Bill Holm, the late poet, author, musician and English professor, used to tell rural Minnesota audiences about how strong communities often maintained strength by supporting and enjoying events at their schools.
“There’s ‘big doings’ at the school,” Holm would say in mimicking a rural Minnesota conversation. “I suppose we better go.”
Such was the case a week ago when 60 student actors, crew and musicians at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (KMS) high school performed Beauty and the Beast for their spring musical. The public – the community – came. There were four general public performances plus a day matinee for KMS elementary students and another for 150 first graders on a field trip from nearby Willmar.
The public performances had mostly full houses, said Kerkhoven Banner publisher Ted Almen. The community supports the arts in this three-town school district and perhaps not surprisingly, voters in the districts overwhelmingly approved two school referenda in the past year.
The participation of 60 students meant that approximately one-third of the ninth through 12 graders in the school were involved in the production. I will defer to colleague Michael Diedrich, our education fellow, and educators on how such school participation inspires learning and enriches lives for students and people in the community. From an economic development perspective, there is no doubt that a vibrant school district is a foundation on which to sustain and build communities.
Communities such as Kerkhoven, Murdock and Sunburg do combine into a singular community around the school district. Active schools create school events that entertain area residents, not just proud parents. Active students develop leadership skills for the next generation. While the majority of KMS graduates will go off to college, some, like Ted Almen, do return home and provide community leadership.
Real estate people – urban and rural – point to quality schools as being tremendously important for maintaining area home values. For many potential entrepreneurs and employers, a strong school district is an attraction for locating investments and expansion.
There is community pride when the flashy KMS marching band comes down the street in community parades around Minnesota each year, and in the Washington, D.C. Fourth of July parade and at Gettysburg Battlefield where they performed this past year.
Regional demographic trends of aging rural populations don’t do many favors for the united three communities. Quality education that includes strong music programs bucks the trends and gives KMS communities reason to be optimistic about the future.
Bill Holm was right about the ‘doings’ at the schools.
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As we do every week, I asked our MN2020 staff, "What's making you happy this week?" Following, are their responses -- a list of recommended reads that we're hoping will make your Friday a little brighter.
Looking for Tom Lehrer, Comedy's Mysterious Genius (Buzzfeed)— While Buzzfeed may be better known for its lists and quick-hit pieces, this longer article is an interesting look at the history and current situation of Tom Lehrer, the man responsible for "The Elements Song," "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," "New Math," and many other sharp and quirky songs.
Glow-in-the-Dark 'Smart Highways' Replace Street Lights in the Netherlands (Inhabit) — I really enjoyed this short video because it enhances the importance of artists and thinking outside of the box. This shows examples of how smart highways in the future will function as well as possible routes to reduce our ecological footprint in regards to light energy. The ideas presented give me hope for the future of clean energy approaches for our environment.
The Nutritional Quality of Donated Food (Center for Urban and Regional Affairs) — Focusing on food shelf nutritional quality makes a big difference. From the University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, one of our state's great public policy research resources.
The Political Economy of Sprawl (Smart Growth for Conservatives) — Virginia blogger James A. Bacon describes himself as "one of the world’s few conservatives who supports the broader vision of the Smart Growth movement." Here he lists all the dirty reasons why red-state voters love sprawl:
U.S. Views of Technology and the Future (Pew Research) — Driverless cars? Personal robot servants? The ability to control the weather? Our ideas about how technology could – and should – impact our lives over the next 50 years are documented in a new study by the Pew Research Foundation. Does the extent to which these ideas differ by gender, age, education level, and income tell us something about the present?
I'm reading Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Hedrick Smith's 2012 book Who Stole the American Dream and recommend it to everyone no longer pleased with the status quo and is interested in studying how we got to where we're at in hopes of bringing about change.
There's More to Life Than Being Happy (The Atlantic) — This article details what happiness is and how one can pursue happiness, and their life purpose.
November's mid-term elections are coming fast, especially since absentee voting will allow Minnesotans to cast ballots as early as mid-September.
What issues matter in this election?
To conservatives, there appears to be only one: Obamacare.
This is a shortsighted view because a) Obamacare has become well established in law and economics, and therefore b) the electorate at large will not vote based on this single issue.
