Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Call to CHANGE Things, Again

The Weekend News is discouraging. Congress worries about escape from our maximum security prisons - if they contain foreign terrorist detainees. The ex-vice president suddenly has news coverage that only money or panic can buy. The radio leader of ditto-heads shows up on nightly TV news - to call a nominated judge racist.

Here at home, the Pawlenty peril threatens hospital, police, teacher, and fire protection layoffs; and medical coverage cancellation looms for thousands. The Governor sees all taxation alike, and it is all evil - to be vetoed wherever it rises. His preferred instrument is a dull axe. His speech is a boast - that only he can represent the five million.

Wait a minute! It is a beautiful Spring day in the Land of the Free. How did we get such leaders in Congress and Minnesota? Where is it written that we can't change things that have to be changed - and quickly?

Gasolene prices obey the "law" of supply and demand, right? I have the supplies and I demand more of your money. So, $2.49.... $2.59.....$2.69.....$2.799... going going up.

Just in time for those summer weekends and major roadtrips. The shopworn list of "explanations" is being read again by the industry spokesmen.

(Disclosure: I used to work for a subsidiary of an oil giant that paid heavily into a presidential campaign - just before corporate contributions were regulated.)

Profit maximization is at the heart of our USA economics. Only smart and effective regulation can protect us from the gougers. Yes, Government Regulation, enforced by honest elected officials.

It is time to speak up, to protest, and tell those officials what they need to do.

Let's begin with Congress. Rep. Oberstar, Sen. Klobuchar, help the President close Gitmo, ASAP. No more silliness about bombers in our backyards.

Let Dick Cheney return to Saturday Night Live where he belongs.

And Minnesotans, let Governor Pawlenty feel the pressure of our disgust with his ugly view of Minnesota's future.

Grass Roots, let's grow better!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SPEED LIMITS on Minnesota Lakes


Memorial Day Weekend is the opening of the "Come up to our lake" Season. Retired cabin people get back from Arizona and Florida in time to put the dock in the water. Year-round folks and Twin Citians are all set for the arriving relatives. Everyone is ready to fish, ride the pontoon, and watch the campfire.

During the memorable weekend I was out in the canoe for some perfect paddling on calm water. Near the public access a watchful loon kept boaters at a distance from the family nest. The major boat traffic was fishing parties and touring pontoons. Suddenly from nowhere a motorboat came alongside my canoe at high speed, only to cut the throttle and coast up to a nearby dock.


This fast boat was powered by a 150 hp outboard motor and rigged for fishing. It reminded me that there are no speed limits generally on Minnesota lakes, unless local ordinances are adopted. We don't see too many large motors on our lake, which is less than a mile across in any direction. But on holiday weekends, when visitors come towing their boats, we are seeing larger and faster watercraft every year.

In AItkin County we have just completed work on the Governor's Clean Water Initiative and adopted new Shoreland Standards for protecting our waters from over development at the water's edge. Out on the lake on a busy Saturday afternoon I saw another need for protection. A regulation that will protect waterfowl, small craft and the shoreline from wave action and collision.


Minnesota law defines three classes of lakes for for local governmental shoreland ordinances. Each class has specific rules for shoreline land use. These classes are based on a lake's environmental condition and historical settlement. They are: General Development (GD), Recreational Development (RD), and Natural Environment (NE).

It is during these crowded boating weekends that I have concluded "There ought to be a law!" A speeding law. Perhaps there are others on our lakes who also wonder if there isn't a slower, safer way to enjoy our beautiful waters.

To start the ball rolling, here is my proposal - a trial balloon for lake associations, the DNR and state government. On Minnesota's protected waters, watercraft shall be limited to the following top speeds: On GD lakes, 50 MPH. For RD lakes, 40 MPH. Finally, on NE lakes 30 MPH.

Let's talk it over.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Carrying Coal to Where?

Back in the late 1970s the Great Plains became a source of low-sulphur coal for electric utilities when the Surface Mining Act became law and these vast deposits in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming would be reclaimed to their prior condition after strip mining.

Midwest power plants could substitute this cheap Western coal and lower the sulphur dioxide in their stack gases without cleaning Illinois coal before burning, or without any scrubbing away the SO2 and NOx as it rises into the atmosphere.

When I heard that former employees of Northern States Power in Minneapolis started a company to bring coal to the Mesabi some years ago, I wondered how anyone could justify the transportation cost of rail haulage from the Plains, or the transmission costs to wheel hundreds of megawatts down to the cities. But the new Excelsior Energy executives convinced enough Rangers to get millions in grant money.

But now it is 2009, and Hard Times are here again. It is time to get real.

Minnesota Power adequately supplies electricity to the Iron Range.

The Twin Cities can meet its electric energy needs much better with conservation, efficiency, and alternative sources.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Last night in Aitkin County our Planning Commission put final touches on a new mining and reclamation ordinance. Specifically, metallic ores are now covered - their extraction, processing, and reclamation. For several years exploration in East Central townships of the county has been showing positive signs of nickel, copper, and platinum group metals at depths below a thousand feet. Here's an example of local government looking at essential regulation to protect watersheds and post-mining land use.

