Tag Archives: Politicians

Where facts and roll calls hit the road

Contrary to the snap judgment of some, many politicians are not automatons, indentured to major contributors or mindless partisans.  Called upon to contemplate an infinite range of issues, a relentless clock, and an unquenchable thirst for instant response on the part of the public – and the media – elected officials are in a constant learning mode.  Their sources of information range from scholarly research, to government data, to corporate PR, to the earnest opinions of voters whose ideas are influenced  by a span of human and recorded resources.

Today’s New York Times carries a revealing saga of one elected official’s journey through the information maze. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/us/on-hawaii-a-lonely-quest-for-facts-about-gmos.html) In this thoughtful piece by Amy Harmon, the issue facing the newly elected member of the Kona, Hawaii, City Council, Greggor Ilagan, is the impact of GMOs on the papaya crop.

Though the topic may not be of immediate concern to folks coping with subzero temps, that lack of emotional involvement sets in relief the narrative of the elected official’s struggle.  The scenario is transferrable  and scalable to myriad choices with which honest decision-makers grapple every day.

As members of U.S. Congress return to their offices and lives on Capitol Hill, it’s worth thinking for a moment that these men and women are not just escaping the cold.  They are people who face every day a maze of complicated issues, a barrage of vested interests, information overload – and a roll call vote for which they are accountable to their constituents – and to themselves.

The NYT article is just one reminder that the democratic process, at its very core, is a human drama with a speaking role for every member of the body politic.

Deming Heights – a Northeast Minneapolis hidden treasure

Looking for some autumn fun?  Try packing camera and maybe a snatch of buttery Scandinavian treats for a climb up Norwegian Hill.  It’s in beautiful Northeast Minneapolis, on St. Anthony Parkway near Fillmore in the peaceful and shaded depths of Deming Heights Park, a ten acre jewel of the Grand Rounds system.  You’ll be viewing Minneapolis from one of the several vantage points purported to be the city’s highest peak, 963 feet above sea level.  There are, of course, rival claims, including one that Waite Park School at 1800 34th Avenue rests at the pinnacle of the city; other locals aver that Johnson Street NE and 34th Avenue tops Norwegian Hill by a good ten feet!

No mind, on a clear day the legendary Norwegian Hill  offers a fine opportunity to see forever.  Though one can only surmise the origins of the name of this locally famous pinnacle everyone in Northeast seems to know just where it is and why it’s worth the trip.

The origins of Deming Heights Park are easier to trace.  Portius C. Deming, for whom the park is named, was a park commissioner in the last years of the 19th Century and again from 1909-1919..  When the land for St. Anthony Parkway, including today’s Deming Heights, was acquired in 1913 the park was first known as Grandview Park.  It appears that Commissioner Deming thought the name aptly described the panorama.  Apt as that name may have been, the elegant wooded area was re-named to honor the commissioner himself when he died in 1930.

The recognition reflects Commissioner Deming’s commitment to the development of the city, particularly his persistent support of the North and Northeast sections of the Grand Rounds.  Capturing the vision of the commissioners and the genius of landscape architect Horace Cleveland with the informed support of community leaders Charles Loring and William Folwell the Grand Rounds thrive today as a hallmark of the City of Lakes.

Suffice to say, Portius Deming deserves the naming honor conferred on him.  Construction of the Grand Rounds is a story of vision, yes, but also of intense politics, bartering, badgering, public/private sector negotiation, finances, land acquisition/donation, weather, equipment and more. This snippet from the definitive history of the parkway areas of Minneapolis offers a glimpse of the day-to-day business with which Deming and his fellow commissioners grappled.

Through the relocation of University Avenue, the State Highway Department has brought about a very satisfactory grade separation with the avenue passing underneath the boulevard. On September 25, 1924, the various commercial clubs of Southeast and Northeast Minneapolis staged a gals parade and dedication exercises at Columbia Park, marking the formal opening of St. Anthony Boulevard.

The entire St. Anthony Boulevard project, exclusive of the Armour Tract, was financed as follows:  3/9 city bonds, 2/9 city-wide assessments, and  4.9 benefited district assessment.  Many favorable conditions during the construction period, such as available equipment, reduced cost of material, etc, made it possible not only to keep the total expenditure well within the estimates, but permitted the purchase of additional lots east of the parkway intersection at Central Avenue and at Deming Heights, which has greatly enhanced those sections of the Parkway

*It’s a story the depths of which I have yet not plumbed though it remains a goal for future posts to tell more of the story of the vision of Horace Cleveland and of the Commissioners that shaped the seven parkways that comprise today’s Grand Rounds.

