Tag Archives: Minnesota

How The Franken Thing Is Going To Play Out

… is anybody’s guess, but I have two supportable (and very different) hypotheses.

The first is short and sweet and I’ll give it to you straight.

Tweeden and Senator Franken get together, possibly with their families, and have a pow wow. They emerge from this to announce a newly formed organization to destroy the patriarchy in government. Franken throws his viability as Senator to the voters, and stays in the Senate, but the two of them launch a major campaign to rethink and rebuild gendered relationships at the levers of public power in America. All is well.

The second hypothesis is a bit different, and in this one, Franken resigns. Here’s why. Continue reading How The Franken Thing Is Going To Play Out

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change

True that. In the US, energy policy and regulation happens much more at the state level than the federal level, and our federal government went belly up last January anyway. Some states will not lead, they will go backwards, but others will lead, and show the way.

So, here I want to highlight this new item in Scientific American by Rebecca Otto.

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change
The Trump administration’s threats to abandon Obama’s Clean Power Plan and exit the Paris accords don’t necessarily mean all is lost

The word “corporation” does not appear in our Constitution or Bill of Rights. But as Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse notes in his book Captured, corporations had already grown so powerful by 1816 that Thomas Jefferson urged Americans to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Today the conflict between the unfettered greed of unregulated capitalism and the right of the people to regulate industry with self-governance has reached extreme proportions. Corporations now have more power than many nations and feel justified in manipulating democracy to improve their bottom lines instead of the common good.
Nowhere is this problem more pronounced than…

Then where? THEN WHERE??? Go read the original piece!

Minnesota’s Gov. Dayton Gets Down To Beesnis

Using executive power, Governor Mark Dayton, recognized as one of the best governors in the US, has laid out protections for pollinators in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is ordered to implement recently developed recommendations related to neonicotinoid pesticides. Potential users must demonstrate a real need for the products, and use them properly. This and other state agencies will coordinate and develop a Pollinator Protection Team to develop and implement statewide goals, and keep track of things. The Governor created a Committee on Pollinator Protection to advise the Governor and state agencies, including experts on conservation, agriculture, etc.

The use of pesticides on public land will be reviewed and adapted to be more pollinator friendly. This also applies to landfills, transportation related lands, and other state government run properties. There will be no neonicotinoid pesticide products of an kind used in certain state facilities, and other uses will be seriously limited.

The objective is to cut down on pesticide use in a way that does minimal damage to agriculture, and to enhance pollinator health.

“Bees and other pollinators play a critical role in supporting both our environment, and our economy,” said Governor Dayton. “This order directs state government to take immediate action to alleviate the known risks that pollinators face. It also will create a new taskforce to study the issues impacting pollinators and recommend long-term solutions.”

I note that some of the press coverage goes ahead to make the claim that there will be opposition to this plan. But there isn’t any visible opposition to the plan. Perhaps it would be better to wait until some materializes before reporting that it exists. Looking at you, Star Tribune.

Here is the executive order.

Buying or Selling a Home in the Twin Cities, Minnesota?

If so, I have a recommendation for you.

We recently sold our old house and bought a new one, and moved.

The main reason we did this: to get closer to Amanda’s place of work. We managed to turn a commute that ran from 35 minutes to 1.5 hours (on really bad winter days) each way to one short enough that Amanda will usually bike, with about a five or six minute drive on non-biking days. Probably a ten minute drive on the worst winter days.

The main reason we did this now rather than a couple of years ago: our house was under water thanks to the GB Economic Crisis. In fact, we weren’t sure if we could sell the house at anything but a loss now. And, since we were trying to move into what is at present the best school district in the state (where Amanda happens to teach), the chances of finding a place to move to were somewhere between slim and none. And slim just left town after killing none.

But, we had excellent real estate agents working with us, and that made a huge difference. This blog post is, in fact, part of my thanks for and endorsement of Erik and Toby Nordin. They generally work as a team, and Erik was at the time the licensed agent (though Toby just became one as well), while Toby was the marketing guru. The Nordins work for Engle & Völkers, an international company that has recently moved into the Twin Cities area, and for which Amanda’s sister, Alyssa, works.

