 million Americans losing their health insurance protections, isn’t the only way the Trump Administration is endangering Americans. It’s proposal to ban patients from getting relief from cannabis-based medicines is just as ill-informed and cruel.

Trump’s states rights-loving Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked Congress to restore the federal government’s ability to crack down on state-authorized medical cannabis businesses. Since 2014, Congress has prohibited the federal Department of Justice from using funds to prosecute these state authorized businesses.

In a letter to Congress, Sessions made his case:

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

I can’t think of a delicate way to say this. This is moronic.  Trump and Sessions say they are making battling rising opioid addiction a high priority, but this move would prevent pain patients from transitioning from highly addictive and dangerous opioid pain relievers to much less addictive and dangerous cannabis-based pain medicines.

Before you bust out your best adolescent weed jokes or Reefer Madness paranoia, give some serious consideration to recent peer-reviewed medical research on this topic, as summarized by Scientific American:

A 2016 survey from University of Michigan researchers, published in the The Journal of Pain, found that chronic pain suffers who used cannabis reported a 64 percent drop in opioid use as well as fewer negative side effects and a better quality of life than they experienced under opioids. In a 2014 study reported in JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors found that annual opioid overdose deaths were about 25 percent lower on average in states that allowed medical cannabis compared with those that did not.

Marijuana can be habit-forming, at least psychologically, but the risks are not in the same league as opioids. A 20-year epidemiological review of studies concluded that more than nine out of 10 people who try marijuana do not become dependent on the drug. The review paper, published in 2014, said the “lifetime risk of developing dependence among those who have ever used cannabis was estimated at 9 percent in the United States in the early 1990s as against 32 percent for nicotine, 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine, 15 percent for alcohol and 11 percent for stimulants.”

Also, unlike the case with opioids, it is virtually impossible to lethally overdose on marijuana—because a user would have to consume massive quantities in a prohibitively short time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says such a fatal result is very unlikely. Meanwhile, heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that from 2014 to 2015 heroin overdose death rates increased by 20.6 percent—causing nearly 13,000 deaths in 2015.

This is no longer coming from some guy in a Grateful Dead t-shirt making vague anecdotal claims. This is now coming some of the foremost medical authorities in the nation.  For many people, cannabis-based medicines can ease their pain without the level of addictiveness and nasty side effects that unfortunately come with opioid pain relievers.

Beyond pain relief, cannabis-based medicines — often with the intoxicating component of cannabis oil (THC) removed when it isn’t medically necessary — also are helping Minnesota patients who have been diagnosed with a variety of diseases, such as cancer, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Epilepsy, Tourette Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Crohn’s Disease, and terminal illnesses.

In Minnesota, most patients with those ailments who have been using cannabis-based oils, tinctures and capsules report to officials at the state Department of Health that they are experiencing substantial benefits from using cannabis-based medicine. On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is “no benefit” and 7 is “great deal of benefit,” nearly two-thirds (64%) of patients chose a 6 or 7.

Meanwhile, no patients report being hospitalized with complications from the cannabis-based medicine, something that cannot be said for opioids and many other FDA-approved medications. Minnesota’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, looked at this data and concluded:

“Based on this evidence from the first year, Minnesota’s approach is providing many people with substantial benefits, minimal side effects and no serious adverse events.”

For years now, Americans have seen patients benefitting from medical cannabis, and an overwhelming number of them like what they see.  A February 2017 Quinnipiac University survey found that 93 percent support “allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it,” including 85 percent of Republicans.  Only 23 percent of Americans, and 36 percent of Republicans, support “the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana?”

All of this leaves me wondering, what exactly are Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump smoking?


Note:  I’m a public relations consultant who has in the past done work for one of two medical cannabis businesses licensed by the State of Minnesota.  I no longer work with that company, and this post reflects my personal views.

Before the Jeronimo Yanez Verdict

Not being what you’d call a gambling man, (there was that slot machine in Beatty, Nevada years back) I’ve never put the chances of Jeronimo Yanez’ conviction in his killing of Philando Castile any higher than 15%. I hope I’m proven wrong, but history is on my side as we await the verdict. And this is an actual jury, not one of those sealed off police review boards where the chances of the finger of guilt would drop into the low single digits.

Before the jury returns I just want to return to a couple facets of this more or less routine run of traumatic incidents of police playing judge jury and executioner with black motorists and guys selling CDs on the street corner..

