Clay Target League taking off in Minnesota

Clay Target League Did you know that one of the fastest-growing high school sports in Minnesota is shooting clay targets? More than 12,000 students will take part in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League during the spring season that got underway on April second. League officials say that’s the highest number of students to ever take part in the competition.

Lanesboro high school will field one of the hundreds of teams to take part in competition across the state. Dustin Flattum is one of the volunteer coaches at Lanesboro and said things are going well as they’ve been preparing for the last two weeks. The team has already shot their state-required reserve score last Saturday, which they’ll submit if weather conditions prevent them from shooting on a particular week. Now, the team is ready to start their regular season this week.

“League officials formatted the season as an eight-week season,” Flattum said. “We’ve had two weeks of practice and last week was our third week. That’s when you shoot the reserve score in case we get rained out and can’t shoot. We now have five weeks of competition with scores that count in your conference standings and averages that help you get to state.”

Clay Target League

The Minnesota State High School Clay Target League is home to roughly 12,000 students across the state who participate in one of the fastest growing sports the state has seen in a long time. (Photo from mnclaytarget.com)

The team holds all its conference shooting matches in Lanesboro and doesn’t travel anywhere else. They don’t have the head-to-head competition like other sports do. Dustin said the idea is to keep things in the clay target league simple and not have to worry about transportation to different towns with kids and firearms. It also makes it easier for parents to head to the shooting range in Lanesboro on Saturday and watch.

“This is our second year of clay target league trap shooting in Lanesboro,” he said. “We did make it to state last year. I took around a dozen students to the state meet in Alexandria. We weren’t able to get anyone through to the state championship. We had a bunch of new shooters last season that didn’t have a lot of experience.”

They’re back again for their second season and Flattum said they’re already showing a lot of experience. Here’s the complete conversation:

‘Can You Hear Me?’ Scam Calls hit MN

can you hear me now phone scam

The ‘can you hear me now’ term isn’t just for cell phone commercials. It’s a part of the latest telephone scam hitting MN. If the first thing you hear is a question similar to this, hang up. (Photo from thebalance.com)

“Can you hear me?” “Are you there?” “Is this you?” Most people have been asked these questions in a phone call. News outlets and organizations across the country report that people are receiving calls from individuals who ask questions designed to get a “yes” answer.  But responding “yes” may leave people on the hook for more nuisance calls and maybe even unauthorized charges.  This new scheme is called the “Can You Hear Me?” Scam. “Chris” received a call while he was eating dinner. He answered the call, and a person asked, “Can you hear me?” Chris replied, “Yes.”  He then heard a recording that claimed he had won a free cruise. Chris realized the call may be part of a scam and hung up.

How the scam works

The details of this scam vary, but it always begins with a call, usually from a telephone number that appears to be local. When the person answers the call, the scam artist tries to get the person to say “yes”—most often by asking, “Can you hear me?” “Is this the lady of the house?” or a similar question. By responding “yes,” people notify robo-callers that their number is an active telephone number that can be sold to other telemarketers for a higher price. This then leads to more unwanted calls.

In some cases, the caller may record the person saying “yes.” Scam artists may be able to use a recorded “yes” to claim that the person authorized charges to his or her credit card or account. How can scammers access your account?  Some companies share their customers’ information with third-party companies or allow third parties to charge customers’ accounts (called “cramming”) in exchange for payment. Scam artists may also obtain financial information from data breaches or leaks or through identity theft.

Whether the “Can you hear me?” calls are simply nuisance calls or something more sinister, there are steps you can take to avoid falling victim to phone scams.

  • Check phone numbers closely. Scam artists spoof calls to make them appear to be from a local telephone number. Even if a number appears to be local, it is best to avoid calls from numbers with which you are not familiar.

 

  • Hang up. If you answer a call that seems suspicious, hang up. Remember, “Minnesota Nice” does not apply to scammers. It is not rude to hang up abruptly on a suspicious caller.

 

  • Carefully review your financial statements and telephone bills. Whether or not you have been targeted by a scam, it is a good idea to review your bills line-by-line for unauthorized or fraudulent activity. The law provides some protection for people to dispute unauthorized charges to their credit cards and bank accounts, but these laws generally impose time limits. It is important to check right away for charges you did not make or approve so you have time to file a dispute.

Reporting unwanted calls

If you receive a call that may be part of a “Can You Hear Me?” scam, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). The FTC has the authority to enforce federal laws regulating nuisance calls and interstate fraud over the telephone. Contact the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 877-382-4357 or www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

For more information, or to file a complaint, contact the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101, 651-296-3353 or 800-657-3787, TTY: 651-297-7206 or 800-366-4812

http://www.presspubs.com/quad/opinion/article_3c3888f2-196d-11e7-8b0e-4700503757c6.html

 

Here’s how you handle a phone scammer: If you state obvious falsehoods and they don’t call you on it, they’re scammers. Hang up the phone. Don’t worry about hurting people’s feelings. Yes, I realize it’s a bit of a spoof video, so I’d encourage you to just hang up if you didn’t initiate the phone call.