Erik and Toby gave us advice on what to do to get our house ready for sale. We followed their advice carefully, and rather than having to lose money on the sale, we walked away with a nice bit of cash. We sold the house in just over 24 hours after putting on the market, though it is a bit unfair to say that; the eventual buyers actually saw the house just a few hours into the process, but there was a bidding thing among the six or so offers we got.

Erik took us out to look at houses a few days after we sold ours. Twice. We found the house we wanted to buy with two bouts of searching. We know a few other people in our area that have moved recently, and most took weeks or months. One could argue that we are not picky, but see above: we were looking for an affordable place a bike ride from the top high school in the state, in a very fancy suburb.

(It turns out that Plymouth Minnesota has a sort of workers neighborhood right by the City Center. Erik knew about it, and showed us a couple of places here.)

Erik and Toby provided or organized all the necessary services and held our hands through every step. Their management of MLS data was excellent. They had great advice on anything you can imagine an agent can provide advice on. You need to know that I’m a person who normally does not like, trust, or have a whole hell of a lot of respect for most real estate agents. I was, after all, raised by one, and I’ve seen the sausage being made. Erik and Toby (and S-I-L Alyssa, and I suspect Engel & Völkers generally) are real professionals. If all agents and brokers were held to their standards a lot of people in the business would have to be looking for work elsewhere.

I’ve told our story to a handful of people who either just did the same thing, or who were in the process, and nobody has had an experience that went as smoothly, as successfully, and as quickly as ours. I attribute this to three things. A bit of random luck (maybe 10% of the outcome accounted for by this), a lot of hard work on our part, getting our place ready to sell (though it was fundamentally in great shape), and a huge amount of excellent work by Toby and Erik

So, thank you Toby and Erik.

I should also mention that Engel & Völklers, in the tradition of many European countries, is both a great place to work (so I hear) and does a lot to “give back” to the community. For example, they are a major supporter of the Special Olympics.

A Television Series Set At The Renfest!!!

How about a television series made by some very talented people set in the context of a Renaissance Festival?

That, lords and ladies, is the plan.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 12.54.38 PMRenfest is a serial set in a RenFest, filmed at an actual Renfest, that combines the themes of “office politics,” a sort of anachronistic Big-Bang Theory, produced, written, stared in, and developed, by an outstandingly talented team including Shawn Otto (a Renaissance man himself, whom readers of this blog know well), Mary Jo Pehl, Jamal Farah, Dave Allen, and Trace Beaulieu.

The trailer demonstrates that this is an excellent project, and the plot layout of the first season makes me want to binge watch it as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the show does not exist yet. The creative team has decided to get this off the ground with a very ambitious but I think quite doable Kickstarter. The idea is to develop the project to the extent that it will be impossible to avoid it either getting picked up by a major distributor, or to become an excellent web based project. Personally, I’d love to see it be a Netflix Original or something along those lines, as the quality of the material is top notched.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 12.52.35 PM

Politics and battles of profound import and little consequence ensue. RenFest is a thoroughly entertaining workplace satire that will have you snorting your turkey leg as it skewers today’s complex social issues ripped from the headlines and writ ridiculously small. Sample future episodes listed below.

The show features the comic antics of Elisabeth (Mary Jo Pehl: MST3K, Cinematic Titanic) and her Somali-American assistant, A.K. (introducing Jamal Farah), as they tangle with festival general manager and despot Lloyd Gunderson (Dave “Gruber” Allen: Freaks & Geeks, Ned’s Declassified, Bad Teacher), the woefully inaccurate Viking (Trace Beaulieu: MST3K, Freaks & Geeks, Other Space) and other festival denizens. Think “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation” set amid the vibrant world of Renaissance festivals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 1.03.16 PMWe shot a trailer and an incredibly funny mini-pilot in the fall of 2015. It’s written by Shawn Otto, who wrote House of Sand and Fog and developed a TV show with the legendary Joel Surnow (co-creator of 24). Award-winning veteran commercial director Joe Schaak helms the series with world-class cinematographer Jeff Stonehouse crafting the imagery. Paul Sadeghi oversees postproduction at Pixel Farm and we have a built-in cast of thousands.

