Begging for funerals, a failed anti-stadium fight, and when sex offenders almost walk (5×8 – 11/20/13)


More than $17 million was donated to non-profits and charities last week in Minnesota’s well-documented Give to the Max Day, but as near as we can tell, not a dollar went to an organization with a singular purpose of helping parents pay for a decent funeral for their deceased children. There doesn’t appear to be one, and I’ve heard enough stories like the one KARE told last night to wonder whether there should be.

Some counties do provide a few thousand dollars to “indigent individuals” for funeral expenses — a single parent making more than $27,000 a year wouldn’t qualify, usually, and the cost of the funeral can’t exceed $3,500, which is about half the cost of an average funeral these days.

As a result, parents have to liquidate non-cash assets to bury their children at the worst possible time.

Or go panhandling as the family and friends of 21-year-old Brandy Banks-Sutta had to do after she was killed in a car accident earlier this month. This one has a happy ending, though. They went to deposit $64 in donations — what’s that get you in the funeral business? — when they found out someone had donated thousands of dollars for the funeral.

The $5,000 funeral probably wouldn’t have been possible had the family not been able to get their plight covered earlier this week by WCCO. But we wonder how many families don’t get a media break, and whether there’s an opportunity for a more organized ongoing charitable effort to fill a need?


What is happening at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank?

Feuding economists isn’t necessarily a sexy controversy as controversies go. But on his blog, New Monetarist Economics, Stephen Williamson describes a shakeup in which new Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota is said to be dumping staff in its once-admired research department:

All of this has occurred with little warning, or context. The President has done little to articulate a vision for the Minneapolis Fed as a research institution, or a direction for its future. Kocherlakota’s interaction with all but a tight inner circle of policy advisers has been reduced to nil, and the top researchers have been made to understand that their input in the policymaking process is not wanted.

Basically, Kocherlakota has declared war on his own research department, and seems intent on destroying the place as a research institution. If this were part of some well-articulated plan or in service of some greater good, maybe we could be convinced, but neither appears to be the case. If the greater good is supposed to be better policy, then it seems that many sharp macroeconomists beg to differ.

At risk, he says, is a relationship between the Minneapolis Fed and the University of Minnesota under which the Fed provided research assistance in exchange for top academics.

Maybe that unraveling isn’t so bad, a commenter suggests, if the academics go back to teaching:

While I am an admirer of both Narayana and the people at the bank, I do think that the Fed has turned into a net negative for the University. If you walk down the halls of the economics department, you seldom see the macro faculty who are being paid hundreds of thousands per year to teach at the U.

The teaching of undergraduates is a disgrace to the institution. The faculty seem to think they are above the normal university duties of teaching e.g. a many hundred person undergraduate course is typically staffed by a graduate student.

The typical undergraduate never sees a faculty member in a course. Also, faculty are seldom available for graduate students that are not at the Fed. While it may be a loss to the Fed and the research community, one can only hope that the most prominent senior faculty at Minnesota will begin to take their university jobs seriously. It really can’t get much worse than the current state of affairs.

The comments section of the blog post, by the way, destroys the theory that blog comments can’t be valuable and insightful.


The Minnesota Vikings and their state benefactors will break ground on the new, billion-dollar stadium on Dec. 3, MPR News reporter Tim Nelson writes. There has been, he reports, “wheeling and dealing” to make the stadium design fit the budget. A billion dollars these days forces you to build an NFL stadium on the cheap.

It’s over for stadium opponents here. Things are shifting now to Atlanta, where the Braves announced plans to build a new baseball stadium.

When it was announced last week, the Braves suggested no public money would be involved. Now, the first opposition website has been created, claiming that the taxpayers will be on the hook for $300 million. The county commissioners plan a vote in a week.

The stadium announcement took most people by surprise. But someone must have known. The Atlanta Journal Constitution says in advance of last week’s announcement, investors were buying up land near the stadium site.

If an investor did get wind of the Braves’ move and snatched up properties in anticipation of higher values, that would not be illegal or even unethical. But most of the purchasers are limited liability companies whose partners and backers are not public record.

The Atlanta Tea Party and the Sierra Club — think about that combination for a moment — are holding a joint rally against the plan next week.

The odds are they’ll fail, anti-stadium activists usually do.

