Minnesota Legislators Turn To GoFundMe To Pay Bills

Saint Paul. MN — Ronald “Bud” Carlson, a 68-year old veteran of the Minnesota Senate (R-Lake City), desperately needed a new power tie for an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual meeting at a Trump Hotel in Las Vegas last week. But he didn’t have the money to pay for the Stefano Ricci one he needed.

“A lobbyist asked if it was the same red power tie I wore last year,” said Carlson. “It was obviously one of the most profoundly humiliating moments of my life.”

Meanwhile, Becca Nowakowski-Alexopoulos, a 38-year old member of the Minnesota House (DLF-Minneapolis), is weeks behind in her regular contributions to a climate change nonprofit organization, donations which she makes to offset the carbon emitted during her regular plane trips to climate change conferences.

“It’s certainly not a coincidence that hurricanes started devastating vulnerable socioeconomic populations after my carbon offset contributions had to stop,” noted an emotional Nowakowski-Alexopoulos.

Carlson and Nowakowski-Alexopoulos are just two of the many legislators courageously struggling to continue their public service careers in the wake of Governor Mark Dayton’s controversial line-item veto of funding for the Minnesota Legislature. The State Supreme Court recently issued a convoluted non-ruling ruling to avoid resolving the constitutional crisis, instead ordering the Governor and Legislature to work with a mediator and “figure it out yourself.”

But in a heartwarming moment of bipartisan cooperation, Carlson and Nowakowski-Alexopoulos, who are often bitter enemies during legislative debates, have been collaborating to solicit contributions via the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com.

Their hope is that crowdfunding, the raising of small donations from large numbers of people via the Internet, will help them and their colleagues survive until the bitter impasse with Governor Dayton can be resolved.  An estimated $34 billion was raised via crowdfunding in 2015.

“Minnesotans have been truly amazing, sharing their stories of our legislative heroism at #MNlegStrong and digging deep to prove how much they value us,” said Nowakowski-Alexopoulos.

Over the past month, $200,035.73 has been raised, including $100,000 from ALEC and $100,000 from the AFL-CIO. Carlson and Nowakowski-Alexopoulos have recently brought in a second Minnesota Supreme Court-appointed mediator to resolve irreconcilable differences about how to distribute the funds among the 201 legislators and their staffs.

Difficult Time of Year for Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD) Sufferers

cursor_and_custom_ribbon__decision_deficit_disorderWashington, DC — Just as the holiday season can be difficult for those who have recently lost loved ones, election time is a horrific time for those suffering from a little discussed condition known as Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD).

During the election season, DDD sufferers get overwhelmed with anxiety and confusion as they are asked to take 18 months worth of campaign-generated information to make a final decision about which candidate they will support.

“DDD can be extremely, oh gosh I just don’t what the right word would be,” said Jonah Wildarsky, who suffers from DDD and is the Executive Director of the Decision Deficit Disorder Foundation.

As a defense mechanism, those with DDD frequently accuse all candidates of being equally poor, rather than deciding who is the better one, as other voters do.

“Clinton or Trump, Trump or Clinton, it’s just not fair to ask us to decide, because they’re just so identically bad,” screamed Wildarsky. “The pressure during the last month of the campaign is immense. I’ve personally had to suffer through 127 news interviews this year, because there are just so few DDD survivors left for reporters to interview.”

The Foundation works to create awareness of DDD. For instance, Wildarsky says the Foundation hopes some day to distribute ribbons, if a color choice can be finalized.

“Golly, I don’t know, is yellow or pink or some other color best,” asked Wildarsky. “The colors all  seem equally bad to me.  Why in the world can’t we have better colors?”

Five Reasons To HATE State Fair TV News Coverage

Cursor_and_grinch_looking_down_-_Google_SearchI loathe State Fair TV news coverage.  And just to preempt the question, yes, I’m not “from here.”

The State Fair begins today, but State Fair TV news coverage started in roughly February.  I’ve already been through a lot, so allow me my primal scream.

Reasons to hate on State Fair TV news coverage:

Reason #1: Because it crowds out all other news coverage. If in the next ten days the Republican Speaker of the House comes out for a 75% tax on all Tea Party members’ Medicare benefits, the Vikings trade a 73-year old groundskeeper for Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson, and space aliens colonize a Mahtomedi strip mall, this much I promise you: You will not hear about it. No chance. Why? Because during the last 10 days of August there is sameness happening in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. And there is an unwritten rule in Twin Cities TV newsrooms: All that is the same in Falcon Heights must crowd out all that is new in the rest of the state. (Though to be fair, the crop art turns over every year.)

“It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Reason #2: Because skinny people repeatedly fabricating overeating stories is never that funny. One of the many recurring gags we will suffer through during State Fair TV news coverage involves willowy anchors and svelte reporters exchanging witty repartee about how grotesquely bloated and obese they are from going all Joey Chestnut on Commoner Food all day long. Oh, the humanity! Their image consultants tell them that pretending to be like the binging masses will help their Nielsens. But make no mistake, they are mocking us, as they spit and rinse their Sweet Martha’s at station breaks, and nibble the sensible sack lunches packed by their personal nutritionists.

“And they’d feast! And they’d feast! And they’d FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!”

