Monday, July 30, 2012

Bayfront Blues Festival calendar by Ripple in Stillwater author Karl Bremer now available

The first-ever Bayfront Blues Festival calendar is hot off the press, featuring 16 months of Bayfront Blues Fest images by award-winning Ripple in Stillwater photographer Karl Bremer.

The 12" x 18" calendar covers September 2012 – December 2013 and includes Bremer’s images from more than two decades of Minnesota’s largest music festival. Featured blues musicians are: Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Koko Taylor, Trudy Lynn, Dr. John, Lonnie Brooks, Cyril Neville, Sonny Landreth, Marcia Ball, Alison Scott, Susan Tedeschi, Shemekia Copeland, Paul Metsa, Taj Mahal, Anne Harris, Big Walter Smith, Scott Graves, Luther Allison, Bernard Allison, Ruthie Foster, Harold Tremblay, Sugar Blue, Bobby Rush, John Mooney, Jimmy Thackery, and Dickey Betts.

To order, send $17.45 ($14.95 calendar and $2.50 S/H) via Paypal for Paypal account Or, send a check or money order for $17.45 to: Karl Bremer, 10949 Stonebridge Tr., Stillwater, MN 55082.

The calendar also is available at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bayfront Blues Fest Calendar

The first-ever Bayfront Blues Festival calendar is hot off the press, featuring 16 months of Bayfront Blues Fest images by award-winning Ripple in Stillwater photographer Karl Bremer.

The 12" x 18" calendar covers September 2012 – December 2013 and includes Bremer’s images from more than two decades of Minnesota’s largest music festival. Featured blues musicians are: Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Koko Taylor, Trudy Lynn, Dr. John, Lonnie Brooks, Cyril Neville, Sonny Landreth, Marcia Ball, Alison Scott, Susan Tedeschi, Shemekia Copeland, Paul Metsa, Taj Mahal, Anne Harris, Big Walter Smith, Scott Graves, Luther Allison, Bernard Allison, Ruthie Foster, Harold Tremblay, Sugar Blue, Bobby Rush, John Mooney, Jimmy Thackery, and Dickey Betts.
To order, send $17.45 ($14.95 calendar and $2.50 S/H) via Paypal for Paypal account Or, send a check or money order for $17.45 to: Karl Bremer, 10949 Stonebridge Tr., Stillwater, MN 55082.

The calendar also is available at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Money launderer and GOP donor Frank Vennes Jr. nets Ripple in Stillwater two more awards

Felon-on-the-run Frank Vennes Jr.
By Karl Bremer
Ripple in Stillwater collected two more Minnesota Society for Professional Journalists Page One Awards June 19, bringing to three the total number of MN-SPJ awards this blog has won in less than two years online.
In the online category, I won First Place for “Best News Portrait” for my photo of convicted money launderer and GOP donor Frank Vennes Jr. as he ran through the streets of St. Paul trying to flee from my lens following a federal court appearance in September 2011. After chasing him for two blocks, I was able to capture the fleet-footed felon on the run before he ducked into a bank building.
For the second year in a row, I won in the special “Best Use of Public Records” category, where media of all types and sizes compete against one another. This year, my three-part series “Lawyers, Guns & Money: An Inside Look at the Political Pardon of Frank Vennes Jr.”, won Third Place.

In addition to the two 2012 SPJ Page One Awards, I won a second place 2011 Page One Award for “Best Use of Public Records” for my series on recently-captured fraudster and GOP donor "Bobby Thompson." And this spring, City Pages voted Ripple in Stillwater “Best Local Blog” in its Best of the Twin Cities 2012 competition.

A tip o' the hat to fraudsters and Ponzimen everywhere! As long as you keep plying your slippery trades in these parts, Ripple in Stillwater will be there to cast a light upon you.

Photo Copyright ©2011 Karl Bremer


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sometimes you've just gotta leave the planet

Like a fly, Venus crawls across the upper-right area of the
setting sun's face June 5.

By Karl Bremer

Here at Ripple in Stillwater World Headquarters in Stillwater Township, we sometimes tire of the daily grind of boondoggle bridges, fraudsters, money-grubbing politicians and other cancers, and prefer instead to focus on the beauty of the visual image rather than the printed word.

Last night, we (me and my trusty Nikon D300) turned our gaze skyward to record the last transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun in our lifetime. This happens when the orbit of Venus passes directly between Earth and the sun. The last time it occurred, in 2004, it was cloudy in these parts; it won't happen again until 2117.

Using the same technique I used to shoot the partial solar eclipse May 20 (see below), I zoomed in on our neighboring planet as it made its historic trek across the setting sun at dusk last night. It's the little black dot in the upper-right area of the image above.

Venus kept us entertained earlier this spring as it danced across the twilight sky with Jupiter for several weeks (also see below).

Look for more images from the award-winning lens of Ripple in Stillwater in the future.
A partially-eclipsed sun sets on Stillwater Township May 20.

Venus (bright star above left side of pergola) performed a
celestial spring ballet March 15 with Jupiter (brighter star
to upper-right of Venus).

All photos by Karl Bremer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Buy a wolf license to save a wolf

By Karl Bremer

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Evidently, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and a majority of the Minnesota Legislature—the parties responsible for ramming a wolf hunting season through the Capitol five years ahead of schedule.

When the federal government removed gray wolves from the endangered and threatened species lists in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in January, the wolf haters ramped up their bloodthirsty lobbying efforts for a 2012 season to start shooting them legally for the first time in Minnesota since the 1970s.

The DNR states that “Minnesotans clearly value wolves. Public opinion surveys and attitudes demonstrated during development of the state's wolf management plan show people view the animal as ecologically important, scientifically fascinating, aesthetically attractive, recreationally appealing and significant for future generations. Only a small minority fear and dislike wolves or believe Minnesota would be a more desirable place without this apex predator.”

