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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Revisiting the RNC

Category: RNC
Posted: 01/13/09 14:35, Edited: 01/13/09 14:38

by Dave Mindeman

When I had a sit down talk with Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner last week, it brought me back to a revisitation of the Republican National Convention. Over the past few days, I have tried to catch up with some of the under publicized aspects of what has been happening with the legal machinery of it all. And let's just say it hasn't been pretty.

Tomorrow, the Heffelfinger-Luger report is due to be presented. It will be interesting to note what it says and what the public reaction will be. How deep into law enforcement tactics will the report take us? Nobody knows.

There are a lot of unanswered questions which lends itself to speculation. So, here I go....just between you and me -- here are my questions and speculation.

To me, Susan Gaertner seems like someone who has been forced into a corner. During her talk with me, she wanted to leave the impression that her discretionary powers to charge a case were somehow limited regarding the RNC-8. Just about everyone I talk to doesn't believe that....but is it possible that other forces are at work?

We have a highly controversial FBI informant involved in the case and some are saying that he had been pushing RNC protesters into more controversial actions. And there were layers upon layers of law enforcement involved with the RNC which seemed to be looking for things that just weren't there.

Some of the felony charges involved here would require that there be proof that there was an attempt to shut down the Republican National Convention. Can you imagine that? Groups of rag-tag young people angry about their government would somehow be able to shut down a venue backed by a multitude of city, state, and Federal layers of law enforcement backed by $50 million in security funding?


I remember visiting the streets of St. Paul during the first day of the RNC. In my part of the city, the police were using remarkable restraint. Protesters were blocking traffic but attempts to simply reroute the vehicles was the preferred method. But later in the day and on subsequent days, something clearly changed. More force and shows of force were ordered and things began to get out of hand. Full street sweeps...pepper spray...tear gas. It just didn't fit with this usually peaceful city.

What was even more troubling were the pre-emptive raids. You have to wonder if Federal influence pushed the locals into rules that would, under normal circumstances, never even be thought of. The wiretapping.... the informants.... the website monitoring.

For that first week in September, we were in the lockdown world of a true police state.

Of course, there is no question that some people came to the Twin Cities clearly wanting to make trouble. But were there actually enough of them to shut down the Convention? To warrant police being primed to a hair trigger?

It truly boggles the mind.

I don't know where the RNC-8 trials will lead. But I do hope that we get to the truth. I don't want to hear about inadmissible classified evidence. I don't want documents blocked for "security reasons".

Just because there is a charge of "terrorism" in a case, doesn't mean "terrorism" actually occurred. So don't go there....just give us the facts. Please.
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Carleton"s Steve Schier "Accidentally" Gets It Wrong

Category: Al Franken
Posted: 01/12/09 15:30

by Dave Mindeman

A few days ago...January 8th to be exact... there was an opinion piece in the Pioneer Press written by Carleton Political Science professor, Steven Schier. It was called...

Say Hello to Our Accidental Senator

I just kind of skimmed over it at the time, but on Friday's Almanac, Mr. Schier restated his assertions and this time it grated a little bit.

He starts off with a general critique:

The basic problem can be simply stated. The margin of error that Minnesota's election system provides is simply larger than that margin of victory in the 2008 Minnesota Senate race. That means the winner of the race is certainly the product of chance error.

This is true enough on its face...if you look at the system as is. I don't think anyone will dispute that inherent system flaws will most assuredly get noticed in a race this close. But we start to diverge when he criticizes the remedy as well....

It's true that Minnesota's recount process is well defined in state law and has been transparent in its operation. That is all to the good. But even the best-run process cannot yield a reliable winner when the margins are so microscopic and the number of votes ? 2.885 million ? is so huge.

And the recount process itself has its flaws. It relies on hand recounts, a system that social science research reveals to be more error prone than the optical scan system used on Election Day. So we have in state law chosen the less reliable system for counting votes in order to decide close elections. Time for an update in those procedures, don't you think?

