Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rumsfeld blasts press for ignoring hero

It's a strange time when a database search of America's leading newspapers turns up literally 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers who has been punished for misconduct -- 10 times more -- than the mentions of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror.

— U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Address at the 88th Annual American Legion National Convention, Tuesday, August 29, 2006

For a refresher on Sgt. Smith, consult this blog's archive.

Get to know this extraordinary hero, father, and husband at, and at the Army's Medal of Honor web page.

God bless our troops for keeping America safe, secure, and free.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Stadium tax: "money talks, democracy walks"

From Hennepin County:
Hennepin County Board authorizes sales tax for Twins ballpark

The Hennepin County Board today adopted Ordinance 26, which authorizes a countywide sales and use tax to help finance a new Minnesota Twins ballpark in downtown Minneapolis.

The vote was four to three, with Commissioners Mike Opat, Mark Stenglein, Peter McLaughlin and Randy Johnson voting in favor, and Commissioners Gail Dorfman, Linda Koblick and Penny Steele voting against the ordinance.

The ordinance establishes a 0.15-percent sales and use tax for construction of a new Twins ballpark, infrastructure and related activities described in Minnesota Laws 2006, Chapter 457 – the state’s authorizing legislation.

The sales tax on goods and services purchased in Hennepin County will go into effect Jan. 1, 2007, and will be collected by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. In accordance with state law, the tax will not apply to motor vehicles, clothing, most groceries, and medical supplies and services.

The Hennepin County/Minnesota Twins' proposal for a 42,000-seat, open-air ballpark was approved by the State Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in May. The legislation did not require a referendum in connection with the county sales-tax increase.

The county's share of financing the ballpark -- to be located on the Rapid Park site, adjacent to the Target Center -- is $350 million for construction and infrastructure costs, while the Twins organization is to contribute $130 million.

The board held three public hearings during the week of Aug. 21 to obtain input from citizens before voting on Ordinance 26.

The county will issue tax-exempt revenue bonds in 2007, payable with revenues from the sales-tax increase.

The board plans to spend up to $2 million of excess tax revenues annually to support youth activities and amateur sports in the county, and up to $2 million of excess tax revenues annually for additional library hours in both the county and Minneapolis library systems.

Upon final approval by the board, ballpark construction is expected to begin next year, with the new ballpark scheduled to open for the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season.

Nick Coleman, Star Tribune:
The commissioners voted 4 to 3 (boys against girls, as usual) to levy a billion in sales taxes without letting the people say yea or nay, as was required by state law until the county got the Legislature's OK to thumb its nose at the voters. In Iraq, voters get a purple finger. Here, it's just a finger.

The stadium will be a textbook case for years to come. A case that shows that money talks and democracy walks.

Linda Koblick, Hennepin County Commissioner:
"No vote is no voice. This isn't about baseball. It's about taxes, government and representative democracy."

Koblick issued the day's most blistering final attack on the stadium plan, saying the project had made the county dysfunctional and blaming the Star Tribune for inadequately covering the debate because of its corporate interests in wanting the stadium to be built. She also took direct aim at Commissioner Mike Opat, the County Board's lead stadium negotiator , and pointed out that Opat's top aide, Dan Kenney, had been named executive director of the Ballpark Authority "with a $50,000 bump in salary. "It's about money and greed and ego," she said. ["Hennepin County Board approves ballpark sales tax," Star Tribune, August 30, 2006]

Ray Rossberg, Eden Prairie:
The "knee-jerk" referendum for the Twins' stadium tax the Star Tribune derides in Monday's editorial was put into the law to prevent just the type of abuse of the electorate now being perpetrated by the Hennepin County Board.

If it was the intent of the Legislature to have local branches of government operate purely as republics, there would be no referendum provision or a need for the voters to approve any bonding issues.

The referendum requirement for local sales taxes simply makes the law consistent with other funding mechanisms -- schools, parks, community centers, sewer improvements, etc.

To elevate a stadium above these types of expenditures is to say that the need for sports facilities is greater than for educational and other civic improvements.

A strong case can be made to eliminate the ability of the Legislature to waive the referendum requirement since no waiver provision exists for other types of bonding decisions.

