Superior v. Duluth, Sam Bern’s happy life and why we see no evil (5×8- 1/13/14)

The Monday Morning Rouser:


There’ve been a few articles recently examining the philosophical gulf between Wisconsin and Minnesota, and today the New York Times drills deeper by looking at the other Twin Cities: Duluth and Superior, Wis.

Few places reveal the chasm like Duluth and Superior, where life along the border has come to look like a jarring, real-time experiment in which neighbors’ lives are suddenly heading along separate trajectories.

In Duluth, where Mr. and Ms. Smith live on a quiet cul-de-sac on a hill, there are signs of labor expansion. Minnesota lawmakers last year voted to grant in-home child care workers and personal attendants permission to form unions. But in Superior, where the Smiths have taught at the city’s high school for nearly two decades, labor’s power diminished precipitously after a decision by Wisconsin lawmakers, parts of which are still being contested in the courts, to solve a budget crunch by slashing bargaining rights for public-sector union workers and raising their shares of health and pension costs.

For the Smiths, the effects were instant. With more than $6,000 less in an already-lean annual family budget, Ms. Smith, a Spanish teacher who had worked part time to spend mornings with her children, had no choice but to move to full-time hours. “We just weren’t going to be able to make it,” she said.

An owner of a foundry, meanwhile laments its location in Duluth, noting higher personal income taxes. A gay couple in Wisconsin plans to move to Duluth. A 41-year old mother of three with a need for the kind of health insurance Minnesota offers says she’s staying put in Superior for now. She’s a Republican and says “she’s not there yet.”

Massachusetts high school junior Sam Berns was old before his time. At age 2, he was diagnosed with Progeria, a rare, rapid aging disease. “No matter what problems we are facing, there’s always room for happiness in our lives,” Berns said. He was the subject of an HBO documentary last October, around the time he made this TED talk.

He died on Friday.

Related: Kayla Koranda remembered as caring, driven teen (Rochester Post Bulletin).

Do not open until 2023: Deceased girl’s letter to her future self goes viral (NBC Today).

Some things we know but prefer not to think about, says John Gray – whether it’s the truth about the invasion of Iraq or the failures of the financial system that led to the banking crisis.


Not everyone moving to North Dakota is a short-timer. Even after the drilling in the Oil Patch stops, there will be jobs for the life of the oil wells. Paul and Marcia Whitcomb thought they’d try North Dakota, make some money and then return to Arkansas. But they’re staying for good, the Fargo Forum reports.

“We couldn’t have the jobs we have or live this way or live in a house this nice anywhere else we went in the country right now,” Paul said of the new home that replaces the RV they’ve been living in for a couple of years.

The home became available when the couple that was renting couldn’t afford the $4,000 monthly rent anymore.

Related: West Virginia residents cope, with days of water woes still ahead after chemical spill (Washington Post).

Nowhere on this week’s calendar is there a requirement that you thank your parents for all they’ve done for you, which you should anyway, says Ben Stein.

Each year at the employee cabaret/winter party, MPR News reporter Tim Post finds something about the MPR culture to create a mini-doc. Last year it was the growing number of people who stand up in their cubicles. This year: the healthy-walking craze.

BONUS II: Blake Shippee & Jeremy Marshik demonstrate the art of navigating the ice-laden street in Duluth.

(h/t: Cathy Wurzer)

Does Minnesota need a stronger anti-bullying law?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Should the Minnesota minimum wage be increased?

Second hour: Tess Viegeland on quitting a job without a backup plan.

Third hour: Amy Tan’s “In the Valley of Amazement” made the list of New York Times’ Most Notable Books of 2013. We’re rebroadcasting Kerri’s conversation with Amy Tan from November 2013.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – MPR’s Chris Farrell interviews Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota about the economy.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – Three Iraq War veterans reflect on the Al Qaeda takeover of Ramadi and Fallujah.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Ruth Ozeki’s novel “A Tale for the Time Being” examines time, suicide, bullying, war, quantum physics, the tsunami, and a host of other topics in a novel which begins with an extract from a diary written by a Japanese high school student found washed up in a Hello Kitty lunchbox on a beach in British Columbia. MPR’s Euan Kerr will talk with the author.

Russian media cannot or will not cover the plight of gays in the country. Thats why LGBT advocates hope western journalists will report boldly on Russia’s anti-gay policies next month in Sochi. The Winter Olympics there present a prime opportunity. But will American media risk upsetting their
Russian hosts? Thats the challenge for NBC’s Olympic coverage today. NPR will provide the story.

  • MrE85

    #1) That head is a winner. My wife and I noted the stark difference between Duluth and Superior as we drove through en route to the Apostle Islands last fall. Both towns have industrial, blue collar roots, but Superior seems to be decaying and crumbling even as Duluth reinvents itself. It’s frankly a very depressing place.

    • I noticed the exact same thing during a weekend trip to the North Shore last fall. We decided to come back to MSP on the Wisconsin side and couldn’t believe the stark differences between the MN vs the WI side of the border.

      Decaying and dying small towns, abandoned buildings…it was pretty depressing on the Wi side.

      • Dave

        It’s essentially a rust belt area. The decay has simply happened more recently than in the cities further east. Unfortunately it will get worse.

        • I’m afraid you’re right.

          With that said, I love the Hayward / Cable area. it’s so beautiful there…

    • Dave

      Superior is decaying, no question; that’s been going on for decades. But so is Duluth. Maybe Duluth is just decaying slower. I certainly get that Duluth is trying to reinvent itself, but I’m skeptical about whether it really is reinventing itself.

      The Times article was interesting, but in outlining the political divergence between the two states, it failed to address the current economic differences. That is, lower unemployment in MN, among other things.

      • MrE85

        More than 58,000 new business registered in Minnesota in 2013. Wisconsin reported 34,388 new businesses in November 2013 (December report is not posted yet).

        • John

          IN November or through November on the WI side? I’m going to assume you mean through. Account for the population difference between the two states, and the difference between them is even more significant.

          Assuming the failure rate of new businesses and the requirements for when you register are similar, I’d say that MN’s higher tax rate hasn’t really deterred businesses from starting.

          For me, a more telling stat is the unemployment rates between the two states. As of Oct, MN is listed as 4.8% and WI is sitting at 6.5%. You can argue all you want about the validity of the unemployment rate number, but at least both numbers are presumably gathered under the same set of rules. Again, indicating to me that our higher taxes aren’t deterring business.

          I do believe that political differences drive economic growth, or lack thereof. I think that a government that perceived as investing in the state’s future and long term growth is viewed more positively by business than a state that appears to not be doing that. I also think this is more important to business than the tax rate. (MN has what I have always thought was a disproportionately high number of Fortune 500 companies based here for its size – 19 vs. 9 in WI).

          ah fun with numbers. Anyone can spin them however they want and make whatever case they want to with the stat of choice.

          • MrE85

            Yes, the number I cited is 11 months worth of data.

  • AndyBriebart

    Too soon to call. A great example of federalism.

  • John

    RE: Bonus 2: i woke up in Duluth yesterday and had to get from the bottom of the hill to the top. It was a really bad drive. I basically went around (took the Hwy 53 truck route), and it took roughly twice as long as normal.

    Lots of people in the ditch – a few with deployed airbags. I hope no one was hurt (or more realistically, no one was seriously hurt).