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“Give me your tired, your poor,” Emma Lazarus’ well-known poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty says. And for much of its history, the United States has welcomed many poor immigrants. That began to change in 1882 when the government started evaluating whether prospective immigrants were “liable to become a public charge” (LPC) dependent on government assistance before granting them admission into the country. Immigration officials especially and disproportionately used the so-called LPC clause to justify denying admission to women, children, and immigrants from Asia, southern and eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa. In recent years, the government has counted immigrants who have received public cash assistance for income maintenance (e.g., Supplemental Security Income) or who were institutionalized for long-term nursing home care at government expense as “public charges.”

The Trump administration is now poised to make a far-reaching and consequential change in the public charge rule by further expanding the types of assistance the government considers when determining whether an immigrant is likely to be a public charge, and therefore inadmissible. The administration has proposed that participation in many popular and essential programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), public housing (including the housing choice voucher program), Medicaid, and the Medicare Part D program would also make immigrants ineligible for admission.

The administration has also proposed lowering the threshold for the amount and duration of assistance required to trigger the public charge determination. As proposed, the rule change would apply to a much greater number and variety of immigrants, including those seeking admission to the U.S. and permanent residence (i.e., a Green Card), and could also be used to invoke deportation proceedings. It would also disproportionately impact poor and minority immigrants.

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Ostensibly, the justification for the proposed changes to the public charge rule is to reduce expenditures on public welfare benefits by reducing the likelihood that immigrants admitted on a permanent basis will use these benefits. The documentation of the proposed rule change provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated that the changes would result in about a $2.25 billion annual reduction in transfer payments from federal and state governments.

However, this justification lacks merit because it fails to account for the substantial costs to individuals and communities that will likely occur should this proposed rule change take effect. Many non-citizens currently living in the U.S. would undoubtedly withdraw from the benefit programs targeted by the proposed public charge rule, significantly reducing their access to adequate nutrition, housing and healthcare. Because benefits are often received at the household level, many of the millions of households with a mixture of non-citizens and citizens will likely disenroll from benefit programs as a unit.

As a result, and as is already being seen and reported on, citizens who are legally entitled to these benefits will go without the support necessary for succeeding in school, staying healthy, and engaging in the workforce. These direct effects on individuals and households will spread throughout our communities in predictable ways. The DHS, for example, has already acknowledged (in its cost-benefit analysis of the rule) that the rule has the potential for adversely affecting public health (e.g., through the spread of communicable diseases) and the economy (e.g., by impeding educational attainment and productivity).

We therefore encourage individuals and communities across Minnesota to speak up for their immigrant friends, coworkers, and neighbors. You can learn more by reading the proposed rule change at the Office of the Federal Register (DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012) and by visiting the websites of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, the James H. Binger Center for New Americans, and the Immigration Response Team at the U of M.

The authors are faculty members and students at the University of Minnesota; Stephen Meili, Cynthia Pando and John Keller also contributed to this commentary. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the authors’ employer. The authors are also involved with the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Workshop, “Migration and Migrants in Terrifying Times,” at the University of Minnesota.  On Dec. 13, they will be holding an event from 6:30 to  8:30 p.m. in Coffman Theater in Coffman Memorial Union. This event is free and open to the public, and will feature Daniel González, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, who won a Pulitzer for his work on “The Wall: Unknown Stories, Unintended Consequences,” and Matthew Hall, a sociologist and demographer who is an expert on immigration. 

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

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Hindsight and 2020. Ally Mutnick and Kyle Trygstad at the National Journal interview incoming National Republican Congressional Committee chair and Rep. Tom Emmer on the GOP’s prospects for 2020: “Emmer’s analysis of the midterms pins the blame on the Republican Party at large for failing to win over independent voters with a cohesive message on the booming economy. He stressed that the party’s focus on immigration in the final days repelled moderates, but he disputed attempts to fault the president specifically and pushed back on assumptions that Trump would be a liability in 2020.”

Another breach. The Associated Press is reporting on hackers gaining access to Ramsey County social services client information: “The social services department handles services such as chemical and mental health treatment. County officials say about 500 clients might have been affected. They’re being notified this week. The county in August learned that 28 employees had their email accounts hacked by people who tried to redirect several of the workers’ paychecks. That plan was thwarted.”

Fiscal malpractice. Dana Thiede at KARE-11 has a piece on Target pharmacy employees in Massachusetts violating state regulations: “According to allegations in the complaint, Target pharmacies knowingly and routinely enrolled MassHealth patients in the Target’s auto-refill program and billed the program for prescriptions, in violation of the state’s regulation prohibiting the practice. This practice continued until Target sold its pharmacy business to CVS Health in or around December 2015.”

Corporate tax relief. Eric Roper at the Star Tribune reports on gamblers stepping up to pay for U.S. Bank Stadium: “Pulltabs and other charitable gambling have generated so much revenue to pay off U.S. Bank Stadium’s debt that corporate taxes are no longer needed for that purpose, state officials say. The state projected last week that the reserve account for the stadium will climb to $193 million by 2023, even without an annual infusion from corporate taxes.”

[cms_ad:x100] In other news…

Epidemic of greed: “Minn. Lawmakers Open Discussions On High Insulin Costs” [WCCO]

Reflecting change: “Plan to cover historic murals at St. Paul City Hall creating controversy” [KSTP]

Locally owned food delivery service gets eaten:Waitr Holdings to Acquire Bite Squad for About $321.3 Million” [StreetInsider]

Orange you glad: “Sun Country unveils first of a fleet it plans to own” [Star Tribune]

Not just on the screen: “Fight breaks out at Roseville movie theater” [KSTP]

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It’s one of the major disconnects in state politics in Minnesota: The same business organizations that have recently supported funding for transit projects (even getting behind calls for increasing the revenue to pay for it) are also major funders for the campaigns of politicians who are lukewarm on transit, dead set against light rail and oppose new revenue for transportation.

That divide was apparent during a press conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday, when the leaders of the St. Paul and Minneapolis chambers of commerce joined with the head of a transit advocacy group to call for more state support for transit.

The new coalition, Keep MN Moving, says it will push the Legislature to move ahead on arterial bus rapid transit (BRT) projects in the Twin Cities; fund more of the high-and-medium priority projects on Metro Transit’s service improvement plan; fully fund Metro Transit’s operation costs; and fully fund transit needs in Greater Minnesota.

And while the group’s organizers did not take a position on Gov.-Elect Tim Walz’s call for increasing the state gas tax, they did say increased revenues for all transportation is needed. Gas taxes in Minnesota are required by the state constitution to be spent on roads and bridges, though increased revenue from the gas tax could reduce competition for resources between roads and transit in budget and bonding bills.

[cms_ad:x100]“The bottom line is that a better transit system will benefit our state’s economy,” said B Kyle, president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. “Good things are happening in our transit system right now. We’re here to amplify those positives and encourage the new governor and the new Legislature to make additional investments that will benefit the entire state.”