The most important issues facing voters, according to a March, 2014 Gallup poll are, in rank order:
- Dissatisfaction with government
- Economy in general
No other issue received more than 10%. And, of the four main issues identified, the number of people identifying health care as the most important problem has declined six points since December to 11%. Conversely, the percent identifying unemployment as the biggest issue facing this country has gone from 12% to 19%.
Comparing the candidates in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District demonstrates how out of touch conservatives are. For example, in recent times, Conservative John Kline has emphasized repealing Obamacare, funding for charter schools (since he can't get his proposed repeal of No Child Left Behind passed by the Senate), raising the age of eligibility for Social Security as his method of debt reduction and finding solvency for social security.
His press releases are telling: most are related to Obamacare; one touts his support for the IRS investigation. His Twitter feed focuses on charter schools, when he is not spinning the questions at his private telephone town hall conferences. Most telling, at this writing, is the Senate’s passage of a long term unemployment insurance extension—and a letter sent by seven House Republicans urging the bill to be brought to the House floor. Mr. Kline was not among the seven.
On the other hand, Mike Obermueller is focusing on middle class issues: raising the minimum wage, extending long term unemployment insurance, equal pay for equal work, finding a path to citizenship for out of status immigrants, using many of the 30 steps recommended by the Congressional Budget Office for ensuring Social Security's solvency, including, among others, increasing the cap on Social Security wages.
Why do conservatives focus on repeal of Obamacare? Do they rely on poll numbers suggesting that a majority find disfavor with the health care law? If so, they need be careful: although a majority might find dissatisfaction with Obamacare, a large portion offer that opinion because Obamacare does not go far enough! Conservatives are wrong to think that dissatisfaction with Obamacare is based only on those who think the law is bad policy.
As Ethan Demers has written, “The GOP will not succeed in the upcoming midterm elections if it proves itself to be a single-issue party. Unfortunately, that appears to be exactly what Republican Party leadership is aiming for.” Some conservatives see the problem the same way.
Mr. Kline is not one of them.
Following is a short list of things our staff have enjoyed reading this list.
Can a Television Network be a Church? The IRS Says Yes (NPR) -- Want to avoid paying property taxes on your $6.3 million home? Call it a parsonage. An NPR report examines how some televangelist mega-churches avoid taxes and IRS scrutiny, despite use of donated funds for purposes that could hardly be considered charitable.
Speaking at Rights Event, Carter Deplores Disparity (New York Times) — President Jimmy Carter reminds us again that the struggle for human rights and equality never ends. I was reading his thoughtful piece in the New York Times when word came champions of women pay inequality had blocked a Senate bill attempting to provide equal rights for women on pay days.
Conscious Uncoupling (The Economist) -- If anyone is interested in reading up on the energy implications of the Russia/Crimea situation, the Economist article below is a bit above a "101" level but digestable for most. It gives some interesting high lever insight on the geopolitics of energy and the constraints of energy transmission and cooperation:
The Polarized Partisan Geography of Inequality (The Atlantic) — Minnesota's 6th Congressional District has the least income inequality in the US. What's up with that?
One Designer’s Lonely Crusade to Make Packaging Disappear (Slate) — As an environmentally conscious designer, I enjoyed these imaginative ways of creating less or no-waste product packaging.
We forget how far we’ve come. Lori Sturdevant’s new biography of Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Rosalie Wahl reminds us that things were very different for women not that long ago. Her Honor: Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement is a welcome and necessary history of long-simmering discontent and rapid change.
Change, as any political activist will tell you, doesn’t come easily. The 20th century women’s movement in Minnesota, the US and around the world, seized change; it didn’t wait for it. If waiting was the strategy, women would still be waiting and Rosalie Wahl would never have been appointed as the first woman to the Minnesota Supreme Court. This biography is about action, not waiting.
I’m a generation younger than Justice Wahl, the age of her children. For us, women of Wahl’s era were always leaders because we didn’t group up in the last moments of when women weren’t leaders. To me, Joan Anderson Growe was Secretary of State. I didn’t remember anyone else holding the position. How Growe did the job was, I assumed, simply the way the job was done. Wahl, in that same spirit, was always a member of the Minnesota Court. Sure, I understood that she was first and that it took quite awhile for the bench to begin looking at least a little more like the Minnesota I observed, but I’m not bound by the struggle’s spirit like the Women’s Movement activists. That’s both a triumph and a disappointment.
