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Yes, the CBS Morning Show just went there.

James Holmes received a grant from the National Institute of Health, (NIH), grant for his post-graduate studies.  An analyst on CBS this morning was discussing Holmes' purchases of the massive amount of weapons and ammunition used in the Aurora, Colorado theater.

His closing line was that......although inadvertent, the NIH grant made this the first federally financed mass shooting.  (That's paraphrased, as I didn't have a pen and paper handy.  It is extremely close to the specific quote, though.)

So, how long until the "small government" buffoons seize on this?  As soon as I heard mention of the NIH grant several days ago, I assumed that some idiot would draw this parallel.

Expect heads to start exploding any minute now on right wing talk radio!

Discuss

The St. Regis Superfund site is in a small town in the middle of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota, and cleanup of the contamination has been unresolved since 1984.

The contamination was created by the St. Regis paper company's wood treatment practices in the late 1950s.  At that time, St. Regis treated utility poles with creosote.  The wood treatment plant is gone now, but it was located on 125 acres between Cass Lake and Pike Bay on Leech Lake.  This area included residential neighborhoods.  The wood treatment practices left the area contaminated with arsenic and dioxin.

For several decades the sludge from the wood treatment processes was dumped in disposal ponds, buried, or burned.  Children living in the neighborhood walked through the area to get to school.  These same kids swam in the ponds and played in the vacant lots where the sludge was disposed of.  Nobody was warned that it was dangerous.  There were no fences or other security marking the property as hazardous.  It will come as no surprise that the local hospital's clinical director has stated that there are higher than average rates of cancer and some immune system diseases in the community.

Last year tribal leaders increased their pressure on the EPA to do more detailed investigations.  The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), recently announced that whitefish caught in Pike Bay on Leech Lake and in Cass Lake show dioxin levels 10 times higher than fish caught on other area lakes.  Dr. Milton Clark, health and science adviser for the EPA, stated that frequent consumption of whitefish would be "risky".  

Keep in mind that Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribal members have the right to net whitefish, and it is a staple of many local families' diets.  The EPA now recommends that people consume no more than 12 meals of whitefish per year.  Due to traditional practices and economic realities, many people here eat whitefish several times per week.

The EPA named the area a Superfund site in 1984.  During that same year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, (MPCA), took over the site.  At that time, the MPCA advised the current owner, Champion International, to install a groundwater treatment plant.  Champion International also built a containment vault, in which to store contaminated soil.  

Since being "upgraded" to the EPA's priority list in 1985, cleanup efforts have included removing several inches of topsoil, and removing carpets and dust from inside the houses in the affected area.  These measures were considered "interim actions" until a permanent cleanup plan can be approved.

This has been going on for over 20 years!  There are 30 homes within the boundaries of the Superfund site.  As of July 15, 2012, the EPA has yet to develop and implement an effective cleanup plan.

This particular Superfund site is in the town of Cass Lake, Minnesota.  Cass Lake is a small town with a population of 770, located within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.  64% of Cass Lake's population is Native American, and approximately 30% of the population lives under the federal poverty line.

This contamination has been present for generations, and has affected a population that is also beset by poverty and systemic racism.  It's long past time for the EPA to step up and do right by these people.

Discuss

It's hard to believe that this would happen in 2012.  It's hard for Minnesotans to believe that it would happen in northern Minnesota.  Sadly, it's true.  There was an 8 foot cross set ablaze in a woman's front yard just north of Bemidji, MN.

On May 25, a woman called the Beltrami County Sheriff's department in northern Minnesota to report that a large cross had been leaned against a tree in her yard and set on fire.  The flames were shooting five feet into the air.

The woman who lives there is white, but her two grown children are multi-racial.  The incident is under investigation by the county sheriff's department, the FBI, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and two arrests have been made.

The two men arrested are 19 and 20 years old.  Apparently the 20-year-old built the cross and enlisted the help of his friend.  They then drew swastikas and wrote racial epithets and threats on the cross before taking it to the house and setting it on fire.

