State of barbarism (5×8 – 12/2/11)

What happens when we look away, the people who make us root for their success, voter fraud in Duluth, the shadow banking government, and when should you stop sitting on Santa’s lap?



(Photo: Minnesota Historical Society. Gov. Luther Youngdahl burns straightjackets in Anoka.)

When you read reporter Sasha Aslanian’s story about the settlement of a lawsuit over the mistreatment of developmentally disabled people by the state, you might be tempted to look at the calendar to make sure it’s 2011. The state and the families of developmentally disabled people reached a settlement in a lawsuit over the restraints used on about 300 people at a state-run institution.

Family members of three patients first raised concerns in 2007. The state ombudsman launched a year-long investigation that found “People were being routinely restrained in a prone face down position and placed in metal handcuffs and leg hobbles.”

The lead plaintiff in the case was restrained 251 times, and showed plenty of bruises. It wasn’t an isolated case. An investigation found 8 of every 10 residents were treated this way.

Though the facility is now closed, it appears from Aslanian’s report that the state agency — the Department of Human Services — either ignored virtually every sign of abuse, or looked away when the families — and even the federal government — tried to point it out. It took an independent state agency — the Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities — to pull the curtain back. There’s no indication that anybody important lost a job in the affair.

The settlement mandates training for DHS staff with an emphasis on positive behavioral support and requires regular reporting over the next two years.

“The department is prohibited from the use of restraints except in emergency circumstances,” said DHS deputy commissioner Anne Barry in an interview. The only restraints now allowed are made of Velcro and only in the case of an emergency.

Over at the Pioneer Press, reporter David Hanners wrote an outstanding opening of a story that adequately captured the outrageous nature of the state’s behavior:

On Halloween night 1949, Minnesota Gov. Luther Youngdahl stood aside a bonfire outside Anoka State Hospital and, with fanfare, burned 359 straitjackets and hundreds of other restraints he said were sinister relics of a more barbarous time.

“By this action we say that we have liberated ourselves from witchcraft – that in taking off mechanical restraints from the patients, we are taking off intellectual restraints from ourselves,” the governor said.

Apparently, we forgot.

Kudos to Aslanian and Hanners for following the story. The Pioneer Press, in particular, deserves recognition for not looking away from stories like this. About five years ago, it was the only news organization in the Twin Cities to be interested in the case of Angellika Arndt, who was just 7 years old when she was restrained until she was dead at a Rice Lake, Wisconsin counseling facility, where she had gargled milk against orders.

That facility, like the one in Minnesota, was also closed when someone with some authority realized that restraints and holds are not a humane way to “counsel” or “treat” anyone. Minnesota was lucky it didn’t take the death of a 7 year old girl to change the system, just parents of people we once recognized as “the vulnerable we need to protect” who recognized barbarism — handcuffs and leg irons — when a state couldn’t or wouldn’t.

In the Wisconsin case, one staffer went to jail for 60 days, the state promised big changes and guidelines for how and when restraints could be used, then spent a year ignoring its promises.

A year after that, the General Accounting Office was practically screaming that developmentally disabled people were dying and being injured by the practices that — finally — officials settled yesterday. What’s more, the GAO specifically called out Minnesota for not requiring staff training before being permitted to restrain children. Think about that: Vulnerable people ended up in handcuffs and leg irons, because the state didn’t think it was important to teach employees any other behavior.

That was 2009. Check the calendar. For more than two years, the people who had a job to protect the most vulnerable people, looked the other way.

Somewhat related: Judi Chamberlin has died. In 1966, she was locked in a New York state mental ward against her will after the newlywed suffered a miscarriage and couldn’t stop crying, says. She started a movement that gave people with mental illness some rights in deciding their treatment.


Decency comes in the form of small acts of kindness. Here’s one such act:

This is Doomtree, musical stars in the Twin Cities well on their way to becoming big musical stars. They were at The Current yesterday to debut their new album. It’s all very heady stuff that often goes to the heads of people becoming big musical stars.