More sports: You could’ve had this trophy, Minnesota.


The Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins had a contest this year to see which franchise could sign up the most people to pledge to use a designated driver. Cleveland won, even though it ranked near last in attendance last year, while Minnesota ranked 17th.

One in seven Minnesotans has DUI on their record. Maybe not so much in Ohio?


Attorney General Lori Swanson didn’t do much to hide her disgust with county officials who didn’t oppose the release of sex offender Thomas Duvall, who came close to leaving the confines of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program before Gov. Mark Dayton reversed himself last week. She penned a commentary in today’s Star Tribune:

I was contacted by one of Duvall’s victims after she called an assistant county attorney to question Duvall’s fitness for release. She told me that the assistant county attorney disregarded her, told her that Duvall’s discharge was a “done deal,” and that she had no voice in the matter. What I found when I looked into the situation was troubling.

Duvall has victimized at least 60 — and as many as 100 — girls and women. He has been diagnosed as a sexual sadist with an anti-social personality disorder. He targets teenage girls. Duvall was first imprisoned for raping a 17-year old.

Five months after being paroled, he accosted a woman at knife point. Three days after being released from prison, he sexually assaulted a 15-year old girl walking to school. Later that day, he sexually assaulted two girls, ages 14 and 15, threatening one with a shotgun while he raped her. Twelve days after his release to a halfway house, he entered a 17-year-old girl’s home the morning after Christmas. Over a three-hour period, he tied her up with an electrical cord, raped her at knife point with a curling iron, smashed her head with a hammer while raping her, and left her for dead. This incident occurred after Duvall’s treatment at three different facilities.

“Neither the county attorney nor MSOP opposed the discharge or had Duvall re-examined by the independent experts prior to deciding not to oppose his release,” Swanson wrote.

Strib columnist Gail Rosenblum writes today, however, that Duvall shouldn’t derail attempts to “treat” sex offenders in Minnesota. She says if offenders don’t believe they’ll ever be sprung from their treatment program, they won’t put much into it:

But MSOP also houses 52 clients with no adult criminal convictions. Others are there as a result of dramatically disproportionate rates of commitments in different parts of the state.

Another 112 clients have been assigned to MSOP’s “alternative program” because of developmental disabilities or other limitations preventing them from advancing in the normal treatment program. Many likely would do well in supervised, and less costly, communal settings.

Yet, they’re all placed at the highest level of security and under the same petition process. Because of this, the task force’s preliminary recommendations include earlier identification of high-risk individuals, treatment that begins quickly after placement in a corrections environment, a centralized screening system that addresses statewide disparities and a two-part commitment process. That would mean a commitment decision first, then a placement decision after that.


In 2009, Sarah Ernhart, the owner of Sarah Beth Photography in Minneapolis, photographed a woman who was in hospice care and needed a service dog, Joy. “The dog had saved the woman’s life multiple times by breaking her fall, letting her know when her blood sugar was low and sensing when she was about to have a seizure,” NBC’s Today blog says.

“I’ve never had to experience what these people have to experience,’’ she said. “I grew up on a farm and dealt with death on a regular basis, but I never had to go through things like this.”

It led her to start photographing people with their terminally ill pets, and to start a directory where pet owners can find other photographers to do the same thing.

Her Facebook page will have you remembering every pet you’ve had since you were a kid.

Bonus I: Fake Bemidji cop cars cruise Calgary for ‘Fargo’ filming (Bemidji Pioneer).

Bonus II: Tracked Since Birth: The Rise Of Extreme Baby Monitoring (Fast Company)

Bonus III: Pioneer Press erecting online paywall this week (Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal).

Bonus IV:
If you like this…

Go here. Be sure to change the channels and note that the worst lip syncing is the channel with Bob Dylan.

Are you working too much?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The art of gerrymandering congressional districts.

Second hour: Dr. Carl Hart, who studied people and addicts, including his own family, to examine addiction and policy. He found that class plays as much a role as race in addiction.

Third hour: James McBride, author of “The Good Lord Bird.”

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – JFK: Dallas Remembers,” a special from the BBC.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – President Obama is calling for a deal with Iran, but some of our allies in the Middle East – most notably Israel – and several members of Congress from both parties are deeply skeptical. Congressman Eliot Engel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee explains the way forward

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Gov. Mark Dayton has not said much about a potential second-term agenda should he win re-election next year. But in an interview, Dayton said he remains interested in expanding gambling as an alternative revenue source.