Free (State) Park Friday in Minnesota

Entry fees at each Minnesota state park and various recreation areas to be waived the day after Thanksgiving 

Smith and DNR encourage all Minnesotans to get outdoors and explore Minnesota’s parks and trails  

Following the success of last year’s Free Park Friday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is encouraging all Minnesotans to include outdoor activity as part of their family festivities over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. As added incentive, Smith announced that entry fees at all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas will be waived on Friday, Nov. 25.

Smith, who has set a goal of visiting all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas, said she intends to work another state park visit into her schedule on Free Park Friday.

“In my travels around Minnesota, I visit Minnesota state parks and recreation areas as often as I can,” she said. “We have one of the finest park and trail systems in the country, and spending time in nature is the best way I know to get some exercise, relax and refresh with family and friends. I want as many Minnesotans as possible to enjoy a free day in the parks after Thanksgiving.”  

state park

Grand Portage State Forest in Minnesota is but one of the 75 state parks that will charge no admission on the day after Thanksgiving this year. (Photo from stateparks.com)


This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Minnesota state parks and trails system. The celebration has brought record crowds out to explore Minnesota’s most beautiful locations. Through the end of September, one-day parks and trails permit sales were up 6 percent, year-round permit sales were up 8 percent and overnight stays were up 6 percent over last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

“As a way to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of Minnesota state parks and trails, we’re encouraging visitors to see if they can go a total of 125 miles by bike, boot or boat by the end of 2016,” said Erika Rivers, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division. “Free Park Friday will provide an opportunity to add to your mileage, whether you’re near the end of the challenge or just getting started.”

Those who log 125 miles will receive a limited-edition sticker and can post their photo in an online Finishers Gallery at www.dnr.state.mn.us/125/125mile_finishers.html.

Minnesota state parks are open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and feature more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails through the state’s hardwoods, prairies and pinelands.

In addition to hiking a favorite park, visitors and families can participate in naturalist-led programs, search for wildlife and even participate in the DNR’s “Call of the Wildflowers” geocaching adventure.

To learn more about Minnesota’s 75 state parks and trails and to plan your “Free Park Friday” trip, visit: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/index.html.

For more information, visit www.mndnr.gov/freeparkfriday.

RCTC football becomes impromptu family reunion

As long as there’ve been athletic competitions like football, fathers have been taking their sons to games to enjoy a little bonding time.  Most sports fans I know have at least one favorite story of going to games with their dad and hanging out.  Good times with their dads will often lead kids to continue the tradition when they become parents themselves.

RCTC football equals a family reunion

The Rochester Community and Technical College football team beat Minnesota West in its home opener on Saturday, September 3, by a 26-8 score to even the overall season record at 1-1. (photo by Chad Smith

I got to take my two oldest boys with me to the Rochester Community and Technical College football game today.  If you know anything about what my family went through over the last four years, you’d know what a monumental thing that is.  It seems like such a small thing to go to a football game, doesn’t it?   When you haven’t been able to do that thing for a long time due to circumstances beyond your control, that little thing becomes big.

The day was a knockout for a college football game with temps in the 70’s.  There was just enough cloud cover to keep the heat from becoming oppressive, as it’s been known to do in late August/early September.  But no, this was a perfect day to watch football.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve seen in some time.  There weren’t a lot of big plays for either offense but the Yellowjackets came away with a 26-8 win to even their record at 2-0.  I didn’t recognize a lot of their players from last year’s squad. That team finished runner-up in the national championship game last year.  Last year’s coaching staff is gone too, so it’s going to be a rebuilding year for the Jackets.

I’d love to see those college athletic teams get more support from the Rochester community.  Those kids play hard and the cost to see them play is actually pretty affordable.  The facilities are some of the nicest I’ve seen in all my years of covering sports, so it’s worth the time and a little investment to take in the college atmosphere.

I’ve got a son and wife who are students out to RCTC, so I’m looking forward to getting to know the place a lot better in the months ahead.  Sure, it would be nice to see more Rochester folks out there.  If you’re a sports fan, you’re definitely missing out on some fun.

The offensive struggles made highlights a little harder to come by, but the Yellowjackets offense did find some rhythm in the second half.

It’s time to “Fetch” the groceries

When shoppers walk in the door of the Rushford Foods grocery store, things will look the same on the surface, but there’s a small change in the environment that means a big change for grocery shopping.

Groceries and Fetch are now together in the technology age

Rushford Foods is one of the newest stores trying to bring grocery shopping into the technology age with an application called “Fetch,” that seeks to make grocery shopping more efficient for shoppers of all ages. (photo from rushfordfoods.com)

The pop culture saying “there’s an app for that” now applies to grocery shopping.  Rushford Foods is now gone online with an application called Fetch, which is designed to make patrons into more efficient shoppers.  The options on the app are many, but they’re surprisingly easy to learn.