The imposition of a stadium sales tax without a referendum should be seen for what it is -- an admission that a poorly negotiated agreement by a disdainful county board which subsidizes a privately owned sports franchise has no chance of being approved by the voters.

This is evidenced by the voting in the Legislature on the exemption, which gathered barely 25 percent approval by the legislators from Hennepin County, many of whom were retiring members.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Distortions and attacks

Supporters of Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) have written letters to the editor accusing supporters of a referendum on the $1.1 billion Hennepin County stadium sales tax of "distorting" Sen. Bonoff's record and attacking the good senator.

Presumably, those same Bonoff supporters are telling the MN Publius blog to get off their side. Last week, Matt Martin of MN Publius posted a hasty attack on Plymouth Mayor and Sen. Bonoff's challenger in Senate District 43, Judy Johnson. It should be linked on Wikipedia at "innuendo," or "whole cloth."

Martin attempted to portray Johnson as politically inept by asking whether she snubbed the Minnetonka Festival in favor of visiting with President George W. Bush during his fundraising visit here, and falsely reported that Johnson's husband was at the festival. Martin's post was so far off base, he had no choice but to acknowledge that "[Johnson] was at the Plymouth City Council meeting that night but sent volunteers to the festival. I was straight-up wrong about her husband being there, so I apologize for that. And, admittedly, my questioning was rather suggestive, so I also apologize for any misleading suggestions I may have made."

Actually, not only was Johnson "at" the Plymouth City Council meeting, she was chairing the meeting as mayor, which most would be pleased that she was doing that night, instead of campaigning in Minnetonka. Minnesota Democrats Exposed has the rest of the story, including a statement from Johnson.

Unfortunately for them, Bonoff's supporters have to defend Bonoff's Senate voting record (like voting to grant Hennepin County an exemption from state law that would have required a referendum on the stadium tax), but cannot attack Johnson's Senate voting record, or the rest of her resume. So they have to make up stuff!

Friday, August 18, 2006

My ballot

My pet peeve about voting is not knowing who's on the ballot before I get to my polling place and read the ballot for the first time. I'm not talking about the marquee offices, I'm talking about the district court judges and the county races, where the money is smaller and campaigning less visible. The ballot may be published in the newspaper a week or two before election day, but shouldn't it be easier to find out who these candidates are earlier, so we can cast an intelligent vote?

The Star Tribune has linked data from the Minnesota Secretary of State's office and its own candidate statement files to create myVote, which displays the ballot choices you will see at your precinct in two clicks: ZIP Code and street address. If you check the "Remember my precinct information" checkbox, myVote saves a cookie to your computer so you won't have to enter it again. Then your ballot and, when available, election results will appear automatically.

After your ballot is displayed, click on any candidate name to read the statement that they submitted to the Strib. For example, a Minneapolitan named Phil Willkie is running for Hennepin County Soil and Water Supervisor Seat 2. Here is what he told the Strib:
Background: Activist/organizer in independent politics, drug reform, peace and justice, freedom movements, gay, civil liberties; associate publisher of Pulse; AIDS service activist.

Endorsements: Marv Davidov; Polly Mann; Ed Felien; Peter Camejo; Medea Benjamin; Paul Krassner; Flo Kennedy; Matt Gonzales; Grassroots Party; Green Party of Minnesota.

Essay: Fighting for the environment; resisting war and military madness; fighting for an independent media; fighting the Patriot Act and government invasion of privacy and consensual and individual rights; election reform, instant runoff voting and breaking two-party duopoly; single-payer health care; nationalize banks, utilities, transportation and all energy sources.
Just what we need in a Soil and Water Supervisor! NOT!

Willkie's opponent for this nonpartisan office, Dan Flo, did not seek endorsements; he's playing it a little closer to the vest:
The Hennepin Soil and Water Conservation District [HCD] is a low-profile organization that does good things for this county’s natural resources. The dedicated board and staff work closely with residents and other government officials to implement the provisions of the Wetland Conservation Act. We do this by providing money and other assistance for projects that curb soil erosion and improve water quality. As the Legislature works to develop a working, dedicated clean-water legacy program for cleaning up the state’s impaired waters, HCD will play an integral role in managing those funds in Hennepin County. Thank you for your support.
We don't know whether Flo shares comrade Willkie's passion to "nationalize banks, utilities, transportation and all energy sources," but at least he is using his 15 minutes of fame to explain to us what the HCD does.