Reason #3: Because even hilarious jokes lose their charm when repeated the 653,776th time. “On a stick.” “Jokes” using those three hideous words will be repeated hundreds of times over the next 10 days on TV news. Though even Ed McMahon wouldn’t laugh the 653,776th time, you can count on our TV news friends to guffaw uproariously at every “on a stick” utterance, as if they just heard it for the first time. To make things worse, every PR person in town will put their client’s product or service on-a- stick – long term care insurance on-a-stick, get it?! — because it is the one guaranteed way to get coverage for your otherwise non-newsworthy client.

“They’d stand hand in hand and they’d start singing.”

Reason #4. Because Def Leppard hasn’t been remotely newsworthy for at least twenty years. …yet we can be certain that there will be a full length news story about them by every station. Why? Because for the last ten days or August, anything within earshot of the broadast booth is automatically deemed newsworthy. Plus, it’s so adorable when Frank tosses “Pour Some Sugar On Me” segues to Amelia.

“They’d sing! And they’d sing! AND they’d SING! SING! SING! SING!”

Reason #5. Because the 3.5 million Minnesotans who avoid the Fair every year are people too. One of the most fascinating parts of State Fair news coverage – and it’s quite a competition — is regular attendance updates. Spolier alert: The number will astound the reporters. Last year, it was 1.77 million. Though I’ve always suspected that’s probably the same 177,000 mini-donut addicts coming back each of the ten days, for the sake of argument, I’ll accept the number. Even using that number, that leaves something like 3.56 million of us — about two-thirds of all Minnesotans, I’ll have you know — who have chosen NOT to attend the State Fair. And maybe, just maybe, those of us who chose to stay away from the Great Minnesota SweatTogether would rather the news broadcast contain a little actual NEWS.

“Why for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now! I MUST stop it from coming! …But HOW?”

There. I’m better now. Nothing like a good rant. On a stick.

Note:  This is a Wry Wrerun, originally posted by Joe Loveland on The Same Rowdy Crowd blog in August of 2011.

Tim Pawlenty: “Health Care Policy All-Star?”

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is being featured as a “health policy all-star” by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. No, I’m not kidding.

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The University event is celebrating the accomplishments of a 2008 Healthcare Transformation Task Force that happened during the Pawlenty years.   Governor Pawlenty is the keynote speaker.  The invitation portrays the Pawlenty years as a time when there was less intense partisan disagreement. Again, not kidding.

Health care policy has generated intense partisan disagreement over the past 5 years. The acrimony has been a sharp departure from Minnesota’s long tradition of collaboration among Democrats and Republicans and across the business, non-profit, and public sectors.

I’m not all that familiar with the Task Force’s work, but I’m sure it made excellent health care policy contributions.  It’s very worthwhile to recognize and reflect on that work, and I applaud the University’s Humphrey School for doing that.  If you’re interested in health care policy, I’d encourage you to attend the event.

But perhaps the Humphrey School should also invite the community to reflect on some of the big picture differences between health care in Minnesota under the Pawlenty-era policies versus health care in the post-Pawlenty era.  Minnesotans should reflect on the dramatic health care improvements that have happened despite Governor Pawlenty, rather than because of him.

The Good Old Days

Ah 2008, those certainly were the good old days of Pawlenty era health care in Minnesota, back when the rate of health uninsurance was 9.0 percent. In contrast, in the post-Pawlenty era, the rate of uninsurance under Governor Dayton has declined to 4.9 percent, the lowest point in Minnesota history.

This happened largely due of the success of the ACA reforms that Governor Pawlenty persistently and bitterly opposed.  For example, in 2011 Governor Pawlenty revved up a Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) audience with this simplistic barn burner:

The individual mandate in ObamaCare is a page right out of the Jimmy Carter playbook. The left simply doesn’t understand. The individual mandate reflects completely backwards thinking. They, the bureaucrats, don’t tell us what to do. We, the people, tell the government what to do!

We’re blessed to live in the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Our freedom is the very air we breathe. We must repeal Obamacare!

Do you see how much less “intensely partisan” health care policy was five years ago under Governor Pawlenty?

hqdefault_jpg__480×360_Oh and then there was that super nonpartisan time when Governor Pawlenty, who was preparing to run against President Obama, enacted an executive order to ban Minnesota from accepting any Obamacare-related Medicaid funding to provide health care coverage for 35,000 of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens. As the Star Tribune reported at the time, even Pawlenty-friendly health industry groups reacted to the highly partisan and punitive Pawlenty ban with unified expression of strong disapproval.

In a rare and unusually sharp statement, heads of Minnesota’s most influential medical associations said Pawlenty’s step contradicts his earlier embrace of state health care legislation. “The governor’s decision just doesn’t make sense for Minnesotans,” the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, the Minnesota Hospital Association and the Minnesota Medical Association said in a joint statement late Tuesday.

The Post-Pawlenty Health Policy Era

When Governor Dayton took office, he promptly reversed this Pawlenty ban to ensure that 35,000 low-income Minnesotans could get health care coverage.  Governor Dayton took a lot of heat for that decision, but this move started the process of driving down the state’s uninsured rate, a trend that has continued throughout the Dayton era.

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In more ways than many citizens realize, Minnesota has benefited enormously from the ACA reforms that Pawlenty politicized and obstructed.  According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services:

  • 64,514 Minnesotans have gained Medicaid or CHIP coverage
  • 1,465,000 Minnesotans with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing
  • Over 2 million Minnesotans are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage
  • As many as 2,318,738 non-elderly Minnesotans have some type of pre-existing health condition, and no longer can have coverage denied because of that condition

Yes, those Pawlenty years, when the Governor was fighting to keep Minnesotans from enjoying all of these ACA benefits, certainly were the good old days of health care policy.  “Health care policy all-star” indeed!