Yet it was that “small minority” that drove the legislature to start killing wolves this year rather than wait five years to see how the population stabilized after federal delisting, as the original plan called for. That same "small minority" has been shooting wolves illegally for decades and is now just looking for cover for their cowardly deeds. It's one of the few federal crimes that I hear people--including one state lawmaker--openly admit to committing.

DNR Fish & Wildlife Director Ed Boggess told a legislative panel earlier this year: “There’s been a pent-up enthusiasm, a pent-up demand to hunt wolves.” It’s not likely that “enthusiasm” is driven by a sudden popularity of wolf fur among hunters.  And it’s certainly not for their meat.

The wolf season has little to do with protecting farmers from wolf depredation of livestock, either; they already are compensated for those losses. It has equally little to do with population management of wolves. According to the DNR, Minnesota’s wolf population—the largest in the lower 48 states—has remained “relatively stable” at around 3,000 for the past decade without a hunting season.

A total of 6,000 wolf licenses will be made available via lottery (5,400 hunting and 600 trapping/snaring); 95 percent will be sold to residents and 5 percent to nonresidents. A quota of 400 wolves will be allowed to be killed during the season.

So the legal killing of wolves has been signed, sealed and delivered by the State of Minnesota, and the season is set. Nothing more that can be done about it, right?

Well, perhaps.

If you’re willing to invest $34, you can buy a chance on saving one wolf’s life. Simply enter the lottery for one of the 6,000 licenses—a $30 wolf license must be purchased to enter the lottery, which costs another $4—and if you win the right to kill a wolf, don’t exercise it.

There’s nothing that requires you to use a wolf license just because you buy one. Since there’s a cap on the number of licenses sold, every license that is won in the lottery but not used reduces the chances that the wolf kill quota set by the DNR will be reached.

Ordinarily, this might be seen as unwise meddling in a scientifically-based hunting season. But there is nothing scientific about this wolf hunting season. It’s a purely political response to satisfy the bloodlust of a vocal minority of wolf haters. A season on wolves is not necessary to maintain a desirable wolf population. In fact, the DNR hasn’t even determined what Minnesota’s maximum wolf population should be, only that it shouldn’t fall below a winter population of 1,600.

So if you think a season on wolves is one of the most idiotic things to come down the pike since a mourning dove season, step right up and invest $34 on a chance to buy a wolf a reprieve from the executioner. It may not stop the jackpine savages from shooting wolves altogether, but at least you’ll get the satisfaction of making them work a little harder to "get their wolf."

As a deer hunter who knows the value that wolves provide in culling deer herds of their unhealthy numbers, among other benefits for the soul, I plan to do just that.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ripple in Stillwater picks up two 2012 Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists awards

By Karl Bremer
Convicted money launderer Frank Vennes Jr.

I’ve been notified by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists that I have won two of the organization’s 2012 Page One Awards: one for “Best Use of Public Records” and one for “Best News Portrait.”

The “Best Use of Public Records” award--the second year in a row Ripple in Stillwater has won in this category--was for my series “Lawyers, Guns & Money: An Inside Look at the Political Pardon of Frank Vennes Jr.” The “Best News Portrait” award was for my photo of convicted money launderer and GOP donor Frank Vennes Jr. on the run through the streets of St. Paul trying to flee from my lens after a federal court appearance in September 2011.

In less than two years online, Ripple in Stillwater has racked up three professional journalism awards and another alt-media “best of” citation. In addition to the two 2012 SPJ Page One Awards, I won a second place Page One Award last year for “Best Use of Public Records” for my series on recently-captured fraudster and GOP donor "Bobby Thompson." And this spring, City Pages voted Ripple in Stillwater “Best Local Blog” in its Best of the Twin Cities 2012 competition.

Not bad for a cancer-ridden, unpaid blogger, if I do say so myself.

The specific 2012 Page One Awards will be announced and given out at the annual Minnesota SPJ Awards Banquet June 19 in St. Paul.

Photo © Copyright 2011 by Karl Bremer

Friday, May 4, 2012

Will Bachmann and Romney post bail money for their fraudster donor pal 'Bobby Thompson?'

Bachmann and Romney donor "Bobby Thompson"
By Karl Bremer

The same week the fugitive and big-spending Republican Party contributor-on-the-lam known as “Bobby Thompson” was captured in Portland, OR, by federal marshals after a nationwide manhunt, one of the recipients of “Thompson’s” largesse, Michele Bachmann, endorsed another—Mitt Romney—for president.

Coincidence—or an attempt by the now-amorous politicians to divert attention from their connection to what may be one of the largest charity scams in U.S. history?

“Thompson” donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and Republican Party entities, all of it suspected to be skimmed from his fraudulent charity, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.  He donated $10,000 to Michele Bachmann’s congressional campaign in 2010 and $2,300 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2007. In an attempt to wash her hands of the dirty money in the glare of unwelcome publicity over the donation, Bachmann donated her campaign's share of the donation to two legitimate veterans’ organizations. The Republican Party of Minnesota kept their share of the donation from "Thompson."

Federal authorities believe "Thompson" may have raised close to $100 million through his fraudulent scheme, which operated in up to 40 states, including Minnesota. Little of the money raised was ever spent on veterans as it was claimed.

After “Thompson” was captured April 30, authorities found $1 million in cash in two suitcases in an Oregon storage locker rented by “Thompson.” Numerous birth certificates and other forms of ID also were stashed in the locker.

Federal and state authorities still do not know the true identity of “Bobby Thompson,” who was carrying several persons’ identification on him when he was arrested,

The Minnesota chapter of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association raised more than $1.5 million from 2003-2009. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has declined to investigate the charity. However the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board fined “Thompson” $21,000 for fraudulent campaign contributions made to Minnesota candidates.