The Kickstarter page for the project is here, rich in information and including a teaser video, and down the page a bit, a trailer.

Please click through and have a look, and give them money.

The Birds At Itasca and Other Matters

When I studied the Efe Pygmies of the Congo, I discovered (and yes, it was me who discovered this amazing fact everyone now knows) that the Efe organize their space in elongated linear trails. They knew all about everything along those specific trails, and their knowledge of other trails was often very limited. If an Efe person spent time living with a group associated with a trail, he* would learn about that trail as well. Most interesting is that one’s knowledge of important things like where to find food (or danger) was based on experience not on general principles. So an Efe off his trail, or another trail he knew about, was not much better than, say, me (after a couple of years gaining my own experience) at having a clue. Also interesting is that there is a relatively formal connection between historic families (you can think of these as “clans”) and regular use of specific trails or sets of trails. So an older male member of Clan X will tend to know all the trails anyone in Clan X knows.

Turns out this is true of Minnesotans as well….

Continue reading here.

Sins of Our Fathers, a New Novel by Shawn Otto

Sins of Our Fathers, by Shaw Otto, is coming out shortly but can be preordered.

JW, protagonist, is a flawed hero. He is not exactly an anti-hero because he is not a bad guy, though one does become annoyed at where he places his values. As his character unfolds in the first several chapters of Shawn Otto’s novel, Sins of Our Fathers, we like him, we are worried about him, we wonder what he is thinking, we sit on the edge of our proverbial seats as he takes risk after risk and we are sitting thusly because we learn that he does not have a rational concept of risk. We learn that his inner confusion about life arises from two main sources: the dramatic difference between his temperament and upbringing on one hand and the life he ended up with on the other, and from unthinkable tragedy he has suffered. And so it goes as well with the other hero of the book, Johnny Eagle, who is a flawed, almost Byronic antagonist. Flawed because he is not the bad guy yet is an antagonist, Byronic because of his pride. There is also a troubled young man, a full blown antagonist we never come close to liking, and a horse.

SinsOfOurFathersWhen I moved to Minnesota from the East, I quickly encountered “The Indian Problem.” Not my words; that is what people called it. Very rarely major news, but still always a problem, the concept includes the expected litany. Poverty, fights over spear fishing rights, casinos and fights over off-reservation gambling, and the usual racism. I lived near the “Urban Res” but was told never to call it that. Doing some historic archaeology in Minneapolis I came across a hostess, of the first hotel built in the city, who had written elaborate stories of Indian attacks in South Minneapolis, part of the Indian Problem, after which she and her hotel gave refuge to the victims. None of which ever actually happened. I read about trophy hunting by the farmers in the southern part of the state, who took body parts from the Native Americans executed as part of the Sioux Uprising, and heard rumors that some of those parts were still in shoe boxes in some people’s closets.

Later I married into a family with a cabin up north. I remember passing Lake Hole-In-The-Day on the way up to the cabin, and wondering what that meant — was a “Hole in the day” like a nap, or break, one takes on a hot lazy afternoon? And the cabin was an hour or so drive past that lake. Many months later, I did some research and discovered two amazing facts. First, Hole-In-The-Day was the name of two major Ojibway Chiefs, father and son, both of whom were major players in the pre-state and early-state histories of the region, of stature and importance equalling or exceeding any of the white guys, like Snelling, Cass, Ramsey, after which counties, cities, roads, and other things had been named. But no one seemed to know Hole-In-The-Day. It was just a lake with a funny sounding name like most of the other lakes. The other thing I learned was downright shocking: The cabin to which we have driven many summer weekends is actually on an Indian reservation, as is the nearby town with the grocery store, ice cream shop, and Internet. On the reservation, yes, but not near any actual Indians. So, I could tell you that I spend many weeks every summer on an Indian Reservation up north, and it would not be a lie. Except the part about it being a lie.