The candidates' statements for HCD Seat 4 highlighted their views on soil and water conservation. One of the three candidates on the ballot, Ryan Wilson, has been endorsed by an interesting mix of elected officials and organizations: U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad; Minnesota House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen; Log Cabin Republicans; Taxpayers League of Minnesota; Plymouth Mayor Judy Johnson; State Rep. Ron Erhardt; State Rep. Neil Peterson; State Sen. Geoff Michel; Edina City Council Member Scot Housh; Edina City Council Member Linda Masica. Wilson's resume reveals a lot of volunteering as a Republican Party of Minnesota delegate and campaign worker. I have met Ryan; he is articulate and seems very well-informed on a wide range of issues.

Sometimes a Soil and Water Supervisor is just a Soil and Water Supervisor, but some candidates seem to have aspirations to move closer to the top of the ballot someday.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Take me out to the ballgame (but let us vote first)

There's something about attending a major league baseball game that sets it apart from other sports.

I attended last Friday's Twins loss against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Metrodome. It was not a pretty sight, but for someone who grew up idolizing Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, a bad day at the ballpark beats a good day at work anytime. I managed to complete my best-ever, most accurate scorecard of the game. The Twins put on a show, on and off the field, that's both kid-friendly and grandparent-friendly. I was there with both my kids and their grandmas, and a group from our church (it was "Methodists at the Metrodome" night). Beer and "Dome Dogs" were in plentiful supply, yet the fans, even the Toronto fans, were just there to enjoy baseball, not pick a fight. The peanut vendor flipped bags of salted-in-the-shell peanuts high in the air to his customers, and cash got passed hand-to-hand back to him. (Unfortunately, Wally the Beerman was either working at Canterbury Park or in another section.) Twins hats, t-shirts, and jerseys with player names were everywhere, and several fans even waved Homer Hankies. Fans enjoyed the "Kiss-Cam" and waved their "Circle Me Burt" signs. And we sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch.

It will be so much better from a fan standpoint to see baseball played in a baseball stadium again, instead of in a football stadium. Outfielders, especially from visiting teams, will not miss losing fly balls in the white Metrodome roof. Yet the Hennepin County Commissioners, with blessings from the Legislature and Governor Pawlenty, are about to stick the taxpayers of Hennepin County with a raw deal, mostly to the benefit of millionaire ballplayers and billionaire team owners. For example:
  • The Twins' $125 million "contribution" will be easily covered by revenue from naming rights, concessions, concerts and non-baseball events, and parking.

  • Taxpayers will pay 100% of any cost overruns. The Twins have a $125 million cap on their contribution. Hennepin County has no cap on its contribution.

Hennepin County will be conducting three public hearings before the county board votes on whether to levy a $1.1 billion sales tax to pay for the stadium and other projects. Perhaps they could be persuaded to conduct a referendum, that is, make the case for this tax directly to Hennepin County taxpayers, instead just in the halls of power at the Capitol.

TUESDAY, August 22, Downtown Minneapolis
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Board Room, 24th Floor, Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St., Minneapolis

WEDNESDAY, August 23, Bloomington
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Council Chambers, Bloomington Civic Plaza, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Road

THURSDAY, August 24 -- Maple Grove
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Council Chambers, Maple Grove Government Center, 12800 Arbor Lakes Parkway.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tammy Bruce

Tammy Bruce laments that her party, the Democratic Party, has been taken over like a home invasion by America-hating liberals. It's no longer the party of John F. Kennedy or Harry Truman, she says.

Bruce, whose talk radio show is not syndicated in the Twin Cities, sat in for Laura Ingraham on Laura's show this morning, heard locally on AM 1280 The Patriot.

Bruce is convinced that her party — which she stubbornly will not leave, again like a homeowner protecting the place where she grew up and lives — has passed the point of no return toward the extreme left. She cites Sen. Joseph Lieberman's loss in the Connecticut Democratic primary election as proof.