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Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

But Wait, There’s More! For No Additional Cost, We Also Are Including Tweets…

For those who enjoy tweeting and getting twitted at, I’m @jloveland.  Small sample of the available awesomeness:

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The Five Anthropological Certainties of Minnesota Legislative Hearings

hearing_room_2Now that state legislators are creating better public spaces for visitors in the new Senate Office Building and renovated State Capitol Building, here’s hoping there will be more ordinary citizens coming to legislative proceedings. The Minnesota Legislature is extremely insular and clubby, so it could benefit from fresh observers and participants.

When I’m traveling to an unfamiliar new place, I like to do research into the inhabitants’ culture, so I’m at least somewhat familiar with their ways.  In that spirit, I’m offering a few amateur anthropological observations about what visitors to the new Capitol campus digs can expect to see during legislative hearings.

Outsiders will observe at least five repetitive behavior patterns characteristic of the native inhabitants of the State Capitol campus:

#1.  The 75% Rule.  During the first witness of the hearing, legislators serving on the committee will, in rapid succession, launch a long series of rhetorical questions, speeches, irrelevant personal stories, and/or “jokes.”  Remember That Kid in school who always needed to be heard?  Well, there are about a dozen of Those Kids in this classroom, they all have a desperate need to be heard, and there is no teacher present to restrain them.

Therefore, the legislator-centric grandstanding during the first witness typically takes roughly 75% of the allotted hearing time.  During the remaining 25% of the time, the legislators who have been talking ad nauseam will shift to scolding the long list of scheduled testifiers about the need to be brief.  After all, busy legislators don’t have time to waste.

cultural_anthropology_quotes_-_Google_Search#2. The iPhone Prayer.  The reason legislators continually have their heads bowed is not because they are prayerful or otherwise contemplative. It’s because of smart phones.

The hearing observer will quickly notice that legislators much prefer their smart phone to their smart constituents. Therefore, visitors should expect to mostly see the crowns of legislators’ heads, as they stare down smirking at their latest epic text or tweet.

You see, the State Legislature is like high school, with its complex network of cliques constantly angling to mistreat each other. But the environment is actually much more toxic than high school, because unlike high school, unlimited smart phone use is permitted in class.

#3. The Extras. Visitors will notice that the least relevant person in the committee room is the lowly testifier. The person delivering testimony is an extra, a volunteer who is cast by legislators to create the illusion of information gathering and democratic participation.

Seemingly unaware of the ruse, many testifiers spend hours earnestly preparing their thoughtful, fact-filled remarks.  But they quickly discover that committee members have much more pressing needs to attend to, such as epic texts and tweets.

#4.  The Mind-Melding.  The confident looking people in the hearing room who dress like they earn significantly more than $31,141 per year are not legislators. They are lobbyists.

This native species will be furiously scribbling, typing, texting, hand signaling and whispering. This elaborate display is to justify spending 99% of their work day sitting through legislative testimony that is being 99% ignored by the legislators.

Interesting side note: Lobbyists have mind-melding powers, derived from their political action committees (PACs).

#5. The Civil Sandwiches. Hearing tourists will also notice that legislators have a very peculiar and predictable speech pattern, which linguists have dubbed The Civil Sandwich.

Here’s how it goes:  Legislators begin and end statements by saying something superficially civil. Then sandwiched between the civilities is a juicy layer of petty savagery. For instance, a typical Civil Sandwich might sound like this:

“I greatly appreciate the fine work of my good friend, and thank him for bringing forward these ideas.

However, moron, your bill would obviously lead to the collapse of Minnesota’s economy, the moral decay of society and, very possibly, leprosy. This proposal proves you are even more stupid and corrupt than I suspected, and are clearly doing the bidding of evil-doers intent on world domination. And by the way, the fiscal note for this bill is as nauseating as your very homely spouse.

But again, Representative Jensen-Carlson, I sincerely appreciate and respect the hard work you have done on this issue.  I look forward to collaborating with you to improve on it, because that’s just the kind of fella I am.”

Yes, I’m exaggerating for effect.  It’s the satirists’ disease.  The truth is, many individual legislators are bright, thoughtful, and decent people who sincerely care about Minnesota. In fact, I’ve often made the case that legislators should be paid much more than $31,141 per year, because their job is important, time-consuming and difficult.

But individuals aside, when it comes to the collective culture of legislative hearings, my level of exaggeration here is not as extreme as you might hope.  But by all means, go judge for yourself.  Enjoy your excursion to an upcoming hearing in legislators’ spacious new habitat.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Note:  This post was also featured by MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

An Unlikely Liberal Explains Himself

I have a nearly perfect profile for a political conservative. I check all the “right” boxes: I’m a straight white male. I’m a native born American, with northern European heritage, and my family’s immigration happened several generations ago.   I was raised in a middle class family with a stay-at-home mom in a small city in a bright red state. I attended a religious elementary school.

Now, I am married with three kids. I go to a protestant church. I worked in the corporate world for a while, and started my own successful small business 16 years ago.  I’m beyond middle age, in my mid-50s.  I’m financially comfortable.

