Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dealing with Russia Harshly


Growth in the Russian economy in the first quarter of the year has taken a major hit and experts blame it on international pressure over Croatia and the Ukraine.
by Charlie Leck
There are ways besides war or military confrontation.
Senator McCain, take note!
The Russian Economic Minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, addressed the Russian parliament with the news that growth in the economy of the nation fell below one percent, which is less than a third of his earlier predictions of growth. He made it clear what caused the shortage – “the acute international situation of the past two months.”
Ulyukayev told the ministers that the situation had caused a “serious capital flight.” The ruble has lost 9 percent of its value against the dollar in the first three months of 2014.
There is growing fear in Russia that America and the European Union might escalate sanctions against President Vladimir Putin and the Russian nation and that might instigate an even more serious economic downturn.
Let’s hope all the major columnists in America and Europe keep calling for the screws to be tightened against the Russian bear until it removes the military units it has put on the Ukrainian border.



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Representative Steve Smith’s Lonely, Unnecessary Death


He couldn’t confront the monster called Alcoholism and most of his family and friends exhausted every effort to get him to face it. He died alone and lonely; and I weep for him and the family he couldn’t hold close.
by Charlie Leck
Former MN Representative (our former representative in the State House of Representatives) died recently, losing a fierce and ugly battle with alcoholism. The story in MinnPost is brilliantly written and very sad. If you knew Steve, an old fashioned Republican and proud of it, you should read it. He died, probably a month ago in a small apartment he had in the community of Mound. Once brilliant and bright and handsome, he had shriveled into an old and weak man, beaten down by one of the worst diseases known to man. He was on a bed in his simple apartment, wrapped in blankets. The heat to the unit had been turned off and the scene conjures up terrible feelings of lonely hopelessness. He had been dead for some time when he was found.
I never voted for him, but I admired him for the hard earned victories he won in every election cycle up to his defeat in a party primary in 2012. In that campaign he was beaten by a tough, rough Tea Party opponent and by the habit he couldn’t kick. There wasn’t much fight left in him.
He was certainly a moderate Republican and we (the Democrats in the district) were able to live with him; and we were also able to negotiate with him and, sometimes, arrive at compromise positions. I always thought of him as a good man. He was clearly well spoken and well read.
The story of his death is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. I won’t write more. The story is there for those with the courage to read it.



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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homeless Jesus