I have never heard Bruce before, but she is smart as a whip, articulate, and brings unique credentials as openly gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, fiercely pro-free speech, and a former president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Organization for Women. She is also driving the political left nuts. If The Patriot or KTLK-FM is looking for another syndicated show to carry, they should check out The Tammy Bruce Show. She isn't a lefty, she's definitely not a 100% social conservative, and she has a thing or two to teach Republicans and Democrats.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dan Kenney serves the taxpayers...or the Twins?

By Dann Dobson
No Stadium Tax Coalition

Not unexpectedly, the new Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which will oversee the construction of the new Twins Stadium, appointed Dan Kenney as the first Executive Director, Friday at a salary of $110,000.

This is like handing the keys to the Hen House to the fox.

For those who do not recall, in February Mr. Kenney posted in this group [ Minneapolis Issues Forum] that there was no requirement for a referendum for a sales tax increase in Hennepin County under state law and posted his message as an average citizen, simply signing his post, "Dan Kenney Ward 11".

Kenney did not disclose or reveal that he was Commissioner Mike Opat's aide, for the past ten years, that he was a member of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, nor that he had and Opat had been secretly negotiating with the Twins for over 6 months. At that time I raised the question about Mr. Kinney's potential conflicts of interest.

"It seems to me that if Mr. Kenney is going to try and get the Twins out of the Dome and into a new stadium, (largely at taxpayer expense), he should NOT be serving on the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission."

As a part of the discussion about Mr. Kinney and his potential conflict of interest, I predicted "I would wager if the Twins stadium bill passes, Mr. Kenney has a cushy job waiting for him with the new Stadium Commission or with the Twins."

I have written repeatedly how the enabling legislation is so poorly written, putting all of the "infrastructure costs" onto Hennepin County taxpayers and infrastructure is defined as anything other than the actual "ballpark", so land costs, environmental remediation, decks across I-394, rail line extensions, landscaping and anything else in the ballpark district will be paid by Hennepin County taxpayers and not the Twins.

Mr. Kinney thus far has shown himself to be far more interested in what is best for the Twins and himself and not the taxpayers of Hennepin County. With Kinney as executive director of the new Minnesota Ballpark Authority, (which was appointed by the 4 male members of the Hennepin County Board who did not want Hennepin County taxpayers to vote on this project), I do not see any party who will protect the interests of Hennepin County taxpayers.

The Ballpark Authority could have appointed someone with a history and record of vigorous fiscal responsibility. They failed to do so. Instead they appointed someone who has been disingenuous when debating this project, which does not bode well for the future.


Jason Lewis comes out swinging

Jason Lewis (weekdays at 5:00 pm on 100.3 KTLK-FM) returned to the Twin Cities afternoon drive-time airwaves on the FM talker yesterday. "Now where were we?" began Lewis, as if the nearly three years since he left his number-one rated show on AM 1500 KSTP was only a dream.

Typical Jason, he pulled no punches. The whip cracks from his signature Blazing Saddles theme had barely faded out before Lewis blasted the Twins and Vikings stadium deals, free college tuition proposals, the forfeiting of energy independence in ANWAR, profligate government spending, and the No Child Left Behind Act — "and that's just the Republicans!" he exclaimed.

"I'm a lifelong Republican. I believe in the platform of the Republican Party," said Lewis, "Now if only we could get the elected Republican leadership to believe in it too."

On his homecoming broadcast, Lewis hit Minnesota's conservative base like a bucket of cold water to the face. After the initial shock, it feels good to be awake again.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Jeff Johnson fundraiser with Jason Lewis


I got caught in last night's torrential downpour on the way to O'Gara's, the venue for the Jeff Johnson for Attorney General fundraiser. (It stopped raining as soon as I got inside O'Gara's front door.) Beasley's Big Band was cookin' in the Shamrock Room — I would have loved to hear more, maybe another night (future MOB event?).

I was one of a few of Jeff's close personal friends from Plymouth in attendance, but I couldn't beat the guy who claimed, "I knew Jeff before he fixed up his house." I represented the MOB in my official MOB t-shirt, along with fellow Friend-of-Jeff, MOBster, and Minnesota Senate District 45 candidate Derek Brigham. Some didn't quite know what to make of my Brigham-designed MOB logo shirt ("We Know Stuff"), others were kind enough to say that they read this blog once in a while.