That’s a whole lot of right wing risk factors. If you presented that profile to a political scientist or demographer and asked them to guess my political leanings, they’d surely guess that I’m a conservative.   After all, Pew Research has found the following about contemporary political conservatives:

More than nine-in-ten (92%) non-Hispanic white and 56% male. The oldest of the groups (61% ages 50 and older). Married (79%), Protestant (72%, including 43% white evangelical), and financially comfortable (70% say paying the bills is not a problem). Many are gun owners (57%) and regular churchgoers (57% attend weekly or more often), and fully 81% are homeowners.

Other than the gun, that is me. You might as well fit me from my Tea Party tricorne hat right now.

So how is it that the guy who would be Central Casting’s idea of conservative is a liberal?  My conservative friends speculate that I must be a) uninformed, b) brain-washed by the liberal media; c) deranged; and/or c) stupid.

But I have a different explanation: I’m liberal because I recognize a few fundamental things about myself.

I GOT A HEAD START, AND OTHERS DESERVE OPPORTUNTIES TOO. First, I recognize that I had a head start in life, and others deserve an opportunity to catch up. I have come to realize that being a straight, white, male, Christian American who was not born into poverty has given me unearned societal privilege.  After all, we’re a nation whose private and public sector have always been controlled by straight, white, male, Christians of means, and that fact has given me significant built-in advantages that others don’t enjoy.

I often try to deny it, and chalk up my successes to my hard work, charm and talent. But the fact is, in many ways I was just plain lucky. Through an accident of birth, I was born with traits that the ruling class shares, and that helped me enjoy extremely important things in life, such as a stable childhood, a solid education, good jobs, raises, wealth and equal protection under the law.

For this reason, I support public policies that bring equal opportunity for those who, through no fault of their own, didn’t have that kind of head start — poor people, people of color, non-Christians, and new immigrants, among others. Fairness dictates that those folks have equal opportunities, and that’s why I support affirmative action, law enforcement reforms, targeted education scholarships, targeted income supports, pay equity legislation, progressive taxation, and civil rights laws.

Instead of protecting the privilege that fell into my lap as a newborn, the fair thing to do is to take steps to level the playing field for people who weren’t lucky enough to win the birth lottery.  Extending equal opportunity to less privileged Americans is how the American Dream of upward mobility lives on, and I want it to live on.

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I’M SELFISH, AND I NEED TO BE SAVED FROM MYSELF. Second, I’m a liberal because I recognize that I and all humans need to be saved from ourselves. I know that we are all continually tempted to do things that helps us individually, but hurt the community as a whole. For instance, to feather our own nest many of us will cheat on our taxes, pollute, mislead fellow citizens, or otherwise harm others. Given that unfortunate part of our collective human nature, we need governmental rules and enforcement bodies to deter us from selfishly harming the community on which we all rely.

Because humans are selfish, we need the IRS, cops, soldiers, environmental and business regulations and civil and criminal laws.  We need laws and law enforcement to have the stable, safe, fair and efficient communities that individuals and businesses need to thrive.  And if you agree that administration and enforcement of laws is necessary, you have to be willing to, sigh, pay for it.

I BENEFITED FROM GOVERNMENT, AND NEED TO PAY IT FORWARD. I’m also a liberal because I recognize that government played a big role in my success. To some extent, I actually did “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” as the conservatives like to say. After all, I studied and worked hard, and overcame difficulties. But fortunately, I wasn’t alone in my pulling.   I pulled, but so did past generations of taxpayers, with the government services and public goods they funded. The taxpayer-funded GI Bill, public schools, Social Security and Medicare pulled my parents up into the middle class, so that I could have a stable household in which to develop.  My parents’ generation of taxpayers pulled me and my wife up, so that we could attend subsidized schools and universities, own a home, and benefit, directly and indirectly, from a government-funded infrastructure, safety net, regulatory structure and security force.

A lot of folks in past generations paid to lift up my family, and I appreciate their sacrifices. So now that I have benefited, fairness dictates that I return the favor to the people coming up the ladder behind me.

I NEED GREAT COMMUNITIES FOR SELFISH REASONS. The things I just mentioned may sound very altruistic, and I do hope the Golden Rule underpins my liberalism. But there is also a very selfish reason I am a liberal.

I support liberal policies because I, my kids and my grandkids will all benefit from living in stable, pleasant, efficient, and stimulating communities full of a diverse group of happy and successful people.  It would suck to live in a gated community surrounded by a chaotic society, a crumbling infrastructure, crime, squalor and people who hated me, even if it meant my taxes were  lower. That’s a more selfish reason why I’m willing to pay to help the community-as-a-whole succeed together.

This is not to say that I support unlimited government.  Of course, I want government to continually strive to get more effective and efficient. Of course, I oppose illogical and unnecessary laws and regulations. Of course, I want incentives for people to work hard, and take personal responsibility for their actions.  Of course, I want equal opportunity rather than equal outcomes.

But there are still plenty of very good reasons for successful white males like me to support progressive policies.

My Vikings Legacy Brick

Vikings_brickMy kids are all too aware of my unhealthy obsession with the Minnesota Vikings, so for Christmas they splurged and got me a “Legacy Brick”, which will be part of the plaza on the front porch of the Vikings new stadium.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much this gift pleased me.  After all, I’m a grown ass man. I understand this is just an appeal to vanity and hero worship as a way to have rubes like me finance an asset that will make billionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wealthier.

