Old bridges, closed websites, and the damage of ethanol (5 x 8 – 11/12/13)


That’s it for Old Blue. It seems an inglorious end to a onetime engineering marvel:

The remaining piece of the old Highway 61 bridge over the Mississippi was knocked into the river yesterday, according to the Hastings Star Gazette.

Hastings Bridge Watch on Facebook has video of its demise in the darkness.

“Everytime we would drive over it to take him home,” one commenter said about driving with her grandson, “I would always say put your hands and feet up or we will fall, and as of today we still do it. “When we watched this, he said, ‘they must not have put there hands and feet up.'”

We mark points in time by the things that used to be.

Here’s a picture of what used to be.

Related: Goodbye to a paper mill.


Ethanol pollutes. A lot. That’s the takeaway from an Associated Press investigation into the environmental damage caused by the effort to use corn to fuel an alternative to the effects of gasoline.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation – more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined – have vanished on Mr. Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.

As long as the farmers are making a buck, it’s OK? How is that different from the environmental damage in the Oil Patch? People are making a buck there, too.

The industry is pushing back, hard. It unleashed a furious attack on the investigation a day before it was published. Minnesota Cornerstone picked up the response:

Third, those “pristine prairies” remain pristine. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, no new grassland has been converted to cropland since 2005. Most native grasslands are also protected under “sodbuster” and “swampbuster” provisions of the farm bill. In Minnesota, a recent DNR report shows an increase in wetland acreage.

Finally, farmers participate in a variety of conservation efforts. Minnesota farmers lead the nation with more than 2 million acres enrolled in USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program. Minnesota’s corn farmers also invest more than $2 million annually in research that seeks to improve conversation efforts and farming practices.

In a related story, the AP looks at the northward march of corn in Minnesota, where ethanol has led farmers to plant corn where it never used to grow. And farmers are pulling their land out of conservation protection.


Just when you thought you wouldn’t find another forehead-slapping decision in the rollout of the mandatory health care insurance system, KARE 11 reports that the MNsure health exchange closes nights and weekends — around the time when most people might be using it. KARE says when it’s not “open,”it’s undergoing maintenance.

Related: $0 credit subsidy confuses MNsure consumers (Minnesota Public Radio News).

Three guys do what the government couldn’t: build a website to shop for health care. (CBS)


An odd things happened yesterday to a white supremacist who’s trying to turn a town in North Dakota into a racist enclave. He found out he’s not as white as he thought.

Story and video here.

Related race: White candidate pretends to be black to win election (Yahoo News)


There isn’t any…

The fight over the weekend between the squads of Bemidji State and Ohio State set an NCAA record for hockey penalty minutes, a mark previous held by two men’s teams. There were 303 penalty minutes assessed, also breaking the previous women’s record of 83.

Bonus I: Reinventing The Dwindling Middle Class May Take A Revolution (NPR).

Bonus II: Harold Jellicoe Percival, a war veteran in England, died alone and without family. People were worried nobody would show up at his funeral. They were wrong.

Should hazing be accepted as part of pro football?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Abortion laws and related legal cases continue to make headlines. In last week’s Virginia’s gubernatorial race, for instance, The Washington Post reported that abortion played “fiery role” Writing a column for the Huffington Post , Alicia Gay says,” During the 2013 state legislative session over 300 anti-abortion restrictions were introduced.” In addition to what the country witnessed in Texas with state senator Wendy Davis, what is the current state of abortion laws, policy or legal cases? Why is there an uptick in legislation regarding abortion? Three views on the state of laws and policy.

Second hour: It has been 8 years since her last novel. Amy Tan joins us to talk about her latest novel “The Valley of Amazement”.

Third hour: The latest MPR reporting on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis scandal revealed that a priest known to have sexually abused children was quietly moved around through parishes in the state – and never punished. With these latest revelations, and the promise by Archbishop Neinstedt to release the names of some priests who have sexually abused children, we will take a look at scandal continuing to plague the archdiocese, and look at how cases like this have been handled in other parts of the country. What is next for the archdiocese?

MPR News Presents (12 p.m.-1 pm): A National Press Club broadcast featuring the CEO of Charles Schwab, speaking about retirement finances.

The Takeaway (1 p.m.-2 p.m.): Austin Ramzy, reporter for the New York Times in Cebu City, Philippines, gives The Takeaway an update on the situation on the ground in the Philippines.

All Things Considered (3 p.m.-6:30 p.m.): Even as college attendance has been hovering at record levels, over the past several years the number of students who have gone on to graduate school has been declining. At the University of Minnesota system –- the research powerhouse of the state — overall graduate enrollment has dropped 9 percent over the past five years. That follows a nationwide trend that has some national graduate education officials worried. They say the recession has aggravated an already unstable system for funding postgraduate degrees. And they fear the decline in enrollment of American students in some fields may harm the national workforce. MPR’s Alex Friedrich will have the story.

In Kenya, a new approach to schools: large classes using a centralized curriculum. At any point in time, all across the country, classrooms are learning exactly the same lesson at exactly the same time. The approach upsets traditional education in the developing world. NPR looks at schooling in Kenya.