Otto’s book pits the white, established and powerful, Twin Cities based banking industry against an incipient Native bank and the rest of the reservation. The story is a page turner, but I don’t want to say how so, because I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. I am not a page-turner kind of guy. I am a professional writer, so therefore I’m a professional reader. I can put a book down at any point no matter what is happening in order to shift gears to some other task awaiting my attention. But I certainly turned the pages in Sins of Our Fathers. The most positive comment one can make about a piece of writing is probably “this made me want more.” That happens at the end of every chapter in Otto’s novel.

But just as important as Sins of Our Fathers being a very very good book, which it is, it also addresses the Indian Problem. It does not matter if you are in, of, or familiar with Minnesota. The theme is American, and I use that word in reference to geography and not nationality, through and through. Everybody has an Indian Problem, especially Indians. Tension, distrust, solace and inspiration in modernized tradition, internal and external, are real life themes and Otto addresses them fairly, clearly, and engagingly. “Fathers” is plural for a reason, a reason you can guess.

It is important that you know that Sins of our Fathers is not Minnesota Genre though it is set here; it is not Native American Relations and Culture Genre though that is in the book. It is action, mystery, adventure, white knuckle, engaging, well-paced, and extremely well written. There are aspects of this writing that recommend this book as an exemplar in plot development, character construction, dialog and inner dialog, narrative distance, and descriptive technique.

Sins of Our Fathers is Shawn Otto’s first novel (but not his first book).

Shawn Otto is the founder of Science Debate. He is a science communicator and advocate. He is also a film maker, and among other things wrote the screenplay for the award winning movie “House of Sand and Fog.”

Sins of Our Fathers by Shawn Otto

JW, protagonist, is a flawed hero. He is not exactly an anti-hero because he is not a bad guy, though one does become annoyed at where he places his values. As his character unfolds in the first several chapters of Shawn Otto’s novel, Sins of Our Fathers, we like him, we are worried about him, we wonder what he is thinking, we sit on the edge of our proverbial seats as he takes risk after risk and we are sitting thusly because we learn that he does not have a rational concept of risk. We learn that his inner confusion about life arises from two main sources: the dramatic difference between his temperament and upbringing on one hand and the life he ended up with on the other, and from unthinkable tragedy he has suffered. And so it goes as well with the other hero of the book, Johnny Eagle, who is a flawed, almost Byronic antagonist. Flawed because he is not the bad guy yet is an antagonist, Byronic because of his pride. There is also a troubled young man, a full blown antagonist we never come close to liking, and a horse.

SinsOfOurFathersWhen I moved to Minnesota from the East, I quickly encountered “The Indian Problem.” Not my words; that is what people called it. Very rarely major news, but still always a problem, the concept includes the expected litany. Poverty, fights over spear fishing rights, casinos and fights over off-reservation gambling, and the usual racism. I lived near the “Urban Res” but was told never to call it that. Doing some historic archaeology in Minneapolis I came across a hostess, of the first hotel built in the city, who had written elaborate stories of Indian attacks in South Minneapolis, part of the Indian Problem, after which she and her hotel gave refuge to the victims. None of which ever actually happened. I read about trophy hunting by the farmers in the southern part of the state, who took body parts from the Native Americans executed as part of the Sioux Uprising, and heard rumors that some of those parts were still in shoe boxes in some people’s closets.