“Fetch is two years old and based in Madison, Wisconsin,” said Tristan Bednarek of Fetch Rewards.   “Chief Executive Officer Wes Schroll is the company’s founder.  As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he grew frustrated with some aspects of grocery shopping, especially with the length of time it took and the difficulty in finding coupons.  He found a way to fix those problems.”

It’s time to “Fetch” the groceries

The Fetch Rewards company’s “Fetch” grocery shopping application is online at IGA food stores in Rushford, Preston, and Harmony, Minnesota food stores to help make grocery shopping easier for shoppers of all ages. (Photo from superbcrew.org)

Fetch is a free mobile application that shoppers can download onto their smartphones or tablets.  However, if customers don’t own their own device, Rushford Foods will provide tablets for them to use.  All they have to do is check out one at the service counter.

Using an application to help their customers shop isn’t something that Rushford Foods jumped into.  It’s been a process that first began 18 months ago thanks to an article in a college newsletter.

“The founder of Fetch is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate,” said Rushford Foods co-owner Brad Hoiness, “but I went to school at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and the story appeared the La Crosse newsletter. It peaked my interest, so I drove to Madison and met with his team over there and watched how it’s been developing since then.”The first step in using the app is a simple one:  open up the app on your smart device.

“The Deals page is the first one you see when the application opens up,” said Emma Malone of Rushford Foods. “You grab the coupon you want by hitting the Fetch button.  Coupons can even be divided into categories like Dairy or Frozen foods.”

“The Deals page is the first one you see when the app is running,” said Emma Malone of Rushford Foods. “You grab the coupon you want by hitting the Fetch button.  Coupons can even be divided into categories like Dairy or Frozen foods.”

As shoppers go through the aisles and scan items, they are awarded a certain number of points for each item, and those points are redeemable for free items.

Get the groceries with the new “Fetch” application

Photographs from the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Mayville WI. where they are using a software app that allows to people to scan products in the store with their phones or the store has 6 loaner tablet devices, receive coupons instantly and have expedited check-out. You also get points and then can get free products. Fetch Rewards is the name of the Madison-based company that sets this up. Here Mike Hansen of Horicon scans in a bar code from the mushrooms he was buying with one of the store’s loaner tablets. (Photo from MICHAEL SEARS/MSEARS@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM)

“As shoppers walk up and down the aisles, they’re scanning everything they’re buying,” Bednarek said.  “The camera on your device will scan the barcodes for you and total up the prices of what you’re buying.  The app uses your camera and you don’t even have to press any buttons to scan something.  It takes the picture all by itself.  The item then gets thrown in your digital cart while you put it in your actual shopping cart.”

The app keeps a running total of what you’ve bought as you scan each item.  It doesn’t add sales tax so the checkout line final total will be a little different.  The application will show you different coupon options available for the items you want to purchase.

“Those coupons you select in the app come off automatically as you shop,” he said.  “When a coupon is available for something you scan and you haven’t selected it previously, you’ll see a pop-up that asks if you want to save money on the item.  All you do is hit the Fetch button.”

Buying produce will be a little different than most of the other items.  You begin by scanning the barcodes on each produce table which will contain several different options.

“Once you scan the barcode,” said Malone, “a list of everything on the table pops up and shoppers will select the one they want.  A blue button on the screen will remind shoppers to take the produce to scales to weigh the product.  Once it’s on the scale, a barcode pops up in the top right corner with the weight and price.  You scan that barcode with your smart device and it goes right into your virtual shopping cart.”

The Fetch Rewards company loads coupons into the application, and their manufacturer partners do too. Each store that signs up with Fetch will offer their own coupons too.

“You’ll get the same store savings using the app,” Bednarik said, “as we’re not replacing anything.  We’re just an addition on top of what the stores are doing.  Customers still have the opportunity to use manufacturer coupons that they clip out of newspapers.”

When the time comes to redeem the bonus points, shoppers should first hit the checkout button.  A list of everything you have will pop up and show how much you saved on each item.  The total number of points available determines how many of the shopping items will be free.  Each item will cost a certain number of redeemable points and the more of those shoppers have, the more they save.

Fetch Rewards just partnered with a company called Shop Well and the application can now flag nutritional information as well.  This is especially important for shoppers who suffer from food allergies or simply want to live healthier.

“They provide us with nutritional information,” Bednarek said.  “If you scan an item, you have the option to look at its ingredients list and it gives information like sodium content or cholesterol amounts.  Shoppers can even update their profiles to include food allergies and gluten intolerance.  All those things can be flagged so that when you scan an item, it will let you know.”

Southeast Minnesota grocery stores where Fetch is now available include Rushford Foods, as well as Harmony Foods and Preston Foods.  All three IGA food stores just went live with the application for the first time last Wednesday.

“We’ve trained the employees first, getting them comfortable and familiar with the app,” Bednarek said.  “They can answer any questions customers ask.