Those Who Can’t “Kick the Can”

All sides use the same macho male term to describe what just happened at the Minnesota Legislature – the other guys “kicked the can down the road.” Girls generally conjure  more elegant and precise terms to describe the political escape tactic.  At the nub, kicking the can down the road is a rudimentary way to delay the resolution of a problem in the hope that it will either disappear or, better yet, come back to haunt the incumbent in next election.

When I realized that hearing the phrase one more time would drive me round the bend, I took therapeutic action.  English major that I am I often seek solace by tracking the origin of an expression that is inane, inaccurate, or and just plain ugly.

Though the game Kick the Can has long kept poor kids out of serious trouble, use of the term by the elite is relatively recent.  (One can only surmise how the phrase migrated up the classes.)

One observer holds that the expression first appeared in print in 1988 in William Safire’s “On Language” column in the New York Times.  Safire quoted the use of the metaphor by arms negotiator Max Kampelman.  Five years later Safire brings it up again:  “A reporter asked US Secretary of State Colin Powell, returning from a trip to the Middle East, about the ‘road map’ agreement.  “Isn’t it just kicking the can farther down the road, putting off the most difficult issues, particularly settlements?

As always, Powell was ready:  “At least we have a can in the road,” replied Powell, reared in New York and familiar with the children’s game.  “The can is in the road now, and we will start moving it down the road, perhaps with little kicks as opposed to a 54-yarder.”

From there on the metaphor goes mainstream – when President Clinton wanted to resolve Middle East problems sooner rather than later, he lamented that for “some foreign policy problems the answer is to kick the can down the road and wait for them to get better and hope time takes care of them.”  Jim Lehrer wrote that he was “too old to play kick the can anymore.”  Diplomats found kicking the can an easy shorthand phrase.   In 2005 political analyst Ross K. Baker uses, then defines, the term: “They kicked the can down the road.  They basically postponed a crisis and set up the predicate for another one in the future.” (Washington Post, May 24 2005

President Obama came out of the chute armed with the recycled image.  Referring to his efforts to seek a bipartisan solution to Social Security solvency the President stressed “What we have done is kicked this can down the road.  We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further (New York Times,  2-2-23-2009

In this political crisis, Minnesota solons have embraced the metaphor as they have eschewed the burden of can possession.  Their over-use of a cant expression suggests a lamentable degree of diction-deprivation (diction accurately defined here as choice of words.”

Language matters.  The kick the can metaphor is hackneyed and meaningless.  Could we change the political dynamic by drafting a resolution to make “Kick the Can Down the Road” the Official Metaphor of the State of Minnesota – we’d probably never hear the phrase again – for one thing, we would spend eons determining the road down which the can would be kicked…

Minneapolis – City of Lakes, Learners, Clubs and Their Records

Busy bibliophiles and lifelong learners trying to squeeze in a quick read or a weekly study club take note – you are joining generations of intellectually curious and engaged Minneapolitans who shared the pleasure of a good read or a deep thought with friends and neighbors.

Discovering the Collection:  Consider the scores of boxes that cram the shelves of the Clubs & Organizations Collection in the James K. Hosmer Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library.  The collection reveals much of the city’s history through the largely unpublished legacy of neighborhood and professional groups that thrived in an earlier day.  Within the hundreds of archival boxes are the scrapbooks, directories, minutes, ledgers, programs, letters and ephemera that tell the story of the city’s social, learning and professional organizations dating from the mid-nineteenth century.

Best of all, library staff and supporters have created a beautifully annotated index of the contents of those boxes.  The indispensable guide provides a thumbnail sketch of each organization and an inventory of the treasures buried in the archives.

Perusing the Online Inventory:  The good news is that the well annotated index is available online where you can learn a good deal about the club before you attack the original files.  The index provides an overview of nearly 200 organizations, their mission, officers, membership, years of operation, what they read and discussed, where they met, and anything else you could have ever wanted to know about the famed study and social groups of an earlier time – the roots of which live on in this city of reading groups, neighborhood councils, ethnic gatherings and just plain clubs of every conceivable stripe.

