Making a state shutdown painless (5X8 – 2/22/12)

Who should be pain free, where are the women in the birth control debate, the freedom to be a liar, winter the Minnesota way, a letter to your young self, and a murder most fowl in Minneapolis.


Should people in the state feel the pain when there’s a budget shutdown caused by the inability of the Legislature and the governor to reach a deal? The Pioneer Press’ Dave Orrick details several bills filed at the Legislature to take the pain away from “common folk.” Usually when the state shuts down, as it did last summer, the rest stops on the highways and the state campgrounds close up shop. That could change if the bills are approved.

“Last year was very frustrating for a lot of us,” Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, told a hearing. “Why did they need to close the doors to the public just because they don’t have a budget?”

For one thing, it engages the public and puts a “face” on “government spending.”

“The simple solution is to avoid a shutdown,” Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said.

Good one.

Orrick says it makes no sense to shut down money-making elements of the government, especially when it has a long-term impact on the state’s economy:

Regardless, the result was clear: Minnesota sold the fewest fishing licenses since at least 2006, and 6 percent fewer than 2010. That drop was sharper than a 1.6 percent drop in Wisconsin, which didn’t experience a shutdown, according to numbers from both states I crunched in the fall. The shutdown might have cost Minnesota as much as $1.6 million in lost license sales alone.

In the case of state parks, it costs the state about $500,000 a week to run the parks in July, compared with roughly $1 million a week in revenues, according to Ron Potter, the DNR’s programs and policy manager for parks and trails. So there’s another $1.5 million or so down the drain.

McNamara is right: It’s absurd to have the state shutting down money-making operations because it can’t agree on a budget – because there’s not enough money.

But Hansen is right, too: It’s absurd to have a shutdown at all – and absurd to have those with the power to avoid another shutdown planning for another shutdown.

Let’s hit the Wayback Machine. During last year’s shutdown, MPR’s Eric Ringham asked people how it was affecting them. Overwhelmingly, the most serious impact was on childcare, as described by this response:

The lack of payment for childcare assistance is incredibly harmful to children, parents, and providers. I work at a small center licensed for 49 children about 85% of our families rely on child care assistance to make payments. Our mission is to serve low-income families in need. We are not willing to tell parents that they must pay the cost out of pocket or find someone else to care for their child. We know that they do not have the resources to pay and could be forced to quit their jobs.

I know of many centers who have already closed or kicked out families for their inability to pay. We do not know how much longer we can hold on. If the shutdown goes past the end of the month, we will be forced to layoff employees and operate on a much smaller scale. This problem is not solely ours. Over 20,000 families receive childcare assistance through the state. Parents cannot go to work without a safe place (that they can afford) to send their children.

For many families, child care assistance is what keeps them afloat in the struggle to reach self sufficiency. Without it, they may be forced back into situations of unemployment and poverty. This simply cannot continue for much longer before reaching a breaking point.

Therein lies the deeper problem. If the people who camp, fish, and pee at rest stops have no “skin in the game,” the political pressure to settle a state shutdown disappears, too.


“Where are the women in the contraception debate?” writers to NPR’s ombudsman asked last week all-men witness panel attended Thursday’s House hearing on President Obama’s contraception insurance mandate. Some questioned the regular use of two men — Mark Shields and David Brooks — on the subject during their weekly All Things Considered segment.

So NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, researched the network’s coverage.

Our intern Stephannie Stokes reviewed all of NPR’s on-air coverage of the controversy between Jan. 13 and Feb. 13. The results were gratifying. Of those interviewed and quoted, 26 were women, ranging from Catholic students to lawyers to professors. This compares to 18 men who were quoted by name. Worth noting, moreover, is that the women represented both sides of the issue, countering the assumption that all women voices would speak in favor of the administration’s new policy.

The search did not include those quoted indirectly, or reporters or hosts of NPR shows.

In the rest of the media, Schumacher-Matos says the ratio of commentary by gender was 2-to-1 male.


Do Americans have the right to lie? That question will be at the heart of one of the most fascinating cases to hit the Supreme Court in recent years.

The justices will hear a challenge to the Stolen Valor Act, passed by Congress in 2005. Xavier Alvarez is a man nobody disputes is a liar, NPR’s Nina Totenberg reports.