“We’ve also had several people use it to check out their groceries and they’ve said it’s very easy to learn,” Bednarek added.  “I’ve even had people tell me it turned grocery shopping a little more fun, which is not something you hear on a regular basis.”

Here’s a demonstration video I put together when I was doing the story for Bluff Country News.  I didn’t actually intend to put it up for public viewing, but I thought it would give a decent enough idea of how Fetch works.  If you put your playback on the HD setting, I think the picture is good enough to understand.  Of course, you can also go to Rushford Foods or any of the other stores that have it for more  information.

Chad

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the United States up for sale?

Why is the United States up for sale?

Foreign companies are quietly buying up farmland is the desert southwest to grow crops to send back to their own countries. Is this good for America? Are the United States really up for sale?

We have an awful lot of valuable natural resources in the United States, but there are two I’d like to draw your attention to specifically: Land and water. One we as human beings absolutely cannot live without, and one they aren’t making any more of. I’ll let you puzzle out which is which.

The reason I’m bringing this up is disconcerting to me. I’ve come across many articles online that report farmland in some of our most drought-stricken areas is being very quietly snapped up by foreign countries like Saudi Arabia. I bet you haven’t heard much about that in the national “news media,” have you?

Before you tell me, “You can’t believe everything you read online,” let me point out something: I know that. But let me teach you a little bit of journalism 101. If there’s enough smoke surrounding a story, there’s a fire in there somewhere. You just have to take the time to find it.

The way these companies’ are going about buying the land makes me fearful about the cost of our own natural resources, and let me explain why.

Have you heard of a business in Saudi Arabia called the Almarai Company? According to Reuters, in January of this year, they quietly purchased almost $32 million worth of land in California, a state that is suffering through years of drought. This is relevant because Almarai is the largest diary company in Saudi, and they want to grow alfalfa, one of the thirstiest crops in all of modern agriculture.

That is not good news for a state in it’s fourth year of drought so severe that residents and businesses who actually live and work in the state have to curtail water usage. And did I mention, estimates are the drought cost the state’s economy $2.74 billion dollars? Oh, and farmers had to literally plow under well over a half million acres of land because of dryness and the difficulty of getting enough water to irrigate the land.

The foreign land grab doesn’t just stop in California, either.

Just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, there’s a large farm that Almarai also bought for the purpose of growing hay and sending it back home. National Public Radio said the farm is roughly 15 square miles wide. That’s an acre total in the thousands, all to grow hay to send back to their country’s dairy cattle. So, why the rush to buy our land and use our water, you ask?

NPR reports the thing you may not know is Saudi Arabia used to grow it’s own alfalfa. But they ran into a problem. They used to sit on top of a huge natural aquifer, but due to poor management, it dried up. Ancient spring you may have read about in the Bible dried up. Only 50 years ago, the aquifer still contained enough water to fill Lake Erie.

As a result of mismanagement and greed, Saudi Arabia has drained it’s water supplies, and how they’re quietly buying up farmland in the southwest, right on the Arizona/California border. Tell me why this is a good thing?

Oh, and before you ask about laws regulating water usage, they only apply to local and domestic operations. Plus, it’s rather convenient that many of the areas being bought up don’t have water usage regulations in place yet? Is that a coincidence? If I’m looking for a place to grow alfalfa, which needs a lot of water to grow, I’m looking for places where I don’t have to worry about it. Wouldn’t you do the same?

So, how is this possible? In a word: Greed. And you can’t mention the word greed without talking about Washington, D.C., can you?

Our “leadership” passed an omnibus-spending bill last year. Yournewswire.com quoted Rand Paul as saying it was thousands of pages, “which no one read.” It’s too bad, because there was a little time bomb written into it that made foreign land grabbing even more possible.

Have you heard of the 1980 Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA)? It required all foreign investors to pay taxes on what they acquired in the US. Guess what? Because of that little time bomb, that went away. That used to protect Americans (the people that live here?) from property taxes that went through the roof. It doesn’t do that anymore.

Now that the law is overthrown (not just by the President, either), foreign pension funds can now buy American real estate similar to what their United States counterparts can, and not face any financial repercussions.

So, what does the foreign takeover of these United States lands mean for the little folks like you and me?

I’ve just given you a blueprint on how to takeover a country, and do it legally. You get to the people that make laws in a particular country, you pay them enough to bend the laws to your favor, and you start buying. Okay?

So, if you buy enough land, and water, eventually you start to control the country. And when that happens, we’re in big trouble. The evidence is out there. Our politicians are bought and paid for, and our country is BEING bought and paid for.

It’ll take time, but it’s coming. Call me a conspiracy theorist? Fine. Do the research yourself.

I can’t figure out why this stuff is happening right in front of Americans, but we CHOOSE not to see it? Is that the ostrich gene taking over? Stick your head in the sand, and hope it goes away? It’s not.

Officials from other countries have been quoted directly as saying, “We will use your own laws against you.” They’re doing a bang up job so far.