“Thompson” is the subject of a chapter in the book “The Madness of Michele Bachmann: A Broad-Minded Survey of a Small-Minded Candidate,” co-authored by myself and Ken Avidor and Eva Young of

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bachmann $10K donor and fraudster-on-the-lam "Bobby Thompson" captured by feds

By Karl Bremer

The fraudster-on-the-lam known as “Bobby Thompson,” one of Michele Bachmann’s largest political donors in 2010 and the target of a nationwide manhunt, was captured at an undisclosed West Coast location around 11 p.m. April 30 and now is in federal custody. He was wanted on fraud, identity theft, money laundering and other charges.

The Tampa Bay Times, which sparked the federal investigation into “Thompson” and his fraudulent charity the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, reported his capture. “Thompson” had been on the run since 2009.

“Thompson” allegedly ran a chapter of his sham charity in Minnesota from 2003-2009 that collected over $1.5 million from unsuspecting Minnesotans using nothing more than a UPS drop box and a forwarded telephone recording for an office.

I won Second Place for “Best Use of Public Records” in the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists 2011 Page One Awards for my lengthy investigative series on “Minnesota and the Man Known as Bobby Thompson” that was published on the blog and The series detailed the Minnesota operations of “Thompson” and was prompted by my discovery of his $10,000 donation to Michele Bachmann’s2010 congressional campaign at an event featuring former half-term Alaskan governor Sarah Palin.

Last year, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board fined “Thompson” $21,000 for illegal campaign contributions made to other Minnesota Republicans. The contributions were made under the names “Bobby Thompson” and “Maria D’Annuzio” to the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC), the Republican-leaning Patriot PAC run by GOP political operative Joey Gerdin, the Seifert for Governor Committee, and Citizens for David Carlson Committee, 67B, another GOP candidate committee.

The fines were the result of an investigation into a complaint filed by myself with the CFB in July 2010 that alleged illegal campaign contributions by “Thompson.” The state attorney general’s office has declined to investigate “Thompson” and his Minnesota charity, despite overshelming evidence that it was a scam.

“Thompson” is the subject of a chapter in the book “The Madness of MicheleBachmann: A Broad-Minded Survey of a Small-Minded Candidate,” co-authored by myself and Ken Avidor and Eva Young of 

Milk carton graphic by Ken Avidor

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The gonzo piano genius of James Carroll Booker III

James Carroll Booker III, left, and Reggie Scanlan
at Orleans Parish Prison.

New Orleans bassist Reggie Scanlan talks
about playing with the Bayou Maharajah

Few would argue that James Carroll Booker III belongs in the upper echelon of New Orleans’ piano geniuses—and there have been plenty.

A lot of paths led me to the brilliance of Booker, not the least of which was my favorite band from New Orleans, the Radiators, whose repertoire and rhythms drew considerably from Booker. Longtime friend and Radiators bassist Reggie Scanlan, who is currently recovering from surgery for pancreatic cancer, played with Booker for several years in the late ‘70s before the Radiators coagulated to become New Orleans’ longest running rock band over the next three decades.

Scanlan recollected on his experiences playing with Booker in this interview originally published in Beat Street Magazine, a fine but short-lived literary magazine about New Orleans music and street culture, in 2003.

By Karl Bremer

Radiators bassist Reggie Scanlan was still wet behind the ears when he got tapped to play with James Booker.

“It was 1975,” Scanlan recalls, “and I got a call from someone connected with Dr. John’s management, says ‘Hey, man, James Booker is moving back to New Orleans and is having a gig on Mother’s Day. Do you wanna play?’ It was at a black gay bar in the Quarter.”

Scanlan jumped at it. “From that first phone call, I knew it was a total opportunity. The guy was such a legend, I knew I could learn something if I could just hang on. … You knew you had heard his stuff but you really didn’t know much about him. You had heard some of these outrageous stories about him.”

The day before the gig, Booker met the band—Scanlan, Web Burrell on drums and “Squirrel” on congas—for the first time for rehearsal. “So Booker shows up and he’s—man, he’s kinda crazy,” Scanlan chuckles. “Obviously flamboyantly gay, he’s got this huge wig on and the eye patch on—he’s a riot!

“He starts warming up and my jaw dropped to the ground. The guy was unbelievable. Even then, I felt that bands really slowed this guy down. No matter who was playing with him, he was, like, ‘Man, I got places to go.’ At the end of the rehearsal, he says, ‘Let’s meet tomorrow before the gig, 5 o’clock, and we’ll go over some more stuff.’”

That left Scanlan with some degree of comfort. After all, getting up to speed with the likes of Booker wasn’t an overnight thing—especially for someone who describes himself at the time as “still just learning the bare-bones basics of how to play.”

The next night, 5 o’clock came and went and no sign of Booker. Eight o’clock on the bandstand—the gig’s starting time—came and went and still no sign of Booker.

"He shows up at 8:15, 8:30,” Scanlan says. “It kinda put me on edge. When he came in, he had this little toiletry bag, he had the wig, the eye patch, stick pin. They were oohin’ and aahin’ over Booker. The stage was about the size of a desk. It sounded pretty cool, and as we started going along, he starts flirting with this guy. They started flirting back and forth, and all of a sudden he takes off his eye patch and takes another one out and puts it on, looks at me and says ‘How does this look?’ And turns around and without missing a beat keeps playing.”

Scanlan played with Booker on and off over the next five years, with Booker almost always on piano, until his regular gig with the Radiators got too busy. Like his time playing with ‘Fess, Scanlan says, “It was a real education playing with Booker. There were some nights that were just amazing—you couldn’t believe it. And other nights were sheer hell, because he just kind of went over the top.”

One big difference between ‘Fess and Booker, at least from a bassist’s perspective, was the role of the left hand.

