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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Climate: If We Want More Than Incremental Change, How?

Category: Environment
Posted: 04/29/16 21:19, Edited: 04/29/16 21:19

by Dave Mindeman

There is something that I always view as a frustrating conundrum when it comes to renewable energy and climate change.

How can we act fast?

Bernie Sanders criticizes Hillary Clinton on her "incremental approach" to climate change, saying that it is an immediate crisis and needs immediate attention.

Which is true.

But at the same time, he wants a moratorium on nuclear power plants and an end to fracking. Yes, I can agree, that we, in the progressive community, are uncomfortable with those sources.

But climate change may already be past the tipping point. And we are not going to get any immediate relief from wind, solar or batter technologies. We need a bridge to the future right now. And nuclear is the cleanest energy source we have, as well as the most long lasting. In addition, fracking increases production of natural gas, which is a vast improvement over petroleum based fuels.

Yes, I have seen China Syndrome. And I am well aware of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Yes, those have been huge disasters and Fukushima is still an ongoing problem. But so are pipelines and oil spills and imported oil and coal and mining in general.

All of these things are problems in their own right, but do we really have the time to wait for the perfect? I think we all want to embrace Bernie's energy vision....and we can continue to work toward those goals. But we have a finite amount of time to reverse this damage - or more accurately limit the damage already done....and nuclear and natural gas provide a faster path to alternative clean energy.

We should proceed carefully with every safeguard we can muster. And we still have ongoing research about fracking that needs to be funded at a more appropriate level.

But if we need more than incremental change - we have to move on what is available to us right now.
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Rep. Knoblach Ends His Phantom Money Rail Project

Category: Transportation
Posted: 04/29/16 18:32

by Dave Mindeman

Came across this blurb in the news....

Rep. Jim Knoblach says he's suspending his push to extend Northstar to St. Cloud this session. Knoblach said he's halting his effort to pass his bill to extend the commuter rail line because of the negative response from Gov. Mark Dayton's administration.

My question is, what exactly were you expecting, Rep. Knoblach?

It is hard to take a proposal that has no funding and no structure to it and have any response at all.

Even the description is preposterous...

Knoblach, a Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, authored a bill to require the state to negotiate with BNSF Railway Co. to extend the commuter rail line to St. Cloud from its current end point in Big Lake. The bill doesn't include any funding for an expansion, and prohibits the state from spending any more on operating costs than already budgeted.

I really can't get my head around that.

The Northstar line ends at Big Lake, mainly because there were questions that enough funding could be obtained to get the line all the way to St. Cloud. It would make sense to finish that line and give St. Cloud an opportunity to have a commuting option.

But how can you propose something without money to fund it and with an actual prohibition not to add any money?!

This is another case of the House GOP and their phantom solutions. Smoke and mirrors. Building without investment.

If Knoblach thinks that this is representing St. Cloud, then he is in the same fantasyland, from where his proposal originated.
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"Historic" Drug Compromise Guidelines Oddly Penalizes Weed

Category: Society
Posted: 04/29/16 13:00

by Dave Mindeman

A crime legislation compromise proposal is being classified as "historic" in terms of changes made to the sentencing structure of drug related offenses.

After weeks of closed-door wrangling between law enforcement, defense attorneys and lawmakers, a compromise has been reached on an effort at the Capitol to lighten criminal penalties for drug offenders statewide.

I am not sure why this had to be a "closed door" negotiation, but that is how this came to be. And there are some good things here:

1. In general "sentencing guidelines" -- the amount of prison time a convicted criminal will be presumed to get when sentenced by a judge -- for all drug crimes, will be reduced, regardless of degree.

2. Additionally, the amount of confiscated drugs required to trigger a charge has been increased for drugs like heroine, methamphetamine or cocaine. (Marijuana is a different story which will be discussed below).

3. It would define what a "trace" amount of drugs is -- a definition that has been lacking in current law and leading to a lot of law enforcement discretionary interpretation. And possession charges for trace amounts would become a gross misdemeanor, rather than a felony for a first offense.

4. Sentences for what prosecutors have called "kingpin" dealers -- those possessing or selling especially large quantities of drugs -- would become mandatory, unalterable by a judge. Also, if the accused possessed a gun, the old, harsher sentencing levels would stay in place, in addition to being mandatory. Prior law didn't differentiate much from users and dealers.

5. Mandatory penalties would be eliminated on lesser-degree drug crimes, allowing judges to be more lenient.

If utilized properly, these guidelines could reduce the incarceration rate in Minnesota prisons and give judges more latitude.

But there is one very troubling and puzzling provision....

For marijuana, on the other hand, the 100 kg required for a first-degree possession charge has been reduced to 50 kg.

In other words, marijuana was actually singled out for harsher restrictions.

This compromise was agreed to because....

Defense attorneys noted that Minnesota's marijuana thresholds are extraordinarily permissive compared to most other states, and agreed to allow them to become more strict.

I have trouble understanding why marijuana, which has medicinal legality in Minnesota, would get treated the opposite of other illegal drugs. Especially when the purpose of this compromise is to lighten the load on our prisons. Why not just leave marijuana alone? What difference does it make that our current laws are "permissive", when the tendency in the country moves towards complete legalization?

I expect that the law enforcement establishment lobbied for this. They seem to have some kind of inherent bias against marijuana and cling to decades old ideas and stereotypes about this drug.

The compromise guidelines will probably move through the legislature fairly quickly...because it has law enforcement's blessing. The marijuana aspect is troubling, but as the mood of the country changes on recreational use, maybe it won't make any difference in the long run. However, in the short term, marijuana possession will, ironically, be treated worse than your basic heroin and cocaine user.

That just feels wrong.
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