Despite the 2018 election that gave control of the state House to the DFL, a caucus that has been friendlier to transit than the GOP, the state Senate remains in the hands of Republicans. And last week, after an updated revenue forecast projected a $1.54 billion state surplus, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the revenue numbers should rule out any need for increased taxes.

“It’s good news. It gives us some breathing room. And it certainly is a time that we shouldn’t be considering a gas tax,” Gazelka said last week. “That would be one of the things this kind of a surplus says, we certainly can live within the resources that we have.”

Gazelka did repeat support for previous actions to dedicate half of the sales tax on auto parts to transportation and put some money into transportation from the sale of state bonds. He said those actions could translate into an additional $6 billion over 10 years for transportation improvements.

For transit … but against those who support transit?

While all but one of Gazelka’s members weren’t on the ballot this year, all House districts were. And the DFL took control by picking up 18 seats and carrying all of the battleground districts in the Twin Cities suburbs.

The party did so despite significant spending against them by business committees. The pro-business Minnesota Jobs Coalition, for example, spent $709,000 in independent expenditures (at least through the Oct. 22 reporting period) to help Republicans — and hurt DFL candidates. The chamber-connected organization Pro Jobs Majority, meanwhile, spent $1.38 million, and the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, which is affiliated with the Minnesota Business Partnership, spent another $824,000.

That spending reflects the focus on the broader issues of taxation and regulation — as well as the importance of  party control — when it comes to how election spending decisions are made. And business lobbies have not been effective in convincing the candidates they support to change their stances on transportation funding once they get sworn in.

Jonathan Weinhagen, the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged the political dynamics of the 2018 election but called for a different approach in the Legislature.

[cms_ad:x101]“The four initiatives … have bipartisan support,” he said. “We’re working with people from all political stripes and from across the state to move us forward. It is time to hit reset on this discussion. That’s what this coalition is really aimed at doing — moving it away from a hyper-partisan conversation that gets used in a mailer to a discussion about how Minnesotans get to work.

“There is no room for an us-vs.- them discussion of last session. We want to bring Minnesotans together around a transit plan that moves us forward,” Weinhagen said.

Weinhagen said the politics around transit are helped by a seeming resolution regarding light rail funding, something he termed a “lightning rod issue.” Republicans in the Legislature have opposed expansion of light rail and removed the state from the funding partnership that helped build the Blue Line and Green Line. And early in the 2018 session, there was a move to reduce the state funding that subsidizes operations of Metro Transit’s regular bus service.

Some of that funding was restored, and the dissolution of the Counties Transit Improvement Board last year, which allowed the doubling of transportation sales taxes in Ramsey and Hennepin counties, more than replaced whatever funding the state might have chipped in for Southwest LRT, the Bottineau Line and St. Paul’s Riverview Corridor.

There is broader support among GOP transportation for bus transit and for bus rapid transit, such as the A Line running between Rosedale and Minneapolis that offers increased frequency, improved buses and stations, and ways to speed service such as some priority at stop lights.

Metro Transit is building a second BRT line, the C Line, from Brooklyn Center to downtown Minneapolis via Penn Avenue, and the agency is also assembling funding for a D Line between Brooklyn Center to downtown via Fremont and Emerson avenues and then to Mall of America via Chicago and Portland avenues.

Such transit improvements have resulted in increased ridership, said Will Schroeer, executive director of East Metro Strong, a business-local government organization advocating for transit improvements in Ramsey and Washington counties. He cited the A Line, which increased ridership by 35 percent compared to the local bus route it supplemented.

Another success came with the merger of four transit systems in southern Minnesota that brought a 25 percent hike in use. “When we provide quality transit across Minnesota, people from all walks of life use it to make their lives better,” Schroeer said.

Transit’s public support

Keep MN Moving cited a statewide opinion poll commissioned by the Minneapolis Chamber that showed that 74 percent of voters support the state making “additional investment in expanding and improving public transit, including buses, trains and light rail.” The idea was supported by 92 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans, according to the poll of 500 registered voters, which was conducted in August by Public Opinion Strategies.

When the same poll asked voters if they would still support these improvements if it meant higher taxes or fees, 59 percent said yes.

[cms_ad:x102]Another poll, by the Star Tribune and MPR, reported that a gas tax hike of 10 cents was supported by 56 percent of respondents and opposed by 36 percent. It received majority support in all four regions of the state: Hennepin/Ramsey (62 percent); the Metro Suburbs 54 percent); Northern Minnesota (52 percent); and Southern Minnesota (55 percent).

Incoming House Transportation Finance Committee Chair Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, endorsed the new group and its goals. “I strenuously support this initiative, particularly the focus on arterial bus rapid transit, and supporting local bus improvements and looking at it as a statewide issue,” Hornstein said.

He also said he wants to push for extension of the North Star commuter rail to St. Cloud. The line using existing freight rail tracks now ends in Big Lake.

And while he said it is true that the Minnesota Chamber hasn’t endorsed gas taxes in the past, the local chambers have been more supportive.

“It’s not a monolithic business community by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. The state chamber supported the override of a Gov. Tim Pawlenty veto of a gas tax hike, after all, the last time such an increase was passed.

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Nekima Levy Armstrong has received some criticism for the $175 registration fee for the “Five Problems Everyone Has With White Allies and How to Solve Them” seminar she’s leading Dec. 14, but from the sounds of it, a cram session with one of the state’s leading thinkers on black power and white racism may be nothing short of a bargain.

Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney, former professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and former president of NAACP Minneapolis, has become a prominent leader of her generation in confronting institutional racism — which she did in an open letter to city leaders last week. She lives in Minnesota, a state regularly championed for its culture and overall progressiveness, but which remains second in the nation in racial inequality, and she has much to say about all that. The recent founder of Activism and Allyship University and the consulting firm Black Pearl LLC (company slogan: “Boldly addressing the elephant in the room”), Levy Armstrong spoke last week with MinnPost about black power and white allies by phone from Washington, D.C.

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MinnPost: What is Activism and Allyship University, and how long have you had it up and running?

Nekima Levy Armstrong: I run my own consulting firm, which is called Black Pearl, LLC. At Black Pearl, we focus on racial equity, and our clients include nonprofits, governmental agencies and corporate clients, and we also advise community members. So through my work with Black Pearl, we put on trainings and workshops and events, and Activists University is a way to organize those trainings to try to help shift the consciousness of white people who want to be allies, or who believe that they are allies, so they can go deeper in their anti-racism work in their employment, and outside of their employment.

MP: You offered this “Five Problems Everyone Has With White Allies and How To Solve Them” seminar in November. How did that go?

NLA: It was well-received, and I had a number of people asking me when I would offer it again, because they knew people who would benefit from it, and so that’s what’s happening Dec. 14.

MP: Historically, have there always been white allies? When did the idea of “white ally” come into being? I’m thinking about the phrase, specifically, and how long it’s been named as such.

NLA: Honestly, from my perspective, the notion of white allies goes all the way back to abolitionists and folks who participated in the underground railroad with Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, who was an abolitionist up north, and those who helped found the NAACP.

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So white allies have always played a role in the fight for racial justice. Some are more visible than others, and some take greater risks than others in advancing the cause of justice, particularly for African-Americans.