Later I married into a family with a cabin up north. I remember passing Lake Hole-In-The-Day on the way up to the cabin, and wondering what that meant — was a “Hole in the day” like a nap, or break, one takes on a hot lazy afternoon? And the cabin was an hour or so drive past that lake. Many months later, I did some research and discovered two amazing facts. First, Hole-In-The-Day was the name of two major Ojibway Chiefs, father and son, both of whom were major players in the pre-state and early-state histories of the region, of stature and importance equalling or exceeding any of the white guys, like Snelling, Cass, Ramsey, after which counties, cities, roads, and other things had been named. But no one seemed to know Hole-In-The-Day. It was just a lake with a funny sounding name like most of the other lakes. The other thing I learned was downright shocking: The cabin to which we have driven many summer weekends is actually on an Indian reservation, as is the nearby town with the grocery store, ice cream shop, and Internet. On the reservation, yes, but not near any actual Indians. So, I could tell you that I spend many weeks every summer on an Indian Reservation up north, and it would not be a lie. Except the part about it being a lie.

Otto’s book pits the white, established and powerful, Twin Cities based banking industry against an incipient Native bank and the rest of the reservation. The story is a page turner, but I don’t want to say how so, because I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. I am not a page-turner kind of guy. I am a professional writer, so therefore I’m a professional reader. I can put a book down at any point no matter what is happening in order to shift gears to some other task awaiting my attention. But I certainly turned the pages in Sins of Our Fathers. The most positive comment one can make about a piece of writing is probably “this made me want more.” That happens at the end of every chapter in Otto’s novel.

But just as important as Sins of Our Fathers being a very very good book, which it is, it also addresses the Indian Problem. It does not matter if you are in, of, or familiar with Minnesota. The theme is American, and I use that word in reference to geography and not nationality, through and through. Everybody has an Indian Problem, especially Indians. Tension, distrust, solace and inspiration in modernized tradition, internal and external, are real life themes and Otto addresses them fairly, clearly, and engagingly. “Fathers” is plural for a reason, a reason you can guess.

It is important that you know that Sins of our Fathers is not Minnesota Genre though it is set here; it is not Native American Relations and Culture Genre though that is in the book. It is action, mystery, adventure, white knuckle, engaging, well-paced, and extremely well written. There are aspects of this writing that recommend this book as an exemplar in plot development, character construction, dialog and inner dialog, narrative distance, and descriptive technique.

Sins of Our Fathers is Shawn Otto’s first novel (but not his first book); it is due out in November but available for pre-order.

Shawn Otto is the founder of Science Debate. He is a science communicator and advocate. He is also a film maker, and among other things wrote the screenplay for the award winning movie “House of Sand and Fog.”

No Coal in Minnesota

Governor Mark Dayton has called for the elimination of coal as a source of energy in Minnesota. Doing so is, clearly, essential. Having a governor call for it is a new thing; we are only seeing this sort of policy being developed recently.

From MPR News, Dayton said to a group of energy policy ad business leaders:

“Tell us what a timeline would look like, what has to happen for that timeline to be met and what kind of incentives or inducements do we need to provide to make that happen,” …

Dayton’s comments came during the state’s first-ever Clean Energy Economy Summit. He said converting coal plants to users of natural gas should continue, along with investments in renewable energy.

Only 46% of the state’s electricity is currently generated by coal, and alternative energy sources have been growing in their contribution. Over 14,000 Minnesotans are employed in the clean energy business, much of that in the area of energy efficiency.

Refocusing on clean energy is good business sense.

David Mortenson, president of Mortenson Construction, said his company and others are embracing renewable energy as a cost-competitive solution. He said the cost of wind and solar has dropped while coal and natural gas markets become increasingly volatile.

“And when you can guarantee the price of delivering a kilowatt 20 years from today, because that’s what you can do with solar and wind, you have a competitive advantage because coal, natural gas, they can’t tell you want the cost to produce power in six months will be,” he said

Nonferrous Mineral Mining in Minnesota: An Issue of Science Policy

This is mainly about copper mining in a part of Minnesota that has previously seen extensive iron mining. Most mineral rights across Minnesota are owned by the state, which then may lease rights to miners. Recently, 31 nonferrous mineral leases were approved by the Minnesota Executive Council, which consists of Governor Dayton, Secretary of State Ritchie, State Auditor Otto, Attorney General Swanson, and Lt. Governor Prettner-Solon. It was a four to one vote with Otto voting no.

