Saturday, February 26, 2011

Over 1,000 'Rally to Save the American Dream' at the State Capitol

6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann supports union-busting moves by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

By Karl Bremer

In response to the anti-worker thuggery going on next door in Wisconsin and other states at the hands of Republican governors, Rallies to Save the American Dream were held in the capitals of all 50 states today. Over 1,000 supporters braved single-digit midday temperatures in St. Paul to hear Minnesota musicians Paul Metsa, Charlie Maguire and Murphey's Midnight Rounders, along with speakers that included 5th District DFL Congressman Keith Ellison, Minnesota DFL State Sen. Scott Dibble and AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Eliot Seide.

Our own Minnesota Sixth District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann enthusiastically supports union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and compared him to Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.

"I'd say it's a new revolution going on over there," Bachmann said on a right-wing radio talk show yesterday. "We saw the great Ronald Reagan pushing back the Soviet Union in the eastern bloc nations. We saw Abraham Lincoln push back the Confederacy in Atlanta. And now we're seeing the Republicans in Wisconsin causing the Democrats to retreat to Rockford, Ill., so I'd say we're winning!"

Below are a few images from today's St. Paul rally. Best overheard line:

"I'm not in a union--never have been. But I'm here, 'cause I know what the hell's going down."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

AT&T says turning cell tower visible from St. Croix River into art is too expensive

Company nixes idea to hide tower in sculpture park

By Karl Bremer

Once in a blue moon, a brilliant solution to a prickly problem comes around that is so serendipitous you have to wonder how anyone could be opposed to it.

Until you find out that this brilliant solution stands in the way of corporate profits.

Take the situation up in Chisago County, where AT&T has proposed planting a 150-foot cell-phone tower just a mile from the St. Croix River, and literally at the gateway to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. According to a report by Mary Divine in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, computer models show the tower could be visible on the river up to 3 miles downstream.

Nevertheless, despite the protestations of the St. Croix River Association and Chris Stein, local riverway superintendent for the National Park Service, the tower received the blessing of the Franconia Township Board of Supervisors, the Chisago County Planning Commission and the Chisago County Board of Commissioners, who signed off on it by a 3-2 vote in January. Commissioners Lora Walker and Ben Montzka voted no.

The proposed site for the tower is near the intersection of Minnesota Highway 95 and U.S. Highway 8—directly across 95 from the Franconia Sculpture Park. John Hock, the park’s CEO and artistic director, doesn’t want to look at the tower from the entrance to the wildly eclectic sculpture park, so he has proposed inviting the tower in to become part of the sculpture park.

“If we put it in the sculpture garden, we’d have a national call for a sculpture to hide a 150-ft tall cell phone tower,” Hock muses. “You would have a national competition, which we do with our fellowships anyway. Have a call for qualifications or letters of interest, and then you have a competition. A committee that could include AT&T and community people could winnow it down to three to five artists and then you could select one.”

Hock says the sculpture garden issues about 75 grants a year. This award could be written so that a technically feasible sculpture could be built that would serve AT&T’s needs without compromising its service.

A walk around the Franconia Sculpture Park confirms that this would, indeed, be an ideal location for a cell tower disguised as art. Brightly colored hulking metal pieces dot the landscape, along with a shed suspended in the air like something out of the Wizard of Oz, alien-like orbs spinning in the air, and a whimsical purple medicine show wagon wherein, a sign promises, “great secrets of nature appear.”

One can only wonder what a collective of metal sculpture artists could come up with that would satisfy riverway enthusiasts, the local community and AT&T.

“We’re delighted to get these ideas from the community,” insists AT&T spokesperson Tom Hopkins, “but in this case it’s a little expensive and could be technically impractical … There are a lot of unknowns when you’re talking about a sculpture. It’s a science, and we know exactly how to do that in a way that’s technically viable. We’ve had a lot of experience camouflaging these towers in a way that makes them invisible to most people.”

