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The New Watchdogs: Keeping You Posted, by Jason Barnett, Executive Director of The UpTake

What has happened to local and state government reporting in a time of legacy media budget-trimming, staff cutbacks and a loss of commitment to fearless journalism and truth-telling? I’m sure you already know the answer, and it isn’t good. That’s why I have been invited to present a panel discussion at April’s National Conference for Media Reform in Denver in order to examine the debilitated state of local government reporting across the country, and to discuss ideas to strengthen it. The title of my session is, “The New Watchdogs: Holding Power to Account.” And yes, you bet, I believe that The UpTake is one of the best emerging models out there for making sure that the public interest is upheld in the corridors of power. We’ll be talking about the decline of “accountability reporting” — the worrisome state of local political reporting across the country during an era of for-profit media disintegration and disarray, as well as strategies to improve this crucial type of reporting. Continue Reading →

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Non-Removables: The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Welcomes You to St Paul (Again)

St Paul's Crowne Plaza Hotel. Click on the photo to see video of the announcement that the hotel is being bought by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Today, in an ironic reversal of fortune that would have been impossible to foresee just a few years ago, Minnesota’s native people again are warmly welcoming people to their homes on the Mississippi River — homes called The Crowne Plaza and DoubleTree Hotels. Continue Reading →

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Last Rites In Foreclosure Fight? Minnesota Senate Dems Block Hearing on Homeowners’ Bill of Rights

Prayers May Not Be Enough: Click on the photo to see video of activists pushing for Homeowners' Bill of Rights

This is not the way Minnesota housing rights activists thought it would turn out when Democrats regained control of the the State Legislature: Hopes for passing a Homeowners’ Bill of Rights to protect Minnesotans from needlessly losing their homes to foreclosure all but died Friday. A Homeowners’ Bill of Rights — similar to one that was adopted by California last year — would require automatic mediation between banks and homeowners facing foreclosure and prohibit the practice of “dual-tracking,” in which banks negotiate with homeowners while simultaneously moving them towards foreclosure, often without their knowledge. Activists have been hoping that the Legislature will adopt such protections to help end the foreclosure crisis but got a cold dose of political reality: Without banking industry approval, some Democrats in the Senate appear unwilling to support a Homeowners’ Bill of Rights. In a polite but tense, closed-door meeting between activists and staffers for the Democratic chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. James Metzen of South St. Paul, supporters of the proposal were told that it will not be given a hearing this session. Continue Reading →

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GOP Lawmaker/Life Insurance Salesman Says Gayness A Mental Illness

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Just when it began to seem there was a chance that the culture war over gay rights and the political battle over same-sex marriage might subside into reasonable discussion and rational agreement, a Republican Minnesota legislator has come along to remind us of reality: They are still out there. Continue Reading →

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State’s First Frac Sand Hearing Proves, Well, Fractious

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By Sally Jo Sorensen, Bluestem Prairie
UpTake Contributor

Southeastern Minnesota’s bluff country from Red Wing to the Iowa border and the Minnesota River valley from the Metro to Mankato have been strangers to the sort of divisions with which mining politics have cursed Northeastern Minnesota. Until now, anyway. Tuesday’s joint Legislative committee hearing on the problems of frac sand mining has ended that blessing. (A video replay of the meeting — the first Legislative hearing on the issue — is above). Testimony revealed deep fractures between — on one side — grassroots citizens, conservation organizations and local governments seeking regulatory relief and — on the other — representatives from the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, a trucking company owner, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the powerful “49ers” or International Union of Operating Engineers. Continue Reading →

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No Felony In Williams Inquest, But Jury To Decide If Cops Should Face Lesser Charge

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A Wisconsin prosecutor conducting an inquest into the controversial 2011 death of Derek Williams while in the custody of Milwaukee police has ruled out the possibility of homicide charges against police. But three officers still face a potential charge of failing to render aid to Williams while he was gasping for breath and begging for help. Continue Reading →

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Inquest into Death of Milwaukee Man in Police Car Resumes After Week of Clashes

Shawnda Shumpert, Derek Williams' aunt, and Grace Kelly, the mother of Williams' girlfriend, recoil as video of Williams' death in the back seat of a Milwaukee police car is shown at the inquest into his death.  (Photo by Rick Wood, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The inquest into the death of Derek Williams while in the custody of Milwaukee police resumes today after a week when seven police officers refused to testify and conflicting testimony was taken from medical professionals, family members and eyewitnesses. The inquest into the 2011 death of the 22-year-old father of three, who collapsed and died in the back of a police car, is expected to conclude after a day or two of additional testimony. But whether the inquest will answer the concerns of his family and community activists who believe Williams was the victim of police misconduct, remains as unclear as ever.  

The inquest was called after a Milwaukee County Medical Examiner changed the classification of Williams’ death from natural causes to homicide, sparking months of protests in Milwaukee against police misconduct that family and community members believe was the cause of Williams’ death. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Gun Fight: Can Minnesota Have a Fair Gun Debate at Gunpoint?

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What if they gave a debate about guns in society and there were no guns in the room?

Minnesota may never know what that would look like.

Last week’s series of hearings in the Minnesota State Capitol on legislation to reduce gun violence had an unintended and unforeseen outcome: Guns in society wasn’t the most pressing issue. Guns in the Capitol was. Continue Reading →

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Half Native, Half Asian: All Service to the People…An UpTake Profile: DANIEL YANG

Click on the Image of Daniel Yang to Hear More About His Story

Daniel Yang is part of a new cohort of young leaders in the Native American community in South Minneapolis, a half-Native, half-Asian grassroots activist with a passion for public service and a special compassion for refugees. The experience of being lost, exiled and afraid is one his family knows well: Yang’s father was a Hmong refugee who, along with his Ojibwe mother, instilled a commitment to social justice and community service in his son. Continue Reading →

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