The reason that Rebecca Otto voted no is that she felt the science based policy justifying these leases was not fully developed, and that there are potential significant long-term effect that had not bee fully accounted for. Matt Ehling wrote a piece for the Star Tribute, reposted on Otto’s state web site, which stated in part:

… During the comment period before to the vote, industry representatives framed the approval of the leases as just one part of a longer process. Lieutenant Governor Prettner-Solon offered similar sentiments, and stated that rigorous environmental oversight – along with public comment – would follow in the event that major exploration or mining project proposals were submitted.

Upon inquiry from Governor Dayton, Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Commissioner Tom Landwehr stated that such project proposals would constitute public information, but would generally not be made available to the public short of a Data Practices Act request. Governor Dayton then directed Commissioner Landwehr to affirmatively make any lease-related proposals available to the public.

The council’s lone “no” vote, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, stated that she had had “a revelation” early the morning of the meeting that informed her vote. “We have not done copper sulfide mining in this state yet,” said Otto. She expressed concerns about potential fiscal burdens associated with copper sulfide mining that might be placed on future generations. Secretary of State Ritchie expressed concerns about the process generally.

And in a Minnesota Public Radio interview with Cathy Wurzer, Otto explained:

My concern really boils down to the financial assurance that we’re going to require. Really what that is is it’s a damage deposit we’re going to require from the mining companies so that if something goes wrong, that they are on the hook for the cleanup costs.

They’re estimating 500 years of water treatment after operation at the PolyMet’s mine. My concern, then, is how do we calculate the cost for that to make sure we get an adequate damage deposit. Five hundred years.

That’s an awfully long time, so do we really know how to calculate these numbers right so that taxpayers aren’t left with the cleanup costs after these mines close? And do we know what form of financial assurances to get? These companies quite often have gone bankrupt, and are taxpayers going to be protected if there’s a bankruptcy? Severe weather events.

We’ve had more of those recently. Are we going to factor in the cost potentially of a severe weather event and what that could do?

So it’s really about being proactive and preventative and making sure these companies have real skin in the game in their financial assurances that they must provide so that they’re incented to get this right and don’t damage our water quality and leave cleanup costs to the taxpayers.

Mining equals jobs and is good for the economy. But mining is one of the most environmentally destructive activities we undertake as a species, especially in terms of local effects. Also, mining is one of those industries that in the past has often been carried out, it seems, without proper attention to “external” costs, meaning the costs not paid by the mining companies and thus not on the hypothetical spreadsheet of inputs and outputs. In that interview, Otto was asked, “Those who support copper-nickel mining say we have more to gain financially than to lose with more jobs, tax revenue. As someone who has argued for protecting taxpayers, does that argument hold water for you?: Her reply:

It could. There could be gains. There could be loss. I’ve looked at U.S. Government Accountability reports kind of looking at the track record of this type of mining around the country, and quite often the taxpayers are left on the hook.

The devil is in the details on this. Minnesota does not have experience with this type of mining, we have not calculated these numbers before. I don’t know that even with the mining we’ve got now we’ve gotten the financial assurances right, nor the right forms.

As a state there are things we don’t know all the time and we’ve made mistakes. In this day in age with some of the pressures we have with the economy and people retiring, we must get this right and spend the time. Otherwise what we could end up doing is privatizing the gain and socializing the pain.

What Otto is looking for is not a way to stop mining, but rather, a way to address the ultimate, true costs of the operation especially as they would be incurred by taxpayers statewide (that is what the State Auditor does!). Meanwhile, industry is naturally looking for ways to externalize costs and thus maximize profits. The problem is that we don’t know enough about the external costs, and it may be the case that the development of this economic activity is proceeding as though we do. This is an excellent example of well researched and developed science-based policy being very much needed, and at least one science-oriented elected official trying to see to it that this happens.

For Minnesotans, expect nonferrous mining to be an issue in several upcoming races. I hope that this does not become a slug-match between an unadulterated “pro-mining” stance and an unadulterated “anti-mining” stance because, surely, the science policy will be lost in such a fray. Let’s try to do this right, which means doing it intelligently.