Those are the facts of the case.

The emotions of the case go much deeper, however.

Bemidji is a small city with a population of 13,400.  It is home to one of Minnesota's state universities, and is the largest city in a radius of approximately 100 miles.  Like many small towns and cities across America, Bemidji has had its share of shameful racist incidents.  However, this blatant display of overt racism has shaken the community.  It seems to be forcing the community to take a long, hard look at itself.  A long overdue look.

Shared Vision, a community group dedicated to addressing racial diversity and disparity in the greater Bemidji area is working with the ACLU-MN to coordinate a community round table discussion of historical contexts of cross burnings and their lingering effects on a community.

Because Bemidji is home to a state university, there are people of many cultures and races who live in town.  There is also a large Native American population, both in town and in the surrounding area.  

I know from my own observations about the racism that our Native American brothers and sisters are so often subjected to here.  Indians seem to be pulled over in traffic stops much more often than non-Indian folks.  It feels as if all eyes are on them when they're walking through stores.  When you read the police and court reports in the newspaper,  Indians seem to be over-represented.  These are the everyday, soul-crushing incidents that local Native Americans are forced to live with.

The recent cross burning brings years of covert and quiet racism out into the open.  Perhaps it will serve to start an honest and open conversation about racial attitudes here in the Northland.

 

Discuss

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding whether or not it is considered cruel and unusual punishment , (thus making it unconstitutional), to sentence a 14-year- old to life in prison with no possibility of parole.  The United States is the only country in the world to engage in this practice.

It is commonly acknowledged that children of this age are not held to the same standards of culpability and responsibility that adults are held to.  All that we have learned about the development of the human brain tells us that kids are different from adults in how they manage and control impulses, how they understand actions and consequences, how they look at the future.  Think of the kids you know who are 14 years old.  Are they really capable of adult decisions and behaviors?  No!!

And yet, the death penalty for such young offenders in the U.S. was not even struck down by the Supreme Court until 2005!  We don't kill them anymore, but we sure as hell don't do anything to rehabilitate them, either!

Certainly, the children involved in these crimes have committed horrible acts that have resulted in the loss of life.  However, they did not commit their crimes with full understanding of their actions and the resulting consequences for all involved.  They could not have, since their incomplete brain development makes that impossible.  

Whenever there is sensational media coverage of a heinous crime committed by a child, the phrase "will be tried as an adult" is almost always part of the discussion.   When states began the practice of trying children as adults, it placed those children at risk for the same sentences that are given to adult offenders, including life in prison with no possibility for parole.  What good does that do anyone?

These child convicts aren't even allowed an education in prison.  Their "life without possibility of parole" status means that they don't qualify for that privilege.

Is this trend about retribution?  Is it about politicians appearing to be "tough on crime"?  Is it about the profits of the privatized prison industry in our country?  It's certainly not about rehabilitation of a child.

Discuss

Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 05:30 PM PST

Last Night's Union Meeting

by RuralLiberal

Our local teacher's union met last night after school.  We're all very concerned about the possibility of Minnesota amending its constitution to become a "right to work" (meh!) state.

Our union's regional representative was at the meeting to talk to the membership about this latest threat to teachers, unions, and all workers in the state of Minnesota.  The Republican controlled legislature is trying to get a constitutional amendment on November's ballot.  The fascinating thing was the wording of the proposed ballot initiative.

HF65 proposes the following ballot language:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to guarantee all citizens the individual freedom to decide to join or not join a labor union; to remain with or leave a labor union; or to pay or not pay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind to a labor union or any affiliated third party or charity, without having it affect their employment status?"

This question is so cleverly crafted, I can only assume that it comes directly from our friends at ALEC.  Look again, paying attention to the items in bold type:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to guarantee all citizens the individual freedom to decide to join or not join a labor union; to remain with or leave a labor union; or to pay or not pay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind to a labor union or any affiliated third party or charity, without having it affect their employment status?"

