Daily Reformer: immigration, people and manure.

January 27, 2020 1:09 am

Good morning. 

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

This morning at the Reformer I came out of reporting retirement to write a little piece about the Senate Republican push to pass a voter ID law in the upcoming legislative session, even though Minnesota rejected just such a measure in 2012, by 110,000 votes.

Also this morning, Nick Stumo-Langer, a student at the Humphrey School, looks at demographic and jobs data and sees immigration as one of Greater Minnesota’s only answers when it comes to stagnant or declining populations and a dearth of workers. 

(I would add a few more: We could change our weather, which we’re doing slowly but surely but this seems like a long shot. We could also become a tax haven like South Dakota, but that has obvious tradeoffs in terms of cuts to schools, universities, health care and social services. Or pay people to have children, but it’s costly.) 

Last week, our own Max Nesterak wrote a richly reported, nuanced and textured piece after hitting a Jason Lewis event in Beltrami County, which recently closed the door on new refugees. (And he wrote it on deadline; no small feat.) Max was generous to his hosts while making sure to check their facts, which were not always correct. Please read it. I wanted to highlight the remarkable quote at the end of the piece in which the subject says he would really like for the refugees to be in a hospitable place. Beltrami just isn’t it.  

“My God, if we brought them up here and it’s 30 below … how inhospitable,” Batchelder said. “And I can’t speak for everybody in Beltrami County, but there’s going to be immediate friction. We need a welcoming place for refugees.”

Let’s go a little deeper on the refugee/immigration front and consider this piece by Thomas Edsall

What if the belief systems used to justify anti-immigrant policies and to justify race prejudice, for that matter — hostility to outsiders, insularity, high sensitivity to external threat — are as deeply ingrained in the American body politic as belief systems sympathetic to immigration and to racial equality — openness, receptivity to new experiences, trust? 

This feels right to me. Cosmopolitans on the coasts who dominate our national dialogue were blind in the age of Trump, not just to their countrymen, but also to our history. 

Meanwhile, neoliberal economics was imposing a politics of scarcity on many communities, perhaps most susceptible in the first place to the closed off belief systems Edsall refers to above. 

Edsall cites three political philosophers’ 2013 book, Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences,” which argues that liberalism is “an evolutionary luxury” that can emerge in people when “negative stimuli becoming less prevalent and less deadly,” or, as Hibbing told Edsall, “when daily threats to life and limb posed by other human beings have diminished.” Conversely, they write, if the environment shifts back to a “threat-filled atmosphere,” then “positive selection for conservative orientations would reappear.”

The whole piece has really interesting stuff about political psychology that I can’t really summarize, so you should read the whole thing

It also reminded me of this interesting bit in Evan Ramstad’s recent piece about Minnesota population trends

Economic growth is shaped by additions of people, resources and productivity. Fast growth is an elixir in society, creating wealth that makes it easier to get over mistakes. “It lubricates things. When you start to get low growth, you start to get friction, just like in an engine,” Johnston said. When growth slows, people tend to preserve wealth rather than taking risks to create more of it. “When things aren’t growing, you start fighting harder for what you have,” Dave Kuplic, chief investment officer of Securian Asset Management, said at the Star Tribune’s Investor Roundtable.

See how it’s all connected? Great column by Lee Schafer in the Sunday Star Tribune about the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal. A new regulatory filing shows it was even worse than we thought. Remember, Wells has deep Minnesota ties because of its legacy bank Norwest. 

Schafer’s column actually fits into today’s Daily Reformer themes, insofar as yes, the execs are paying big fines, but the whole thing demonstrates that there are two legal systems in America. One is for corporate crime, which is usually committed by upper income white people, and the other is for street crime, which is committed by people of all races but usually on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. They go to prison. Corporate wrongdoers often do not. This dichotomy has created a crisis of legitimacy in our legal, economic and political systems, and the inevitable result is revolutionary language on the right and left. 

Times: President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

I suppose Bolton’s status as a Fox News hawk has some weight to it, but I doubt this changes anything. Trump was right when he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” And because Washington Republicans fear the electoral bloodbath if his supporters stay home in November, there is simply no evidence that matters. If anything, they can just go to their next move: Trump was right to withhold the money until they agreed to investigate the dirty Bidens. 

Which calls to mind this perceptive piece about the current information environment, in which propaganda is used not to create a singular narrative, but to act as a smoke machine such that we become wary and eventually give up in our search for truth: 

It seeks to disorient audiences with an avalanche of competing stories. And it produces a certain nihilism in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of finding the truth that they give up the search. (Steve) Bannon articulated the zone-flooding philosophy well, but he did not invent it. In our time, it was pioneered by Vladimir Putin in post-Soviet Russia. Putin uses the media to engineer a fog of disinformation, producing just enough distrust to ensure that the public can never mobilize around a coherent narrative….his goal, he told me, wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that “the truth is unknowable” and that the only sensible choice is “to follow a strong leader.”

The punchline of all that: The relative peace and prosperity and liberal democracy — which excluded significant portions of the country anyway, especially people of color — may have been a post-war mirage, an aberration that is coming to an end. 

A depressing riff today, to be sure. 

But you should never bet against American capacity for innovation and ingenuity. Adam Belz with a fascinating piece about cattle farmers turning the vast amounts of methane their cows produce into usable gas, made possible by governments on the West Coast creating big incentives with methane credits. 

Let’s move on, shall we?

I go away for a couple days and the flimflam pillow man is suddenly the talk of politicos, thanks to this piece in the Star Tribune in which Mike Lindell of MyPillow infomercial fame says he’s considering running for governor in 2022. It’s about time we had a solid mustache in the gov’s office.

I spent 7 years in Las Vegas, and this feels more redolent of Nevada than Minnesota. I thought you people were serious, what with your massive companies that make life saving medical devices and whatnot. 

A DFL operative was giddy, conjuring up the Lindell ads starring the 120 people laid off from the company last year after Lindell spent all that time praising the Trump tax cuts. (Lindell told the Star Tribune the layoffs were executed to make room for a new “online marketplace for products from inventors and entrepreneurs.” )

My response: why would you underestimate Lindell when Donald Trump is the current president? 

Walz is doing a rural broadband event in Melrose and then the first meeting of the Biofuels Council in St. Paul and a regional Chamber event at the Guthrie. 

Last week Ricardo Lopez reported that we have a date for the Senate DFL leadership vote: Feb. 1.

Also of note, Forum’s Dana Ferguson reported from an event that Sen. Tom Bakk “floated repealing the estate tax in Minnesota.” Not sure how this wins him any votes in his caucus. 

Minnesota’s resident oddsmaker Rep. Pat Garofalo likes the odds of a postponed leadership vote; you have to bet $190 to win $100. 

A bit about the Upper Harbor Terminal advisory board trying to bar journalists from photographing and recording a public meeting, from the Star Tribune’s Andy Mannix, who reports that Channon Lemon, a vice president with the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Star Tribune’s board of directors, “was among those who told the media not to record, according to several members who were present.” Lemon also declined a Mannix requests for an interview.

Not one to comment on my former employer the Star Tribune (disclosure: my wife is photojournalist there), but this has to be said: You can’t be on the board of a newspaper and be either hostile or ignorant of open meetings law or the essential role played by the media in informing the public about issues of important community interest. 

Not a close call. 

Nearly 2,000 words. (More words than I typically give my reporters for their stories) Thanks for reading! JPC 

Correspond: [email protected] 


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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and toddler son.