During his first campaign Dayton talked about a state-run casino at the Mall of America but dropped the proposal after opposition from tribal casinos and officials in Bloomington. Dayton is now talking about casino gambling at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. MPR’s Mark Zdechlik will report.

Jazz trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval, left his native Cuba because there, he says, he had to check with the government for permission to play what he wanted, when he wanted, the way he wanted. Now he’s being awarded his adopted country’s highest civilian honor. NPR will have the story.

  • Paul Weimer

    I used to work at the Fed, Bob (as I think you know). There were…changes in the wind long before even I left (I worked in Treasury, not Research) . I see that process has metastasized.

    • MikeB

      Paul, or anyone else, where can we find more information about these changes and what is going on here?

  • MrE85

    I was interviewed for a story about E85 in the FedGazette back in 2009. Until then, I had no idea the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis had its own media arm as well as a research division.

  • Normally I believe in rehabilitation, but Duvall really makes a case that some people just need to be locked up with the key thrown away. I seriously question the judgment of any official who thought it was OK for him to be released.

    • Kassie

      But he served his sentence. People want to take the easy way out and unconstitutionally lock these guys up for their lives without a trial. If society thinks multiple rape deserves life sentences, then the law should be changed to make that a legal punishment under law.

      • The MN. Supreme Court, I think it was the Blodgett case, acknowledged these people have constitutional rights. But, as I recall, it basically said the rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few. Prior to that case, the burden of proof for release rested with the inmate — I mean “patient” — which was nonsense because when you’re in prison — I mean, “treatment center” — you can’t prove you will be OK if released. Now, the burden is on the state to prove the sex offender won’t reoffend. In Duvall’s case, I should think that would be pretty easy, which is why it’s a little mystifying why the county attorney and state didn’t try.

      • Oh, I absolutely agree with that. The Legislature should change the law. But unless Swanson is misrepresenting the situation in her Strib commentary, it’s still troubling that there was nobody even objecting to his release before she stepped in.

      • Veronica

        But how does a man who has raped and injured so many even end up with sentences so short that he could EVER be allowed out of jail? Seems to me to be yet another case of violence against women not getting appropriate sentences.

  • Carol Sylvester

    RE: #5–I had this same thing done with my cat last winter, with a photographer in St. Louis Park who offers free studio sessions for terminally ill pets. The photos turned out great, and I’m glad I did it, as we had to say goodbye about six months later. I’m a crappy photographer, but now I have really nice photos to remember her by.

  • ML

    This comment is a little tangential, but here goes. Perhaps graduate students teaching courses is common in the economics department, but in the department from which my husband an I recently graduated (a science) the practice is extremely rare to non-existent. The graduate students teach the lab sections and the faculty member teaches the lectures. Both conduct office hours. A surprising result of this for the graduate students is that they are at a competitive disadvantage when they go to apply for faculty positions. They are competing with students from other universities who taught full courses at their institutions. I have heard from several former students that the reason they were turned down for teaching positions, even one-year sabbatical replacements, was that they lacked experience teaching a full course. I am not advocating having graduate stuents teach full courses at the U, but wanted to present a reasoning for the practice existing. Perhaps a department-by-department look at the use of tenure-track faculty vs instructors vs graduate students for courses would be an interesting story for MPR.

  • KTFoley

    St. Paul Pioneer Press? I’ll plunk down two quarters to read Sainted & Tainted over a Saturday breakfast, but I’m wiping snorted coffee off the screen at the plan to erect a pay wall.

    Their website has been really terrible for a really long time: articles don’t load, weekly items don’t get posted every week, ad banners on each side of the screen take up more space than the news content, drop-down lists for each section are badly situated, the comments function is limited to Facebook posts.

    We all know that content costs money, but what’s the value proposition in an online subscription when the product is served up so shoddily?

    A headline popped up today that the Star Tribune is going to take over printing the PP. It looks like the PP is dealing with some financial pressure. NewsCut pays attention to how a community is diminished when the local radio stations and newspapers die off, and usually I am sympathetic. If that happens to the PP, however, it will be really hard to resist saying that their online presence was a big enough failure that they brought it on themselves.