“With ‘Fess, his left hand was a monster,” explains Scanlan. “A bass was almost superfluous. Booker’s left hand was lighter, so you had a little more room to move.”

Booker’s uncanny ability to string together medleys out of thin air was particularly challenging, says Scanlan, but it was also what made playing with Booker such a phenomenal learning experience.

“It was a job just keeping up and being ready for anything … The way he could link things that were so disparate—“Iko” into Mozart into Sinatra into Beatles—and it always made sense. … His fingers would just kind of float all over the keyboards, but he had total command of his hands. He was just so buoyant.”

Scanlan recalls one of his more bizarre gigs with Booker inside Orleans Parish Prison, part of a concert series the prison put on.

“It was the Earl Turbinton Quartet and Booker. Earl’s band is going to back up Booker, and I’m going to play, Vidacovich. We get down to park the car and Booker starts reaching down in his pants and pulling out this huge bag of pot. ‘I just wanna make sure it don’t fall outa my pants,’ Booker says. ‘You’re not gonna take that in there?’ someone asks him. ‘Oh yeah, it’s no problem for me,’ he says.”

“We get inside and Booker says, ‘I wanna take you around and show you the cells I used to stay in. I said ‘No, thanks, man.’ … He had his own little rooting section in there.”

Scanlan recorded on some sessions with Booker, but the best one has never seen the light of day.

Allen Toussaint produced the spontaneous session, which Scanlan says “happened literally in a day. Booker called, I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be there.’ All these people are there. Earl King’s there, Ken Laxton, who was (engineer) on (the Meters’) “Rejuvenation,” John Mayall’s in the studio, Fats’ drummer, Cyril (Neville), Allen’s running the show. We go through two tunes and get ‘em down. It goes alright. And then Booker leaves.

“Everyone’s just hanging around, and Booker comes back, and he’s just out of it. He sits down and goes into a totally wild version of ‘Goodnight, Irene.’ He’s going off, and it’s like a totally different person recording.”

At the end of the session, Scanlan says, “Apparently Booker, out of paranoia, insisted on taking the master tracks with him and proceeded to leave them in the cab on the way home.”

Now there’s a challenge for the archivists out there.

Photo courtesy of Reggie Scanlan.

Friday, April 20, 2012

'Ripple in Stillwater' voted City Pages' 'Best Local Blog-2012'

By Karl Bremer

Ripple in Stillwater is happy to announce our latest award—City Pages’ “Best Local Blog – 2012.” 

Welcome new readers! As you peruse the blog, you might gather that my recent health issues have slowed down the entries somewhat. But there’s plenty more to dig into in the archives—from fraudsters to Felix, the Blue Light to the Boondoggle Bridge.

“If you're looking for the real dirt on Stillwater politics,” City Pages writes, “we recommend skipping the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press and going straight to Ripple in Stillwater.”

We appreciate the recognition by our peers on the Interwebs, and hope you'll agree that we're worthy of it. Stick around—there’s plenty more to come.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Never Let Your Fire Go Out: A Celebration of Survival

By Karl Bremer

The healing power of music and friends was out in full force at Wilebski’s Blues Saloon in St. Paul March 25. Between 400 and 500 people came through the doors over the course of a day jammed with some of Minnesota’s finest musicians and songwriters. They were there to help keep me alive.

I never set out writing this blog as a Caring Bridge kind of thing, but things don’t always work out as planned. So rather than the usual steady diet of slings and arrows at local political miscreants, investigations into fraudsters trying to buy votes, pardons or legitimacy, or occasional forays through musical doors, today you get another Update from the Cancer Desk.

First, the medical lowdown. A CT scan several weeks ago showed the tumors on my liver had shrunk since chemotherapy had begun (the tumors have metastasized from the pancreas to the liver, thus the “Stage 4” diagnosis), which was a good sign. Another scan next week will determine the future course of treatment after the eighth of 12 planned chemo sessions. That could include surgery and/or radiation. Stay tuned.

Now for the fun stuff. Yes, there is an up side to getting cancer. In this case, it came through the love and dedication of the Krewe of DADs, a whole gang of great musicians and hundreds of friends. I’m a founding member of the Krewe of DADs, which modeled itself after New Orleans’ notorious Krewe of MOMs, a rogue Krewe among the Crescent City’s elite other Mardi Gras Krewes that ultimately coalesced around the New Orleans-based Radiators. The Krewe of DADs adopted Halloween as their annual celebration of music featuring the Radiators and we’ve hosted our own Halloween masquerade balls on this end of the Mississippi River for a quarter century. All but last year’s featured the Radiators, but after they disbanded in June 2011, the New Orleans Suspects, a new group formed by Radiators bassist Reggie Scanlan, ably filled the bill.

L to R: Curt Obeda, Tony Glover, Camile Baudoin &
Paul "Newport Slim" Toracinta.

Besides helping with the Krewe’s regular musical events that brought in some amazing talent to the Twin Cities and surrounding farms and living rooms over the years, I initiated Krewe of DADs fundraisers for post-Katrina musicians in Louisiana and for another Krewe member and cancer survivor, Minneapolis artist Johnny Hanson. In a show of the old saw “what goes around, comes around,” the Krewe of DADs put together a musical extravaganza and silent auction fun(d)raiser for me at Wilebski’s Blues Saloon March 25 that featured some of the same gracious talent that always seems to be there when you need them:

Camile Baudoin, Tony Glover, Gene LaFond & the Wild Unknown, Paul Metsa & Cats Under the Stars, Curtis Obeda and the Butanes, Tim O’Keefe, Peter Ostroushko, John Pasternacki, Paul Toracinta, Harold Tremblay, Willie Walker, Willie West.

