Thursday, February 25, 2010

BEST PRACTICES: Ask for 'em!

In this age of anger, citizens and consumers are demanding answers to their urgent questions. Japanese automobiles are lurching out of control and getting recalled. Somebody tells you that a proposed new Medicare “Death Panel” could put you or Grandpa away if you get very sick - and are too old. Makes your blood boil!

What’s going on here is a reaction to our prolonged deep recession, with two endless wars, and widespread uncertainty about the future. Money is tight. Storefronts have emptied, and every week foreclosure notices fill the newspapers where want ads used to be. The question for our times, I submit, is this "the best you can do?" In a number of industries, leading professional and executive bodies have developed the concept of “Best Management Practices” to insure that standards are high and are maintained, in order to insure excellent outcomes. Such examples can be found in manufacturing, mining, and forestry.


In Aitkin County we adopted Alternative Shoreland Standards into our Shoreland Management Ordinance back in the Fall of 2008. We selected those options from the North Central Lakes Project that included five partnering counties, that contain 21% of Minnesota’s lakes. Another product from this recent project was a set of ten shoreland Best Management Practices (BMPs) to address the cumulative effects on our lakes of population growth, population density and land use change.

Here are the Top Ten BMPs, to inspire us, as we contemplate “Ice Out” in just a few more weeks:

1. Preserve or create a natural shoreline.
2. Relax. Reduce your lawn. Keep your trees.
3. Learn what you can and cannot do, on or to the lake and lakeshore.
4. Minimize rooftops and driveways.
5. Maintain your septic system.
6. Keep native aquatic plants.
7. Manage your pet and livestock waste.
8. Be considerate of other lake users.
9. Encourage and support land conservation.
10. Show up. Speak up. Serve or write a check to support local efforts.

For more information about how to follow through with these BMPs, you can talk to your lake association leaders, if you are a lakeshore dweller, or else call the Aitkin County Water Planning Task Force at 218-927-6565.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cut State Government: Shrink the Legislature!

Watching Governor Pawlenty speak about "state" taxes this week, while cashing his paycheck and receiving Cadillac health coverage, set me to searching for some obvious and symbolic cost reductions. There was a rapid stirring among our 201 legislators to this State of the State speech, with sound bites galore.

Wait a minute. Why does Minnesota have so many legislative districts? For State Representatives there are 134. Two each in every one of 67 State Senate Districts.
The latest U.S. Census population estimate for the Gopher State is 5.22 million persons. Looking at our neighboring states to the East, Wisconsin holds 5.63 million persons, and Michigan, 10.0 million.

But their bicameral legislatures are smaller than Minnesota's! In Wisconsin's upper body there are just 33 Senators. In the lower Assembly, 99 State Representatives.

You guessed it. Michigan also has fewer legislators. In the State Senate, 38 Senators, and in the House are 110 Representatives.

Here is what I recommend. We need a Constitutional Amendment to redistrict Minnesota according to our 2010 Census, providing just 102 House Districts, down from 134.

And only 51 Senate Districts, no longer 67.

The money saved will be significant, when there will be one fourth fewer public servants to house and support in the Capitol, and across the state.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Are We Lost Yet?

With Monday morning's New York Times came an Op-Ed piece by Princeton Economics Professor Paul Krugman, a regular columnist. His view of the capacity of the American Government to manage our nation was dire. He writes,

"We've always known that America's reign as the world's greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic."

"What we're getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we're paralyzed by procedure. Instead of reenacting the decline and fall of Rome, we're re-enacting the dissolution of 18th century Poland."

After recounting the "disappearance" of all Polish territory by 1795, Krugman accuses the U.S. Senate of a determination to make that failed Polish legislature look good by comparison to the current U.S. Congress.

As one who had high hopes for the two Democratic-led branches of our newly-elected
government, I have to agree today that America is nearly lost, and that our government is largely dysfunctional in this winter of severe discontent.

In 2009 we saw the dragged-out delay until June in seating Senator Franken, who provided the 60th vote to end continual GOP filibustering. Then incredibly, the long overdue healthcare reform was blocked for the entire year. In stalled senate committees, and with industry-scripted campaigns of distortion and lying, a "movement emerged" to capture media attention and interrupt serious law making.

Now in 2010 we have one senator after another holding up presidential appointments to federal positions, and action on practically anything, because the warped Senate customs permit it, and because narrow-gauge politicians hold Senate performance hostage for their petty and partisan gain.

Wall Street had been rescued from collapse by two administrations, only to continue now with its unregulated instruments of deception and its culture of obscene bonus payouts with other people's money. Congressional action? Not with the current paralysis.

In a world threatened by changing climate, terrorized by desperate fighters who violently are resisting age-old conquest and domination, the United States cannot even write sensible laws about its immigrants, its schools, or modern air and rail travel.

With permanent job losses and housing foreclosures killing the dreams of generations,
one would hope that we could come together to address our many economic and fiscal problems. Yet we are collectively afraid to redesign and levy fair taxes for public purposes! At any level of government.

Yes, I must admit that America's best days have already occurred - some decades in the past. Rather than hope now for a rebirth of patriotism, I can only pray for divine intervention.