What Will Michele Bachmann Do Next?

As you know, Michele Bachmann, Congressperson for Minnesota’s Sixth District, has announced that she will not seek re-election to her seat in Washington DC.

Bachmann almost lost her re-election to challenger Jim Graves last year. I’m convinced that had the election been held a few weeks later, Graves would have won. Recently, internal polling data from within Bachmann’s campaign became known, and showed that as of a couple of weeks ago Bachmann was actually behind Graves. Bachmann’s response to this polling was an ad buy; the Bachmann campaign started up early with local ads, clearly indicating one thing and strongly suggesting another. For one, Bachmann had decided to run for re-election as of several days ago. She bought campaign ads. That’s pretty clear. Two weeks ago or less, Michele Bachmann was a candidate for re-election to the sixth district and was spending money on that campaign. This is a fact that must be taken into account in figuring out what is going on. The second thing this indicated was that she was nervous about the polling data and felt compelled to start early.

Then, suddenly, she announced that she would not be running. You don’t decide to run for re-election and actually craft campaign ads and buy air time for the ads and put on the air if you are not running. “I’m Michele Bachmann and I approved this message” means, very clearly, that she was in fact running for re-election. Why, then, did she suddenly stop running for re-election? Even with poor polling numbers, this does not make sense. The polling numbers were not abysmal. She was about five points behind, very close to the margin of error. This is not a number that in and of itself would recommend abandoning a campaign. Also, the numbers were known to her campaign before the ad buy.

There are two other possible explanations for her withdraw, I think. One is that something bad is about to happen and she is bugging out before that occurs. The other is that she noticed that there was another office up for election and has decided to run for it. Let’s examine those two possible explanations.

The most likely explanation for her withdraw is probably that her recent attempts to negotiate away a law suit being filed against her failed and she’s about to be dragged into her own little Watergate, or other civil or criminal legal problems loom that her campaign knows more about than we do at present:

Someone from Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign team stole an email list off of Barb Heki’s laptop. This list was from the evangelical home school organization for which Heki played a leadership role… She sued.

Today, the court scheduled the trial.

… and later that day Bachmann made her video bowing out of the campaign.

Is this what the "other shoe" that may or may not be about to drop looks like?
Is this what the “other shoe” that may or may not be about to drop looks like?
There are other problems. The FBI is looking into Bachmann’s campaign, for instance. So, it is reasonable to guess that another shoe … related to any one of the pending law suits or investigations … is about to drop, and it is not a dainty ballet slipper but rather one of those big-ass Mickey Mouse boots the Arctic division of the Airborne Army wears when they jump out of airplanes onto glaciers.

A second explanation is that Bachmann noticed that the Junior Senator from the State of Minnesota, Al Franken, is up for re-election and, at the time she made her plans to announce her withdraw, had no serious challengers. This is the preferred explanation among local Minnesota pundits. Why? Not because it is the best explanation, but because it is the coolest explanation. Al Franken only barely won his seat during the last election, but there are very specific reasons for that, and these reasons simply don’t apply today. Senator Franken went from never having held elected office to being one of the most respected and effective Senators in Washington. How did he do that? He is a) very sincere about his public service and b) very smart. Well, also, his hard work and the excellent support from his family and staff and all that too. Bottom line: The people of Minnesota understand that Al Franken is a great senator and he will be re-elected.

Al Franken isn’t just a great Senator, but he is also one of those guys we watch for the entertainment value, and I’m not referring here to his earlier career as a comedian satirist. Have you seen him in action? Here’s an example. I would not have wanted to have been a grasshopper living in Little Al Franken’s yard when he was a little boy in Ednia, Minnesota.

That was Subtle Al. Here’s another:

Here’s Al with a very smart witness trying to trip him up. Starts at about 1:27:

Not in chambers, about Fox, and reforming our Math education system at the same time:

And here is Al Franken eating a lawyer before lunch:

For comparison, here is Michele Bachmann:

Can you imagine it? A Franken-Bachmann campaign? Pure Political Squeee. Bwahahaha to the Nth power.