In an ironic twist of fate, Reggie Scanlan had to cancel his trip up from New Orleans to play. Instead, he had exploratory surgery for pancreatic cancer that week, for which he was diagnosed two weeks before. Fortunately, it appears treatable and his recovery period mercifully short.

Friends came from near and far, some I hadn’t seen in 30 years or more, to help take the sting out of losing a year or more of fulltime work and good health. It did that and more. It was kind of like getting a snapshot of your future through the lens of your past. Or an episode of  “This Is Your Life.” Seven hours of pure positive energy permeated the room on Rice Street, and I didn’t miss a minute of it.

In situations like this, you’ve got to treat the mind as well as the body. Thanks to all who organized, attended, performed, donated, publicized or otherwise participated in this celebration of survival. I promise a good return on your investment.

Videos by David Fried
Photo by Paul Sand

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sold Down the (St. Croix) River

Michele Bachmann and Amy Klobuchar celebrate the
gutting of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
By Karl Bremer
If the campaign waged on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by proponents of a $700 million freeway bridge across the St. Croix River proved anything, it’s that lies and misinformation work.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy has only been in Congress for a year-and-a-half, but he’s already mastered the art of lying to pass legislation. Of course, he’s had the tutelage of the Queen of Lies, Michele Bachmann, to assist him in this time-honored tradition.

Duffy stood on the floor of the House March 2 and spewed the same false information that Bachmann had written in a “Dear Colleague” letter a couple of weeks earlier: that the Boondoggle Bridge Congress voted to exempt from the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act later that day is merely a $292 million bridge and not a $700 million bridge:

“I think we gotta be clear on what that $700 million is,” Duffy misled the House during the floor debate on this “noncontroversial” measure. “It’s really only $292 million when you look at the actual cost of construction of the bridge—$292 million. If you want to look at all the extra costs that will get you upwards of $600 million, that cost comes from all the mitigation— the environmental mitigation that’s been requested over the decades of negotiation of trying to get this bridge done. It’s not the bridge part—it’s the bipartisan effort trying to get people to agree to make this project go forward that increases the costs dramatically to $600-plus million dollars.”

Bullshit. Even Mike Wilhelmi, executive director of the pro-Boondoggle Coalition for a St. Croix River Crossing, admitted as much at a meeting in Stillwater the day after Congress voted to move it along to the president’s desk. Of course, it didn’t bother Wilhelmi or his taxpayer-financed lobbyist group enough to bother to correct the latest falsehood to be spread by their team through the media and halls of Congress.

For the record, here is the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s breakdown of the costs of the Boondoggle Bridge:

(1) TH 36 – Oakgreen/Greeley Intersection   $ 13.2 million

(2) Minnesota Approach                                 $ 61.0 million

(3) River Bridge                                             $293.2 million

(4) Wisconsin Approach                                 $  38.0 million

Right of Way                                                   $  17.7 million

Mitigation Estimate                                         $  27.6 million

Contingency/Risk                                            $  35.8 million

Bonds and Insurance                                        $  25.5 million
Engineering and management                          $  90.0 million

Previously incurred expenses                           $  24.4 million

PROJECT TOTAL                                      $626.4 MILLION


Sure, you can build this bridge for $292 million, as Bachmann and Duffy claimed. You just couldn’t drive on it.

As Bachmann and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were so fond of reminding us, this was a bipartisan effort. Minnesota Democrats Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken and Mark Dayton stood by silently and let Bachmann’s lies be disseminated unchallenged as well, adding further disgrace to a party that once could be counted on to defend environmental protections like the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, not dismantle them.
Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, Washington County
Commissioner Gary Kriesel, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and
Rep. Michele Bachmann.
In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Governor Dayton added his own contributions to this steaming pile of excrement masquerading as “facts” with his assertion that the new bridge will be located “only about 50 yards south of the existing Lift Bridge” (it’s a mile south, Governor); near a coal-fired power plant that “spews large plumes of smoke well above the river (a plant whose harshest critics admit is state-of-the-art in emissions reductions); and “a glass manufacturing plant” (Andersen Windows has manufactured wood window and door frames, not glass, at its Bayport plant for the past century, Governor).

Equally disingenuous was Dayton’s, Klobuchar’s and Franken’s twisted contention that because the proposed bridge corridor is adjacent to a coal-fired power plant, it didn’t deserve the protections of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. The fact is, that plant—the Allen S. King plant built in 1968 by Northern States Power—is the very reason the Lower St. Croix River was brought under the Act four years later by the original bill’s co-author, Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale. It was to prevent another scar on this national treasure, not justify one more.

There was another force at work that helped pushed this abomination through: the hidden hand of labor. It wasn’t until the votes were taken that new best friends Bachmann and Klobuchar hailed the contributions of the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations in strong-arming (Democratic) votes to the table for their Boondoggle Bridge.

That’s certain to rekindle the tired old debate of jobs vs. environment in Minnesota, fueled by exaggerated claims of 6,000 or more construction jobs to build the Boondoggle Bridge, and a waning public interest in maintaining environmental protection laws in the face of such false choices

If President Obama signs this bill, it won’t be because there was an honest and fair debate on the issues. It will be because Boondoggle Bridge proponents played fast and loose with the facts and deliberately misrepresented this project as a harmless, one-time exception to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that costs a fraction of its true price tag.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968, co-authored by Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. The Upper St. Croix River was among the first 156 stretches of river to receive protection under the Act; the Lower St. Croix was added to the system in 1972.

Ironically, with the granting of the Bachmann-Klobuchar-Franken-Dayton exemption for a high-speed freeway bridge across the St. Croix, this critical act that today protects 12,598 miles of 203 rivers in 38 states and territories will see the beginning of its unraveling at the hands of politicians from the very states that gave us these protections in the first place.