These snippets from the files what your curiosity to dig deeper:

  • The Prospect Park Study Club, founded in the tradition of other Federation of Womens Clubs, discussed current interest and academic topics, with programs presented by club members.  The five (huge) boxes cover the Study Club’s doings from 1896 to 2001.
  • Or consider the Ramblers, folks who liked to travel and to discuss the “topography, art, literature, and music of different cultures.  Those files cover 1896 to 1949.
  • No surprise, the Saturday Lunch Club, 1927-1952, was an all-male upscale club founded by Stiles P. Jones (1862-1920), a prominent Twin Cities newsman.  The five boxes of club records list the membership which includes many familiar names while the list of speakers includes some of the nation’s most prominent leaders – W.E.B.DuBois, Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, Louis D.  Is it any wonder the city created a reputation for engagement and big picture thinking?

Active Minneapolitans didn’t think deep thoughts all the time, though – The collection includes the files of the Kennel Club, the Apollo Club (1895), the first male chorus, the Hostesses, founded in 1898 to make arrangements for a Ball, with the idea of making them a permanent social event each winter, and then there is the Lake Harriet Yacht Club, founded “to promote the physical and mental culture and the social interests of members.”

On a personal note, one issue that strikes me at first blush is that the majority of the files reflect the stories of women’s clubs – the question in my mind is whether there were more women who wanted to read good literature, discuss history, world affairs or social concerns — or did these women just keep their files in better order?

You can bury yourself for untold hours in the online inventory online – I know from experience.  If you don’t have a home computer, your neighborhood library offers a good option.  You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you’ll develop a keen appreciation of intellectual and social vitality that shaped today’s cultural, social, political, and recreational profile.

Exploring the Collection:  When you’ve focused on clubs that call out for further study, you’ll pine to dig into those file boxes and folders.  The James K. Hosmer Special Collection is housed in elegant and temperature controlled splendor at the Minneapolis Central Library, 4th floor, behind the ornate carved arched entryway. (the archway was transported originally from the late lamented Library at 10th Hennepin from whence it has migrated over time to its present site in this ultra-21st Century setting.)

And then the fun begins!

  • First and always, call ahead  (612 657-8200)  to give staff time to pull the files you seek – it seems like magic but in fact it’s the result of a skilled and extraordinarily committed staff that runs miles to gather the files from their secure location.
  • Assuming you called ahead, you’ll find materials waiting for you – in this case, archival boxes filled with files maintained by the club in their day or a sheaf of envelopes filled with carefully dated clippings and photos – always a delightful surprise.
  • Then marinate your mind in the stories that leap from the often hand-written notes, membership lists, minutes, and other treasures that divulge the stories of the club about which you want to learn more.
  • If you need a coffee break (1st floor) or have to leave the Library, tell staff and your materials will be waiting for you next trip (assuming it’s soon.)
  • If you need photocopies, you’ll find a low cost and efficient copier that takes coins and even gives change.  If you want to scan something, talk with staff.  Tip:  you will need to copy anything you want to take with you – nothing in the Special Collections Library circulates.
  • Suggestion:  Leave yourself time to browse the stacks.  Though what’s on the open stacks is a smidgeon of the archives’ holdings there are unexpected finds.  If you’re interested in Minneapolis clubs you’ll want to peruse the shelves of the Minneapolis Collection.

My personal hopes:

1) That this small snippet whets your mental appetite to learn more about the history of this city – the neighborhood leaders,  special interest proponents, ethnic groups,  readers and writers, politicians and good government advocates, education supporters and others who took time and made the effort to think big thoughts about their era and about the future.

2) That I can and do make time to plumb the depths of many of these energetic organizations.  My plan is to start with learning all I can about the Polanie Club, a social club founded in 1927 and still going strong today.  The Club was established by twelve young women who wanted to learn more about, share and preserve their Polish culture.  Polanie, meaning ‘people of the plains, aptly describes their interest in the Polish language, literature, music, food, history, art, folklore and more.  The Polanie Club has played a significant role in preserving the Polish legacy which is so much a part of my adopted Northeast neighborhood.  I can’t wait to learn more and to visit the incredible Twin Cities Polish Festival again this year – it’s August 13-14 on the Mississippi Riverfront!

3) That readers will focus on a club that peaks their fancy, check the online inventory, explore the files, interpret and employ 21st Century tools to share the stories with 21st Century Minneapolitans.




Redistricting – Minnesotans’ Next Challenge: Not Just for Insiders Anymore

The time to act is when the balls are in the air!  In Minnesota, that time is now.  For starts, the Legislature hasn’t taken action on the Shutdown Settlement yet.  Still the Settlement, if it is accepted, doesn’t really settle the Big Issues – like redistricting….All that time and energy will be re-directed to carving up the political profile of the state.  The balls are in the air – will the public and The Press be as tuned in to the redistricting process as we all have been to the Shutdown?  Or will the lines be drawn as they always have been, behind closed doors.