What it really comes down to, though, is cost.

The idea of hiding a cell tower in a sculpture “is a one-off,” says Hopkins. “It’s really outside the norm,” noting again that it would be “a little expensive.”

AT&T posted over $1 billion profit in the fourth quarter of 2010. AT&T reported a net gain of 2.8 million mobile customers during that same period, the largest quarterly gain in the company's history. Mobile service revenue increased 9.6 percent, to $13.8 billion, over the fourth quarter of 2010.

Dan Willius, chair of the St. Croix River Association, isn’t swayed by AT&T’s assurances that the tower won’t be visible.

Willius told the Pioneer Press: “People say, ‘Well, it’s just one cell tower,’ but each one of these things adds up. It’s what I refer to as death by a thousand cuts.”

Willius says his group’s attorneys are reviewing their options. Stein says he is discussing the matter with national officials. Sometimes the threat of legal action is what it takes for a corporation like AT&T to have its own “Can you hear me now?” moment.

That’s what it took up north near Ely, where the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness sued last year to halt construction of a 450-foot AT&T tower proposed for a ridge 1.5 miles from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The group alleges the tower, which will rise 600 feet above the landscape, will be visible from several lakes within the BWCAW and violates the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, and has asked AT&T to consider less intrusive solutions to their cell tower needs there.

At a hearing last August on a temporary injunction to halt the tower’s construction, AT&T agreed to suspend construction of the tower until a trial is held on the merits of the group’s lawsuit. A trial date is pending.

AT&T’s Hopkins insists that “it’s all about working with the community,” but it doesn’t appear the multibillion-dollar corporation tried very hard in Franconia Township. It may have gotten the imprimatur of local officials, but it neglected to consider the national treasure its tower threatens to despoil, even if it’s just one of a thousand cuts. NPS Superintendent Stein didn’t even hear about the proposed tower until just a few days before the county board voted on it.

It shouldn’t take lawyers to get AT&T to behave like a good corporate citizen in Franconia Township, especially when a novel and creative solution such as a sculpture competition exists. But if that’s what required, then perhaps the St. Croix River Association and NPS should be talking to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, if they aren’t already.

Maybe AT&T will hear them then.

All photos from the Franconia Sculpture Park by Karl Bremer.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tea Party diva Michele Bachmann joins John Edwards in the ‘three-figure haircut club’

By Karl Bremer

When John Edwards was busted for paying $400 for haircuts out of his presidential campaign funds, the media and Republicans had a field day.

But Michele Bachmann wasn’t even running for president—yet—when she coughed up $225 for “Makeup/Hair Design” on November 8, nearly a week after Election Day 2010. That was the day Bachmann made her grand announcement that she was running for the Republican House Conference chairman position.

Bachmann’s post-general-election Federal Election Commission filing shows a November 8, 2010 payment of $225 for “Makeup/Hair Design” to a Woodbury address. The receipt was for the services of professional makeup artist Natalie Hale, according to her father-in-law, Terry Trooien. "She is specifically requested by Michele Bachmann when she comes back to Minnesota," says Trooien. "She goes around with her on the bus. Haven't you noticed how much better she looks when she's back here than when she's in Washington?" he notes with pride.

Bachmann's D.C. makeup job was lampooned on Saturday Night Live recently for her horrific look in her Tea Party State of the Union response from Washington. SNL comic Kristen Wiig, playing Bachmann, informed viewers that her makeup for the speech was done by a 5-year-old child (see clip below).

Trooien says his daughter-in-law is nonpartisan in her work. She also did makeup for Bachmann's opponent in the last election, Tarryl Clark.

Bachmann, who once famously confessed that her husband, Marcus, sometimes picks out her dresses, has always presented herself as anything but a fashion diva. When she showed up at her State Senate district convention in her first run for office in 2000, she claimed that “I had on jeans and a sweatshirt with a hole in it and tennis shoes.”

