A Tour of Tragedy

This summer during my annual trip to Kansas to spend time with family, I took a trip of my own to Colorado. I have a hard time resisting the mountains, and this year I caved. But I took a detour on the way to out to visit two historical sites. It was a tour of tragedy.

Less than 50 miles apart in Eastern Colorado are the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and the Granada Relocation Center, known as Camp Amache.

Continue reading A Tour of Tragedy

Thoughts on the Mueller Report

So I read the Mueller Report. Or technically, Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. I came away with a few key lessons:

  1. Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Russia.
  2. Russia absolutely did attack our election.
  3. Trump tried to obstruct the investigation.

Reading the Report

With all the talk about the report and possible impeachment, and all the lies about the report, it seemed worth reading it for myself.

It’s very long and took me a while to get through—and I read a lot. It wasn’t so much the legalese that made it hard, but the incredible amount of detail. Mueller basically laid out every single rabbit hole they chased down and gave a report on everything, whether there was something there or not. So in many cases there’s a lots of detail about what happened, lots of detail about the laws involved, and lots of detail about why the evidence does or doesn’t support criminal charges.

It’s an exercise in covering your ass.

Thorough and detailed. And that’s what it should be. We’re talking about our democratic process, the very institution that defines our government. It has to be thorough so we know, once and for all, whether something bad happened.

And something bad did happen, regardless of your political leanings.

I don’t know if everyone needs to read the report. It’s so involved, it’s probably not worth it. The legal language mostly isn’t too bad, but there were a few times when it does get intense. The redactions didn’t seem excessive to me either (though it was hard to tell in my ebook version). It is probably worth reading the summary sections, just to know what it says for yourself.

1. Trump Didn’t Conspire With Russia

So the first conclusion I came away with is that Trump and his campaign did not conspire or coordinate with Russia (collusion is a made up word and not a legal thing, as the report explains, so let’s stop using it). At least this report found no evidence of that. And they dug pretty deep, so I think we can have reasonable confidence in the conclusion.

And even though I do not like Trump at all, I’m very happy with this conclusion. What a sigh of relief. The idea that the president of the United States would conspire with a foreign power to get that job—that’s terrifying.

I think this conclusion is good for America, no matter where you are politically.

Trump continually touts this conclusion, as he should. But it’s far from the end of the story.

2. Russia Attacked Our Election

The next big conclusion from the report is that Russia attacked our election. This came in two forms:

  1. Creating social media disinformation campaigns. More than just bots, these included fake social media profiles that organized real life political rallies. These fake accounts were quoted in the media and used to show what “real voters” think. Facebook estimates these fake posts may have been seen by 126 million people. (As propaganda campaigns go, that’s shockingly effective.)
  2. Hacking the computers and emails of campaign officials and election officials. More than just stealing information from candidates (which is still illegal, though Trump seems to endorse this idea), this included trying to break into and comprise our election system. While you might laugh at a silly campaign manager gullible enough to fall for a phishing attempt, it’s a lot more serious when it’s an election official in charge of safeguarding out ballot boxes.

The fact that this happened is startling. Not so much that hackers exist and they do bad stuff, but that the U.S. was specifically targeted and attacked by a foreign government. This wasn’t just ‘fat kids in their mom’s basement,’ this was the Russian government. That’s outrageous.

But what’s really mind boggling about this is the complete lack of a response from Trump. He’s denied that Russia has attacked us for so long, whether it’s back in Helsinki when he took Vladimir Putin’s word over our own intelligence agencies or even now that the report is out and he still jokes about it. He recently met with Putin and joked about how he told him not to hack us.

The president joked with a foreign leader about their attack on our democracy.

Just take a moment to wonder at the madness of that. Imagine any other president doing that. The cavalier way that Trump just dismisses this attack on democracy should be chilling.

I think Trump’s failure to protect and defend American democracy is the real high crimes and misdemeanors in the Muller Report that he should be impeached for.