In my reading and studying of history, I have seen the presence of white allies throughout history, and I think they serve an important role. We saw during the civil rights movement, folks who privately supported Dr. King; folks who showed up, some of whom put their lives on the line as white allies, like the two young men who were killed in Mississippi alongside of an African-American man, trying to register black voters.

Then there’s Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who was very prominent during the civil rights movement for her role as an activist and the risks that she took, and she was actually killed as a result for her work during the civil rights movement. So we juxtapose people like her with the “good white people,” who Dr. King called out in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail, where he talked about white folks who were saying that they cared about racial justice. They were part of the movement, they supported his work, and yet he said that they were cogs in the wheels of progress because of the fact that they thought the movement was asking for too much too quickly. They wanted to see time as an agent of change as opposed to African-Americans and Dr. King being an agent for change and actively demonstrating and protesting.

MP: What about today?

NLA: White allies run the gamut. I think that “good white people,” as referenced by Dr. King, probably outnumber everyone else when we’re talking about folks who are focused on racial justice. I think part of the problem with “good white people” is that they think that they’re helping, but too often they’re hurting — especially if they’re standing in the way of black leadership, or complaining about the methods that activists are using when they’re fighting for racial justice.

And we have a lot of folks like that, in the Twin Cities in particular, some of whom I’ve marched alongside of, many of whom have been out to protests and demonstrations, but who ultimately … on the one hand they might perceive themselves as white allies, but on they other hand they’re actually more like the “good white people” that Dr. King referred to.

I’ve seen the difference. I’ve seen people really willing to go all out and put it on the line and be consistent and support black leadership and not engage in white saviorism. People who support black political leadership and people who are willing to use their time, talents, resources, and their social and political capital to advance the cause of justice, versus those who are just marginally involved and who are actually impediments to progress. And a lot of those folks label themselves as progressives in the Twin Cities.

MP: How do your trainings and seminars help move everybody forward?

NLA: I try to deconstruct a lot of those issues. I talk about my experience as an attorney and a law professor and former political candidate (for mayor of Minneapolis) and the types of so-called allies that I ran into and the types of experiences I had with them, and then we put that into a larger context in terms of what happens in the workplace. You know, when it is time to diversify the workplace, or when people of color are employed in a particular office and they are experiencing isolation or not being promoted, and that’s if they even get their foot in the door in the first place.

I talk about how some of the folks who consider themselves progressives are actually the ones who are perpetuating a form of violence in the workplace towards African-Americans and other people of color. It may not be physical violence, but it’s psychological violence that happens: just everyday racism and bias that happens and is being manifested in some of the decisions that are being made. And the micro-aggressions are also a form of violence that African-Americans and other people of color encounter.

So in my workshop, we go through a lot of those issues, deconstruct them, we have hypothetical [situations], and I leave them with a PowerPoint that has more than three hours’ worth of materials for them to go through — videos to watch, questions to answer individually or in groups or in their individual workplaces. The expectation is that the work will continue beyond the workshop, and that they will look at their practices. They will look at HR, and how HR responds to concerns about discrimination, and what kind of training is taking place to equip employees in a multiracial environment.

MP: Just thinking about your work, I don’t hear a weariness in your voice, but a wisdom. Still, I just wonder: Can it ever be enough? Can white people ever support and side with and know the African-American experience the way you do, or in a way that comes to be organically helpful? Do you dream that? Can it be real?

NLA: I think it can be real, and it depends on, really, how committed an individual is to unpacking and deconstructing layer upon layer of white supremacy and white supremacists’ ideologies that are around us and imbedded in us and the things we’ve been taught in schools and are imbedded in movies and the media and everything we take in. It takes a lot of work to peel back those layers and to deconstruct that information to get to the truth.      

I think it’s a very difficult journey, but it’s a very necessary journey, because in the end, if people are willing to go as far as they can go, they will discover their own humanity in a completely different way. It’s like scales falling out of people’s eyes and ears, where they’re actually able to see the humanity of their black and brown brothers and sisters in a way that white supremacy currently does not allow. So it’s a lot of internal work that people have to do, and it is day-to-day work that has to happen, because they’re constantly going up against the grain of what they’re being shown in society.

I don’t think that white people can fully understand the depth of what it means to be African-American in this country, but I think they can develop a certain level of empathy that will allow them to do much less harm than they currently do by operating according to the way that the rest of society operates. That’s more what I’m striving for: helping people to do less harm in those situations.

MP: You’ve lived this as a life, but for me over the last decade or what have you, it has been utterly maddening to wake up every 10 minutes in a new way as to how it has been for African-Americans, to how the world is, to the white prism I was born with and see through, and to see that exploded literally every 10 minutes. It’s an incredible time, but how do you, just as a human being, not let it drive you absolutely crazy and create bitterness in your heart, knowing all that you know?

NLA: I think one of the things that’s important is balance. Doing some self-care and a lot of self-reflecting and just taking time out to enjoy life so you’re not consumed by the awakening that is happening in a negative way. It’s difficult, because you’re balancing rage, and outrage, and frustration with, again, trying to enjoy life and trying to reach people and connect with people on a different level.

My faith has played a big role in my ability to be on this journey, but it is still difficult, even as a woman of faith, especially when I realize how far some white people have to go to have a basic understanding of what people of color experience in this country. But I have hope because of all the people I’ve seen begin to come along on this journey, especially since we’ve been out marching and protesting: Folks who not only have been marching in the streets, but who have shown up in the halls of power to advocate on behalf of and alongside people of color.

Even when I ran for office, I was really thankful for the level of support I received from people all across the city, knowing that I was running as an unapologetically black woman candidate. You know, who spoke the truth and didn’t try to fit into some type of nice political box in order to gain acceptance. So to have the number of folks who supported me and who voted for me, that to me is a sign of progress.

In this most recent election, seeing all of the people of color who ran for office and who won, and whose support came from white constituents, these things are unprecedented in the Twin Cities. So all I can do is have some joy about the progress that’s being made, while knowing still that there’s so much more work to do.

MP: Have you received blowback about the term “white ally?” Meaning, are there white people who say, “I don’t need to be called an ally, I am your brother, I am your sister”?

NLA: I personally haven’t. Some of the potential conflict comes in when white people consider themselves to be allies without people of color actually validating that that is true. So we have well-meaning white people who say, “I’m an ally,” but they really haven’t walked the walk and demonstrated consistency in that regard.

Typically, people know that they’re at a certain place when they have people of color approach them or are connected to them in a deeper way, and are able to validate, “Yes, you are an ally,” based on this or that, and on what I’ve seen consistently from you.

MP: Part of your workshop looks at “white saviorism” and “white escapism.” What does that mean?

NLA: “White saviorism” is a big problem in the Twin Cities, and across the nation, but definitely in the Twin Cities. I think part of it has to do with the fact that we’re in a state that is over 84 percent white. If you look at all of our mainstream systems and institutions, they are all controlled by white people.