Sturdevant, a highly regarded Star-Tribune editorial writer, wants us to savor the triumph and moderate the disappointment. She finds the movement’s challenges and achievements embodied in Wahl’s life and career. No one would call Rosalie Wahl average but gender, rural poverty and family circumstance narrowed the options that we now assume entertains every bright young woman.
Wahl bears her World War II generation’s stamps. Married young to a veteran. College educated but declined graduate studies in favor of child bearing and family responsibilities. Attending night law school in middle age. Political and feminist activism with her kids in tow. Divorce. And, she wasn’t alone in passing these mileposts, a point that Sturdevant makes abundantly clear. These shared experiences helped create the political Women’s Movement.
It’s hard to believe that, a little better than 30 years ago, Rosalie Wahl was still the only women appointed to Minnesota’s Supreme Court. But, that rapidly changed. Her colleague, the late Associate Justice Sandra Gardebring, represents a different version of the Court appointment. Traditionally seen as a career capstone, Gardebring served seven years on the Court then resigned for positions in higher education, applying her talents in other settings. That’s as much of a triumph as Wahl being first through the door.
This doesn’t get said enough. We owe Lori Sturdevant a debt for telling Wahl’s story. Nobody writes historical biographies published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press to get rich. They don’t even do it to make money because, honestly, there isn’t any money in state-level historical biography. Which, makes Sturdevant’s book all the more important, necessary and welcome.
Politics today seems to be summed up by Thoreau in that “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” There are a thousand causes, most of which I would argue deserve some degree of our attention and fevered debate. However, the root is what we have for too long ignored. That root is campaign finance and how it corrupts is at the core of every political issue today. That is why understanding the US Supreme Court’s April 2nd ruling in the case of McCutcheon et al v Federal Election Commission is of such critical importance.
When I ran for Congress, I saw it as a noble cause. An opportunity to debate policy for the betterment of my fellow man. A chance to help steer this great nation that has given us all so much and work side by side with whomever is to become my generation’s Bobby Kennedy or FDR.
Was I ever wrong!
A “good” challenger for a US Congressional seat spends 12-14hrs a day, seven days a week for at the bare minimum one year, sitting in a little room, calling mostly strangers, and asking for money. As ridiculous as it sounds, that’s 99% of a modern campaign. The question that should be asked here is why. Why are we not debating policy and instead separating ourselves and raising money? The reason - modern elections are about gaining and maintaining power, not policy, and while demanding certain requirements to run would violate Article I of the Constitution, using massive sums of money as a barrier to entry is not only legal, but highly effective.
In the 2012 election cycle 90%+ of US Congressional seats were won by the incumbent. The average incumbent who won raised about $1.5 million while their challengers averaged $500,000. While we, the good folk of Lake Wobegon, like to think we are above such insanity, we are actually far worse. In Minnesota, US Congressional elections cost 2-3 times the national average. Here, incumbents who won raised 157% more than the national average (thanks mainly to Michele Bachmann's $15 million raised) and their challengers, despite the fact they still lost, raised 104% more.
To be fair, modern campaigns are extremely expensive, but unlike those that would call this “free speech,” I do not believe that the way to move towards a functional democracy, “fair” elections, and away from an oligarchical system is to dump in more money.
…and to the 87% or so of us that think Congress is broken, know this - the only way our right to free speech is going to fix the system is if the words that come out demand the money to be taken out of politics, not put in.
Every week, I ask our staff "What's making you happy this week?" and every week their responses are fascinating. Below, enjoy a selection of recomended articles, videos and books that the Minnesota 2020 staff would like to recommend.
The Low Line (Strees.mn) — I’ve called the contrarian University of Minnesota transportation analyst David Levinson a curmudgeon, but now there's evidence he has a sense of humor. Check this interesting streets.mn post where the good professor proposes a solution to the Southwest LRT impasse. Then check the date.
‘Save Money, Live Better’ (Marketplace) — This is an intriguing and thoughtful look at Wal-mart's relationship with SNAP benefits. Wal-mart's low prices make it popular with SNAP participants on tight budgets, yet Wal-mart workers often rely on SNAP themselves to make ends meet.