Last night in St. Paul, according to Doug Grow on the MinnPost Blog, the state government reached a new low with the chaotic midnight passage of a DFL tax bill to balance the six or seven billion dollar budget deficit for the next two years. The Governor on Friday had announced his intent to balance it "his way," by unallotment, borrowing, and line-item vetoes.

True to Tim Pawlenty's "no more taxes" pledge, given to his party in 2002, he most certainly will veto the new billion dollar tax increase, and there will be no special legislative session to negotiate any differences. Civility broke down on both the floor of the House and of the Senate, and the quoted angry outbursts make ugly reading this morning.

On a more cheerful note from the KAXE Morning Show's NPR correspondent, we hear that the President and the auto industry leaders have just come together to agree on measures that will increase vehicle fleet efficiency to 35.5 MPG and will reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. Leadership happens. But not statewide in the state with only one senator.
It is time for grassroots citizens of the Gopher State to demand better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Consent of the Governed: Citizens Rule

Returning from Southern Minnesota last weekend I found that there had been a "Bubble" of sausage made by a KAXE political commentator from the Brainerd Lakes Area. Conservative Chuck Marohn had suggested on the Morning Show that growth in government overall had reached a level in Minnesota and in America that is becoming unsustainable. He labels this a "government bubble." Like "Dot-Com" and "Housing" bubbles, it eventually will burst. Future generations will experience "agony."

I was away and did not hear the DFL commentator disagree with his bubble vision. When I finally logged on to the KAXE Internet News, there it was. Described with 874 words! Longer than David Brooks or Paul Krugman at their best.

We have heard Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich speak to the theme of Government getting large and larger. Telling farmers what to plant. Telling businesses who they must hire. Telling airlines when and where they can fly. Telling utilities what to charge and where to place their wires and towers. Too much government. Too much spending. Government has become "the" problem, they say, not source of solutions to the people's problems.

My brief response to this? A silly comparison. The voters will choose the measures needed for our governance. As this recession deepens, unemployment is now heading for ten percent. Last November I voted for change, and I support the economic stimulus. I think there are signs this month, in my county, that something positive has been started by government action.

When Governor Pawlenty vetoed the transportation bill last year because it contained a gasolene tax increase, I cheered the override that my legislator supported. We are doing better with broken bridges and rough pavements in Minnesota now, because of this tax increase.

Let's continue our debate with less ideology and fewer slogans. Let's concentrate on solving real-life problems. Like healthcare, climate and energy, education, proliferation of nuclear weapons. These are the areas I choose to think about.

Friday, May 8, 2009


In an age when memorial playing fields are demolished and Corporate Banks are honored instead, each May we still remember those who sacrificed for our country.

It is Our Soldier by Charles Province

It is our soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is our soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is our soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to
It is our soldier, not the chaplain, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is our soldier who salutes the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag.
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

from Soldier's Field Veterans Memorial, Rochester, Minnesota

Monday, May 4, 2009

Farmers and Organizing - through the Years

On Sunday morning in an Aitkin Lutheran Church, the Clear Lake Chapter of the Grange served coffee and delicious treats between services. Then when we had settled down at our tables, a leader told us about the formation of the Grange back in 1867.

This first of the farmer organizations in America was created after the Civil War to help heal the nation and assist the South to get crops planted again and harvested so reconstruction could proceed. An early problem for 19th century farmers was the unreasonably high cost of transporting their produce on monopoly railroads.

The Grange Movement had success removing these barriers. You don't hear much about the Grange today, but in Aitkin County we have an active chapter.

What is often heard is the political slogan, "Preserve the family farm!"

My parents grew up on farms in Stevens County. Four of my uncles farmed in the county, where we helped at harvest time, bought our eggs and beef. Grandpa Erickson's Eighty still produces rental income for us.

But most of the "families" that farmed in the Midwest Farm Belt have scattered and moved away to towns and cities. In our extended family, my relatives have gone to live in Texas, California, Virginia, Nevada, besides Minnesota. Almost all of us were active in 4-H as kids, exhibited at the county fair, learned a lot about agriculture and home ec. That was years ago.

Today our food and fiber largely are produced in the factories of Industrial Agriculture. Monocultures of soybeans and corn spread across miles of prairie, where once we grew flax, oats, wheat, sunflowers, barley, and corn.

Two and three generations ago, most farms consisted of quarter sections of 160 acres, up to half sections. (One square mile is a section with 640 acres)
There were chickens, vegetable gardens, sometimes sheep and hogs, a couple milk cows, maybe a herd of a couple dozen beef cattle. One family, and at times, a hired man, operated the farm year round.

Today poultry, hogs, dairy and beef cattle are raised in mega-buildings and feedlots, with animal units numbering in the thousands. For such agribusinesses to thrive, there must be "inputs" of chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide. To maximize profits we see irrigation systems, growth regulators, and farm machinery that rivals the heavy equipment of the mining industry.

Farmers still organize. You can visit their booths at the State Fair. Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, National Farmers Organization, and the Farmer-Labor Wing of the DFL.

It's not the railroad today that threatens a young family that wants to farm. Challenges come from the banks, the government, Ag chemical companies that genetically engineer the corn and bean crop. But sustainable agriculture is happening. The organic movement is growing. Ask for local foods where you live and shop. The air, soil, and water in the Midwest can be improved after years of corporate abuse. The disappearing University Agricultural Extension Service might even be regrown.