I just ordered a miniature of this bronze sculpture because I was so surprised and pleased by the story I read about it. The full size sculpture is about 9 feet wide and about 3 feet high. It was done by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor and a devout Christian.
by Charlie Leck
One of these sculptures was placed on the grounds of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina. It draws lots of attention and quite a few police calls about the homeless person asleep on the park bench near the church. Oh, my!
Some people have been curious enough to approach the work of art. Only the feet, with puncture wounds, gives away the sculptor’s intent and the reason he calls it Homeless Jesus.
David Buck, the priest at the church, explained that the work was placed there as a memorial for Kate McIntyre, one of his parishioners with a special love for public art. He said, “It gives authenticity to our church… and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized in society.”
Most people seem to appreciate the statue, but some are unnerved by it.
It captures exactly my feelings about Jesus and I’ve written here a number of times about this attitude – as I did in a blog I called Meeting a Really Big Celebrity. Here’s a portion of that 10 November  2007 blog…
“I was in Toronto, staying at the lovely, old York Hotel (now part of the Fairmont chain of international hotels). The blimeys wanted $14 per day for a hookup to the Internet. Well, blast them. That’s un-American! My trusty laptop and I took ourselves just around the corner to one of the Tim Horton express coffee shops. They provide free wireless connections. I found myself a nice comfortable spot, right up in the front of the shop, where I could look out at York Street and I turned on my computer and got connected to the miraculous wireless service. What a world!
“Just then, I saw him. There he was, directly across from me – not twenty feet away. He sat on a little plastic box that he had wedged in between a couple of newspaper vending machines, giving himself some protection from the wind. He was pretty haggard looking and his clothes were extremely untidy. The soles of his heavy shoes were worn very thin. He had several days of stubble on his face.
“It was Jesus all right. Those were his eyes. They were dark and set deep in his face. They sparkled with a remarkable radiance and they were filled with love and compassion. It was Jesus. There was no question about that.
“Jesus sat there with his feet crossed. On his lap he held a large, old paper coffee cup. As each person walked by on the street he greeted them kindly, with a proper hello or a wish for a good day. Occasionally some person, who had also clearly recognized who this remarkable man was, would slip a coin into his paper cup. Jesus would thank them kindly.
“It seemed to me that Jesus was settled in for the long haul. I went about reading my email and sending back replies. I then took a quick peek at the New York Times and ran my eyes along the headlines. Suddenly I saw that Jesus was moving away. I panicked. I hadn’t had a chance to greet him, to touch him, nor to ask him for his autograph. I pushed back from my workspace so quickly and loudly that I startled some of the folks taking coffee behind me. I rushed to the door and out to the street. Jesus was down the block, looking into the small hole in the center of a manhole cover. Steam was rising from it.
“‘Hey, you,’ I called to him. I ‘got closer to him and had to repeat myself loudly. He was in the street and in danger of being struck by the Friday morning traffic. He looked away from the manhole cover and locked on to my eyes. He looked so filled with joy and peace. He made me feel so quieted and untroubled. I had a two dollar Canadian coin in my hand and I held it out, luring him out of the street. When he stepped on to the curb, I reached out and slipped it into his cup.
“‘Thank you,” he said so very softly. “I thought there was a fire. The smoke was rising from beneath the street and I smelled something burning. I was sure it was a fire and it frightened me. I thought perhaps the earth was on fire.’
“Jesus tilted his head to one side and looked at me, wondering why I was so generous and had chased him down the street. Didn’t I realize that he could not have been harmed? I wanted to ask for his autograph, but the bit about the earth being on fire unnerved me.
“‘I’m going back to my station,’ he said. ‘Excuse me.’
“Back inside the warm, cozy sandwich shop, I slid back in front of my computer and looked outside at the fellow. He was again between the newspaper boxes. His collar was turned up and he was observing the Friday rush, streaming by him with little or no concern about who he was or his particular needs.
“A Sunday School teacher had once warned me, long, long ago, that this day would come. I had encountered Jesus in the flesh.
“‘You will meet him,’ Mrs. Beiser had said, ‘and he will be in the least and most unexpected of people. He will be cold and hungry and in need. Give generously to him.’”
I’ve never thought of owning any kind of art work around the house that depicted Jesus, but I was intrigued with owning a miniature of this one by Schmalz, so I could put it here in my library. So, I tracked down his web site and looked into it. He offered a version that was only 10 inches wide (the original is 7 feet wide). It seemed perfect for me, so I had him ship me one. I really look forward to its arrival.
If Evelyn Beiser was still alive, I would have had one shipped to her as well.
You can listen to a National Public Radio (14 April 2014) account about the statue on Weekend Edition Sunday. It’s pretty interesting.
http://www.sculpturebytps.com/miniature-sculptures/christian-collection/small-religious-statues-homeless-jesus-2/
The Pope himself owns a miniature of the statue (Schmalz flew to Rome to give him one) and the Holy Father is seeking to have a full sized one installed on the Via della Conciliazione. It only awaits City Council approval.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

I’m depressed and mad as hell over the recent decision by the Supreme Court. I didn’t think they could deliver a bigger blow than the Citizen United decision, but they sure did. POW – right in the kisser!
by Charlie Leck
As Evan Mackinder, of the Sunlight Foundation, said [recently]…
“Don’t look now, but the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) just delivered another major blow to our campaign finance system. The court’s ruling this morning in McCutcheon v. FEC strikes down strict limits on the amount of campaign cash wealthy donors can contribute to federal campaigns each election. Their ruling effectively ties a big bow around Congress and delivers it to the one percent.”
 This is really desperately unfair. Think about it. It allows the minority greater strength in elections than the majority. Everything in America right now seems to be moving toward the construction of plutocracy.  Somehow we need to get this message to the ordinary American citizen and mobilize him to make things equal again. It will require an enormous effort.
I'm in!