So, you can see that no matter how unlikely it may be that Michele Bachmann would actually have quit her seat in the house in order to run against Al Franken, we insist on keeping it on the table as a possibility because, well, it is something to live for.

There is a third possible explanation for Michele Bachmann’s withdraw; A better offer from Fox or some other corporation. This has been suggested by various commenters but I think it unlikely. Yes, expect such a thing to occur at some time in the future, but I believe that Bachmann truly sees herself as a savior of The Constitution and will generally act with that motivation before other considerations. Of course, the first and third explanations can be linked. If she is facing high costs from impending legal battles, bowing out and getting a nice contract with Faux News would be the thing to do.

Finally, I would like to express my great relief that Bachmann is bowing out. It has been a great burden to me … as the person who got her political career started, feeling responsible all these years for having created this particular horror. Now, finally, I’ll be able to sleep nights.

Stay tuned. And, beware of falling boots.

Minnesota Same Sex Marriage Bill

The Republican dominated Minnesota Legislature got almost nothing done over the last two years that they were in power. But they did manage to put two boneheaded constitutional amendments on the ballot for last November, one to restrict voting rights in a way that Republicans would have a better chance of winning, the other making it unconstitutional for same sex couples to marry. Same sex marriage was already illegal in the state, but the GOP saw the handwriting on the wall and knew that this legal restriction would not last, so they imposed the amendment on us.

Both of those amendments were resoundingly defeated by the good people of Minnesota. And now, there is a bill before the Democratic Party ruled legislature that would allow same sex marriage if it is passed.

Of note: Many religious organizations came out in recent committee hearings on both sides of the issue, but Minnesota Atheists took a different tact. They came out in favor of the bill, but noted that this is not a religious issue at all. August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheist provided the following moving testimony:

Minnesota Atheists Testifies in Favor of Marriage Equality

(Testimony by August Berkshire, representing Minnesota Atheists, at a Minnesota House Civil Law Committee hearing, in favor of the bill HF 1054, changing state law to allow for marriage equality. March 12, 2013, 6:00 p.m. The bill passed the committee on a 10-7 party line vote – Democrats for, Republicans against. The 9 p.m. “FOX at 9” local TV news on channel 9 reported that the bill’s “supporters ranged from Catholics to atheists.” Earlier that day a companion bill passed a Minnesota Senate committee. The bill now moves to the full legislature, which will vote on it after they have passed a budget.)

Thank you, Mr. Chair; Committee Members. My name is August Berkshire and I represent Minnesota Atheists, our state’s oldest, largest, and most active atheist organization.

We view this as a matter of separation of church and state. It can be confusing because the same word, “marriage,” is used for both a civil contract and a religious ceremony. But we must keep in mind that these are two separate things.

Today you may hear testimony from some people that their god is in favor of same-sex marriage, and testimony from other people that their god is opposed to same-sex marriage. Fortunately, that’s not a debate you have to resolve. Government laws must have a secular basis.

The best secular arguments in favor of same-sex marriage are the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law and the fact that long-term relationships, gay or straight, help to stabilize society.

In our opinion, there are no secular arguments against same-sex marriage that hold up to scrutiny. Many of these arguments were also used 50 years ago to oppose interracial marriage.

I would like to end on a personal note. My partner, Rachel, and I are heterosexuals and we have been together for 17 years. We are both atheists, and so we will not be getting married in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Instead, we will seek a judge to perform a civil marriage ceremony.

However, we will not get married until it is legal for everyone, because how can we stand up in front of family and friends, some of whom happen to be gay and lesbian, on what is supposed to be the happiest day of our lives, knowing that this happiness is not available to them as well?

So please pass this pro-marriage bill and make civil marriage available to everyone. Thank you.

If you want to sign a petition to encourage the legislature to do the right thing, visit the newly redesigned Minnesota Progressive Project web site and look for the petition on the right sidebar.