As you can see, most of the words toward the top of the statement have very positive connotations.  The wording finishes with negative concepts like "dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind", and the mysterious "affiliated third party" language.

At the state level, the union tested this with a group of its members.  The gave no background information, but had the union members read the initiative and then decide how they would vote on it.  A shocking 60% of those surveyed said they would vote "Yes" on this initiative.

It will be an uphill battle to defeat this if it makes it on to the ballot in November.  Our hope is that we can keep that from happening.  However, with Republicans in the majority in St. Paul, that will also be difficult.  This amendment will be placed on the November ballot if it passes both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature.  Governor Mark Dayton does NOT have to sign this bill for it to appear on the ballot.  Governor Dayton has consistently supported workers' rights, but he will have no say in this.

As a Minnesotan, it's hard to believe that our fine state is at risk of becoming a state that will further enable the race to the bottom.  Minnesota used to be bluer than blue, but now I guess we're just sadder than sad!

Discuss

Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 04:13 PM PST

GOP Can't Answer The Question

by RuralLiberal

While watching last night's GOP debate, I wanted to cheer when the on-line question was presented to the people on stage: Can you tell about a luxury or necessity you have had to give up due to hard times?  (I'm paraphrasing,as I don't remember the exact wording of the question.  That was certainly the gist of it, though.)

There stood the candidates, with the exception of Romney who admitted that he's always been rich, talking about how poor their families were when they were growing up.  Most of them reviewed their parents' and grandparents' tough financial times. Not one of them answered the question with an example from their own life.  Bachmann claimed that she and her husband are "coupon clippers", but that's as far as it went.

Well, bully for them!!

I'm a public school teacher making $35,000 per year, and I know that we're better off than so many people.  Talking to other teachers and non-teaching school staff on a daily basis, there are huge lists of luxuries and necessities that we have all abandoned that come up in conversation on an almost daily basis.

I thought I'd list some of these things so that the Republican field can start to figure out what's going on in America.  Keep in mind, this list comes from people who are working full-time in our public schools.

As a group, some of the luxuries and necessities we have admitted to going without:

Replacing bald tires on our cars
Cable television
Cellular phones
Internet service at home
Fresh produce - Canned veggies will have to do
Fresh meat - The "Reduced For Quick Sale" sticker is popular in our area
Dental Care
New shoes
Late model used cars - The 1990s are overly represented in our parking lot
Health care
Prescriptions
Auto maintenance
Heating our homes with LP gas - many of us heat with wood
Extra-curricular activities for our kids - Activity fees for some sports are $300.00
New clothes
Entertainment - Dinner out, a movie, etc.
Drivers Education class for our teenagers

It didn't take me even two minutes to come up with that list.  Granted, these conversations have taken place over months, and within a group of people who know and trust each other.  But still, none of the Republican candidates can think of even one luxury they've gone without -- not to mention a necessity they've been forced to give up.

Sadly, I'll bet that the response would be the same from almost any of the members of Congress who currently "represent" us.

What's on your list??  

Discuss

Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 06:55 AM PST

Should we panic yet?

by RuralLiberal

Much has been written about the perceived apathy of Democratic voters and its impact on the upcoming mid-term election. Let me add my own experience at the Minnesota DFL caucus last night.

When I arrived at the caucus, which was held in our public school, I had to walk though a throng of energized Republicans (okay, maybe ~50) to get to our meeting room. After doing a quick head count, we had a total of 9 people plus the caucus chair and a local reporter. Now keep in mind that we have 10 precincts in our caucus, most of which did not have any representation. In the past, we usually have 3-6 people per precinct in a non-presidential year.

The low turnout was somewhat surprising, as we had a straw poll for a hotly contested Governor's race (13 candidates). The atmosphere in the room was subdued, until it gave way to anger when someone mentioned HCR. Everyone got involved in the discussion, with the consensus that true reform must be passed now. The outrage was directed at our Democratic party, U.S. Senators (especially Lieberman!) and Representatives, and to a much lesser extent, Republicans in general.

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