3. Trump Obstructed the Investigation

The final conclusion is that Trump repeatedly tried to obstruct the investigation. There are a ton of examples of this, some with more evidence or weight that others.

This section of the report got a little hard to follow because there were so many egregious examples and so much legalese analyzing what was required in each case to bring charges or make a case.

It’s mostly Trump trying to cover his butt and get out from under the cloud this investigation cast on his presidency. And his own actions only made it worse.

In some ways I get how people can argue that this is a process crime, and it’s not that big of a deal. Trump personally didn’t do anything wrong with Russia (except for that whole failure to defend the country thing), so who cares if he wanted the investigation over?

Of course there’s that whole rule of law thing. You can’t lead a ‘lock her up’ chant about Hillary Clinton’s emails and then ignore all the actual crimes of your own people (the “best” people, remember?).

But aside from that, what really gets me is that Russia attacked the U.S. and Trump tried to kill the investigation.

The word ‘treason’ has been thrown around a lot in these arguments, but those are actions that might actually deserve the word.

When a foreign government attacks our country, you investigate and get to the bottom of it, no matter how bad it makes your people look. To do anything else is treasonous. To actively try to stop that investigation to cover your own ass—those are not the actions of a president who defends the country, they’re the action of a selfish man worried about his own image.

What’s Next?

So what happens next? Based on my conclusions above, I think Congress should open impeachment hearings.

Of course that hasn’t happened (yet).

Instead everyone is playing politics.

The Republicans are sticking by Trump and claiming there’s nothing in the Mueller Report. They’re clearly deluding themselves. It’s fair to say they’ve neglected their oath of office. And since Republicans control the Senate, even if the House files charges of impeachment, the Senate will never convict.

Meanwhile the Democrats are afraid of public opinion. There’s not enough public support for impeachment yet, so they’re too afraid to go down that road (especially if it will fail in the Senate). They want to win, whether by impeachment or election, and losing impeachment could endanger winning the election. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has this strategy of building support over time with an onslaught of investigations, but the White House refuses to cooperate and it all just drags on so slowly that the public loses interest.

I’m not surprised this whole thing has become so political.

But what’s buried in all the arguments, theories, strategies, and fake news is doing what’s right. Screw public opinion. Screw whether or not it’s successful.

Integrity means you do what’s right, no matter the result or public opinion.

Neither party seems to have much integrity right now.

And that sets a terrifying precedent. We’re allowing a vanity president to ignore attacks on our country. The message this sends to the world is that you’re welcome to attack our democracy, and we’re too politically immobilized to do anything about it.

The United States has to be more than Democrats or Republicans, each trying to win no matter what. The country has to come before party, and right now both parties and the president seem to be obsessed with themselves.

I’d love to see Donald Trump lose the 2020 presidential election by a huge margin, to have an electoral repudiation of his presidency and his policies. That would be cathartic.

But I also think Trump has neglected the duties of his office, and failing to hold him accountable for that is to be guilty of the same crime.

Hold Trump accountable. Make Republicans vote for Trump over country, and then win or lose you’ve done the right thing.

Last Day for West St. Paul Reader Kickstarter Campaign

Today is the final day of my Kickstarter campaign for West St. Paul Reader. It’s a new site to help inform people about what’s going on in West St. Paul.

The Kickstarter campaign hit the initial goal in less than five days and the site launched. Since then, we’ve been working toward stretch goals and knocking them down.

The campaign ends at midnight tonight (Central Time), so it’s your last chance to back West St. Paul Reader and help us keep people informed.

I’ve been talking about this non-stop for the past month. I’m incredibly grateful for all the support, but I’ll be happy to stop flogging it and just talk about what’s happening.

Like the West St. Paul water tower.

This comment really underscores what West St. Paul Reader is all about:

“Until today, I’ve never seen a photo of the inside of a water tower! Thanks, West St. Paul Reader!”