 

MUSLIM IMMIGRANT: “PRAISE ALLAH! WE’RE GOING TO BE THE MAJORITY SOON!” (VIDEO)

 

What do we do, America?

Feb weed of the month hits gardens hard

February’s Weed of the Month is about the poisonous ornamental plants that may be found growing in Minnesota community gardens. Some poisonous plants commonly grown in gardens have specific parts which are safe to eat (like tomatoes or other nightshades), while other plants are entirely poisonous. We will focus on plants which are wholly poisonous. The most common of these in Minnesota are castor bean, jimsonweed or Datura, and foxglove.

Weeds in gardens

The castor bean plant is an African transplant into Minnesota whose seeds contains ricin, an incredibly toxic compound. Be careful to avoid accidental ingestion. (contributed photo)

Castor bean plant, or castor oil plant, (Ricinus communis) is native to Africa and occasionally grown for medicinal and ornamental purposes in Minnesota. It has become naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, such as California. In Minnesota, it is a robust annual, growing to heights of 6- 15 feet. It has large, colorful, palmate leaves and pink or red flowers found along its stalks, which become soft, spiky, fruit-containing balls. The seeds contain ricin, an incredibly toxic compound which can be deadly if ingested. Ricin also occurs in lesser amounts in tissue throughout the plant. The seeds of this plant are so poisonous, it is said that ingestion of a single seed can kill a child. For this reason, castor bean should not be planted in any area that might be accessed by children, such as a community garden.

 

Weeds in gardens

Jimsonweed is an annual ornamental plant occasionally grown in Minnesota. All parts of the plant, including seeds, contain alkaloids, which are toxic when ingested. (contributed photo)

Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) is an annual ornamental plant in the Nightshade family occasionally found growing in Minnesota. It grows to a height of two to four feet and has long, trumpet-shaped, white to lavender blooms which extend above the leaf canopy, and distinctive, spiky, ball-shaped fruit. All parts of this plant, including the seeds, contain alkaloids which are toxic when ingested. If the plant were to go to seed, it could spread seedlings around a garden, which could then become intermixed with crops and accidentally ingested. Jimsonweed historically has been used as a recreational drug, occasionally resulting in overdose and death. The potential for accidental or intentional poisoning is high enough that it is advisable to prohibit these plants from growing in a garden alongside edible crops.

Weeds in Gardens

Foxglove is occasionally planted in Minnesota for ornamental purposes, but the entire plant is extremely toxic if ingested. It’s also a self-feeder, and can become extremely invasive if left unchecked. (contributed photo)

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a popular biennial ornamental plant. The foliage begins as a basal rosette in the first year. In the second year, it sends up long stalks which grow up to five feet tall and are lined with trumpet-shaped flowers. Many varieties are available, with flower colors ranging from white to pink to yellow. It is commonly grown to attract pollinators like bumblebees and hummingbirds. The entire plant is extremely toxic. Intentional ingestion can occur by individuals seeking medicinal folk-remedies and accidental ingestion by confusing foxglove with other edible herbs or by curious children. Foxglove is also prolific self-seeder and can become an aggressive invasive weed.

The best way to prevent issues with these plants is not to plant them in the first place, or strictly limit them. These plants, and all poisonous plants, should be prohibited from any community garden. They should not be planted anywhere where children might encounter them or close to any edible crops. Please contact Minnesota Poison Control with any concerns about potential human poisoning at 800-222-1222poisonhelp@hcmed.org, or www.mnpoison.org.

American politics and compromise: what happened?

American politics.  Guaranteed to raise the stress level in any conversation by at least tenfold.

Political polarization and the resulting inability of people with differing ideologies to compromise have brought progress in the United States to a screeching halt.

The public is bombarded with news stories every day that detail immigration concerns, gun control questions, ISIS, and so many other problems it gets overwhelming at times. So many problems to solve, and so little time. So, why can’t we climb these mountains?

American Politics

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., where the political divide has never been larger, and the need for compromise and the lost art of the deal has never been more needed. (Photo from the Huffington Post)

Politics and philosophical ideologies have divided this country like never before. Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, and more all have ideas on how to get things done. What they aren’t recognizing is their way might not be the right way. That fact doesn’t seem to matter. It’s “my way or the highway.” My ideology is completely right, and yours is completely wrong because it disagrees with mine.

 

American politics and social media

Facebook, and other forms of social media, offer a platform for sharing political views, but the resulting comments underneath the post offer a whole lot of people you may or may not know a chance for serious rebuttal, if not downright arguments.

Social media may bear part of the blame. Have you read some of the discussion threads on Facebook regarding immigration? How about the threads on ISIS and how to deal with that very real threat? You see behavior on these threads that would put children in daycare timeout immediately. Arguing, name-calling, cursing, lying, and other general misbehavior abound. While we sit and argue in a virtual world, problems don’t get solved in the real one.