So white people are used to being the leaders. They’re used to being the go-to people, they’re used to being the folks who know the most in a room, or who are given deference in a given situation. First of all, “white saviorism” is a form of white superiority. It’s a mindset that many people carry with them, whether they recognize it or not. And if you believe that you are superior, then that means that someone else is inferior in comparison to you, and that someone else is often African-Americans and other people of color.

So white saviors may try to put on a cape and try and save people of color and operate from a mindset of, “I’m giving, I’m giving. I’m a charitable person, I’m a philanthropist, I’m this, I’m that.” But in the end, it’s really about you. It’s not really about shifting the paradigm or challenging systems, or challenging the status quo. It’s about what makes you feel good, and about almost being put on a pedestal out in society, as opposed to seeing people of color on equal footing and realizing that when you are standing up and advocating for people of color, you are not doing us a favor.

Number one, you are reclaiming your humanity. Number two, you are in some ways beginning to reject white supremacy and white superiority. Number three, you are trying to help undo some of the damage that you have undoubtedly caused because of the way in which our society has been structured, and the things that white people have been taught about people of color.

It takes a very reflective and humble person to get to that point where they are willing to denounce white saviorism and they step into a room recognizing that they are on equal footing with a person of color, a person in poverty, a person without a college degree. That takes deconstructing, and often you hear folks, when they’re talking about people of color, using terms like”‘disadvantaged” or “minority.” All of those things connote white superiority, in terms of the language that’s being used. You’re not seeing a person of color on equal footing, you’re seeing them as someone to be pitied.

And “white escapism” is failing to acknowledge that there’s actually a problem with racism in our society, and trying to tune out and pretend that the things that are happening are not happening.

MP: After your last class last month, did you walk away thinking you wanted to do anything different with it this time, or did you learn anything that you wanted to drive home or emphasize?

NLA: I tried law for 14 years, so I come in with prepared materials and an idea of where I want to go, but I also have learned as a teacher to be open to the direction and flow that things need to go in. I rely on the energy of the people in the room; I also allow people to share their insights and ask questions, so it’s going to be different than the first class because there will be different people there. But we will cover all of the main points.

The class from November received rave reviews. We had over 50 people who were present, and some people sent their teams; a few companies sent seven or eight people so they could all learn together, and I’m still hearing that they’re working through the materials. People have been reaching out and saying, “Can you come to our office and train our staff?”

People have received a lot of value from the workshop, and being in a safe environment, and having these critical conversations and being challenged to think differently and act differently. I think that’s something that everyone can benefit from — especially those who want to do less harm when it comes to their interactions with people of color.

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Donald Trump’s big, beautiful wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is at risk of crumbling before it’s even built.

For over three years, Trump has promised to construct a massive wall spanning thousands of miles of the southern border, and he’s insisted that the government of Mexico would pay for it. That promise was at the heart of his victorious 2016 campaign, but in the past two years, the Trump administration has failed to secure funding from Mexico — and also Congress — to pay for the border wall.

Now, Democrats are weeks away from taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the new majority will almost certainly not approve any wall funding. The December 21 deadline to pass legislation funding the federal government, then, represents Trump and the GOP’s last, best shot at the wall — and the president is threatening to shut down the government if Congress does not send him a spending bill that appropriates $5 billion for the border wall.

That total is far short of the $20 billion which Trump has demanded for the wall in the past, but it’s a down payment that would give the president something to champion for his base as he heads into a daunting 2020 re-election campaign. If that falls short, he’d at least go down fighting: at an explosive Tuesday meeting with Capitol Hill’s top two Democrats, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the president said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government over the wall.

[cms_ad:x100]The border wall remains broadly popular with the president’s supporters, including those in Congress, but it’s anathema to Democrats and their party base. Congressional Democratic leaders have grown less willing to compromise on the wall with control of the House within their grasp, and Schumer and Pelosi are offering Trump no more than $1.6 billion for “border security” measures in the year-end bill, but they won’t budge on the wall.

The last-ditch effort to build the wall — and the president’s embrace of a shutdown in order to make it happen — is unfolding as key details about the project remain muddled, and as public opinion swings away from the president.

Where’s wall, though?

The border wall has been a consistent Trump theme since he kicked off his presidential bid in June 2015, but Trump has not been consistent on key details, like how long the wall would be, what it would look like and what it would cost.

After suggesting the whole, 2,000-mile border might be walled, Trump said he’d build a 1,000-mile wall along the southern border. Since, he has scaled the length of the barrier down to “700 or 900” miles. Beyond that, he has said the wall would cost $4 billion; he’s also said it could cost $20 billion, a figure reportedly in line with internal estimates from the Department of Homeland Security. Trump has said the wall could be 35 feet tall, or 45 feet tall, or higher, and he’s given several different ways Mexico could pay for it, all of which have been soundly rejected by Mexico.

What is known: the wall would cover some stretch of border between the U.S. and Mexico, and it could include constructing new barriers and also improving existing barriers. Fixing existing walls is something the administration has found money to do, fueling Trump claims that the wall is being built already. About 650 miles of the border — particularly around what once were high-volume crossing areas in California — already have some wall or fence, but only 300 miles of fencing is designed to stop the movement of people, according to a USA Today investigation. Many of the roughly 1,350 miles of unfenced border are in remote areas with unforgiving geographical features, which even Trump has said makes a wall unnecessary in those areas.

The administration commissioned the construction of eight different wall prototypes, put on display near San Diego, which Trump inspected in February. But none of the designs have been officially selected. (In an August report, the Congressional Budget Office found significant design and engineering flaws with each prototype. The federal government spent $5 million total on the prototypes.)

The lack of clarity on the wall’s length and design not only make it difficult to put a price tag on the project, but it’s also prevented experts from assessing how effective it would be in doing what it’s supposed to do: prevent undocumented immigrants from crossing into the U.S. and stopping the flow of illicit items, like drugs, across the border.

After years of decreasing illegal border crossings, apprehensions of undocumented immigrants by U.S. officials at the border have been relatively high in recent months: in October and November, over 100,000 migrants were apprehended by the Border Patrol. But CBP statistics do not specify how many of those migrants were caught in attempts to cross the border, and how many of them were seeking asylum.

[cms_ad:x101]The practice of asylum-seeking, which is legal, is the current focus of the U.S. immigration debate. That’s largely due to the headline-grabbing “caravan” of migrants fleeing violence in Central America, who made their way to the border to apply for asylum at official ports of entry or to cross the border and begin the asylum process on the U.S. side.

According to Ana Pottratz Acosta, an immigration attorney who teaches law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, asylum seekers account for a large share of the current uptick in border apprehensions reported by CBP. She said that other factors, like seasonal weather conditions, play a role in the uptick, too.

Pottratz Acosta is doubtful that a wall, which she calls symbolic, would do much to stem illegal border crossings. “I think we’re at a point where the border may be as secure as it’s going to get.” She expressed concern that, if the wall project goes forward, it would divert badly-needed resources elsewhere in the immigration system — like for additional officers to process the long backlog of asylum claims.

In a 2017 report, the Department of Homeland Security echoed that sentiment: “Available data indicate that the southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before,” federal officials wrote.

Who’s saving face?