Bachmann’s $225 makeup and hair design job worked out about as well for her House GOP leadership candidacy as Edwards’ pricy tonsorial appointments did for his. Two days after her expensive primping for the cameras, she threw in the makeup towel after House Republicans backed her opponent Texan Jeb Hensarling in droves.

Top image: Federal Election Commission receipt.

Bottom image: Bachmann in Washington, away from the services of professional makeup artist Natalie Hale.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Michele Bachmann's Hydrocephalus Hypocrisy, Pt. II

Pediatric Hydrocephalus Foundation defends its award to Bachmann with a Tea Party response.

By Karl Bremer

An inquisitive Ripple in Stillwater reader sent an email to Michael Illions, founder and vice president of the Pediatric Hydrocephalus Foundation, and asked how that organization could bestow an honor on a member of congress like Michele Bachmann, who voted against hydrocephalus research funding five years in a row.

“Your email is pretty ridiculous and should not even be dignified with an answer,” Illions began, before proceeding to answer. “Only someone who would rather squabble about political viewpoints would not see the good and the progress made in the Hydrocephalus Community with Congresswoman Bachmann's involvement,” he continued, before launching into some political viewpoints of his own.

“Congresswoman Bachmann did not vote specifically against funding for Hydrocephalus; as a Fiscal Conservative, she voted against an over bloated budget that used MILLIONS of dollars of tax-payer money to fund items like watching bees mate and the differences between maple syrups, just to name 2 items.

(Ed. Note: That budget included a request from Illions himself for $4.5 million for the National Institutes of Health to conduct hydrocephalus research.)

“Had their (sic) been a line item veto or a budget bill that dealt specifically with health related funding requests, the outcome would have been different,” Illions claimed.

If that sounds like a response from a typical Teabagger instead of a rational explanation from the head of a nonprofit childrens’ organization, that’s because it is.

Illions is head of a New Jersey Tea Party group called “Conservatives With Attitude!” The group claims it has “the most influential and most visited political blog in New Jersey,” and describes its members as “home grown, rock ribbed, all American patriots that have united to bring the conservative message to the American people.”

Here's part of that "conservative message" Illions is bringing to the American people, from a Feb. 6 blog entry:

"There is no doubt that evil lurks in this world. Beyond redemption and rehabilitation, some people are just flat out bad. But evil has a constant defender on it’s said (sic) from the Hollywood left and politically elected left that can not be ignored.

"Historical data backs up that rather bold statement, or accusation if you will, made above. Whether it be a dictator, despot, cop killer, murderer, etc, the Hollywood left and some from the elected left are there to defend, protect and cry out for."

Illions is plying his trade on the speaking circuit as well, appearing before such crowds as the Family Research Council and the Woodbridge, NJ, Tea Party. But he’s long been accustomed to performing before rubes. He’s also a former professional wrestler, spending 14 years in the ring as “A.J. Sparxx.”

Now it’s perfectly clear why the Pediatric Hydocephalus Foundation would not only defend but honor a congresswoman who has voted against their interests her entire congressional career. It has far less to do with hydrocephalus research and far more to do with Tea Party politics.

That’s why it makes so little sense.

Michele Bachmann: Hydrocephalus Hypocrisy

Bachmann accepts ‘Heroes of Hydrocephalus’ award but votes against federal funding for research five years in a row

By Karl Bremer

Once again, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has been honored for supporting something that she has repeatedly voted against.

The Minnesota 6th District Republican was recognized recently as one of the Pediatric Hydrocephalus Foundation’s “Heroes of Hydrocephalus” for her sponsorship of H.Res. 373 in 2009 designating September “National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month.”

It’s a curious honor, though, since Bachmann has voted against federal funding for hydrocephalus research at every opportunity since she was elected to Congress in 2006.