But come on, it’s granite, with my name on it, in the Vikings’ front yard! How AWESOME is that? The Vikings and I were both born in 1961, and I and other family members, living and dead, have closely followed them for as long as I can remember.  This is a chance to memorialize our collective misery.

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Better yet for a guy who likes to write, the accompanying brochure pledges that “your personal message” will be engraved on the brick. Hot damn, a blank slate!

As a long-suffering fan of the historically snake bit franchise, my mind immediately went to trolling. That is, I considered capturing a grievances in granite.

For instance, in homage to the embattled offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who fans particularly love to hate when the offense is sputtering, I considered a paver inscribed, “Walk all over me, just like Kalil gets walked on.” Petty, but gratifying.  Similarly, to celebrate the storied career of the plodding tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, I thought about submitting “This brick is faster than Kleinsasser.”  Or to honor running back Adrian Peterson (AP), who has 33 maddening fumbles as part of his Hall of Fame career, I was tempted to go with “Me: One on the ground for my team. AP: 33.”

And then there are the numerous scandals that could have been cathartic fodder for brick copy.  The Love Boat sex scandal.  The Adrian Peterson child abuse.  The endless player prosecutions.  The arrogance and immaturity of Randy Moss.

I also considered commemorating my own lameness as a fan. I waxed nostalgic about a frigid day in December 1980 when a boyhood friend and I left a game at Met Stadium early. As it turns out, we missed seeing the greatest comeback victory in Vikings history against the Cleveland Browns, only to be scolded by a highway patrolman during our solemn drive back to South Dakota. The paver could mock us, just as the officer did that day: “You boys left early, huh? 12-14-80.”

That friend also suggested a granite haiku that captured the epic tragedy that is Vikings fandom:

Left early against Browns,
Take a knee, wide left Atlanta.
Life of a Vikings fan.

I don’t mind telling you, that one made me misty.

Political animal that I am, I also really would have loved to make a political statement, such as “Bought this brick for a billionaire.” That would really stick it to The Man, and bring some progressive awareness to the old town square!  It also would effectively clarify that “yeah, I’m a chump alright, but I’m a politically savvy chump!”

Naturally, I considered Packer hating: “Packers fans got 13 championships. I got this brick.” I also wondered if I could get this past the censors “Puck the Fackers.” See what I did there?

But alas, after all of my fantasizing, I finally read the fine print on the Vikings’ website:

Discriminatory, political, offensive, or inappropriate messages as determined by the Minnesota Vikings and MSFA will be declined. References to other NFL teams will not be accepted. The Minnesota Vikings and MSFA reserve the right to approve all brick inscriptions. Inscriptions that do not conform to these inscription guidelines or that are deemed unsuitable will be declined and will require a new inscription to be submitted.

My creative visions all were ruined by the Vikings. Between this censorship and a rather severe character restriction, my options were very limited. So, I played it straight:

Skol or uffda,
bleeding purple
since 1961.
Loveland Family

Booooooring. Schmaltzy!

Hey, but it’s my name, in granite, in the Vikings’ front yard!

Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Tea Boys

When I watch coverage of the 2015 Republican presidential rallies and look out into the audiences roaring their approval of every outrageous statement, I sometimes hear an old tune going through my head.  With  apologies to Waylon and Willie:

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

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Tea boys ain’t easy to love, if you’ve ever been trolled.
He’d rather cut taxes for Koch bros than help your household.
Grim, grey, and grumpy: “Get offa my lawn, boys!”
Keepin’ his weaponry near.
We can’t understand him, conspiracy delusions.
He’s gotta heart full of fear.

Tea_party_racistMamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

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Tea boys like Rush rantin’ mornings and Fox Newsin’ evenins,
whole lotta snake flags and tea bags and black machine guns.
Them that don’t “ditto” won’t like him, and them that do
sometimes look awesome in tricorns.
He’s quite well-intentioned, but his angst won’t let him,
resist the extreme far right.

Tea_Party_guns_2Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

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The Home of the Brave Has Gotten Irrationally Fearful

Elevator_crashThese are very scary times. Who among us does not lie awake at night worrying about dying in an elevator? I mean, what if one came crashing down while you were riding in it? Makes me shudder just thinking about it.

So I don’t care how tall the building is, I’m taking the stairs.  So are all of my family members. Better yet, we usually avoid going into structures with elevators.  Frankly, I wish they’d just outlaw them.

Or dogs. Oh sure, dogs look cute and all. I do understand that some of them actually aren’t killers. But still, I don’t let my family near dogs, because some have killed humans. Therefore, my family usually carries concealed firearms to protect themselves from being killed by vicious canines.  For goodness sake people, let’s not let any more dogs into our communities!

Paranoid, you say? I should accept the relatively low risk associated with elevators and dogs?  I shouldn’t let irrational levels of fear steal my peace-of-mind and quality-of-life?

Well, the risk of being killed by a dog (1-in-18,000,000) or dying in an elevator (1-in-10,440,000) is actually a bit higher than the risk of being killed by terrorism (1-in-20,000,000).  As context, consider that 1-in-100 Americans will die in a car crash in our lifetimes, yet Americans routinely ride in cars and don’t get particularly stressed about it.