Inconsistent as he may be regarding basic facts about the wall, Trump has been consistent this year in his willingness to risk a shutdown in order to get funding for the project. As early as July, Trump threatened to shut down the government if Congress does not send him a spending bill with $5 billion in funds for it.

The midterm elections made that demand much more urgent: With Democrats taking power in the House on January 3, the spending legislation, which appropriates funds for five federal agencies, is the last piece of must-pass legislation for the GOP-controlled Congress.

It’s now or never for congressional Republicans on the wall, but unanimous support in the House and Senate GOP for funding it is hardly a sure thing. There may be enough members of the party’s moderate and conservative wings — who oppose the wall as bad policy and/or a waste of taxpayer money — to sink the proposal in either chamber, or both.

In a statement to MinnPost, Rep. Tom Emmer, the 6th District Republican, indicated he’d side with the president. “Border security is paramount to the safety of our community here in central Minnesota as well as across the country,” he said. “Unfortunately Congress has gotten so far away from completing the budget process on time that we now find ourselves in the same situation we were in January, when the Democrats shut the government down over a deadline that did not exist,” Emmer said, referencing the short-lived January shutdown over the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

[cms_ad:x102]“I am hopeful we avoid a repeat of that misstep.”

Emmer’s two House Republican colleagues from Minnesota, Reps. Jason Lewis and Erik Paulsen, were defeated in the November election. Neither responded to requests for comment about their position on wall funding, but in a November 28 tweet, Lewis accused Democrats of wanting “Schumer Shutdown 2.0” to stop the wall.

Republicans are outwardly expressing confidence they have enough votes within their own ranks to approve wall funding. To prove it, Republican leadership is considering putting stand-alone legislation on the wall to votes in the House and Senate, according to Politico.

But the broader GOP shakiness on the issue gives Democrats leverage to vote no on a package that includes more than they’d want to pay for the wall. Members of the soon-to-be-majority have been united in their opposition to the GOP proposal: “Real investments, smart investments in border security that are effective and humane have my support,” said 4th District Rep. Betty McCollum, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “But wasting $5 billion on an unnecessary wall so President Trump can save face is foolish and not going to happen.”

“Republicans control Congress and the White House – they will either negotiate and legislate or shut down the government,” McCollum said in a statement. “This is a Republican mess of their own making.”

In the Senate, DFL Sen. Tina Smith expressed hope that Trump and Congress could come to an agreement and avoid a shutdown. “Border security is an essential component of our national security, and I believe that rather than funding an ineffective and wasteful wall, a spending package could include practical, effective security improvements like detection and surveillance technology,” she said in a statement.

Congressional observers have pointed out that Democrats could call Trump’s bluff, and endure a shutdown — which would only be partial, since seven out of 12 appropriations bills have already passed — until they take power in January. (About 25 percent of the government would not get funded in a shutdown, affecting the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, which operates national parks.)

Public polling on the wall suggests Americans may be more likely to place blame on Republicans if a shutdown happens. A new survey this week from PBS NewsHour/Marist College found that over two-thirds of Americans believe building the wall should not be a priority, and 57 percent want to see Trump compromise in order to avoid a shutdown. Two-thirds of Republicans polled, however, want to see Trump hold firm — even if it results in a shutdown.

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Comparing January of 2017 (the month Donald Trump solemnly swore “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America”) to today, Trump’s net approval number has gone down in all 50 states – and in most cases by quite a bit — according to an agglomeration of state-by-state approval numbers by Morning Consult.

In 43 states (plus the District of Columbia), the drop has been double digits. In 15 states the drop has been 20 percentage points or more. In two states (New York and New Mexico), the decline was 30 or more percentage points.

As regular readers of this space know, I am somewhat obsessed with Trump’s approval ratings. About once a month, I write an approval rating update and it almost always says that Trump’s national approval rating number has remained about the same. And this is true in the latest check-in.

[cms_ad:x100]According to Gallup’s fresh weekly number, published Monday, Trump’s disapprovers outnumber his approvers by 56 percent to 40 percent. The HuffPost and FiveThirtyEight, both of which construct an average of many polls, have Trump’s disapprover/approver numbers, as of this morning, at 50.9/43.1 and 51.8/42 respectively. Given margins for error, the difference in all three is insignificant.

All of them are bad numbers for Trump. They are not exactly historically terrible. Several recent presidents have been in that approval/disapproval range halfway through their term. The unusual thing about Trump is that his numbers settled into that range within a couple of weeks of his inauguration. And, although they move from week to week, they haven’t moved much since about April of 2017. Considering how he has conducted himself, I remain somewhat perplexed by the loyalty of his supporters. But if approval poll numbers are a reasonable measure, there’s no denying the existence of that loyal 40 percent.

But in order to change up the basic redundancy of my monthly approval rating reports, I’ll focus today on the Morning Consult analysis, because it consists of state-by-state numbers and, as you know, because of our strange Electoral College system, presidential election outcomes depend on state-by-state outcomes.

Unlike Gallup and many of the other famous poll operations, Morning Consult relies on internet polling, but has been rated among the most accurate national poll operations. In 2016, it predicted Hillary Clinton would win the national popular vote by 3 percent. She won the national popular vote by 2.1 percent. But, as you know, Trump’s close wins in six key swing states turned it into a 306-232 Electoral College majority for him.

(By the way: Trump – whom some believe combines a colossal ego with a fundamental disrespect for factual accuracy — likes to talk about his electoral vote margin as having been a “massive landslide.” In fact, his electoral vote margin was the 46th biggest among the 58 presidential elections in history. Among those who won with a larger portion of electoral vote, just in the 20th and 21st centuries were Franklin D. Roosevelt (four times) Ronald Reagan (twice), Bill Clinton (twice) Barack Obama (twice), Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice) Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, George H.W Bush, Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley and William Howard Taft. (Plenty more if we go back to George Washington, the only one ever to win 100 percent of the electoral vote.)

Anyway, in fairness to Trump, it’s worth noting that in the comparison published by Morning Consult, it compared Trump’s current approval numbers to those on his Inauguration Day, and those were the highest that his approval ratings have ever been. Call it the rally ‘round the flag effect. His national approval rating numbers fell below water (meaning more disapprovers than approvers) during his first week actually on the job and have stayed underwater ever since.

The main takeaway from the Morning Consult numbers, though, is that Trump’s approval has gone down in every state. He still has a positive approval rating – meaning more approvers than disapprovers — in 24 states and an even approval/disapproval number in one, which is, importantly, Ohio, one of the key swing states in most recent elections.

But his net approval number since inauguration day (meaning his approval minus his disapproval) has gone down in every single state and is now even in Ohio and below water in all the other swing states.

Trump won the election (aside from various reasons that we’ll leave for another day) by narrowly carrying five key swing states (Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin) and fairly easily winning two other states once considered close (Ohio and Iowa).

[cms_ad:x101]I’ll give you numbers below. But candor requires that I clarify one problem with comparing Trump’s current approval numbers in several states with how much support he received on Election Day 2016. Undoubtedly some voters supported Trump on Election Day not because they approved of him a general sense but only because they preferred him over Clinton. I don’t think there’s any way to adjust the data below to reflect that difference.