Photos by Karl Bremer

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ripple in Stillwater Updates

By Karl Bremer
A recent FBI bulletin regarding the "sovereign citizen" movement caught our eye here at Ripple in Stillwater. We reported extensively on local hate-radio celebrity and former "sovereign citizen" Bradley Dean Smith in 2010-11, and thought the FBI's renewed interest in this movement was worth an update.

Likewise, recent reports that the fraudster known as "Bobby Thompson" may now be in New Mexico should be of interest to those who followed my award-winning investigation into the Minnesota operations of "Bobby Thompson" and his fraudulent Navy Veterans charity.

The FBI and several states are taking the “sovereign citizen” movement a little more seriously these days. You might remember our own local “sovereign citizen”—Bradley Dean Smith, aka “Bradlee Dean,” of the Annandale-based hate “ministry” You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International. Dean, who was the subject of a Ripple in Stillwater investigation in 2010-11, renounced his "allegiance to the world" to become a “sovereign citizen” in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Smith’s “citizenship” in the Kingdom of Heaven was issued in November 2003 and expired in November 2010, according to his online Embassy of Heaven ID:

“On file is a signed statement by Bradley Smith renouncing allegiance to the world and declaring citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“We are fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Government of God, which was handed to the Apostles by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper (Luke 22:29), We fulfill the Great Commission by traveling from place to place using old and modern conveyances. Our government is not of this world, and we expect to be held accountable to the laws from which we come. Our conduct is not an offense if it not an offense in the Kingdom of Heaven."
While Smith’s escapades with the Embassy of Heaven might sound loopy, the FBI has taking a more jaundiced look at the sovereign citizen movement recently.
“The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement, which, scattered across the United States, has existed for decades, with well-known members, such as Terry Nichols, who helped plan the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing,” says a September 2011 bulletin from the FBI’s Counterterrorism Analysis Section.

“They could be dismissed as a nuisance, a loose network of individuals living in the United States who call themselves “sovereign citizens” and believe that federal, state, and local governments operate illegally. Some of their actions, although quirky, are not crimes. The offenses they do commit seem minor: They do not pay their taxes and regularly create false license plates, driver’s licenses, and even currency.

“However, a closer look at sovereign citizens’ more severe crimes, from financial scams to impersonating or threatening law enforcement officials, gives reason for concern,” the report continues.

The FBI bulletin cites several instances where sovereign citizens resorted to violence and notes:

“Although the sovereign-citizen movement does not always rise to violence, its members’ illegal activities and past violent—including fatal—incidents against law enforcement make it a group that should be approached with knowledge and caution. It is important that law enforcement be aware of sovereign citizens’ tactics so agencies can warn the public of potential scams, spot illegal activity and understand its potential severity, and be prepared for and protect against violent behavior or backlash through intimidation and harassment.”

While Smith’s ugly, homophobic, on-air diatribes against gays often push the envelope, there is no record of any violent or illegal activity on behalf of or connected to You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International.

It’s not known whether Smith still has any affiliation with the Embassy of Heaven or any other sovereign citizen organization. He took legal action in 2008 to sever his ties with Glen Stoll of Edmonds, WA, who introduced Smith to the Embassy of Heaven and allegedly induced him to establish ministerial “trusts” under the auspices of his sovereign citizen organization, the Family Defense League. These trusts were described in Smith’s court filings as “false and fraudulent schemes” and “shams, devoid of economic substance.”

In March 2009, District Court Judge Stephen Halsey granted Smith’s church and organization, Old Paths Church, Inc. and YCR, Inc., their motion for a summary judgment against Stoll that terminated Stoll’s trusts and removed Stoll as trustee.

Nonetheless, the FBI’s September 2011 bulletin predicts:

“The sovereign-citizen threat likely will grow as the nationwide movement is fueled by the Internet, the economic downturn, and seminars held across the country that spread their ideology and show people how they can tap into funds and eliminate debt through fraudulent methods. As sovereign citizens’ numbers grow, so do the chances of contact with law enforcement and, thus, the risks that incidents will end in violence. Law enforcement and judicial officials must understand the sovereign-citizen movement, be able to identify indicators, and know how to protect themselves from the group’s threatening tactics.”

You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International had a
recruiting and merchandise table at Michele Bachmann's
April 2010 fundraiser with half-term Gov. Sarah Palin.

"Bobby Thompson" and President George W. Bush
The noose may be tightening around the man known as “Bobby Thompson,” who led a fraudulent nationwide veterans’ charity that allegedly bilked thousands of donors out of tens of millions of dollars.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, whose original investigation revealed the elaborate charity scheme in 2010, U.S. Marshals are concentrating their search for “Thompson” in Albuquerque, NM. The owners of several of the con man’s stolen identities, including “Bobby Thompson,” reportedly had ties to Albuquerque or New Mexico.

Ripple in Stillwater’s award-winning investigation into “Thompson” found that the Minnesota operations of his phony U.S. Navy Veterans Association took in more than $1.5 million over a six-year period, with little more than a UPS drop box for a presence in  the state. Very little of the $1.5 million was ever accounted for.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has conducted little, if any, investigation into “Thompson” or his scam, despite the fact that he has been the subject of numerous other state and national investigations. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board fined “Thompson” $21,000 for illegal campaign contributions as a result of an investigation of a complaint filed by Ripple in Stillwater.

In what clearly looks like a money-laundering and/or illegal campaign contribution scheme, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association collected millions from unsuspecting donors while “Thompson” gave thousands of dollars to Minnesota Republican politicians, including Michele Bachmann, the state GOP and other GOP political entities. His most recent donation in Minnesota was $5,000 to “Patriot PAC,” a political action committee formed by GOP operative Joey Gerdin.

Gerdin says she met the alleged con man in St. Paul at a fundraiser she hosted during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

“He seemed like a nice guy, completely congenial, supportive of veterans. Seemed like your typical patriot to me,” Gerdin told Ripple in Stillwater. She has since refused to talk about “Thompson,” or his $5,000 illegal contribution to her PAC.