The Current’s Barb Abney tells the rest of the story:

“For several days we’ve been giving away Doomtree Blowout passes for their week-long extravaganza at First Avenue. Rillee was lucky caller 10 earlier this week. Sadly, she isn’t yet eighteen and wouldn’t be able to attend the majority of the shows and felt it would be best if we gave the passes to someone who could use them the way they were intended, for multiple evenings. I could hear the disappointment in her voice and I promised to send her something in the mail in a Bob Barker consolation prize kind of way. I knew I could count on the Doomtree crew to help me out.”

And they did, dropping what they were doing to commit a simple act of decency and kindness (click for larger image):



A Duluth man is going to prison for voting. Antonio Vassel “Detroit” Brown is one of six people charged in St. Louis County with “voting while ineligible” in the November 2008 election. Usually, people so charged get probation and a fine, the Duluth News Tribune says, but Brown got the maximum sentence. He was not allowed to vote because he’s a felon. He claimed his probation officer told him he could vote because “nobody ever checks,” but his probation officer denies ever counseling him on the art of voter fraud.


Bloomberg Markets magazine has dropped a bombshell. The Federal Reserve was giving away billions of dollars to the nation’s banks, and Congress, high-ranking Bush administration officials, and the rest of us weren’t told about it. News reports that the central bank gave banks in the U.S. more than $7 trillion dollars interest free, then borrowed it back from the banks while paying interest.

Even the head of the Minneapolis Fed says he didn’t know what was going on:

The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.

“TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”

Even the top aides to then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson didn’t know what was going on.

“Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan.

By the way, The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating whether Bank of America, Wells Fargo and eight other major banks may have illegally foreclosed on 4,500 active-duty servicemen and women.

In San Francisco, a 75-year old woman is vowing to somehow get back into the home she was thrown out of after being foreclosed upon. She stopped making mortgage payments after she got colon cancer. The bank says it tried to review her mortgage several times, the interest rate on which is 11.5 percent, or 11.4 percent more than the rate the banks got from their secret “loans” from the Fed.


Anything you can do, the Carlson School can do better, Santa.


A survey reported this week that more than 40 percent of Americans plan to spend less on the holidays than they did last year. The survey also found that insecurity over employment was running high. Today’s Question: How has the struggling economy changed your holiday traditions?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Spending at the holidays.

Second hour: Rick Nelson, food critic for the Star Tribune.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Authors of two new books about lakes: Darby Nelson and Jerry Dennis.

Second hour: On the 10th anniversary of the Enron bankruptcy, a Chautauqua Lecture by investigative reporter Bethany McLean, who broke the Enron story in Fortune Magazine. Bethany McLean is a Hibbing, Minnesota native.

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: A conversation with Dr. Andrew Weil about his new book “Spontaneous Happiness,” and how diet, meditation and exercise may be good alternatives to drugs.

Second hour: How skyscrapers are designed, constructed and maintained. Plus, the life of movie icon and inventor Hedy Lamarr.

  • Tyler

    Our government and financial system are making me nauseous, and unfortunately, there’s no accountability any more. I’m moving to Luxembourg. =\

  • This is NOT lucy

    “Kudos to Aslanian and Hanners for following the story.”

    Yes, huge kudos to Aslanian and Hanners for pulling back the curtain on the abuses of the vulnerable. They are an inspiration!

    So come on people-Wake that Inner Kitty!

    and let’s dance this mess around!

  • Joanna

    The word is impunity. That sound is my teeth gnashing.

    Illegally foreclosing on thousands? Impunity, no consequences, no punishment for criminal behavior.

    Abusing the most vulnerable for years? Impunity. Was ANYONE fired? disciplined? Did anyone take responsibility?How about that bridge that fell down?

    Impunity AND double standards.

    Camping out on Black Friday? No biggie! It’s patriotic to shop!

    Camping out to peacefully assemble and express criticism? Arrests, cracked heads, pepper spray.


  • Jim Shapiro

    The photo of the burning straight jackets made me sad. Just think of the good use that they could have been put to:

    A gift of new apparel for 1) Anyone who thinks that it’s a good idea for taxpayers to fund a new football stadium, 2) At least 3 of the republican candidates for president 3) Anyone who makes less than 200k a year who would consider voting for a republican.

  • This is NOT lucy

    @ jim

    or a gift for all football players and pilots flying blind. ; )