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Obama’s Rating as President


Will his current battle with Vladimir Putin be the measuring stick of Obama’s presidency?
by Charlie Leck
Barack Obama has been a reasonably good president. He was a better president while Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State. In the arena of foreign affairs, Obama made very good decisions in Libya and Syria. That was, you will remember, while he had Mrs. Clinton blocking for him on every play. The situation with Russia in the Ukraine has been much more difficult for him and he gives the appearance of wandering and waffling – though, perhaps, that is only appearance.
Vladimir Putin, of Russia, appears to be out to prove something – and that is that the United States, under its current leadership, is chicken-shit. Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are, of course, not at all frightened off by Putin, but they are aware of instability in his background. If not for his deceptions, Putin would not even be the current President of Russia. Obama and Kerry are aware that they are dealing with an imbalanced international power. Behind every Putin decision there lurks danger.
I don’t think George W. Bush would have dealt with Putin much differently than President Obama is. With Ronald Reagan things may have gone differently and we may have been put out on a narrow ledge with no room to turn around.
Putin is acting as if he knows he has the United States in a particularly bad place. This is a nation that spent so much on a series of wars in the Middle East – nearly to the point of bankruptcy and economic depression – that it wants a rest from “all that stuff.”
Obama is counting on international diplomacy. The problem is that Vladimir Putin is not very diplomatic and is not charmed by discretion.
It very much appears that Putin wants to move against the Ukraine and make it, again, a part of the Russian sphere – but this time removing its national independence and rolling it into the bigger piece of pie that is Russia.
Russian military action is imminent.
Obama remains patient. His detractors are furious. Yet, Obama must continue to remember that we elected him in the belief that he would be a leader who would look toward peace and peaceful measures in dangerous situations just as long as peaceful reactions and measures remained at all possible.
This may be Obama’s Waterloo and this may forever be the measure of his presidency; yet, he must remain true to who he is and to the people who elected him because of who he is. Military action must be – must be – the very last reaction to the idiocy of Vladimir Putin.
Putin deserves a spanking – this is true – but it does not have to be one dispensed by the American military. We need to join with international allies who will, together, punish Putin economically and make his nation suffer so much that they will say goodbye forever to their current President. It begins with cutting off the importation of any Russian products into the United States and Canada (and, hopefully, Mexico). The next step might be to ban all travel to Russia during this period of disagreement.
If our allies are not willing to join us in acting against Russia, there is no way we should take up the battle alone.



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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Solid Democrat Turnout is the Impossible Dream


No one is surprised by stories today in my local newspaper and others that the Democrats can keep control in Washington if they can get a good turnout on Election Day.
by Charlie Leck
No one is surprised that the political analysts are saying the Democrats can hold on to the U.S. Senate next year if they can turn out their voters this November. This isn’t anything new for Democrats. The party has a solid hold on the majority of voters and does in a huge percentage of the states – even states that traditionally vote for Republicans.
Here’s the danged truth about this matter: Democrats just traditionally have trouble getting all their supporters into the election booth. They’ve struggled with this question (why?) for many, many years
Some of the reasons supporters don’t turn out is because of inconveniences caused by some states' voting laws.
Why do you think Republicans in Minnesota and many, many other states want to toughen up laws that govern the right to vote? How many states tried to pass laws in the last few years that would require tougher identification procedures? Or tougher proof of address procedures?
It is no secret that Democrats depend a great deal on voters who live in situations that make it more difficult and inconvenient for them to vote. And Republicans, of course, have no sympathy for such voters and don’t want to do anything to help them out. Republicans traditionally oppose any early-voting laws. Of course they oppose voting-by-mail laws. Image how they feel about voting-on-line laws? They always stand firm against laws that would increase the number of precincts in urban areas that would make it more convenient for people with difficult transit situations to get their voting place.
Here’s a True-Story situation right in south Minneapolis. Until recently, when voting-rights advocates showed her how to vote early and helped her go through the procedure, she just didn’t vote. She’s a poor woman and lives her life in a home that is 15 or 16 blocks from her voting precinct. She moves around with the help of a motorized cart. She isn’t close to a bus line. She would never pay for a taxi because she simply can’t afford to spend her money that way.
Years ago, when I lived in the city, we’d organize crews to go out on Election Day to assist people like this in getting to their voting places. It was a tough organizational task. We’d never get around to all the people we needed to help. The job is easier these days, thanks to laws that make it easier for people to vote. Those laws haven’t gone far enough, but they’ve helped.
Apathy is something that kills Democrats in many elections. And, it is apathy that, many times, is difficult to criticize. You can’t imagine how many people there are who just have to expand vast amounts of energy on surviving and keeping their loved ones fed and sheltered. They’ve lost faith in politicians and political promises. They’ve come to believe that their vote isn’t going to matter one little bit – that it won’t change the difficult circumstances under which they live.
A lack of awareness among voters also hurts Democrats. So many people, who would favor the Democratic Party’s approach to life and law, just aren’t in touch with political information and the potential of holding political power. Campaigns don’t seem to be aimed at that sector of the population because we haven’t yet figured out how to do it.
Age is another factor; and I’m not talking about old age! Young people of eligible voting age are among a very high percentage of those who do not vote. Political scientists believe that a huge percentage of this group of non-voters would likely vote for Democrats if they did vote.
In recent years, some advances have been made in reaching these groups of non-voters. Campaigns have found new ways of reaching these groups, but we’re not going to see a big impact on this year’s election from these new techniques.
Turnout is Key!
The headline is correct. The Democrats can keep control of the Senate this coming November is they can get a strong turnout in an off-year election. There is no doubt that the Democrats could taste the bitter pill of defeat in this election if they don’t make extreme efforts to get voters to turn out and vote.
The country hasn’t bought into the slick line of the Tea Party and the Republicans. It has not given in to the vast power of the wealthy to affect and effect elections. The question about turnout is vital, however. Will the majority cast votes this November?
Look, states like Mississippi and Georgia are really governed and run by minority parties. If Georgia could ever figure out how to turn out those voters with Democratic leanings, we’d get a Democratic U.S. Senator for sure. Though it sounds both impossible and improbable, the same thing is true in Mississippi. Getting a heavy voter turnout in that state is almost impossible and conservatives sure aren’t going to pass laws that make it easier.
At a recent fund-raiser, President Obama had the following to say about voter turnout this November…
“During presidential elections, young people vote; women are more likely to vote; blacks, Hispanics more likely to vote… We do pretty well in presidential elections, but in midterms we get clobbered.
Somehow, the Democratic Party has got to figure out how to treat this November’s election with all the seriousness and vigor that it would put into a presidential election. We just must. To turn the Senate over to the Republicans at this time will be a disaster for the progress we’ve made
This is probably the most serious election of my life-time. In the coming weeks, I’ll deal with some of these crucial Senate races state-by-state.
  