Where everyone in the world is migrating—in one gorgeous chart (Quartz) — Results from a recent study on global migration flows from 1990-2010 are discussed, and accompanied by an interactive tool that shows how migration patterns from/to various regions have changed over time.
Ted Cruz's Facebook Obamacare Poll -- Roughly two weeks ago, conservative Senator Ted Cruz of Texas posted a "quick poll" on his Facebook page asking people to chime in about whether Obamacare had made their lives better. When I saw the list on Tuesday of this week, I saw post after post of people expressing their deep gratefulness for the program, which probably wasn't what the senator was expecting.
Would a Cesar Chavez Day level the playing field for Minnesota's farmworkers? (MinnPost) -- The Minnesota Senate voted 57-1 to honor labor organizer Cesar Chavez with his own day. The same body has failed to approve a change in state law that would allow farm workers--the people that Chavez fought for during his life--to receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 per week (a provision intertwined with the state's ongoing minimum wage negotiations). This MinnPost article explores the apparent contradiction.
Motivates partly by the situation in Russia/Ukraine and all of the related energy implications, I started Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. I don't know very much about that part of the world and so far, the book is very well written and a good intro history with an emphasis on the cultures in central Eurasia.
This little guy really knows how to construct a convincing argument. Some inspiration for the next time you find yourself in a heated debate about important public policy issues... or cupcakes.
Read the Devastating Letter by a Harvard Sexual-Assault Survivor (MotherJones) — This is a powerful letter from a Harvard undergrad and sexual assault survivor to the university detailing the ways they failed to help her when she was sinking into depression. As a woman, seeing other young women speak up about their experiences is empowering!
Like everyone else who drove home in the snow last night, we're ready for winter to be over. So! Happy Friday from the staff at Minnesota 2020. This week's list is packed full of great stuff -- funny, thoughtful and surprising all rolled into one.
Six Freeway Removals that Changed Their Cities Forever (Gizmodo) — Before and after images from several cities that have opted to replace freeways with parks, bike and pedestrian trails, beaches, and smaller streets for cars. Some interesting images can also be found in the comments section.
Which college has the most influential alums? Find out with TIME’s comparison calculator. Apparently, the U of M’s Dylan, Nick Clegg (UK Deputy Prime Minister), and Tony Dungy were too much for my Temple Owl’s Bill Cosby, Daryl Hall and Bob Saget.
Jon Stewart rips Fox News again over entitlement obsession (Washington Post) -- This article summarizes the running feud between Jon Stewart, anchor of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," and right wing Fox News regarding food stamps. Included is a Daily Show clip in which Stewart adroitly (and hilariously) points of the hypocrisy of Fox News on the subject of entitlements.
Ben Terrett on Making the U.K.'s One-Stop Government Website Cool (Bloomberg Business Week) — he UK is beating us in ambitious, user-friendly government technology interfaces, but they're taking notes and making it open source so that we can catch up.
This is a forest in Minnesota, shaped exactly like Minnesota, and to make this forest even more special, the forester who designed this timber harvest did not use GPS to create the boundary line. Enjoy.
Eating well, eating healthy and easting in a fiscally and family stabilizing fashion can and must intersect; food science and food artistry at Budget Bytes. Eat up.
We've all had days like this.
At Airports, a Misplaced Faith in Body Language (The New York Times) — The Transportation Safety Administration has spent $1 billion in an apparently vain attempt to teach its agents to read air travelers' body language. Evidence shows it's useless at identifying evil-doers. The New York Times article includes a nifty interactive feature that lets you try to pick out the liar.
Passionate Baby Girl Conducts a Church Choir -- It's been a dreadful week of reading about events in the Crimea to the Indian Ocean to mudslides in Washington state. But by week's end, this little gal really raised my spirits.
The Full Boyle: Guys who don’t hear 'no' just aren’t funny anymore (The A.V. Club) -- Genevieve Valentine dissects the problematic way too many sitcomes present creepy, stalkerish. Money quote: "[T]hings played as textually creepy on Mad Men or Law & Order are being played for laughs in sitcoms with almost no change of context, except one: Sitcoms pretend there are no consequences for the woman being pursued."
Few historical moments are emotionally rewarding for liberal political leaders. The achievements and the good times seem few and fleeting while reactionary conservative eras appear to drag on forever.