1: Jeronimo Yanez should never have been a cop. No one operating at the level of fear and panic he demonstrated should be wearing a badge, much less toting around a loaded gun with a license to kill. I’m told he’s a sweet guy. But that isn’t the point. He clearly didn’t have the emotional stability to be in the job he was in. Maybe at a desk for a non-profit. But not a cop. And for that I blame his employers as much as him.

Just because someone wants to be a cop is no reason to hire him. In fact, given the militaristic-to-racist attitudes of too many of these guys (and the woman in Oklahoma), wanting (badly) to be a cop should be a red flag for anyone sorting through applications. Moreover, are city police forces so desperate for bodies to fill uniforms that they can’t adequately vet someone like Yanez for aptitude and judgment? Put another way, if they took Yanez, who did they turn down? This guy?

After that we move on to training, where as we’ve learned, there is plenty of focus on gunplay and combat-style tactics — they call it “Bulletproof Warrior” for chrissakes — and not so much on how you go about dialing down the temperature of a situation.

Finally, on this facet, there’s the demand put on “emotionally vulnerable” young cops like Yanez to produce revenue for cash-strapped municipalities, largely by repeatedly ticketing low income minorities for nuisance violations. You don’t want to know how beyond-crazy ballistic I would have been after the second ticket from some twitchy cop, and Castile was stopped something like 44 times.

But as we all know the Jeronimo Yanez law enforcers of the world aren’t going to be hassling middle-aged and older white folks in clean new cars, even if they have a broken tail light.

2: And apparently I’m the only person on the planet who is obsessed with this, but why, considering all the pain and suffering to victims, families, police department reputations, city budgets and on and on hasn’t anyone (else) suggested issuing police a kind of dial-barreled service revolver, with a default setting firing rubber bullets or chemical darts? (When city cops get into the exceedingly rare raging, Hollywood-style gun battle, they could simply re-set the thing to fire its load of live ammo.)

Had Yanez freaked at the word “gun”, whipped out his and starting pumping rubber bullets into Castile’s chest, (being careful as he says not to scare the toddler in the back seat), Castile would have been pretty damn sore for a week or so, but he’d be alive, Yanez wouldn’t be on trial, the cops wouldn’t be fending of the now standard and very hard to dispute accusations of racism, the cities involved would be several thousands of dollars less in the red and Castile would be alive to pay another few hundred dollars a year in expired tab fines, or whatever the next cop could get him for. (I’m not sure what St. Anthony Park’s basic fine is for “Driving While Black”.)

This is good:

As far as I can tell my dual-barrel revolver idea has garnered exactly zero interest anywhere in the country, probably because no politician could stand up to Second Amendment fanatics shrieking about, “Disarming the cops!”.

One other facet worth giving some thought to are statistics dug up by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones on the disproportionate number of these cop v. minority killings that involve peace officers who are either young or very new to the job.



Minnesota GOP’s Tobacco Tax Cut Is A Killer, Literally

There is a lot to dislike about the Minnesota Republicans’ tax cuts that were recently signed into law. For instance, increasing the estate tax exemption from $2 million to $3 million is an unnecessarily lavish gift to about 1,000 Minnesotans who won the birth lottery by being born into a relatively wealthy family.  Overall, the Republicans’ tax cuts will compromise Minnesota’s future fiscal stability by reducing state revenue by more than $5 billion over the coming decade. This is a particularly reckless move at a time when President Trump and his Republican congressional supporters are proposing to shift billions of dollars in future costs to states.   The next time Minnesota has a budget shortfall, remember the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts.

But the stinkiest of the Republicans’ tax cut stink bombs was their tobacco tax cut, because in the coming years it will cause suffering and death.

Think that’s hyperbole?  A mountain of research shows that every time tobacco prices increase, tobacco consumption decreases. The corollary is also true – tobacco consumption increases when tobacco prices decrease.

This is particularly true when it comes to price-sensitive young Americans.

Here’s why that matters:  When tobacco consumption increases, tobacco-related suffering and death increases. Though we don’t hear about it as much as we used to, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable diseases and death in America. It causes a variety of deadly cancers, lung diseases, and heart diseases, among other serious health problems.  If you’ve ever seen anyone suffer from one of these illnesses, I promise you will never forget it.

If you don’t believe the legion of public health and economic researchers about tobacco taxes decreasing tobacco use, listen to the tobacco industry executives themselves. In a previously secret document that got disclosed during lawsuits, an executive from Philip Morris, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, said:

“Of all the concerns, there is one – taxation – that alarms us the most. While marketing restrictions and public and passive smoking [restrictions] do depress volume, in our experience taxation depresses it much more severely.”