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Friday, April 4, 2014

Midtown Farmers Market Face-Lift


We attended a community meeting in Midtown Minneapolis last evening – fighting a driving snow storm to get there and back – and found it invigorating and far different than our low-key life in the country.
by Charlie Leck
4 April 2014
We attended a community gathering last night in the northeast corner of the Corcoran Neighborhood in Minneapolis. A block of property, right next to the Lake Street station of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, is currently owned by the Minneapolis School Board. Hennepin County is seriously considering a purchase of this property and a redevelopment of it that involves significant cooperation with the residential and business interests of that neighborhood. The plan is only in its embryonic stage and there will be lots more of these conversations in order to bring a wide spectrum of varying interests and stake-holders together.
We were there because my wife has been a vendor at the Midtown Farmers Market, which sets up on that piece of property, ever since the market first opened. We don’t have much of a financial stake in the neighborhood, but we’ve developed an emotional attachment to a lot of the people there and we feel strongly about the market’s future. And, we like the work that the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization does in sponsoring this market and advocating for the health and welfare of the entire neighborhood.
It will be four or five years down the road before the changes and developments really impact the market and, by that time, my wife will likely be retiring from this rugged lamb production work she does. It may be just as well. Though the market will likely become a much more attractive place in a very busy and bustling location, there will be much less room for getting a pickup truck and a freezer trailer in place to offer the product we sell.
You can see some of this early thinking about the development of the site on the Midtown Farmers Market web site. I've also included a photo that graphically explains the change in size of the market. The entire development will certainly be a mixed use location that will feature housing for various incomes and ages, retail and office availability and a home for a neighborhood center for the county’s health and human services work.
The neighborhood residents in the current single family houses – to the south and immediate southwest – are worried about the increase of traffic and parking in the areas where they live. There is currently a significant Park & Ride site for users of the light rail line and that space will be gobbled up by the development. That adds more worries for home owners who don’t want curb-side parking to increase in their residential neighborhood. The chances for conversation about these matters were very limited last night because of the jam-packed agenda and one could sense that a number of special interests were given too little time for an expression of their concerns – including bicyclists, home-owners, environmentalists and sustainability advocates.
We came away feeling that this is a very exciting project! The farmers market will certainly change in character and I see it becoming much more like the current Mill City Farmers Market down alongside the Guthrie Theater – and that’s not a bad thing. We’ve made a lot of good friends at the Midtown Market and in the Corcoran neighborhood and we wish them nothing but great good luck on this very exhilarating time that lies ahead for them.
In the meantime, we look forward to the opening of the 2014 Midtown Farmers Market on Saturday, May 3rd and we’ll see you there.
It was some drive home last night in the heavy April snowstorm that rolled into the Twin Cities. We took between 10 and 11 inches of snow here on our farm.
Miscellaneous Thoughts
We enjoyed listening to the presentations of various interest groups last night and we learned quite a bit about how community organization and the nature of communities have changed over the years. We allow ourselves to get pretty isolated out here in the country and we have to catch up on some of the terminology we hear at a meeting like this – co-housing (I sat down this morning and did a bunch of reading to understand it), green-living, Leeds Housing, solar energy, water conservation in housing development and sustainability.
Various interests at the meeting last night (some of the stake-holders) have quite a job ahead of them. I’m talking about the Minneapolis School Board, the Hennepin County Commissioners, the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization and the City of Minneapolis. I hope the YWCA, which owns property just to the west, will also be very involved.
Hey!
There was a point in the meeting where I wanted to stand up and shout-out proudly that we installed a geo-thermal heating system in our home just this past autumn. We’re not complete hicks or country-bumpkins, you know!



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