Former US Vice President Walter Mondale’s life embodies that challenge. The University of Minnesota Press just published the paperback edition of his 2010 memoir, The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics, written with Star-Tribune editor David Hage. It’s a 70-year lesson in persistence and perseverance, qualities required in every age but essential for anyone seeking economic and social justice.
Mondale’s story begins in a Minnesota that has largely disappeared. That Minnesota was, if not poor then only a step or two past poor. Our state was isolated geographically and isolationist politically, largely dependent on farming, mining and timbering. The Great Depression and World War II transformed Minnesota, setting it on a very different developmental path. That change created leadership opportunity for a poor, young Methodist minister’s son from Elmore.
Given his rapid rise –appointed as Minnesota Attorney General, then elected; appointed as US Senator, then elected; identified in the early 70s as a presidential prospect; tapped by Jimmy Carter as Vice President- it’s easy to overlook Mondale’s public policy work. Don’t do that. Mondale’s memoir won’t let you either. Yes, he tells some good political war stories but mostly he recounts policy and legislative fights, working to match public expectations of equal opportunity and fairness to laws achieving those goals.
It really is a stunning life journey. Studying his policy work, it’s clear that minutiae matters to Mondale. It’s one thing to give a speech broadly advocating for equal access to public educational funding. It’s quite another to work out legislative language detailing Head Start, Pell Grants, Title I and Title IX. Mondale’s life lessons focus on the social and economic conditions creating need for public policy is overcome barriers to growth and stability.
Mondale may have started political life in an ascendant moment but the last 40 years have been dominated by reactionary conservatism. If Mondale represents the resolute, extended community hand of assistance, the Reagan-Bush-Bush-Tea Party decades reflect a public desire to pull opportunity’s ladder up behind them. Mondale’s ability to soldier on in the face of public rejection of his values and work speaks volumes about Mondale’s view of people.
Read Mondale’s memoir. It’s a great reminder that battles for real progress never, ever come easily. They require determination and a willingness to accept defeat and rejection without quitting. That’s Walter Mondale’s great gift to Minnesota and our nation. Investing in people yields great things. Not always immediately and not always obviously but truth will out. Mondale sees that. So should we.
Happy Spring! Here, the Minnesota 2020 staff have collected our weekly round-up of links. Things that are making us happy this week, or that we thought you would enjoy.
Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year (Collectors Weekly) — It's fascinating how American culture has grown to accept tens of thousands of deaths from motor vehicle crashes each year. It wasn't always so, and here's an excellent historical account of how the change happened.
The local Twin Cities art scene! This week, I've enjoyed the Papercut exhibit at the American Swedish Institute, a really innovative gallery show by Rogue Citizen, and heard Susan Power read from her amazing new book at Birchbark Books. So many good things!
The World’s Ten Best Ethical Destinations 2014 (Ethical Traveler) — Ethical Traveler compiles an annual list of 10 tourist destinations in developing nations that are “doing the most impressive job of promoting human rights, preserving their environments, and supporting social welfare.” Their report outlining their 2014 winners is adding fodder to my daydreams of escaping the lingering snow.
Pygmy Tyrannosaur Roamed the Arctic (The guardian) — A new dinosaur discovery always sparks my imagination. This little guy, found in Alaska and announced last week, is fascinating.
Feathers (XKCD) — For some reason dinosaurs have been a big topic of discussion this week, which made me think of this. So much to get caught up on!
The Reckoning (The New Yorker) -- This article tells the tragic story of Adam Lanza, who shot and killed 28 people, including 20 children, 6 staff people, his mother, and himself at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. While the article provides no explanation as to the ultimate cause of the killings, it is nonetheless a stirring and insightful examination of the tragedy from the perspective of the shooter's father.
Maize lunch 'makes cow burps better for climate' (The Local) — Fun news that will eventually impact Minnesota and Wisconsin has German scientists studying cow diets to reduce burps, lessen other methane gas emissions, and protect the ozone layer. Minnesota corn growers will enjoy this also.
A Loan Fraud War That’s Short on Combat (The New York Times) — Got that? Complex financial crimes were the lowest priority for the [US Department of Justice] criminal investigative division." Gretchen Morgenson's NYT Fair Game column.