For reasons yet unknown, “Thompson,” a Florida resident with no apparent Minnesota connections, showered tens of thousands of dollars on Minnesota Republican politicians and the Republican Party of Minnesota. Besides the $10,000 he gave to Bachmann and the $5,000 he gave to Patriot PAC, he made the following donations to other Minnesota Republicans and GOP entities:

• $21,500 to Republican Norm Coleman’s Senate re-election campaign from 2006-2008
• $7,000 to the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee in 2008-2009
• $10,400 to the Republican Party of Minnesota from 2008-2010
• $500 to former Rep. Marty Seifert’s Seifert for Governor Campaign in 2009
• $500 to Republican David J. Carlson’s Citizens for David Carlson committee in House District 67B in 2008.

“Thompson” is currently wanted by several states and federal agencies for money laundering, fraud and identity theft.

Milk carton graphic: Ken Avidor

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Redistricting poses tough choices for Bachmann's political future

By Karl Bremer

Minnesota’s congressional redistricting maps released today present a dilemma for our MIA failed presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

In a nutshell:

  • Bachmann’s million-dollar golf course palace in West Lakeland Township is now in the 4th CD represented by Betty McCollum, presenting a possible match-up between Bachmann and McCollum.
  • Fearing a real opponent in McCollum, Bachmann has vowed to run in the 6th CD rather than in the 4th CD in which she lives. That Bachmann would consider representing a district in which she doesn’t live—and isn’t required by law to live in—should surprise no one. Bachmann has been running for president and claiming to represent Iowa for the past year while purportedly representing Minnesota’s 6th CD in Congress.
  • Bachmann’s marquee issue—the $700-million Boondoggle Bridge across the St. Croix River—will be null and void for her if she decides to run in the 6th CD, as the proposed new bridge site in Oak Park Heights, the City of Stillwater and the old Stillwater Lift Bridge are now in the 4th CD—McCollum’s district. That will leave the Star-Tribune and Pioneer Press newspaper editorialists, along with Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki and his cronies, looking like fools for chastising McCollum to stay out of the bridge debate because it’s not in her district. This scenario would clearly make the bridge debate McCollum’s issue and not Bachmann’s.

Which will it be, Michele? Face a real challenge from an incumbent congresswoman? Run in a district in which you don’t even live?  Carpetbag into the new 6th CD where you think your wingnut base will send you back to your $174,000-a-year salary to continue promoting yourself?  Abandon your precious Boondoggle Bridge?

Some tough choices ahead for our absentee congresswoman.


In a fundraising email to supporters tonight announcing her plans to run in a congressional district in which she doesn't live, Bachmann charged the five-judge redistricting panel responsible for the "injustice" of placing her in the same district as DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum with "liberal bias."

"Just as we suspected, the liberal courts have changed the makeup of Minnesota's Congressional districts," Bachmann wrote. Unfortunately, she's lying again.

Of the five judges on the panel, two were appointed by GOP Governors Tim Pawlenty and Arne Carlsen, two were appointed by IP Governor Jesse Ventura, and one was appointed by DFL Governor Rudy Perpich.

"The courts' liberal bias was evident by cherrypicking the districts and going so far as to draw my home — where I have raised my family and represented in Congress for the past six years — outside the new sixth district," Bachmann continued. "I refuse to allow the courts to arbitrarily determine who my friends, neighbors, and constituents are, and I will take every necessary step to correct this injustice.

Another lie.

Bachmann put the 3,200-square foot Stillwater home where she raised her family on the market for $359,000 in 2008 and moved away to a $1.27-million, 5,200-square-foot palace on the 18th hole of Stoneridge Golf Course in West Lakeland Township that same year. She was hardly forced into the move by the "liberal courts."

"I have therefore decided to campaign for re-election in the new sixth district, where a majority of my constituents remain," Bachmann concludes her email, before tapping the rubes for money one more time.

Photo illustration by Ken Avidor.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'Madness of Michele Bachmann' authors signing books at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater March 3

The authors of The Madness of Michele Bachmann: A Broad-Minded Survey of a Small-Minded Candidate, are coming to Stillwater, Bachmann’s hometown, for a book signing March 3 at Valley Bookseller from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Authors Ken Avidor, Karl Bremer and Eva Young will sign and talk about their book, which chronicles a decade of the Stillwater congresswoman’s foibles, falsehoods and fruitless political career. Valley Bookseller is located at 217 N. Main St. in Stillwater.

Come out and join us. Pick up a copy of this sizzling best seller and get it signed by all three authors. We’re hoping to see Michele, Marcus, and a few of the 28 kids and foster kids come out for this very special event!

Friday, February 17, 2012

More truth, less 'truthiness' needed in St. Croix River Boondoggle Bridge debate

While Michele Bachmann and Mark Dayton would have you
believe the Stillwater Lift Bridge is ready to fall into the
St. Croix, MnDOT says it's safe.

By Karl Bremer

  1. truthiness
The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.

Origin: Stephen Colbert, "The Colbert Report," 2005

Truthiness has been the hallmark of the pimps peddling legislation to allow construction of a $700 million freeway bridge across the federally protected St. Croix River. One would expect a certain amount of truthiness from lobbyists for this boondoggle. But members of Congress--specifically Michele Bachmann and her Wisconsin colleagues--now have employed the tactic in an effort to railroad a House vote through as a “noncontroversial” measure. Minnesota’s two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, passed the Senate version of this legislation on a curiously “noncontroversial” voice vote.

The most insidious to date is the recent attempt by Bachmann to peddle her Boondoggle Bridge as a modest $292 million project in a recent "Dear Colleague" letter to members of Congress.

