The Grandma Brigade (5×8 – 1/10/13)


You can’t escape the prying eyes of Democrats in Minnesota, ProPublica reports. The site profiles The Grandma Brigade, a group of DFL volunteers committed to finding every shred of identity they can about people who lean to the left. They patrol neighborhoods looking for lawn signs, they read letters to the editors, obituaries, they even listen to radio talk shows and document the first name of the callers, according to ProPublica.

One data volunteer even joked about holding “rat out your neighbor parties,” where friends would be encouraged to add notes about the political views of other people on their block.

Once information about individual people is entered into the state party’s database, it doesn’t stay in Minnesota. Almost all the information collected by local volunteers like the Grandma Brigade also ends up in the party’s central database in Washington.

Few places have data volunteers as dedicated as the ones in Minnesota, which has been held up as a model for other state Democratic parties. Both Democrats and Republicans have centralized databases that, among other things, track opinions you share with local campaign volunteers.

Each piece of information the parties have stored about you might not be too interesting on its own. But taken together, they’re incredibly powerful. Political campaigns are using this voter data to predict voters’ behavior in increasingly sophisticated ways.

There’s no way for people in Minnesota to know what political parties do with the data collected about them, ProPublica says.

Related: How Generation Y really feels about privacy (CNET)


The other day we chatted in this space about Minnesota’s crumbling infrastructure — specifically, water mains. What about the other big pipe — literally — beneath us? Sewage pipes. And, like the nice water, it’s a crisis too, according to PBS.

Watch A Journey to Confront Our Aging Water Systems on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.


As the snow melts here in flyover country, take a look at where it’s still piled up. That, the blog says, can tell you a few things. In many cases, Reuben Collins (nope, no relation) writes, roads are built wider than they need to be, just so there’s a place to put the snow.

Which forces the question, if we can give up several feet of roadway width for a few months each year and it’s not really a problem, does that mean our roadways were overdesigned from the start? Should we have just constructed it a few feet narrower to begin with?

Of course, many will recall that planning for snow storage in the road is already a generally accepted practice. In Minneapolis, the original proposed design for the reconstructed Nicollet Avenue was several feet narrower than the final design. The reason for increasing the width of the roadway was in part due to business owners being worried that snow storage would make on-street parking impossible (or at least unpleasant) for several months every year. Essentially, we purposely build the roadway wider than it needed to be so that we could use a portion of it for snow storage. But given that roadways are not cheap (or generally attractive compared to boulevards), is this the best way to plan for snow storage?

Related: Stranded Motorist Photos Are Metaphor for Hurricanes, Recession and Loneliness (


If you’re a downtown Saint Paulite, you probably know this woman:

Dianne Brown, is as iconic a figure as anything else in downtown Saint Paul, especially now that Macy’s is leaving. Brown works at the post office as she has for several decades.

The sad news: She’s retiring in a few weeks.

The good news: She was a guest on MPR Classical’s Music with Minnesotans, where she discussed her love of opera.


The lives of many people connected on I-94 in Jamestown, ND., last month when a pickup truck with several people inside slid into the path of a semi, killing the men in the pickup.

By all accounts, Stuart Hauge, the driver of the semi, was doing nothing wrong and couldn’t have done anything to avoid the crash.

Guillermo Zuniga’s father, uncle and friends died in the crash and this week, his thoughts turned to Stuart Hauge. So he called him on the phone, the Fargo Forum reports.

“I don’t know how I would take it. I wanted to let him know – I wanted to reassure him that I wasn’t mad at him. I don’t put any of the blame on him,” he told Hauge.

Mr. Zuniga talked to his father on Christmas, the last time they would talk.

“He kept saying, ‘I’m proud of you, son,’ ” Zuniga said.

More connections: Bill Sand of Cincinnati has made it his mission to help those who need assistance. Sand spends most of his free time crafting, creating and building gadgets to help the disabled enhance their lives. He volunteers for the group May We Help.

Bonus I: Harvesting ice for Spicer’s ice castle (West Central Tribune)

Bonus II: Live shots gone wrong can really boost a TV reporter’s visibility (KARE 11).

Bonus III: What happened to the women in the Obama administration? (CBS)

Bonus IV: A 10-year old boy lost his Christmas present — a Lego kit — when he took it to the supermarket against his father’s advice. So he wrote to the company. (h/t: Jason DeRusha)


Minnesota’s campaign finance board wants tighter standards for legislators to follow in disclosing outside income. Legislators receive only $31,000 a year, so most need to hold other jobs, but outside work can pose conflicts of interest. Today’s Question: Does holding down a private-sector job make for a better legislator?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: In a recent National Journal cover story, longtime journalist Ron Fournier wrote about how two former presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, helped him to understand his son and become a better father. He joins us to discuss the story and his experiences.