Fear_of_terrorism_surveyDespite this relatively low level of risk, many Americans are overcome by our fear of terrorism. Even in June 2015, well before the recent Paris and California terrorist attacks, Gallup was finding that about half (49%) of Americans were worried that they or someone in their family would personally become a victim of terrorism.  Given the 1-in-20,000,000 odds, that level of fear is not rational.

Because of Americans’ extreme level of fear, we’re stocking up on guns. We’re betraying our national values by persecuting people who look and worship differently than us. Surveys even show that we’re willing to send young Americans to fight in yet another lethal, mega-expensive, and terrorism-provoking middle east quagmire.

Terrorism is a threat. We absolutely should take reasonable steps to limit and reduce the undeniable risk terrorism poses.   But we also need to keep the risk in proper perspective, so that we can continue to truthfully say that we are the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Note:  This post was also featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

BREAKING: Perham Is A Beautiful, Friendly Little Lake Town

WCCO-TV_Going_To_The_LakePerham, Minnesota — Investigative reporters at WCCO-TV are rumored to be about to air a major exposé involving Perham, Minnesota, a town of roughly 3,000 residents in west central Minnesota’s Otter Tail County.

WCCO’s Goin’ To The Lake Investigative Unit apparently has learned that Perham is a “beautiful, friendly little lake town up north” that WCCO-TV would highly recommend to anyone.

Moreover, WCCO-TV has reportedly learned that Perhamites and their Chamber of Commerce representatives “couldn’t be nicer,” and that neighboring Little Pine Lake and Big Pine Lake are both “absolutely lovely.”

Finally, unnamed sources familiar with the situation indicated that several of the local food offerings were “quite tasty,” so much so that they could prove to be fattening if not enjoyed in moderation.

WCOO-TV officials refused to confirm or deny the reports, instead urging viewers to tune in Friday evening.

Whatever Happened to the GOP Extremists in Legislature?

carnival_sideshow_vingate_signThe antics of Republican members of the Minnesota State Legislature used to be a reliable source of gasps and guffaws. Over recent years, Republican legislators have been obsessed with regulating gay couple’s love lives and straight citizen’s sexual health. They continually attempted to have their narrow religious views dictate the governance of a pluralistic society. They compared poverty stricken families to wild animals who shouldn’t be fed, and backed up that ugly rhetoric with deep cuts in human services for those families.  They shut down of state government in an attempt to make services in Minnesota more Mississippi-ish

These were not Republicans in the mold of Elmer Anderson, Al Quie, Arne Carlson, Duane Benson or David Jennings. These were Republicans in the mold of Bradlee Dean, Michael Brodkorb, Wayne LaPierre, Cliven Bundy, Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh.

But in the 2015 legislative session, Republican legislators were an unusually controlled bunch. They did boring and constructive things, such as changing how nursing homes were reimbursed. They even proposed modest k-12 education funding increases, and ultimately accepted the much larger funding formula increases promoted by DFLers.

Yes, Republican legislators still did some things that don’t make any sense. For instance, they ran for election in 2014 on the need to fix a long list of deteriorating roads and bridges, then inexplicably opposed the revenue increases necessary to get the work done. They still want to weaken minimum wages, despite the most pronounced income disparity since the 1920s and the lack of any evidence that last year’s minimum wage hike is damaging the economy.

Michele_Bachmann_hiding_at_gay_rights_rallyBut to my knowledge, there were no legislators hiding in the shrubbery at gay rights rallies this year. There was no legislator-fueled politicizing of the morning prayer with hateful castigations of the President and gay people. There were no throwback campaigns to enact a state currency or Confederacy-style nullification laws.

At a time when Republicans at the national level could scarcely be more absurd, Minnesota’s Republican leaders seem to have at least temporarily kept the most extreme elements of their fragile coalition – religious fundamentalists, fiscal libertarians, paranoid gun enthusiasts, bedroom cops, and hyper-partisan jihadists – quietly mumbling to themselves instead of in the headlines.

For the sake of Minnesota’s collective future, let’s hope that’s a trend that continues. With a dangerous achievement gap,deteriorating infrastructure, and a lot of families finding upward mobility out of reach, we have a lot of work to do.   But for the sake of humor-dependent bloggers, hear’s hoping the silence of the extremists is short-lived.

The Trump Bump, As Viewed Through a Minnesotans’ Lens

With the Trump Bump in full swing, we Minnesotans have an obligation to explain to our fellow Americans how these political crushes work.  Been there.  Done that.

Ventural_curve2_pptx

Why Aren’t The Best and Brightest Flocking to the Minnesota Legislature?

Both political parties are busily approaching new candidates to seek seats in the Minnesota Legislature for the 2016-2018 legislative session.   This is a noble cause.  For those of us who care about good public policy, this is an opportunity to recruit Minnesota’s best and brightest to elevate the level of discourse, analysis and decision-making that will guide our great state forward.  I’m thankful to all who do this work.

So if you know anyone who has the right stuff, encourage them to run!