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which excessive cerebrospinal fluid — a clear fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord — accumulates to cause an abnormal dilation of the spaces in the brain called ventricles. This dilation causes potentially harmful pressure on the tissues of the brain. The disease may be congenital or acquired, and occurs in about 1 in 500 births.

“What Congresswoman Bachmann and Congressman Lance have done for the Hydrocephalus Community cannot be overstated. In just under 2 years, we saw September named as ‘National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month,’ and just this past month, a Congressional Caucus to educate and raise awareness about Hydrocephalus was created,” said Michael Illions, PHF’s National Director of Advocacy.

Not so fast, Mr. Illions. Let’s take a closer look at what Congresswoman Bachmann has done for hydrocephalus research.

Federal funding for hydrocephalus research comes through the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is part of the National Institutes of Health in HHS and is the leading federal agency conducting and funding hydrocephalus research. Some research also may be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also under HHS.

Bachmann's own 2009 resolution stated that "further research into the epidemiology, pathophysiology, disease burden, and improved treatment of hydrocephalus should be conducted and supported” and that “public awareness, professional education, and scientific research regarding hydrocephalus should increase through partnerships between the Federal Government, health care professionals, and patient advocacy groups.”

"It is my hope that by raising awareness of hydrocephalus, we can encourage the research that will lead to new diagnoses, treatments, and cures for it, helping these children and their families live full lives without constantly fearing the worst," Bachmann wrote on her website.

Yet since 2007, Bachmann has voted against every HHS appropriations bill that funds the very research she claims to support. She cast “no” votes on final passage of HHS appropriations for FY2007, FY2008, FY2009, FY2010 and, most recently, on December 17, 2010, for a continuing appropriations resolution for FY2011.

“It is truly humbling to receive the ‘Heroes of Hydrocephalus’ Award, but I believe the real heroes are those with hydrocephalus, their families, and all advocates who work tirelessly everyday to bring awareness to this condition. I’m glad I could play a small role in the cause by sponsoring a House Resolution designating September as ‘National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month’,” said Congresswoman Bachmann.

Yes, a resolution is a small role, Congresswoman Bachmann—a very small role. But it could have been much larger. You could have joined another group of heroes you failed to mention: the members of Congress who actually vote their convictions for such causes and back them up with real dollars, instead of just mouthing them for cheap publicity stunts before moving on to the next camera.
Ironically, the newly formed Pediatric and Adult Hydrocephalus Congressional Caucus will be co-chaired by Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz (D-1). Walz got no award but, unlike his headline-grabbing colleague, he has consistently voted "yea" on federal funding for hydrocephalus research.
See February 7 update here.
Photo: Pediatric Hydrocephalus Foundtaion

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hop to it--this a great time to be a beer drinker in Minnesota!

By Karl Bremer

To most of the world, this is known as “Super Bowl Weekend.” To Minnesota beer connoisseurs, it’s known as Winterfest Weekend, when the Minnesota brewing community comes together to strut their stuff—mostly special fest-only brews of exotic origin and high alcohol content—for a wildly appreciative audience.

The Minnesota craft brewing industry was tapped in 1986 with the opening of Summit Brewing in an old transmission shop on University Avenue in St. Paul. Founder Mark Stutrud made his mark early in the nation’s beer revolution with traditionally brewed English ales. Summit remains the flagship craft brewery in Minnesota in terms of capacity and availability, although it long ago outgrew the category of microbrewery to become a regional brewer.

These days, the state of craft brewing in Minnesota is anything but traditional. Relative newcomers like Brooklyn Center's Surly Brewing are winning national accolades for their amazing creations-in-a-can, even though they have yet to be distributed outside Minnesota. And Winterfest—sponsored by the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild—is the beer lover’s best opportunity to see the cutting edge of local brewing. Winterfest 2011, whose 700 tickets for last Friday’s event sold out literally in one minute this year, was no exception.