Still, in case he runs and is nominated for a second term (I admit I have no idea about that), an underwater approval in many key swing states will certainly be extra baggage to carry. So, with that cautionary note, here are the breakdowns of the vote percentages in the key 2016 states, followed by Trump’s Morning Consult approval rating for him in those states in January of 2017, followed by the most recent Morning Consult of his ratings in those states:

State (Electoral Votes)Trump- Clinton %Trump approve/ disapprove Jan ’17Trump approve/ disapprove Nov ’18Net change
Florida (29)49.0 - 47.856 / 3447 / 49-22
Pennsylvania (20)48.2 - 47.549 / 3946 / 51-15
Ohio (18)51.7 - 43.651 / 3748 / 48-14
Michigan (16)47.5 - 47.348 / 4043 / 52-17
North Carolina (15)49.8 - 46.253 / 3549 / 47-16
Wisconsin (10)47.2 - 46.547 / 4143 / 53-16
Iowa (6)51.1 - 41.749 / 4044 / 52-17
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Each year, Americans make more than 6 million visits to hospital emergency departments for animal-related injuries caused by creatures great (such as dogs and alligators) and small (such as snakes and spiders), according to research published Monday in the journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.

Those hospital visits cost the U.S. economy about $1.2 billion annually, the study also found.

The actual figures are probably much, much higher, however. For the study did not include emergency department visits associated with treating insect-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease or West Nile virus. Nor did it include an assessment of non-emergency department costs, such as doctors’ fees, outpatient clinic charges, expenses related to rehabilitation, and lost productivity.

[cms_ad:x100]In fact, the study’s authors — a team of trauma surgeons from Stanford University — argue that if all the costs were added up, the annual burden on the U.S. economy from animal-related injuries might be more like $13 billion.

They also say that the problem will likely worsen in coming years due to climate change, which is expanding the territory where certain venomous animals can dwell, and to the increasing incursion of housing and other developments on existing animal habitats.

Types of injuries

For the study, the researchers used data submitted to the National Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) on animal-related injuries treated in emergency departments across the U.S. between 2010 and 2014.

They found that during that five-year period, 6.4 million emergency visits were made to hospitals for such injuries — a rate of 410 injuries for every 100,000 people living in the U.S.

The average age of the patients was 31 years.

Most of the injuries — 2.6 million (41 percent) — were caused by non-venomous insect or spider bites. The next-highest category of injuries — 1.6 million (26 percent) — was dog bites, followed by hornet, wasp or bee stings, which numbered 812,000 (13 percent).

The South had the greatest proportion of people (43 percent) showing up in emergency departments with animal-related injuries. The West, however, had the greatest proportion requiring treatment for bites from scorpions (87 percent) and from venomous centipedes and millipedes (83 percent).

The most common animal-related injuries treated in emergency departments in the Midwest during the study period were dog bites (350,680, or 21 percent of the total number), followed by hornet, wasp and bee bites (188,860, or 23 percent) and venomous spider bites (31,239, or 19 percent).

[cms_ad:x101]Midwesterners were much less likely to seek treatment for bites by venomous snakes and lizards (3,697, or 8 percent), rats (1,976, or 13 percent) or scorpions (236, or 1 percent).

The role of age and poverty

About 3 percent (210,000) of the patients in the study ended up being admitted to the hospital because of their animal-related injuries. Almost a third of them were individuals who had been stung by hornets, wasps or bees. But the injury that was most likely to end up with a hospital admission was a bite from a venomous snake or lizard. One in four people with those bites had to be hospitalized.

The researchers also found that 1,162 people died from their animal-related injuries during the study period. Although hornet, wasp or bee stings caused most (278) of the deaths, people had a higher chance of dying after bites from rats (6.5 deaths per 100,000 bites), venomous snakes and lizards (6.4 deaths per 100,000 bites) and dogs (6.1 deaths per 10,000 bites).

Both rat bites and dog bites can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening bacterial infections in humans.

Some groups were at greater risk than others. People aged 85 and older were six times more likely to be admitted to a hospital and 27 times more likely to die after an animal-related injury.

People with lower incomes were also more likely to be admitted to hospitals for their animal-related injuries. Indeed, the study found that ZIP codes with household incomes in the lowest 25th percentile had the greatest proportion (34 percent) of people injured by animals. That is likely a reflection of the quality of housing in such neighborhoods, as bites from venomous snakes, lizards and spiders tended to occur most often among people with lower household incomes.

The total cost for animal-related injuries over the five years was $5.96 billion, or an average of $1.2 billion annually. Bites from dogs, non-venomous spiders and insects, and venomous snakes and lizards accounted for 60 percent of those costs.

An expanding problem

[cms_ad:x102]“Injuries due to mountain lions, bears, alligators, and venomous snakes among other wild animals attract considerable media attention and are associated with dramatic morbidity and mortality,” the study’s authors write in their paper.

Yet injuries — including life-threatening ones — from smaller creatures, particularly spiders and insects, are much more numerous, they point out.

“These arthropod encounters are likely to increase based on habitat availability and climate change, and consequently may be more likely to result in a greater economic and healthcare burden than other more dramatic, but less common, animal encounters in the future,” the researchers stress.

“Understanding the burden of animal-related injuries in the USA and developing effective public health prevention measures is critical now given animal-related injuries are projected to increase,” they add.

FMI: You’ll find the study on the Trauma, Surgery & Acute Care Open website.

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She’s not stepping down. But she’s definitely stepping out – and up. Kaywin Feldman, who has led the Minneapolis Institute of Art since 2008, has been named the new director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. – the nation’s museum. She’ll be the fifth director in its 77-year history and the first woman.

The Gallery announced in Nov. 2017 that Earl A. Powell III, its director since 1992, would step down in 2019 after more than 25 years. An extensive search began in April 2018. Feldman will start at the National Gallery on March 11, 2019.

Feldman said in a statement, “The National Gallery of Art is arguably America’s greatest treasure. To be chosen to lead it into its next decades is a profound honor … I am eager to work with the talented team at the Gallery in taking the institution to even greater heights.”

The National Gallery will be lucky to have her. During her watch, the Minneapolis Institute of Art became more community-focused, forward-thinking and modern-feeling. Attendance doubled from 425,000 in the year she arrived to 891,000 in 2017. The museum rebranded as Mia and celebrated its 100th birthday in unexpected ways: wrapping water towers in art, carving art into farm fields, flying in three priceless “mystery masterpieces” from Europe for short times (including one of 34 known Vermeers in the world) and making them available to view for free.

[cms_ad:x100]The special exhibitions – the ticketed ones – have been both scholarly and delightful, ranging broadly (very broadly) from “The Hapsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty” to “At Home with Monsters,” featuring the art, collections and journals of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. (As you approached the arched entryway, eyes blinked at you.) The dense-with-information “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation” drew crowds. Offering sights, sounds and smells but not one word of explanation on a label, “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty,” designed by avant-garde theater artist Robert Wilson, was a whole new way to view objects in Mia’s extensive collections.