HELP WANTED:

Help_wanted_retroBecome a member of our dynamic Minnesota House of Representatives team!  We are seeking candidates with deep professional experience, strong educational background, extensive community ties, impeccable personal ethics and morals, outstanding interpersonal skills, uncommon diplomatic acumen, stellar leadership qualities, deep policy expertise in several different areas, and a highly photogenic family.  Come associate your good name with an organization that has the approval of  a historically low 17 percent of your friends and neighbors.   Candidates must be willing to work round the clock, seven days per week, surrounded by often manipulative, self-serving colleagues and associates, many masquerading as friends.  Even the most talented employees should be expected to remain largely silent and powerless for several years, due to seniority rules that ensure that major decisions are shaped by senior committee chairs and caucus leaders from gerrymandered-safe legislative seats.  Employees will be constantly criticized by news reporters, snarky bloggers and anonymous Tweeters, often based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Employees shouldn’t be surprised if they are audited, scrutinized and prosecuted for partisan purposes. Even the most highly accomplished employees will be automatically fired every two years. However, employees willing to work round the clock may earn rehiring,  following thousands of job interviews conducted by hostile and lightly informed interrogators who are often basing their rehiring decision  on just one of the thousands of official decisions the employee has made over the course of their career.  To finance the rehirement attempt, employees will be expected to continually raise large sums of money from friends, relatives, neighbors, strangers and interest groups making shady demands.  The non-negotiable salary for this position is less than the average salary of a sewage worker, $31,141 per year.

I ask you, what thoughtful Minnesota citizesn wouldn’t jump at such an opportunity?

Note:  This post was republished on MinnPost.

Who Negotiated That Stadium Deal Again?

Vikings PR people like to tell Minnesotans that the team’s owner, billionaire Zygi Wilf, is paying about 60 percent of the ever-growing $1.2 billion stadium cost.  The truth, as Star Tribune/1500ESPN columnist Patrick Reusse pointed out back in May 2012, is that something like $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by people other than the Wilfs. For instance, season ticket holders will be making exorbitant seat license payments to the Wilfs, the National Football League will be paying a subsidized “loan” to the Wilfs, and U.S. Bank will be making naming rights payments to the Wilfs.  All of this will offset the Wilf’s stadium costs by about $450 million.

Taking all of that into consideration, Mr. Wilf looks to be shelling out more in the neighborhood of  $250 million of his own money, or 21% of the cost of the $1.2 billion total, not the 60 percent the Vikings claim.  It’s difficult for an outsider to come up with precise numbers, but that seems like a pretty fair, pardon the pun, ballpark estimate.

Meanwhile, state and local taxpayers are paying about half a billion dollars for the Vikings’ stadium, or about 40 percent percent of the stadium cost.  In other words, taxpayers are paying significantly more than the billionaire owner.

Despite being the majority investor, taxpayers have no say in the name of the stadium, and will be getting 0 percent of the estimated $10 million per year of corporate naming rights payments that U.S. Bank will be paying over the next two decades.  The billionaire Wilfs will be getting 100 percent of the $220 million in naming rights payments.

Formerly_People_s_Stadium

mao_tiananmen_squareIt’s bad enough that U.S. Bank looks to be getting more corporate visibility than Chairman Mao demanded for himself at Tiananmen Square. To add insult to aesthetic injury, taxpayers aren’t getting a single penny for putting up with U.S. Bank’s excessive corporate graffiti.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I give you U.S. Bank Stadium, formerly billed to skeptical taxpayers as the “people’s stadium.”  State leaders should be doing some retrospective soul-searching about how they got so thoroughly fleeced by the Wilfs on this deal.

Five Reasons I Can’t Get On The Wild Bandwagon

It’s not that I’m opposed to fans jumping on bandwagons. I not only am tolerant of bandwagon fans, I highly recommend the practice.   Supporting chronically losing teams is something with which I have a lot of experience, and I can attest that it is not at all good for your mental health.

Still, I’ve decided I can’t jump on the Wild bandwagon. As inspiring as their dramatic comeback in the second half of this season has been, I can’t make myself into a bandwagon hockey fan, even when the hometown boys are the hottest team in the National Hockey League (NHL).

This realization caused me to do some reflection.  These are the five reasons why I decided that I can’t get on the Wild bandwagon.

#5. The grammar is too awkward. I don’t have a lot of hard-and-fast rules in my life, but I do have this one. Sports teams must be named after nouns, preferably critters or violent human beings. They should never be named after adjectives. They also must be plural, not singular, because the team name is referring to a group of people. In my book, any team that forces me to awkwardly exclaim “The Wild are, um is, um are, um is, going to kick your ass” in a moment of passion is not worthy of my face paint.

toddler_cheering_hockey_fight_-_Google_Search#4. Toddler fans screaming for entrails during fights. Fist fights happen in other sports, but in other sports they are greeted with immediate league expulsion, stern sportscaster condemnation and the vast majority of fans sadly shaking their heads. But in hockey, bloody fist fights are greeted with bored referees picking up teeth instead of breaking up the fight, and fans of all ages enthusiastically jumping to their feet to cheer for maximum bloodshed.  Though starting a fight results in penalty box time that would seem to weaken your team’s chance of winning, it is still universally celebrated in hockey culture as being savvy and heroic. It’s not that I’m too pure for violent sports – football is my favorite – but even I have my limits.