Aided in recent years by slowly relaxing state laws governing small breweries, and bars and restaurants that more hospitable to small local brewers, Minnesota is becoming a Mecca for beer lovers. Once upon a time, it was enough for a local pub to have Summit, Bass and Guinness on tap to qualify as a “beer destination.” Now, you can’t swing a cat by the tail without hitting a watering hole with a dozen or more craft-brew tap handles alone.

Minnesota was once home to beer production laws rivaled only by Utah’s in their absurdity. That, combined with the almost mob-like way beer distributors were allowed to control what got onto the market through a Prohibition-era holdover known as the “three-tiered system,” hampered many small brewers’ efforts during the first craft-brew wave of the ‘90s, including my own St. Croix Beer Company.

But through progressive legislation and the education of beer regulators, the state has gradually loosened its puritanical grip on small brewers to enable them to better compete against megabrewers and their henchmen in the Byzantine distribution system that is so critical to getting on shelves and taps. Bar and restaurant owners are more receptive to new local brews, self-distribution for small brewers has become a little less onerous, and off-premises sale of growlers—large jugs of fresh tap beer—has enabled brewpubs to expand their markets.

The result has been a gusher of new breweries and brewpubs over the past five years, producing a range of malt beverages from delicate Belgians to robust Russian Imperial Stouts, smoked Porters to supercharged hop monsters. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the demand of a growing new generation of beer fanciers—and not the “how long can you go under the tap at a kegger” variety. Today’s craft-brew drinker is well-educated about beer and open to just about anything you pour into their glass, and it shows in the offerings on tap at Winterfest.

Herewith are some of my favorites from Winterfest 2011, based on my stout-stained notes. Alcohol-by-volume (ABV) and International Hop Bittering Units (IBU) are noted where known:

August Schell Brewing, New Ulm. “Pils” Pilsner. IBU: 30. One of the finest traditional Pilsners in America, Schell’s Pils was crisp, clean and lively—a perfect balance of malt and delicate Bohemian hops.

Fitger’s Brewhouse, Duluth. "Huron" Smoked Dopplebock. ABV 9.2%, IBU 39. Rich and chewy, backed by a thick, cherry-smoked aroma.

Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul. “Northwest Passage” IPA. IBU: 115. A lip-smacking lupulin attack for hopheads.

Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis. “Divine Oculust” Belgian-style Golden Ale. ABV 8.5%, IBU 25. Divine, indeed, this new entry onto the scene nailed the style, which is a tough one to brew. Nice label art by Minneapolis artist Jesse Brodd too.

Leech Lake Brewing, Walker. “3 Sheets” Imperial IPA. ABV 10.5%, IBU 100. Another one to satisfy the growing legions of high-gravity, highly-hopped IPA fans out there. Flaked wheat gives this a nice mouth-feel.

Lift Bridge Brewing, Stillwater. “Crosscut 2X” Pale Ale. ABV: 5.5%. A Cascade dry-hopped, cask-conditioned version of the St. Croix Valley brewer’s second child. A piney twist on this all-around pleasant everyday beer.

McCann’s Food & Brew, St. Cloud. “Flame” Strong Amber Ale. ABV: 8%. The addition of organic Flame raisins gives this heavenly Belgian-style brew a decidedly cognac nose and warmth.

Summit Brewing, St. Paul. Cask-conditioned Winter Ale. I wish Summit would brew all its Winter Ale this way. Hand-pulled and dry-hopped, this fest-only winter warmer takes Summit’s best seasonal offering to a fruity new level.

Surly Brewing, Brooklyn Center. Tea-bagged and oak-aged "Abrasive." This fest-only edition of one of my favorite Surly seasonals defies categorization, even though the brewery calls it a “Double Oatmeal IPA.” A stunning floral dry-hopped nose followed by complex layers of flavors makes this a sublime treat.