He lied about being an ex-professional hockey player. He lied about being an engineer. He lied about rescuing the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis. He even lied about being a retired Marine.

But none of those lies is a crime. Only one of his whoppers violated the law — the one he told about receiving the Medal of Honor.

“Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor,” he said in introducing himself at a municipal water board meeting in California, about seven months after he was elected to a neighboring board.

Under the law, that’s punishable by a year in prison.

And the government could fill a small prison with the liars. Several websites and organizations have been set up to investigate reports of individuals lying about military service. The Hall of Stolen Valor is one. It features dozens of stories of people who fake their service. Few are prosecuted.

Today, USA Today editorializes against the law:

Protecting the free speech of repulsive defendants — Nazis determined to march in an Illinois neighborhood where Holocaust survivors lived, protesters who loudly defame soldiers near military funerals, the makers of animal snuff movies — is always difficult. But the alternative is to allow the government to more broadly define what people can say, an extremely troubling notion, both for the public and for the court, which ruled in favor of the Nazis, the funeral protesters and the snuff movie producers.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston doesn’t see the five votes on the court to overturn the law:

If the Court gets caught up in the patriotic sentiment that surely helped push the Stolen Valor Act through Congress, it very likely would be looking for a way to uphold the law, without explicitly culling all forms of false expression out of the constitutionally protected category. Getting the Court to do just that appeared to be the core strategy of the Justice Department. Although defending the Act with some passion, the Department’s approach is put forth as a measured, even incremental plea to allow this particular statute to remain in force without jeopardizing large amounts of hyperbole, puffery, parody and little white lies.

Here are all the documents in the case.


“When I first got to the lake that day it seemed pretty quiet,” Jim Richardson said about this video he posted over the weekend. “I feel fortunate to live in a mid-sized city with all the amenities, yet within walking distance of the lake wilderness. This may be considered a typical sight within a stone’s throw of downtown Duluth, ‘a city on the edge of a frozen lake at the end of the world.'”

(h/t: Perfect Duluth Day)

Stephen Carew and John Kruze are a couple of Air Force hockey players who grew up playing pond hockey in Minnesota.

Air Force Hockey Feature from Kitay Productions, Inc. on Vimeo.

Did someone say “hockey?” Where were you 32 years ago today?

It never gets old.


If you could offer insights and advice to the person you were as a teenager, what would you say? CBS News started a fascinating series yesterday with that theme.And you? What would you tell the 15-year-old you?

Bonus I: What will it take to get Americans out of their cars and onto the sidewalk? How about directional signs in time-to-get-there instead of miles-to-there? (BBC)

Bonus II: A murder most fowl in Minneapolis. (PiPress)

Bonus III: How cool is it when B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Trombone Shorty come over to your house after dinner? It happened last night.

Buddy Guy will be in Minneapolis a week from Friday.


A panel of judges on Tuesday released a redrawn map of congressional and legislative districts in Minnesota. Today’s Question: How do you define the political community you belong to?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The way America has funded its roads for decades is breaking down. The latest bill from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was decried by Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood as the “worst transportation bill” he has ever seen. With such a hostile legislative environment, can there be any agreement as to the future of transportation funding in America?

Second hour: The FDA will be weighing in on a new diet pill tomorrow, so we thought it would be a great hook to talk about the role of drugs in weight loss and obesity prevention. What is your take on diet pills and other dietary drugs? Do the side effects outweigh the advantages?

Third hour: What’s the significance of Mormonism in the upcoming election?

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Nomination contests in Michigan and Arizona are right around the corner, but not before another debate. Millions of dollars come and go in the Super PACs,and President Obama celebrates the payroll tax cutsextension deal at the White House. Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins Neal Conan.

Second hour: Weighing truth on Wikipedia. Timothy Messer-Kruse is a bit of an expert on Chicago’s Haymarket riot. Literally, he wrote the book on it. But when he tried to correct an inaccuracy in the Wikipedia entry for the subsequent trial, his efforts were repeatedly rebuffed.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Thirty years ago, the monster truck named Grave Digger began crushing cars and popping wheelies before legions of adoring fans. Today, the ten-thousand-pound behemoth is still going strong. Go behind the wheel — and inside the world of monster truck rallies