Likewise, an executive from RJ Reynolds, makers of Newport and Camel cigarettes, came to the same conclusion:

“If prices were 10% higher, 12-17 incidence [youth smoking] would be 11.9% lower.”

So if Republican legislators think their tobacco tax cut is doing a favor for Minnesota smokers, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Yes, financially speaking, the tobacco tax is regressive. That is, the higher costs of tobacco products that result from tobacco taxes disproportionately impact the pocketbooks of poorer Minnesotans.

But that’s not the end of the story, because the reduction in tobacco-related suffering and death that comes from higher tobacco taxes is progressive. That is, the life-saving health benefits associated with higher tobacco taxes disproportionately flow to poorer Minnesotans.  And by the way, the millions of dollars in savings from not having to pay as much to treat those tobacco-related diseases flow to Minnesota taxpayers and health insurance premium payers.

The bottom line is that cutting tobacco taxes, as Minnesota Republicans did this year, has two major impacts. It causes tobacco executives to profit more from increased sales, and it causes our family members, friends, and neighbors to suffer tobacco-related diseases.

Therefore, when it comes to tobacco taxes, Minnesotan leaders have to be cash cruel to be clinically kind. If the DFL Party wins control of the Minnesota Legislature in 2018, increasing tobacco taxes must be at the very top of their agenda.

Good Luck, Portland.

So it’s “Portlandia v. Trumpistan” this Sunday in Oregon. Organizers of the June 10th rally against Sharia Law, without question the most imminent threat to free-range espresso sipping Oregonians anyone can imagine, has been cancelled. But Sunday’s “Pro Trump free speech” rally is still on. Because … well because free speech is still a thing around here, at least in the uber-holistic paradise known as Portland.

As you may have heard, the Mayor and the cops aren’t too thrilled with this. But a court refused to revoke the permit on the grounds that the organizers got it fair and square. Nevertheless, the potential for some kind of telegenic mayhem is very high, since every affiliate satellite truck and crew for 500 miles is going to be scanning the scene for the slightest hint of confrontation between Trumpers and pissed off lefties eager to show the country that skinhead/tinfoil goobers are not representative of their misty green city.

Except of that they are, just as they’re representative of increasingly emboldened factions everywhere else in ‘Murica. Which is why I get more fascinated (and concerned) every day at the thought of what this “pro-Trump free speech” crowd will do when, as I believe, Trump himself inevitably disintegrates and is replaced.

At the moment, living in separate bubbles as we do, the impression in mine is that the 60 million who voted for The Donald last November have been cowed back to a fraction of that number — to only the most whacked-out goobers — and that forces of reason have gained the upper hand. But in the other bubble, the one that holds “the failing New York Times” and “the Clinton News Network” and pencil-necks like Rachel Maddow, Ezra Klein and David Frum in utter contempt, and suckles at the addictive teat of Breitbart, NewsMax and Sean Hannity, the hardening perception is that the election of the guy (Donald) for whom they waited their entire lives is being invalidated and revoked in front of their eyes by exactly the domineering snobs who have oppressed their friends and them for generations.

So … I don’t see them sitting still for The Donald’s shall we say “deinvestiture” by the same corrupt urban elite pencil necks. They will certainly be encouraged by their, uh, “thought leaders”, to rally and rage more vigorously than ever before as they see Trump being castrated by the “administrative state” they sent him to DC to blow up. And by “vigorously” I mean physically, as though they’re the last militia between “freedom” and “tyranny”.

The guess is this is what has Portland’s Mayor and cops spooked about this “free speech” event this Sunday. If you are prone to worrying about a face-to-face clash between the farthest right and the farthest left in the country today, both eager to make a defining statement, well, here’s leafy, piney Portland for test run #1.

It’s worth remembering that when Richard Nixon waved goodbye and disappeared into that chopper 31% of the country still supported him. But that was back in the day when even the gnarliest redoubt Republican had some exposure to the likes of Walter Cronkite. Today, the “pro-Trump free speech” base, literate really only in the Second Amendment, has very little if any routine contact with mainstream news (i.e. reality), other than being told by the likes of Breitbart and Trump that it’s all “fake.”

This crowd is running on a much higher octane mix of delusion than the Republicans of 1974.

Mix gas like that and a wildfire of stoked rage and we’ve got a bigger problem than the cops in Oregon.

This is Not Mark Dayton’s Finest Hour

TCursor_and_Constitutional_fight_escalates_between_Dayton__Legislature_-_StarTribune_comhis is going to sound awfully school marmy, but I expected more from you, Mark Dayton.