What happened to compromise? What happened to “if everyone gives a little bit, we all can gain a lot?” Aren’t we all on the same team here?

Leadership and the art of compromise are compatible terms, aren’t they? You really can’t have one without the other.

Maybe businessmen and women might be the right ones to send to Washington to lead this country? After all, you don’t succeed in business and make deals if you don’t know how to compromise, right? Giving up a little something to the customer can often close a deal, right?

I am in no way endorsing Donald Trump as the next President. Let’s get that out of the way. But I did find something he said more than a little interesting.

The dailybeast.com website detailed a meeting hosted by a group called No Labels, a central-leaning political group that brought together a handful of presidential hopefuls, who each gave a speech before the members.

The website points out, correctly, that divisions in Washington are bigger than ever. Trump was quoted as saying, “Compromise is not a dirty word.” As stubborn as Trump is known to be, that might be a surprise to you, because it was to me.

As an example, Trump offered a story in which he brokered a deal between politicians and unions in New York City to help finish an ice skating rink in Central Park. The project had suffered from mismanagement for years.

Trump said, “It’s (compromise) in all the business schools. They study it. I didn’t learn it – I did it.”

The dailybeast.com writer called Trump “someone who wouldn’t simply untie the Gordian knot, but one who would cut right through it.”

What would life be like if we would just talk to each other. What if we relearned how to compromise?

Does the voting public deserve some blame for the gridlock in Washington? Probably.

Craig Chamberlain made a good point in an article on the University of Illinois website.   He said, for the most part, Americans tell pollsters that they are moderate on most of the important issues and they want the people they send to Washington to compromise and get things done.

Voting and American politics

Are Americans perpetuating the polarization in Washington by sending ideologically extreme candidates to D.C. every two years? (photo from huffingtonpost.com)

But, in the same breath, Chamberlain said American voters help perpetuate polarization in D.C. by continuing to elect ideologically extreme representatives. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. How many times have we seen extreme polarization make it difficult, or even impossible, to get things done for the good of our country?

I really thought Jim Totcke hit the nail on the head in a letter to the Editor on the havasunews.com website. He said, “Contrary to what the political parties in Washington might believe, compromise is what reasonable, civil people must do in a civil society.” When did we forget that?

Here is an even better point: Totcke said, “No single political party has a monopoly on good ideas. Why not utilize the best and brightest of both parties?”

Given the current polarization of politics, and the actual dislike that members of one party have for the other, it may be hard to believe we’ve seen genuine efforts to reach across the divide in the past. Believe it nor not, we have.

Dave Spencer is the founder of a group called Practically Republican, and he wrote a piece on the huffingtonpost.com website. He offered up Ronald Reagan, who many in the Republican Party consider a standard bearer for all that’s right in the Party, as an example of just how different things have become.

You’ve heard the term RINO, or Republicans In Name Only, in today’s political vernacular? Spencer said Reagan wouldn’t even qualify as a “real Republican” by today’s standards. He did lower taxes his first year in the Oval Office, but raised them four times during the rest of his tenure. He backed gun control. He was the first President to host an openly gay couple for an overnight stay at the White House.

Most notably, Reagan was noted for talking to the other side of the political aisle on the regular basis. Even though he may not have done precisely what the Democrats wanted, he genuinely listened, and that gave him a lot of credibility.

In a piece titled “Death of Horse-Trading on the Hill,” CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash pointed out that the 2015 Congress contained more than 40 Senators had served 4 years or less. Bash called it a, “Lack of experience in the art of legislating – knowing what it means to give a little to get a little.”

It’s time to act like adults, and not bickering children who have to have everything their way. It’s not too late, yet.

 

 

I need to vent: you need to read

I need to vent.

Apathy is a word I’m becoming a lot more familiar with as I venture further into the world of journalism. I have never been more concerned about the direction of the United States of America than I am at this moment in time. Evidently, I’m one of the few that are.

I offer up a local county in my part of Minnesota as a microcosm of what’s happening in this country.

This small county might be what most would think of when they picture rural America. But this small county is being hit with allegations of government corruption. And they aren’t just allegations, but they’ve been proven. I have seen the paperwork, I’ve seen the secret emails, and I’ve seen all the relevant documentation. These accusations have even been proven in court.

Local law enforcement started a “diversion program” as a way to deal with traffic violations, which, on paper sounded like a good thing. The legality of the program was questioned immediately. The cliff notes version is this: Traffic tickets were torn up if violators paid money to the county to take a class. The tuition money stayed in the county budget. But state statutes say local law enforcement officials don’t get to change enforcement standards (i.e. tear up tickets) because state government has authority in this situation.

I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I have done some extensive research and this looks like local officials found a way to bypass the state statutes to keep all the money raised from traffic violations in their coffers. I’d be glad to admit I was wrong if someone could show me I was, but state law very specifically states how the fine money is to be split between the state and local levels. It states that very clearly.

Did the little county find a way to bypass state law, or did they put something together that stayed within the law?  I’ll let you decide, but a local district judge said “nope.”