  • 5) I saw something like this happen at a Girl’s HS game. I was waiting at Minnehaha Academy to get the ice for a practice after said HS game, when one gal took another one out in the corner (I was right there). They both started yelling at each other then dropped the gloves and started punching each other. Needless to say I was a little shocked as I’ve never REALLY seen HS athletes actually fight, and this was happening at a Girls HS hockey game.

    Bonus: Both schools involved were Christian-based schools.

    /Yeah, I know, Cool Story, Bro.

  • Kassie

    No one really built an alternative to healthcare.gov. What healthcare.gov does is verify Social Security Numbers and citizenship and income. It determines eligibility for Medicaid and tax credits and other programs for a bunch of different states with different rules. And it keeps all the information private. People keep saying that MNsure and healthcare.gov are just websites. That anyone could build them. That is just not true. They are sophisticated eligibility systems with a public facing front end for the online application and selection and comparison of health plans.

    • The amount of data that is sent/received to/from healthcare.gov (as well as the MNSure site) is truly astounding, much more information than just a regular website.

      The need for extremely complex interoperability of healtcare.gov and each provider’s databases/information seems to be lost on the layperson (as does most anything this complex). They think it’s just like building a blog in WordPress.

      • Dave

        Uhh…it’s text data that gets written to a database. Sure, you’re making a decent number of database calls per user, but the data itself is not large or complex.

        • The number of separate databases involved is immense and VERY complex.

    • shleigh

      I always wondered why they were putting so much time and energy into the creating the websites when what they described it doing sounded just line ehealthinsurance.com. That’s what I used 4 years ago when I took a job that didn’t offer health insurance. But the sophisticated elegibility systems aspect of the ‘exchange’ par to fit makes sense. But for those of us who won’t qualify for a subsidies/tax credits etc, ehealthinsurance (and maybe this sherpa site – doesn’t have MN data yet) still seems like a better option for shopping/comparing. You can see details of plans (premiums, co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance, etc) and compare a few plans easier. The MNsure site is just individual PDFs – long, complicated PDFs. After looking at a few of the plans, and with no easy way to compare, I usually give up. Someday I’ll probably make a spreadsheet to really make an informed decision. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the time/resources/analytical skills that I do.

    • John O.

      Social Security numbers, income data and citizenship mean that at least three agencies computer systems (SSA, IRS and Homeland Security) have to be interfaced with HHS. Trying to get computer systems from four different federal agencies to play nice together is a challenge on a good day.

  • kcmarshall

    #3 – that link to the KARE11 story doesn’t work

    Bonus 1 – great read; reminded me of the recent MPR Ground Level series about International Falls

    • Link fixed

    • kcmarshall

      All websites/computer systems need maintenance windows (downtime for fixes) but the MNSure ‘hours-of-business’ seem pretty limited. It would be nice to have a more detailed explanation than the generic blurb from the website though.

      [Thanks for the link, Bob]

  • Skip James

    The greatest sin in growing corn for Ethanol is that, in a starving world, we’re burning food up in our cars.

    • Moffitt

      The yellow dent field corn used to make ethanol is not generally intended for human consumption. It’s primary purpose is as food for livestock. Here’s what the Minnesota Cornerstone blog (Bob links above) says on that:

      “What the AP authors aren’t telling you (presumably they know this, but maybe not) is that for every 56-pound bushel of corn that is made into 2.8 gallons of ethanol, 17 pounds — about one-third — is returned as a high-protein animal feed. This is what corn farmers mean when they talk about growing food, fiber, and fuel. Enough corn is grown to support all three (with plenty left over to export to other countries). We don’t have to pick just one.”

      • Ag Secy Tom Vilsack (of Iowa) on whether ethanol is beneficial for the environment : “I don’t know whether I can make the environmental argument, or the economic argument.”

        So does that mean he needs more time? Or he doesn’t want to get caught on Politifact?

        • MrE85

          Ask him, not me.

          Our program has focused on one specific fuel (E85) largely consisting of ethanol, and what it can do to reduce tailpipe emissions when used properly in a flex fuel vehicle. As I have often mentioned before, vehicle exhaust is the single largest source of air pollution in Minnesota.

          I found this description of Tar Sands oil from NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren to be a good one:

          “This is not conventional crude. It is so thick, sticky and full of sand that companies have to shoot steam deep underground to liquefy it or scrape it out of sprawling surface mines. These complex extraction techniques are expensive, and they also produce a lot more greenhouse gases than conventional oil wells. But high oil prices are finally making tar sands oil profitable.”

          Folks, that’s the oil that was used to make the gasoline in my car right now, and likely yours as well. If we want to point out the pros and cons of ethanol (or any other alternative fuel or technology), that’s fine. But let’s be certain to hold traditional petroleum fuels to the same level of scrutiny.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    3, the coders. Duh. Just duh.

  • TJSwift

    If the limited enrollment information the state has shared can be believed, the people that have been attempting to sign up for MNSure have very flexible schedules, and can access it pretty much anytime. Not many working people have even bothered to look at the site.

    Of course that may change as Obamacare begins to destroy the employer market as it has done with the individual market.