Second hour: The future of physics.

Third hour: Notable books series.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Climate scientists Michael Mann of Penn State and Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech on what we know about global warming, and why it’s so politicized. They spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – Rape: Who does it and why, who the victims are and who reports it?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – NPR will report on bosses snooping on employees. The corporate goal is to catch worker misconduct before it can get employers into legal trouble. For the bosses, it’s not a question of whether any employees go rogue. It’s a question of where and when.

  • jon

    @#3: When I lived in northern Michigan (~300 inches of snow annually) we’d often have snow efforts for stored snow.

    Snow would get plowed to the side, then later a large snow blower would come through and lift the snow up and over into a dump truck… when the truck was full it’d pull away and another would take it’s place… the process would continue until all the snow stored on the side of the street was lifted and hauled off to who knows where (I’d like to think the middle of lake superior…)

    the question that needs to be asked, is more complicated snow removal more cost effective then wider roads?

  • Bob Collins

    When I was a kid, that was the same process I used to see. The snow would be hauled down to the Nashua River, which at the time functioned primarily as the industrial waste canal for the many paper mills and factories in the area.

    The paper mills are gone, the river runs clean, but I don’t know if that practice still exists.

  • Kassie

    The Nicollet road construction had me FURIOUS last year. It was basically one business that wanted a wider road, while all of us who lived on it wanted a narrow road with more boulevard space. Simply, the more narrow the road, the less snow that needs to be stored. The more boulevard, the more area to store the snow.

  • kennedy

    #3: I disagree with the premise that MN roads are built too wide. They are built wide enough to provide safe travel conditions in the Minnesota environment, which periodically includes snow. It would be folly to build roads which could not be adequately cleared of snow or safely traveled in the winter.

    Good design frequently accommodates above average capacity. The storm sewer system in Duluth can handle typical snow melt and summer rain. Yet it was overwhelmed by extreme rain last summer. Is that system too large? Too small? While there certainly is a point of over design, leaving room on Minnesota roads for snow clearing doesn’t strike me as extravagant.

  • JackU

    A couple of comments on road width. The first time I visited Salt Lake City (about 12 years ago) I was fascinated to find that the width of the roads in that city was set back when the city was built. The roads had to be wide enough to turn an ox cart around. I don’t remember all the details but I think it was a cart pulled by a two ox (side by side) team. As a result the streets in Salt Lake City are all about 3 lanes wide in both directions.

    As far as dumping the snow into fresh water bodies, I don’t think they do that anymore due to the chemicals used to treat the roads. I know a couple of years ago I saw several tanker style trucks that were be used to reclaim those chemicals by melting down the snow. I don’t know if that process is still being used.

  • BJ

    #1 Voter Data

    That’s what I did for 10 years wrote the software and consulted with campaigns on how to get data and how to use the data to win. I find these stories pretty funny because they are the extreme. Most political parties and campaigns data collection and retention is not even close to as good as the story makes them out to be. Not that they can’t be, and I have been out of the game for 8 months, but most campaign people don’t have the first clue about what to collect and how to use it.

  • Kassie

    Voter Data-

    It may seem scary, and it sort of is, but it is really useful. If you get tagged as strong Dem or strong Republican, you will be mostly ignored when it comes to door knocking and phone calling. The undecideds, the independents and the people the data base doesn’t have info on get all the calls and door knocks.

    The moral of the story is when someone comes to your door, don’t tell them that you don’t know who you are voting for if that’s not true. Don’t string them along trying to be nice. All that will happen is that they will come back and bother you some more. No one feels bad when door knocking when someone politely says “I’m voting for the other candidate.” It saves everyone a lot of time.

  • Jeff

    #3 – I eventually realized that the reason the “parking grass” (as my dad in Boston called it) (the grass between the sidewalk and street) was so wide around my home in St. Paul was because it provided a place for snow storage. The street doesn’t need to be wide to store snow, just the area of grass between the street and the sidewalk. I understand that that area doesn’t exist in downtown areas, but that area can be paved with trees. It serves as snow storage space in the winter and a place for walkers in the summer. And, if there is a restaurant there – bonus! Room for outside tables! Seems like a no-brainer to me.

  • Drae

    Oh, I so want to screw with my political file now. I guess I better get to work on that. They wont know what hit them.

  • TJSwift

    Someone is going to have to explain to me how this “grandma brigade” isn’t the creepiest thing to come down the pike since Nixon’s enemies list.

    The article goes on to describe how discussion at family gatherings (the Thanksgiving dinner table was mentioned) is an excellent forum to gather intel.