So, the program was declared illegal, and documents provided by the same law enforcement office show that traffic tickets have dropped by half since the program was taken off the board. From the outside looking in, it looks like officials have lost their motivation to write tickets since they don’t keep the money. Do I know that for sure? I don’t know that myself, but the paperwork from that very office seems to suggest it.

Now, people who paid money to take the class have hit the county with a class action suit. They want their money back. The county doesn’t want to pay it. They still say it was a “diversionary program,” even though a local district judge said no. So that means, more litigation, which means more cost to the taxpayers.

It also means the county will be on the hook for roughly $500,000 if they lose the lawsuit. Where does the money come from? It’s a pretty small tax base.

Here’s the thing: No one seems to care. There are no serious signs of local outcry. There is no sense of holding elected officials accountable for their actions. In fact, there seems to be a lot of playing the victim card happening in local circles. Elected officials are tossing around the word vendetta.

Why doesn’t government corruption bother people? Why is it just “expected?” Why is it excused? And it isn’t just in this small county either.

This is going on all over the country. As a member of the media, I find it nauseating that my national colleagues seem to be in bed with some of the worst dregs of humanity imaginable. You really can’t single out either of the two major parties anymore, either. Fox News’ handling of the Republican debate has convinced me that there are no reputable TV news outlets left.

The American people have played right into the hands of some of the most corrupt people in the country. Politicians are playing the “Sheeple” like fiddles. We spend more time arguing with each other over the stupidest things because politicians bring it up on the very news outlets they’re in bed with. Cecil the Lion, anyone? That’s called the strategy of distraction. Get us looking one way, so we don’t hold these crooks accountable for what’s really going on.

Am I being too harsh when I call our nation’s leaders crooks?

I offer Martin Luther King as an example. He said the very definition of tyranny is making laws for others that you don’t have to live under yourselves. Can you say Obamacare? That seems to fit the definition, doesn’t it? The only ones who are exempted from this national disaster seem to be in government. I didn’t get an exemption. Did you get one?

Is it just easier not to care? Is it easier not to put the work in to save our country before it’s too late?

What’s the old saying? The surest way for evil men to prosper is for good men to do nothing?

Evil men are prospering. How much longer do we wait before it’s too late?

 

 

 

 

 

Class action lawsuit against Wabasha County

Wabasha County

Wabasha County, located in SE Minnesota, faces a class action lawsuit over it’s now illegal safe driving program. Early estimates put the county on the hook for almost $500,000 dollars if it loses in court. (photo from en.wikipedia.org)

Wabasha County, Minnesota government is once again embroiled in controversy. The County created a Safe Driving Course back in 2003, and the legality of the model was questioned immediately. In January of 2014, Judge James Fabian of the Third District Court brought the program to a halt with a summary judgment.

Now, a class action civil lawsuit against the County has been filed on behalf of those who paid fees to take the class. The big question is: where does the money come from if the county loses the legal battle?

Wabasha County started the Safe Driving Course as a way for divers pulled over for minor moving violations to avoid large fines, a court appearance, and to keep the violation off their driving record. Although Wabasha created the program, at the time it was declared to be illegal, 36 cities and counties offered the program in similar formats.

The safe driving class had numerous concerns. Did the count have the legal authority to create and run the program? Most of the questions involved what happened to the money people had to pay to take the class. The original cost of the class was $75, and later was raised to $125.

In 2003, then-State Representative Steve Smith sent a letter of inquiry to the state Attorney General’s Office questioning the legality of a county program that “imposes administrative penalties upon person violating state laws and local ordinances.” The response from the AG’s Office was 7 pages long, and listed several ways the program was in violation of state laws.

One of the notable ways the program was in violation of state law was the discretionary behavior of law enforcement. Smith stated in his letter that local law enforcement officials were “holding tickets for certain traffic offenses to give drivers a chance to sign up for the Class. If the driver signed up for the class in time, the ticket was torn up.”

The response from Assistant AG Ken Raschke said, “Cities are empowered to regulate certain areas of local interest, and to supplement state statutes in many areas. However, local governments may not redefine the nature or level of criminal offense as specified by state statute, or modify statutory procedures for enforcement or penalties for an offense.”

Because the program was started at the city and county level, there was also some question as to whether or not local officials had the authority to make that decision. Raschke’s response answered the question by stating, “It is not consistent with state and public policy for local officials to direct or urge that city peace officers not enforce the law of the state to the best of their ability.”

Raschke did say that county officials and peace officers to have substantial discretion in making arrest and charging decisions.

“But, these decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis in terms of the evidence available, the culpability of the offender, and the nature of the offense, rather than the offender’s willingness to make a payment to the city,” he said.

In 2004, another letter from the State Auditor said, “This office believes the class is an effort to issue county penalties for traffic offenses that are regulated by State law. The State has entered the arena of traffic regulation through Chapter 169 of the Minnesota statues, and the county needs to use the uniform traffic ticket for violations of state traffic laws and adjudicate those violations through the state court system”

In other words, no holding of tickets, and no tearing them up once the drivers have taken the course. But the Safe Driving Class continued on.