“The St. Croix River Crossing Project includes a new $292 million bridge, which costs less per square foot than the Interstate 35W bridge replacement outside of the Twin Cities,” Bachmann wrote in the letter, which was published in an article for Roll Call and co-authored by Wisconsin Republican Sean Duffy and Democrats Ron Kind and Tammy Baldwin.

That’s simply a lie. This so-called St. Croix River Bridge Crossing Project cannot be built for $292 million, yet that is the only dollar amount that Bachmann and her co-authors cite in the arm-twisting letter to their colleagues. This entire project has a total cost estimate of $574 million to $690 million that still does not include many other ancillary costs associated with the bridge, such as $20 million in utility work for Oak Park Heights, the city where the bridge will lie.

But Bachmann’s never been one to let facts get in the way of her arguments.

So let’s examine Bachmann’s “Dear Colleague” letter and other public pronouncements for further truthiness:

  • $292 million bridge cost.

If only that were true. Unfortunately, Bachmann’s cost is just for the actual bridge portion in the river. She conveniently leaves out the remaining $282-$388 million for Highway 36 construction, Minnesota and Wisconsin approaches, engineering, right of way, environmental mitigation and contingency/risk. Those numbers aren’t from some radical environmentalists either. Those are from MnDOT’s 2011 “Annual Project Summary Report.”

  • Bachmann plays on the fear factor by describing the existing Stillwater bridge as “structurally deficient, functionally obsolete and fracture critical.”

Here’s what MnDOT has to say about “structurally deficient” in its April 2011 “Condition Summary”:

“The fact that a bridge is structurally deficient does not imply that it is unsafe. The classification of structurally deficient is used to determine eligibility for federal bridge replacement or rehabilitation funding. The primary reason the lift bridge is termed “structurally deficient” is because it is subject to flooding that can close the crossing.”

Closing a bridge due to flooding carries a whole different meaning than implying that it’s unsafe to drive on at any time.

  • So what does MnDOT have to say about “functionally obsolete?”
 “The classification functionally obsolete is also used as a justification for federal bridge replacement or rehabilitation funding. Functional obsolete bridges are not inherently unsafe. It does mean that the bridge does not meet the minimum federal clearance requirements for a new bridge.”

Once again, Bachmann takes a term used to justify federal funding for a project—dare we say an earmark—and twists it to suggest that it describes a bridge unsafe for traffic.

  • And then there’s “fracture critical,” the latest favorite term used to describe the Stillwater Lift Bridge by the Chicken Little Boondoggle Bridge proponents who publicly proclaim that they drive across the lift bridge with their doors and windows open.

Says MnDOT in its April 2011 “Condition Summary”: The lift bridge is a fracture-critical bridge because there are two main trusses that support each span of the bridge; if one of these trusses were to fail the span could collapse. The classification of fracture critical does not mean the bridge is inherently unsafe.

So “fracture critical” simply describes the bridge design and has nothing at all to do with its current condition.

  • “The safety rating of the bridge is an astounding 32.8 on a scale of 100, warranting several structural safety concerns,” Bachmann claims.

Bachmann is actually referring to the bridge’s “sufficiency rating,” not safety rating. According to MnDOT, “a bridge’s sufficiency rating is a number that is frequently misunderstood and misused. It is a calculated numerical value that is based on a number of factors and then used to determine eligibility for federal funding.” The “structural safety concerns “ Bachmann cites were taken into consideration by MnDOT when determining its sufficiency rating.

  • Bachmann says the bridge currently sees about 18,200 vehicle crossings per day and then claims that “by 2030, an estimated 48,000 vehicles per day would need to be driving over the bridge.”

That one almost sends the BS meter off the charts. MnDOT’s own figures predict “average daily vehicle traffic on the river crossing of 23,100 at an average vehicle occupancy of 1.30 persons per vehicle by the year 2030 if no new St. Croix River crossing is built, no cross-river modal alternatives are established, and Minnesota and Wisconsin projected development and programmed roadway improvements occur as planned. 

  • “If no bridge is built, already-lengthy traffic wait time is expected to double,” Bachmann states.

What Bachmann fails to mention is that wait times are largely due to frequent bridge lifts during peak summer periods. Yet none of the parties involved have asked the Coast Guard, which controls lift bridge schedules, to consider lowering the frequency of lifts to lower traffic delays commensurately.

  • “We also have the Obama Administration on board,” Bachmann told a tv audience recently.

But when Congresswoman Betty McCollum asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about that during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior hearing last week, it was news to him.

“That is not my understanding. My understanding is that (Transportation) Secretary (Ray) LaHood and I offered to work with the Congressional delegation from both states to see whether we could find a common ground based on the alternative, which you have proposed, and the alternative other members of the congressional delegation have proposed.”

  • “The existing bridge cannot be removed or replaced because of its placement on the National Registry of Historic Places,” Bachman told her colleagues, “so a new bridge must be built — and soon.”

Not true again, according to Salazar’s response to McCollum when she asked him whether the old lift bridge can be taken out.

“I think it is probably possible. It may take an act of Congress, and I don’t know what else, but there are probably ways in which it can be done although it obviously would be a difficult climb,” Salazar replied.

Bachmann isn’t alone in the Minnesota congressional delegation in her truthiness on the Boondoggle Bridge over the St. Croix. Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with Governor Mark Dayton, have been equally disingenuous in leading this full-scale assault on the St. Croix and the Wild & Scenic Rivers System.

It’s time to take Secretary Lahood and Salazar up on their offers to bring the two sides together to hammer out a compromise, despite Bachmann’s contention that their offers are “not productive and are only meant to delay the construction” of her Boondoggle Bridge.

At that time, maybe we can start on a level playing field of the truth, and leave the truthiness to the Colbert Report.

Photo by Karl Bremer.