It’s a fact that fifty states will be redistricting so the North Star State won’t be enjoying the national spotlight.  It’s also true that re-districting is a tedious process traditionally managed by insider politicos with extensive political savvy and ferocious partisan motivation.  In recent times, technology has offered untold options for political mapmakers to tweak the numbers that shape the politics.

There’s a new system that promises to give hapless voters a chance.  The Public Mapping Project supports interactive redistricting. An individual or group – neighborhood, advocacy group, book club (if you’re that sort of book club), political subdivision or political party  —  can get set up a site to allow an individual or a number of people to draw and evaluate potential redistricting map onlines.

There’s a good intro on the project website where you can also check demos of the software;  it seems the software is available without cost at this point.  The Public Mapping Project notes that the Midwest Democracy Network will be providing public access to the software for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  A check of the Midwest Democracy Network was inconclusive, but it’s worth staying in touch – their website lists the following Minnesota organizations as partners:  Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, League of Women Voters of Minnesota, Heartland Democracy, Common Cause and TakeAction Minnesota.

The Public Mapping Project website also offers an excellent bibliography of print and media resources, many of which are available online.  Other sources include Americans for Redistricting Reform and resources suggested by the Minnesota Legislature’s  Geographic Information Services.  The Census also manages a site specifically focused on redistricting and the 2010 Census.   The Census Bureau also manages a site specifically focused on redistricting;  Find Strength in Numbers as http://www.census.gov/rdo/pdf/StrengthInNumbers2010.pdf

Those who want to review the history of redistricting, specifically, in Minnesota, should start with the Legislative Reference Library that spots and keeps the state’s political record for the Legislature and for all Minnesotans.

On Monday, July 18, the Brookings Institution will present a Status Report on Congressional Redistricting.  A panel of experts will review the results coming in from the states on redistricting activities.  They will also discuss how the rest of the process is likely to unfold.  Panelists will focus on evidence of partisan or bipartisan gerrymandering, the outcome of transparency and public mapping initiatives such as PMP, and minority redistricting.  Follow the event on Twitter – #RedistrictB1

Though it’s a little late for this notice there is little doubt that the event will be streamed in good time.

Remembering John Adams, Attorney and President, on July 4th

Note:  The following piece was written to honor John Adams on Law Day, May 1.  Somehow it never got posted.  Knowing that John Adams – and Thomas Jefferson – died on July 4, 1826, it seems appropriate to rescue the piece from the “to be deleted” file and resurrect Adams’ memory in anticipation of the 4th which today is much more about picnics and fireworks than about remembering the deeds of our forefathers
and mothers.

Resistance leader and patriot, advocate and diplomat, constitutional theorist and political activist, John Adams became our nation’s first lawyer-president in 1797. Just five years before the American Revolutionary War began, he represented the British officer and soldiers charged with firing into a crowd of protestors and killing five civilians in the “Boston Massacre.”

Already a prominent leader in the American colonial resistance to British parliamentary authority, Adams agreed to take on the cases and ably defended the accused at trial. His role in the 1770 Boston Massacre trials has come to be seen as a lawyerly exemplar of adherence to the rule of law and defense of the rights of the accused, even in cases when advocates may represent unpopular clients and become involved in matters that generate public controversy.

Although each is unique in circumstance and significance, there have been other such noteworthy cases in American history. These cases range from Adams and the Boston Massacre trial to the 1846 “insanity” defense of William Freeman by William Seward, later Lincoln’s Secretary of State, to Sigmund Ziesler’s and William Perkins Black’s 1886 representation of the Haymarket 8 accused of killing a Chicago police officer (marking its 125th anniversary in 2011) to Samuel Leibowitz’s 1930s defense of nine black Alabama teenagers, the Scottsboro Boys, accused of rape to the representation by Michael Tigar and Brian Hermanson of Terry Nichols in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case to contemporary efforts by lawyers to represent Guantanamo detainees in the global war on terrorism. It is important to recognize that the passage of time can bring historical and legal perspective to passions of the day.

The 2011 Law Day theme provides us with an opportunity to assess and celebrate the legacy of John Adams, explore the historical and contemporary role of lawyers in defending the rights of the accused, and renew our understanding of and appreciation for the fundamental principle of the rule of law.