Hockey_penalty_signs#3. Overregulated anarchy.   For a sport that celebrates lawlessness and fighting like none other, there sure are a lot of confusing penalties in hockey. Some of them are pretty self-explanatory. “Elbowing,” “Eye gouging,” “Kicking”, “Headbutting,” and “Spearing” are pretty clear to me, though I still am baffled about when each qualifies as a minor penalty, major penalty, misconduct penalty, game misconduct penalty, match penalty, gross misconduct penalty, stacked penalty, and penalty shot. But I do know one thing for sure: I will understand the theory of relativity, how to cure cancer, the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the meaning of life before I will understand “Icing.”

foxtrax_-_Google_Search#2. The focal point of the game is invisible. Even when I had much younger eyes, I couldn’t begin to follow the puck when watching hockey on TV. When you can’t see the puck, all there is to see are a mass of bodies chaotically gliding and colliding until punches are thrown or horns are sounded and celebrations ensue. I’m sorry, but a sport in which the focal point of the game is invisible to fans lacks a minimum requirement to be considered a spectator sport. Until they bring back the FoxTrax glow puck, I’m not going to stare at the screen for three hours pretending that I have a clue about what is happening.

sad_vikings_fan#1. Not their turn yet. The final reason I can’t get on the Wild bandwagon is this: As a long-suffering Vikings, Timberwolves, Twins and Gophers fan, I have to say that the Wild has or have (see what I mean) not suffered nearly long enough to have earned the right to succeed. In Minnesota, it is considered impolite to win championships after a mere 18 years as a franchise. The Twins waited 26 years. The especially snakebit Vikings have been in the hunt for over a half century. So it wouldn’t be fair for me to cheer for the Wilders so early in their fans’ misery cycle.

Note:  This post was also republished on MinnPost.

Dirty Job Dayton Dusts Himself Off

Dayton_dirty_2Governor Mark Dayton is Minnesota’s political version of Mike Rowe, the star of the Discovery Channel television show “Dirty Jobs.” Rowe’s show is all about him taking on difficult, disrespected and grotesque jobs that others avoid, such as being a sewer inspector, road kill scavenger, worm dung farmer, shark repellent tester, maggot farmer, and sea lamprey exterminator.  Who knew that worm dung needed farming?

Dirty Job Dayton

Governor Mark Dayton may not be farming worm dung, but consider just a few of the filthy tasks Dirty Job Dayton has already embraced in his five year’s in office.

Taxing Most Powerful Minnesotans.  Before Dayton, non-partisan analyses were showing that the wealthiest Minnesotans were not paying their fair share of taxes.  So Dayton ran for Governor unabashedly championing tax increases on the state’s most wealthy citizens, which earned him some very powerful enemies. At the time, progressive political consultants considered advocating almost any kind of tax increase political suicide for candidates. But Dayton ran on a platform of large tax increases, won a razar thin victory at the polls, and then promptly passed the tax increases into law as promised.

Implementing Unpopular Obamacare.  Dayton wasn’t done there. One of his very first acts of Governor was to champion Obamacare, which many politicians were extremely nervous about at the time. In contrast to his fellow Governors in neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota, Dayton embraced Obamacare’s Medicare expansion to cover 35,000 of the most vulnerable Minnesotans.   The Governor had Obamacare protesters shouting him down in his announcement news conference, but he let them have their say and stuck to his principles without looking back.  As a result of taking on a number of controversial Obamacare implementation tasks, Minnesota now has the second best rate of health insurance coverage of any state (95%).

Resolving Vikings Stadium Quagmire.  Then there was the Vikings Stadium debate that had been festering for almost a decade before Dayton came to office. Despite polls showing that subsidizing the stadium was unpopular, Dayton provided active backing for legislation to publicly subsidize the Vikings Stadium.  While noting that he is “not one to defend the economics of the NFL,” he plugged his nose and embraced a job he didn’t welcome, but felt was necessary to keep the Vikings in Minnesota and boost a then-suffering construction sector.

Cutting Coveted Social Safety Net.  Early in Dayton’s tenure as Governor, he even made significant cuts in state safety net programs, which is one of the very worst jobs any progressive can ever get.  Faced with a large budget shortfall, he proposed cutting $950 million in planned spending, told agencies to cut their budgets by up to 10 percent, and cut the state workforce by 6 percent.  That work had to leave even Dirty Job Dayton feeing grimy.

Love these positions or hate them — and Dayton himself didn’t relish many of them — no one can accuse Dayton of political timidity.

Dirtiest Job Yet

But this winter, Dirty Job Dayton finally met his Waterloo. With no political allies in sight, he attempted to push through salary increases for state agency commissioners, who are making less than their peers in many other states.   Dayton said he “knew there would be negative reaction,” but, as is his habit, he plugged his nose and pushed forward anyway.

How did that go for him?  Well, in the last few weeks Dayton learned that attempting to raise bureaucrats’ pay makes shark repellent testing look like a walk in the park.

Fresh off that experience, one might expect that Dayton would now stick to clean, safe, and easy jobs for the remainder of his time in office.  But if you believe that, you obviously don’t know Dirty Job Dayton very well.

Next Up:  Slinging Asphalt

After the salary increase shellacking Dayton endured, he has already found a new thankless task to champion – fixing Minnesota’s deteriorating roads and bridges.  While Republicans want a modest short-term fix funded out of the current budget surplus, that would be much too easy for Dirty Job Dayton. Dayton is attempting to put in place an ambitious decade-long $11 billion solution. Such a long-term fix necessitates a 16 cent per gallon (at current prices) increase in the gas tax. Not surprisingly, the polls are looking a little rough at the moment.

But Dirty Job Dayton doesn’t care. Like Mike Rowe, if the assignment stinks, scares, or stings, he’s in!