The current exhibition, “Egypt’s Sunken Cities,” is a stunner, filled with ancient objects and giant statues found on the ocean floor. In June, the easily accessible, always free first-floor Cargill Gallery featured a show of 15 works created by Twin Cities artists in response to the fatal shooting of Philando Castile.

Thanks to Feldman, Mia now has a Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts that is exploring ways to use art to bring people together and help us understand each other’s feelings and experiences. It has a contemporary art department and new, immersive galleries for showcasing the art of Africa. The Japanese collection has more than doubled in size. The period rooms are no longer preserved in amber but instead are places to engage with history in new ways. The lobby is brighter, airier and more inviting.

Feldman has been a champion of using digital technology to expand access to art. Interactive technologies are part of the African art galleries. The next time you visit, try “Riddle Mia This,” a recently launched escape-room app (a free download) that puts you in the center of a drama and leads you through the museum in search of clues.

At the National Gallery, the scale of Feldman’s responsibilities will increase dramatically. While Mia’s busiest year brought nearly 900,000 visitors, the National Gallery sees 5.2 million. Mia’s operating budget is $35 million, the Gallery’s $168 million. Mia’s collection numbers some 90,000 objects, the Gallery’s 124,000. Mia has a full-time staff of 265; the National Gallery employees 1,000 people.

Admission to both is always free.

In a statement, Nivin MacMillan, who established the endowment for Feldman’s position as Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Director and President, noted that “under [Feldman’s] tenure, the museum has become a vital thriving organization with programs which matter for all kinds of audiences … Kaywin is a person of enormous talent who has a devoted following in our community. We wish her every good thing in her new opportunity, but she will be sorely missed in Minnesota.”

Michelle Obama to bring her hit book tour to St. Paul

Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” is the best-selling hardcover book of 2018. More than 3 million copies are in print. The reviews are glowing. Her book tour is selling out arenas and she keeps adding more dates.

On Tuesday, Obama tweeted, “I’m having so much fun with all of you on my #IAmBecoming tour that I decided to do one final round of events to see folks in some cities we missed!”

REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
Michelle Obama will be at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Wednesday, March 13, for “Becoming: An Intimate Conversation With Michelle Obama.”
The Twin Cities made the final round. (Also Milwaukee.) On Wednesday, March 13, she’ll be at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for “Becoming: An Intimate Conversation With Michelle Obama.” If you want a chance at tickets, register now as a Ticketmaster Verified Fan. (Registration opened Tuesday at 7 a.m. and ends today – Wednesday, Dec. 12 – at midnight.) That won’t guarantee you a ticket, but it will put you in line for an invitation to shop for tickets. The Ticketmaster Verified Fan presale starts Friday, Dec. 14, at 10 a.m. and ends that day at 10 p.m. Prices haven’t yet been published. Obama will be in Milwaukee on Thursday, March 14.

From the Washington Post’s review: “As first lady, every word Michelle Obama uttered and every action she took received advance scrutiny for signs of potential damage to her husband’s presidency. Now, freed of the constraints of the White House, she is ready to tell it as she sees it.”

The picks

Thursday at the Hennepin History Museum: Bill Lindeke: “Minneapolis-St. Paul: Then and Now.” An urban geographer, tour guide, writer (for MinnPost, among others) and author, Lindeke will show and discuss historic and current photographs from his new book about the Twin Cities, sibling rivals from the start. This event will be held in the museum’s cozy fireplace room around a crackling fire. 6-8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($5, $3 seniors and students; members free). The book will be available for purchase and signing.

Photo by Megan Engeseth
Luverne Siefert and Sara Marsh star in David Harrower’s play about a man and a woman, a sexual relationship years in the past and its devastating consequences.
Opens Thursday at the Grain Belt Warehouse: David Harrower’s “Blackbird.” We are so looking forward to our annual holiday dose of disturbing, deliberately non-chipper theater from Dark & Stormy Productions, the company founded and led by Sara Marsh. For sure, go see “A Christmas Carol,” “The Wickhams” and other holly-jolly shows, but leave room on your plate for something bitter. Marsh and Luverne Siefert star in Harrower’s Olivier Award-winning, Tony-nominated mid-2000s play about a man and a woman, a sexual relationship years in the past and its devastating consequences. Michaela Johnson will direct. 77 13th Ave. NE, Studio 202. FMI and tickets ($15-39). Closes Jan. 19.

[cms_ad:x101]Friday at the Turf Club: Halloween, Alaska “Le Centre” release show. Halloween, Alaska was electronic with live instruments before that became a thing. “Le Centre” is the band’s fifth record and their first full album of original music since 2011. The band is James Diers (voice, guitar, keys), Dave King (drums, keys), Jacob Hanson (guitar) and William Shaw (bass). With Alan Sparkhawk (Low). 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12 advance, $15 day of show).

Saturday at Rogue Buddha Gallery: Yarnado 2018. Mutti’s Annual Knitting Trunk Show (and sale) is a holiday tradition at the gallery down the street from the Ritz. Artist and Rogue Buddha owner Nicholas Harper’s mom Louise is back with handcrafted scarves, afghans, leg warmers, wrist warmers, beanie caps, shawls, washcloths and more. Harper says, “She might be 91 years old but she still knits like a young 70s-something whipper-snapper.” Noon-8 p.m. FMI. Free and open to the public.

Saturday and Sunday: Giving Voice Chorus Winter Concerts. These concerts are probably more for loved ones and friends of the singers in the chorus, all people with Alzheimer’s and their care partners. But if you want proof of the power of music and the potential of people with dementia, you’ll find this event moving, inspiring and joyful. Giving Voice was the first chorus of its kind; similar choruses have since been launched across the U.S. and around the world, using tools and training from Giving Voice. 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday at MacPhail’s Antonello Hall; 2 p.m. Sunday at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall. FMI and tickets ($12; ages 12 and under free); 612-321-0100.

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Of all his accomplishments, the late President George H.W. Bush was exceptionally successful in foreign policy. He had demonstrated his mettle for diplomacy, though, long before his presidency.

Elliot C. Rothenberg

I was fortunate to serve at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations from 1970 to 1972, specializing in international human rights issues. At the time of my arrival, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. was Charles Yost, an accomplished and respected career diplomat.

In November 1970, Bush lost his Senate campaign in Texas. President Richard Nixon appointed him to replace Yost. Some at the Mission had hard feelings about Yost’s ouster and regarded the Bush appointment as a political payoff. But Bush turned out to be a superb diplomat. He seemingly had a natural gift for foreign policy. It did not take him long to win over the people at the U.S. Mission and representatives from the international community at the United Nations.

One episode in particular showed that Bush had “the vision thing” well before 1988.

[cms_ad:x100]In 1971, Pakistan was fighting a war against an independence movement in East Pakistan. I became friendly with the Bangladeshi independence spokesman at the U.N., Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, who was roaming the halls of the U.N. looking for support for his emerging country. Chowdhury was a man of considerable substance. He had served as a justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, president of the University of Dacca, and Pakistani representative on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. His remarkable background notwithstanding, Chowdhury could not afford printed calling cards, so he hand wrote “Mr. Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury. Special Representative of the Govt. of Bangladesh for Overseas,” on small sheets of paper for everyone he met. He asked me to try to arrange a meeting with Ambassador Bush.