The other question is what happened to the money drivers paid to take the class and avoid the court system?

In 2009, new legislation was enacted which required a person successfully completing a diversion program for a violation of Chapter 169 (Again, covering traffic violations) to pay a $75 surcharge. It laid out distribution of the proceeds as well: $65 was to go to the state general fund; $9.75 for the peace officer training account; and $0.25 to the game and fish fund.

During the early years of the program, Wabasha County was keeping all revenues from the Safe Driving Class. Even after the 2009 letter from the Office of Minnesota Management and Budget outlining the distribution of revenues, Wabasha County continued to keep all the money and sent nothing in to the state.

The warnings from state government continued through 2013. In August, a lawsuit was filed against Wabasha County over the Safe Driving program. The suit actually included 2 of Wabasha County’s Commissioners. The County response stated they felt it was a legal “diversion program.”

Third District Court Judge James Fabian issued an injunction, which stopped the program.

“State Statutes didn’t allow the program,” said Erick Kaardal, of the Mohrman, Kaardal, and Erickson Law Firm in Minneapolis, who represented the plaintiffs. “The concern was, rather than following through on a traffic ticket, they offered violators a chance to pay tuition to the class. The tuition money was going to the department’s budget, but ticket revenue was to be split between the state and the county.”

After the first suit was won, Kaardal and his firm represented plaintiffs who filed petitions to the court for tuition reimbursement. They filed for a class action suit statewide, but the Third District Court said no to that. The Court of Appeals then rejected a conditional review of the case.

“What was left open by the original district court,” said Kaardal, “was doing a suit county-by-county. So we’re representing plaintiffs on a countywide basis who want their tuition money back.”

He added, “Some of the early estimates indicate the refund amount my top $400,000 dollars in revenue.”

He said the goal was to stop county sheriffs from having a financial incentive to write tickets.

Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch did end the program as soon as the injunction was granted. He felt the Safe Driving Program was a benefit to the county, and it was run as a legal diversion program.

Sheriff Rodney Bartsch

Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch tells a Minnesota House committee Tuesday, March 18, 2014, that the public likes the option of taking classes rather than pay tickets. (photo from republican-eagle.com)

“The lawsuit is about a personal vendetta,” said Bartsch. “It has nothing to do with right or wrong. We had over 4,500 people participate in the class over a ten-year period. Most said the education was of great value to them. For the plaintiffs to have found 8 people to come forward out of thousands doesn’t sound like much of a class action suit to me.”

Bartsch added, “What’s interesting to me is there are other similar programs across the state. Why aren’t they trying to shut those down?”

Kaardal said most of the other county programs were shut down after the Wabasha ruling came down.

“After we won in Wabasha,” said Kaardal, “most of the other counties shut down their programs. Based on our most recent information, Wright and Isanti counties continue their programs, and so we have continuing concerns there, but right now we’re focused on the class action suit in Wabasha County.”

Sheriff Bartsch said the ongoing dispute with the State Auditor shouldn’t have happened because he felt they didn’t have the authority to regulate what he classified as a “diversionary program.”

He said, “The County Attorney and I always had a different opinion than that of the state auditor. They never had any authority to interpret state statute. This was always considered a diversionary program.”

However, Kaardal feels this suit is supported by case law.

“There’s good case law that states if the county sheriff has money he obtained illegally, he should give it back,” he said. “It’s called Money Had and Received. It says if you illegally obtain money from a party, you have to give it back.”

Kaardal added, “For example, if I give you money thinking you’re a store clerk before goods are exchanged and you aren’t, you have to give it back. He obtained the money through an illegal program, and he needs to give it back. That’s just common sense.”

Kaardal said cases like this are disappointing to him on a personal level too.

“The great hope is that law enforcement officers would follow the law,” said Kaardal. “We should be disappointed when law enforcement officers violate the law, particularly here in such an official and deliberate way.”

However, Sheriff Bartsch said his Safe Driving Class was a diversion program that violated no laws. In his mind, this continues to be a personal vendetta.

“This is just a way to get people paid for their time that was invested in trying to destroy a few elected officials in Wabasha County,” said the Sheriff. I will continue to feel sorry for those people that wish harm on others.”

Bartsch added, “I won’t name any names, but this whole issue began after a county commissioner lost an election.”

Kaardal continues to insist this is not personal matter, but a clear violation of law.

He said, “The county sheriff has complied with the District Court injunction stopping the safe driving program, and I praise him for that. Now it’s time for the Sheriff to do what’s legally necessary and refund the money to the safe driving program participants. But, the County Sheriff is choosing not to give money back to the participants. However, if the Sheriff would choose to give the money back, I would praise him for that action too. The unfortunate consequence of the Sheriff’s decision is more litigation.”