Although I won't disagree that some updating is indeed necessary, he seems to indicate that the whole recount process is untenable. Although, all things being equal, the optical scan system is certainly more accurate than a hand recount....things are not equal.

The optical scan units are still operated by human beings. The ballots are filled out by human beings. The optical scanner is only as accurate as the operator and voter can aspire to be.

The original optical vote is still subject to errors. Clerical errors.... machine jamming.... ballots that get damaged.... and most importantly, voters who do not fill out the ballots in a machine readable fashion. If everything else is perfect, the machine count will be perfect.....but as we all are well aware by now, perfect is wishful thinking.

Mr. Schier goes on to indicate that IRV or a Run-off are preferable alternatives. I do not disagree. I think the IRV method would solve the majority of these issues. But he gets in one final dig:

Any of these systems is vastly preferable to the baroque and unreliable recount process under which Minnesota elections now operate. These alternative systems produce winners who are the clear choice of voters, not the beneficiaries of chance errors.

Describing the recount process as providing for "chance errors" is incorrect in my opinion. The recount discovered and accounted for "chance errors". It picked up the voters who were left out because the machines didn't read their ballots.

After watching this recount process from start to finish...out in full view for everyone to see.... I think we came closer to an accounting of the real intent of Minnesota's voters. It was close...oh, so close.. but the recount was a vindication of the democratic system, not a method of producing an "accidental senator".
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Economic Stimulus? Move On Mass Transit

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 01/12/09 04:35

by Dave Mindeman

In the Star Tribune today, there is a feature article about Mass Transit which speaks to our future needs -- or maybe more to our past foot dragging on the topic:

In the Metro, It's Mass Transit vs. Mess Transit

The general concern is that some counties (mostly Washington and Scott) are complaining about being left off the transit planning board. Washington county in particular is concerned about the build up of congestion as Wisconsin commuters join the mix.

Could there be some connection regarding the fact that Washington County is represented by Michele Bachmann...a long time light rail opponent and that the Scott County board voted against the 1/2 cent transit tax? Maybe...maybe not.

Regardless, the rhetoric has changed from anti-transit to why aren't we included in transit. And that is a relevant discussion:

Jobs and Economics.

Light rail stimulates economic activity. The article points to the experience with the Hiawatha Line -- the only working track in the state at present:

Officials in the blank spots on the transit map also are uneasy because they see how the Hiawatha light-rail line is already stimulating growth.

The housing slowdown might affect the numbers, but until recently the Met Council talked of as many as 16,000 new housing units along that corridor by next year. To put that into context, if the mythical village of Hiawathaville were its own entity, it would rank among the state's 25 biggest cities, just behind Lakeville but ahead of Richfield.

Economic stimulus? Wouldn't an acceleration of Light Rail development make sense in light of those numbers?

Roadblocks in the Past

It is problemsome that in the past, Republican legislators in the House (like Phil Krinkie, current head of the Taxpayer's League and Lakeville's Mary Liz Holberg, former chair of the House Transportation Committee) have stalled, complained, foot dragged, and stifled funding for light rail. We could have had a decade or more head start on where we are now if only we had moved when we had a more advantageous budget situation.

Now, at a time when we are desperately in need of economic stimulus, we are behind in being "shovel ready" with the very type of infrastructure development that has proved (i.e. the Hiawatha Line) it can generate economic growth.

Forward thinking? Not a chance.

Let's Move Ahead Now

Despite our current budget crisis, we need to move ahead with whatever resources we can get our hands on. Beg the Feds for matching funds....supplement existed transit money....accelerate the access to funds that have been appropriated.

Mass transit is vital to the economic growth of Minnesota. We need to move people to jobs and create more jobs along those corridors. We have budget woes to be sure but if economic stimulus is the buzz word to move Minnesota ahead -- the answer is really right there in mass transit.

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