Also worth noting: Surly’s "Pentagram," winner of the festival’s 2011 Great Snowshoe Award, voted on by the fest’s attendees. Head alchemist/ brewer Todd Haug concocted this for the adventuresome brewery’s fifth anniversary last month. Fermented with a specialty 100% Brettanomyces yeast for unique tartness, this strong dark ale was then aged in red wine barrels for a powerful black cherry-and-raisin flavor explosion. Watch for this in bottles this spring.

Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis. “Port Odin” Baltic Porter. A hefty porter that takes on a smooth bourbon texture and aroma from aging 18 months in French oak Port wine barrels. Let’s hope this one makes it on tap at the Seven Corners brewpub.

Top and bottom photos by Karl Bremer.
Photo of Surly Great Snowshoe Award courtesy of Surly Facebook page.
Photo of Harriet Brewing label art courtesy of Jesse Brodd Facebook page.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Michele Bachmann is in Hawaii today--not her subzero district, as her staff claimed

By Karl Bremer

When Bloomberg reporter and former Time magazine White House correspondent Margaret Carlson called Michele Bachmann for a comment on the people’s uprising in Egypt, Carlson wrote that Bachmann’s office told her the Minnesota congresswoman “wouldn’t be giving any interviews this week while she concentrates on district work.”

But according to the Grassroot Institute Hawaii, Bachmann is scheduled to give a luncheon talk at the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu today—4,476 miles and 80 degrees F. from the subzero temperatures her constituents in Minnesota’s 6th District woke up to this morning.

According to the Grassroot Institute website, Bachmann’s $35-a-head luncheon is sold out. The Grassroot Institute Hawaii was founded in 2001 and says its mission is “to promote individual liberty, the free market and limited accountable government.” The Institute promises the speech from the “potential 2012 presidential candidate” will offer “great insight into the 2011 congressional session."

With millions of freedom-loving Egyptians clamoring for democracy, Michele Bachmann has been noticeably quiet on the massive revolt underway there. After all, “freedom” is the lynchpin behind virtually everything the 6th District Minnesota Republican says or does.

Bachmann, a fervent supporter of Israel and frequent traveler to Israel on the Israelis' dime, has given no clues as to where she falls on the goings-on in Egypt.

In Iran, Bachmann threw her support behind the The People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI, also known as the MEK), whose goals include the replacement of the current Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime in Iran with a democratic and secular government. Bachmann asked that the terrorist group be removed from the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

However, according to the Guardian newspaper, there may be good reason why the MEK is considered a terrorist organization.

“There is a strong credibility gap between the group's rhetoric and its past actions, especially its associations with Saddam between 1986 and 2003," the newspaper wrote.

“According to the Council on Foreign Relations, MEK directly participated in the savage reprisals against those who rose up against the Iraqi tyrant in 1991. Indeed, the extent to which it functioned as an effective arm of Saddam's totalitarian regime is demonstrated by the fact that, when it surrendered to US forces in 2003, it had "2,000 tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and heavy artillery pieces.”

The Guardian also raises the possibility of blowback in return for U.S. support for the MEK.

"Ironically, before its split with Ayatollah Khomeini, its leaders worked closely with Iran's theocratic government, directly participating in the 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. This raises the obvious risk that if Britain and America covertly, or overtly, supports MEK, it could then cut a deal with Tehran and turn its guns on Europe and America."

Bachmann is speaking at the Lewis and Clark Lincoln/Reagan Dinner in Helena, MT, later this week on Feb. 5--also a long way from her constituents. It's not clear whether she'll squeeze in a visit to the district between Honolulu and Helena.

DumpBachmann has video of our congresswoman "concentrating on district work" in Honolulu yesterday here.

Meanwhile, over at the excellent Bluestem Prairie, Sally Jo Sorensen compares Bachmann's week in Hawaii and Montana with Congressman Tim Walz' week down in the 1st Congressional District, as well as his week ahead. It's a nice reminder of what it must be like to actually have a representative in Congress.