The $50 fundraiser was actually a combo platter: emcee David Strom of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota humorously introduced Johnson as "the guy who will be introducing Jason Lewis." Johnson told his donors that he would not be "going after" any particular industry as AG, in the political pattern of past DFL state attorneys general, but instead will "go after any industries or individuals who break the law." This is a familiar theme to viewers of last Friday's Almanac or anyone along Jeff's outstate road trip route.

Lewis announced that he will make his highly-anticipated return to the air Monday as Minnesota's Mr. Right, weekdays on KTLK-FM from 5:00 - 7:00 pm (eventually 4:00 - 7:00 pm as permitted by the station's agreements with the Sean Hannity Show, according to Lewis). Lewis, looking fit and energized, heartily endorsed Johnson and graciously mingled with the crowd. Clearly back in his blazing saddle and up-to-speed on Minnesota politics, Lewis will unabashedly and unapologetically delight conservatives and occasionally be at odds with the Republican Party. Politicians and activists alike in attendance welcomed Lewis's return to the team like the Minnesota Twins must have welcomed home Dave Winfield or Paul Molitor: eager to see his 3000th career hit right here in Minnesota.

Strom and his wife, radio co-host, and co-blogger Margaret Martin were sounding like radio insiders: "Clear Channel this" and "Salem that." Just like at Keegan's, everyone wanted some face time with Strom and Martin, so it was taking them a long time to leave for home — even after at least one tug on Strom's shirt sleeve from Margaret.

I saw former Johnson colleagues Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover), Rep. Karen Klinzing (R-Woodbury), and Rep. Phil "Dr. No" Krinkie (R-Lino Lakes) mingling in the crowd. The would-be ant at the picnic was GOP-endorsed Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Republican primary challenger, Sue Jeffers — would be, but she warmly greeted those she knew, and seemed to charm everyone else.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Menace to society

As the Associated Press reported (hat tip to Polinaut), U.S. Eighth District Judge James Rosenbaum says that a pending state law that would have fined minors for obtaining "adult-only" or "mature" video games is unconstitutional.

According to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), a non-profit, self-imposed regulatory body of the video game industry, games rated Adults Only (AO) "have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity." Its Mature (M) rating, also covered under the law in Judge Rosenbaum's ruling, indicates less of this content than in AO games.

Some examples of games rated AO by the ESRB are:
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs"

  • Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude Uncut and Uncensored, for "Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Alcohol"

Game has posted the judge's ruling and provides detailed coverage of the law, which received bipartisan support during the last Minnesota legislative session from such nominal adversaries as DFL candidate for governor and current Attorney General Mike Hatch and Republican AG candidate Jeff Johnson. Johnson, then state representative from House District 43A, sponsored the legislation, with Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) sponsoring the companion bill.

According to the Pioneer Press:
Passed in May, the law was aimed to protect game players younger than 17. Backers pointed to games such as "God of War," in which players gouge out eyes, sever limbs and make human sacrifices, and "Manhunt," in which a serial killer uses a nail gun and chain saw to slay victims.

Pappas said the judge's conclusion that the current body of research didn't show violent video games harm children and teens defies logic.

"You score points for how many women you rape, how many cops you kill," Pappas said. "How could that not affect them psychologically?"

Jeff Johnson said this in a press release: "When you have readily accessible video games that reward little children for beating prostitutes to death or killing and mutilating cops, I think some small restriction on youth access to these games is reasonable — and constitutional."

Regardless of whether a law can be crafted that satisfies the courts, consumers are demanding evermore outrageous imagery, like a drug addict continually seeking a more intense high. Unfortunately, this trend goes beyond video games, into "mainstream" subscription TV, Hollywood movies, music, and the Internet — all too easily accessible by kids.

Parents must be informed and vigilant (read movie reviews, watch what video games come into your house, monitor your kids's Internet usage, enable your TV's V-Chip content filter). Entertainment industry groups are providing ratings systems to avoid government regulation, but the ratings systems assume the presence of a parent who will use them to exercise appropriate judgment.

Politicians, clergy, newspaper editors, and other community leaders should keep warning us about these cultural menances to our youth, the future of our society.