Broached the subject with trepidation

With a certain trepidation I asked Bush’s secretary if Chowdhury could have an appointment. A little later she called saying that Bush wanted to see me. We talked, and Bush agreed to confer with Chowdhury. He wanted me at that meeting, too.

Bush and I met with Chowdhury in late November 1971 in the ambassador’s office at the Mission.

Chowdhury talked about the hatred between the two sides and went into graphic detail about atrocities Pakistani forces had committed in the war. He stressed that the Bangladeshi independence movement was pro-Western and anti-Communist and wanted friendly relations with the United States.

Still, not everyone was happy with the Bush-Chowdhury meeting. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger did not support the independence movement against ally Pakistan. The State Department did not want any sort of meetings at the U.N. that anyone could construe as recognition of a new independent state in what was then East Pakistan.

The ambassador did it anyway.

India entered the war in early December against Pakistan on behalf of the rebels. The war ended quickly a couple of weeks later, and Bangladesh was a new, independent state.

Chowdhury became the president of the newly independent Bangladesh. The Bush meeting with Chowdhury was the first high level American contact with the new nation. Ambassador Bush was proven right to proceed notwithstanding the objections from others in Washington.

Ambassador Bush also took a special interest in speaking out on the plight of Soviet Jewry. This was a huge human rights issue then, in March 1972, with the Soviets blocking emigration of Jews out of the country. The ambassador asked me to write a speech he would deliver at the General Assembly or Human Rights Commission.

[cms_ad:x101]The draft concluded, “My delegation calls upon the Soviet Government to give heed to the deep concern of governments and peoples throughout the world and of its own citizens by according Soviet Jews the right, not merely the occasional privilege, to emigrate and permitting those who remain to freely practice their religion.”

No stuffed shirt

Despite his privileged upper class background, Ambassador Bush was not a stuffed shirt and had an impish sense of humor. He was not an ideologue either. In one cable to the State Department, the ambassador reported a conversation with the Spanish U.N. ambassador, in which the latter expressed effusive support for the war in Vietnam, not a common sentiment at the U.N. in those days. Knowing of my previous sojourn in Vietnam and lack of enthusiasm for the whole adventure, Bush gave me a copy of the cable, circling the word Vietnam and adding his handwritten note, “Fascists of the World Unite!”

Bush left the U.N. for other appointments and I returned to Minnesota in 1974, but we remained in contact. I became an early Bush supporter for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. In 1979, as a newly elected Minnesota state representative, I organized other legislators on his behalf. That fall, we put together a campaign lunch for him in St. Paul. The cream of the Minnesota moderate Republican establishment was there. Early in his speech, Bush gave me a generous plug to this influential local audience as “my secret weapon at the U.N.” It was always his practice to give others credit for their work on his behalf, often in a humorous way. He was just a wonderful guy. After the lunch, Bush and I shared a good laugh over his quip (see photo).

Bush waged a strong campaign as a nonideological Republican in the Dwight D. Eisenhower mold, taking special delight in lampooning “voodoo economics” slashes in taxes for the very rich. He eventually got elected president, but one wonders how different the country and the Republican Party would be today if Bush and his brand of Republicanism had prevailed in 1980.

Minneapolis resident, attorney, and author Elliot C. Rothenberg was in the U.S. Department of State from 1968 to 1973, serving at the American Embassy in then-Saigon, Vietnam, and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. He represented St. Louis Park in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1978 to 1982.

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Says Stephen Montemayor for the Star Tribune: “The federal cases against two of the three members of a rural Illinois militia accused of bombing a Bloomington mosque last year will be tried in Minnesota. Michael Hari, Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris have been in federal custody since March on charges out of both Illinois and Minnesota, which were consolidated Tuesday and will be overseen by Senior U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank in St. Paul. … The three men — who each lived in the small, rural town of Clarence, Ill. — allegedly carried out their Aug. 7, 2017, attack under the banner of a militia they called the ‘White Rabbits 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters.’

Says a FOX9 story, “An Air quality alert has been issues for much of central Minnesota due to fine particles. The alert is in effect from 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11 through 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13. The affected area includes the Twin Cities metro, Willmar, Hutchinson and the Tribal Nations of Prairie Island and Upper Sioux. … According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, ‘light winds, clear skies and a strong inversion have resulted in poor dispersion, trapping air pollutants near the ground.’”

The Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen and Randy Johnson report:  “At least six Gophers football players have been disciplined and have not been allowed to practice recently in preparation for the Quick Lane Bowl for violating team rules, multiple sources told the Star Tribune. … The alleged team rule violations reported from the sources do not involve assault or violence. … This marks the second time in three years that the Gophers are expected to be without several players for their bowl game because of disciplinary reasons.”

For USA Today Dawn Gilbertson says, “Delta Air Lines is shaking up its boarding process, ditching zone boarding for boarding by ticket type. The Atlanta based carrier is renaming, and even color coding, its boarding groups, and increasing the number per flight from six to seven or eight depending on the aircraft. The goal: a smoother, more clear-cut boarding process.”

For MPR, Elizabeth Dunbar reports, “The U.S. Senate approved the farm bill Tuesday afternoon, and the House is expected to vote on it this week. … Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) This program accounts for about 80 percent of farm bill spending. The final version of the bill does not include additional work requirements House GOP leaders had wanted, but there are some provisions aimed at preventing fraud. House Republicans had also wanted to reduce funding for SNAP, but the compromise language maintains funding. Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said she’s pleased the bill doesn’t make getting nutrition assistance more difficult.”

The Forum News Service says, “Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson on Tuesday, Dec. 11 brought a lawsuit against a Virginia-based tax settlement company, alleging the group broke state consumer protection laws. The company, Wall and Associates, Inc., didn’t register in the state and collected from customers before fully delivering services, the lawsuit alleges. Minnesota law requires tax debt settlement groups to file with the state and to fully deliver services before collecting payment.”

[cms_ad:x100]Says an AP story, “A Minnesota jury has convicted a snowmobiler who struck and killed an 8-year-old boy on Chisago Lake. Jurors on Tuesday convicted Eric Coleman, of Chisago City, of third-degree murder, drunken driving, criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation. Coleman’s attorneys conceded he was guilty of the other charges, but not murder. The crash last January killed second-grader Alan Geisenkoetter Jr. and injured his father, Alan Geisenkoetter Sr. The family was going ice-fishing when the boy was struck.”

In the PiPress, Tad Vezner reports, “With little additional debate, Ramsey County’s board approved their budget for next year during their regular meeting this week. One member — outgoing commissioner Janice Rettman — voted against the budget, saying it was ‘too much.’ ‘It’s tough times out there,’ Rettman said. But board president Jim McDonough said that while ‘the pain was real.’ he believed that on the whole, county residents acknowledged the need for increased funding.”

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