I’m speaking, of course, of the spat over Dayton’s defunding of the legislative branch of government in retaliation for the Republicans planting a legislative stink bomb in their unwise tax cut bill.

Admittedly, poor Mark Dayton suffers from my high expectations. During his career of public service, he’s usually been a thoughtful and mature leader who has shown great respect for our constitutional democracy.  For that reason, I just expect a lot more from him than I do from Republican state legislators, who have, in recent years, had more of a track record of recklessness and immaturity.

So, I’m disappointed with Dayton’s gamesmanship in this case, because it is probably unconstitutional and certainly childish. Mind you, this criticism is coming from someone who hates the Republicans’ tax and budget cuts, and dislikes many of their policy changes, but is also all too aware that, heavy sigh, elections have consequences.  That means that the party that won control of both chambers of Legislature in 2016 unfortunately gets to win a lot.

Someone who respects our guiding principle of separation of powers should never use their executive power to defund a coequal branch of government. Regardless of what the courts decide about the strict constitutionality of Dayton’s fiscal trickery, the question of “should” still ought  to matter to defenders of democratic principles, not just the question of “can.”

When it comes to the playground “they started it” defense that Dayton and his DFL allies are using, I can’t disagree on factual grounds.  At the same time, I’m with old Mahatma Ghandi on this one: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

In these dangerously politically polarized times, “adults in the room” are in desperately short supply. I’m grateful that Governor Dayton has played that thankless adult role many times during his career. Unfortunately, this time, our frustrated Governor has joined Republican legislators on the puerile path, just when we needed him most.

Three Facets of The Walker’s “Scaffold” Flap

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The Walker Art Center’s troubles over a piece of art for it’s renovated Sculpture Garden is an interesting controversy for a number or reasons, not the least of which is that smart, well-educated, broad-minded people like those who run large high-profile arts organizations aren’t supposed to find themselves in situations like this. The working presumption is that they have a better grasp of history and cultural nuance than say, you or me.

The story is so rich in artistic hubris, cultural faux pas and psycho-social analyses it’s a shame Tom Wolfe doesn’t have an apartment at 510 Groveland to record and relish all the mayhem among the (art) mavens across the street.

But here are three points that I keep returning to.

1: Artists work off inspiration and emotion. They are struck by an idea or a feeling and produce what they produce — paintings, dance, films, sculpture and/or, well, a scaffold. In this case Sam Durant, creator of the scaffold was, we have good reason to believe, genuinely moved by the the world’s use of capital punishment and this country’s long, ugly history of genocide and extra-judicial killings. (One irony being how this controversy overlaps with the start of the trial for the cop who killed Philando Castile.)

So fine. Durant produces an artistic statement based on a combination of outrage, determination to provoke a new conversation about this homicidal history and his gift for … structures.

But then we move to the Walker’s Olga Viso, the Art Center’s executive director who saw Durant’s work in Europe and was … moved, which is to say compelled to some extent by emotion. That too is fine. People who curate art should retain the ability to be moved by art, and to see in art the potential to provoke discussion and debate.

But, perhaps obviously, Viso’s role requires a tier of judgment beyond that of either the artist or the consumer. Her job, (and I really know nothing more about Viso), is to make decisions based on a broad(er) grasp of culture, as in to ask, “Will the public perceive this as I perceive it? If not, how will they see it?”

Given that “Scaffold” was being purchased and shipped to Minnesota to be part of a permanent exhibit in a venue — the Sculpture Garden — previously notable for the whimsy of its most prominent pieces and as an environment that encourages calm and serenity in its audiences, not references to mass hangings, clearly the question of “What will the audience think?” should have been given even higher priority. It is what she’s paid to do.

That said, it’s hard to take seriously anyone accusing either Durant or Viso of racist intent. Durant’s career is notable for his sympathies to Native American sufferings, and Viso’s worst offense is short-sightedness, not some sort of class-calloused indifference to Native suffering.

2: Let’s talk artfulness. Like you, I’m guessing, I had no idea who Sam Durant was before all this exploded. All I know was what I saw in the dozens of photos of “Scaffold” erected in the Sculpture Garden. And to that my art-consumer reaction was somewhere south of, “meh.” Maybe I needed to see it in person. To touch the wood, or to climb on it like a 10 year-old on a jungle gym. But I couldn’t find an angle that inspired anything in me like it inspired in Ms. Viso when she wrote, ”

“Constructed of wood and steel, this work layers together the forms of seven historical gallows that were used in US state-sanctioned executions by hanging between 1859 and 2006. These representations, assembled one on top of the other, intersect into a single, complicated structure. This composite forms what Durant intends as a critique—“neither memorial nor monument”—that invokes white, governmental power structures that have controlled and subjugated nations and peoples, especially communities of color, throughout the history of the US.”

And, “When I first encountered Scaffold in a sculpture park in Europe five years ago, I saw a potent artistic statement about the ethics of capital punishment. Most importantly, I recognized its capacity to address the buried histories of violence in this country, in particular raising needed awareness among white audiences. I knew this could be a difficult artwork on many levels. This is invariably connected to national issues still embedded in the psyche of this country and its violent, colonialist past.”

To that, all I can say is, “Wow. Maybe I needed a better liberal arts education, a couple seminars in Symbolism and Structural Reinterpretation, or maybe a micro-dose of good acid.” But then, I am also the fairly regular modern art consumer who when confronted with Mark Rothko’s “Untitled (Black on Grey)” has been heard to say, “Give me a break.”

Bottom line here, “Scaffold” as constructed, even with a ponderous “artist’s statement” or video primer, evoked nothing unique in my understanding of capital punishment or genocide.

Finally, 3:  The desire to provoke a fresh conversation about whatever horror you choose, capital punishment or the largest mass execution in American history, is a valid and honorable intention. History is sanded down and polished so often it loses its vital instructive value.

So lets give Durant and Viso credit for recognizing the importance of revitalizing memories of great injustices. And let’s hope that this flap, with all the condemnatory ranting, doesn’t siphon off attention to white Minnesota’s role in the horrors set upon Native Americans over the past 200 years.

Because … if you’re really in the mood for outrage, how about we take a survey of what Minnesota school kids are taught about the men we widely and routinely regard as our wise and just pioneering elders?

Guys like our first governor, Henry Sibley, for example.


What Spawned Who … Among the Body Slammin’ GOP?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Greg “The Body-Slammer” Gianforte’s unequivocal victory in Montana last night there’s a lot of hand-wringing talk about how this is the latest example of “The Trump Effect”, “the fish rotting from the head down”, yadda yadda. And with the statistically demonstrable upsurge in anti-Muslim activity around the country, compounding what is already an intolerable level of racist attitudes by authority figures, it’s hard to make a case that The Donald’s success hasn’t unleashed something pretty sick and unevolved in our “shining city on the hill”.

But come on. Donald Trump, essentially an ideological illiterate, a guy whose trademark is exploiting weaknesses, financial, political and moral, to his personal advantage hardly invented the pig-headed brutishness displayed by Republican candidate Gianforte or his Big Sky supporters, (many of who possibly voted for him before he smacked that “aggressive liberal journalist” to the ground.)

I’ve been on a couple “Fake News” panels in recent weeks and my now standard line is that “fake news”, with all the demagogic recklessness and viciousness attached to it is part of an established, profitable and electorally successful  continuum from — to pick a recent start point — talk radio in the early 1990s, FoxNews in the mid-to-late ’90s, all the crackpot websites of the mid-aughts to Trump’s victory last fall. Point being, Trump exploited the grievance-saturated messaging of all that came before him to draw out a crowd that had been sitting on the sidelines for years and propel him to victory. Whether he personally believes any of what he bellowed at them hardly matters. (In sales, it’s often the bullshit — the not caring if something is true or false — that closes the deal.)

Trump is the product of every “conservative entertainment complex” huckster and every Republican politician who kow-towed to … a collection of radio jocks. They are the head of the rotting fish. Trump is just a guy who applied full caricature to the extant mob mentality and got himself appointed grand marshal of their parade.

This “Anyone Who Kicks Ass on A Pencil-Necked Liberal East Coast Faggot Reporter Is My Kinda Guy” moment in Montana comes simultaneous with Sean Hannity’s on-going, obnoxious exploitation of a young guy’s murder in D.C. — in his cynical, fevered mind a clear connection to Cruella de Vil rat-bastard Hillary Clinton and everyone trying to blockade The Donald’s visionary conservative plan to make ‘Murica great again. While even FoxNews has reversed course on the story, Hannity has persisted, despite repeated pleas from the kid’s family to stop the aggravation of their suffering.

But the carefully strategized, generation-long interplay of low information news, shameless delusion and naked grievance — and oh hell, through in a fat dose of barroom clodishness — has worked so well for Hannity (and FoxNews under Roger Ailes) that it’s impossible to resist. Junkies to the next meth hit, my friends.

By the way, hat tip to pal Jim Leinfelder for alerting me to this classic Matt Taibbi screed at Rolling Stone on the passing of Ailes and culture, of Gianforte-style Republicanism.