Matt Pennig

So do me a favor and back the project. Thanks.

Trump’s No Collusion Is Good, Obstruction Is Bad

I’ve tried to stay mostly quiet on national politics of late, because it’s proved so divisive but also from feeling like I’m not adding anything original to the conversation. I’m still not sure if I’m doing that, but sometimes you just need to speak up.

With the summary of the Mueller report, the actual Mueller report, and President Donald Trump’s constant tweets and statements, it’s sometimes easier to just ignore it all.

But I’ve got two main conclusions from all of this:

1. No “Collusion”

The Mueller report did not come up with any evidence that Trump conspired with the Russian government to influence the election.

That’s good. I’m thrilled with that.

As much as I dislike and disagree with Trump, it would be catastrophic for this country to have a president—any president—conspire with a foreign government to win an election. It’s very good news that it does not appear that Trump himself did that.

Trump repeatedly dismisses the entire investigation by saying “no collusion” (let’s just ignore the fact that “collusion” is not a legal term, something Mueller quickly spells out). While Trump is right about this single point, that’s not a justification to dismiss the rest of the investigation.

While this investigation did not find that Trump conspired (which is good), it did find all kinds of wrongdoing (which is bad). Multiple people who were close to Trump (remember that he picks the “best people) have gone to jail.

So this is not a report anyone should dismiss as a witch hunt or a waste of time or resources. Doing so indicates a serious misunderstanding of the nature of the report.

2. Obstruction

The Mueller report makes it very clear that Russia attacked our election:

“There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

Robert Mueller, May 29, 2019 statement

Trump has repeatedly denied this fact. Remember Helsinki, when Trump literally took the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies.

Not only did Trump deny Russia’s involvement, but he repeatedly tried to obstruct the investigation. The Mueller report outlines multiple cases of this happening. And that’s a big deal. Again, Muller’s statement:

“When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Robert Mueller, May 29, 2019 statement

So a foreign government interfered with our democratic election, it benefited Trump, he denied any interference happened, and when his administration began an investigation into what happened, he repeatedly tried to obstruct that investigation.

Trump tried to stop us from finding out what Russia did.

In my mind, that’s high crimes and misdemeanors.

Do What’s Right

Of course now we turn to the highly political question of impeachment. I heard House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat in charge of the House who will ultimately decide whether or not to pursue impeachment, say:

“We want to do what’s right and what gets results.”

-Nancy Pelosi (Fox News)

That’s an odd statement, because those two things don’t necessarily go together.

You can do what’s right and not get any results. That’s called integrity. You do what’s right not because it gets you results, but because it’s what is right.

In the current political climate, the U.S. Senate is unlikely to impeach Donald Trump.

So what?

If he has obstructed justice, then it is the duty of the U.S. House to impeach him. Let the Senate do what they will, but you still do what’s right.

Many Democrats are arguing about the potential political fallout of a failed impeachment. They’re looking for the maximum political gain, going for the crass political win of what gets results.

I think that’s gross.

If Trump has done wrong, hold him accountable. To hell with the political fallout. (And frankly, I think seeing negative political fallout is a miscalculation, but whatever, that’s not why you do it.)

West St. Paul Reader Progress

Two weeks ago I launched a Kickstarter campaign to start the West St. Paul Reader. Five days into the campaign we hit the goal and West St. Paul Reader became a reality with the first official post.

I’m super grateful for all the people who have stepped up to help this project. It’s so encouraging to see this kind of support.

But it’s not over.

We’re still working to hit stretch goals and make West St. Paul Reader even better.

Let’s talk about why you should support it.

The Rewards

First up, let’s talk about what you can get out of the deal—the rewards. One of the fun things about any Kickstarter project is all the creative rewards you get for backing the project.

This one is a little different because the campaign is to start a website, so there’s not a product you get as a reward. Everyone gets the rewards of the site being live. But we’ve still got some fun rewards that can make it worth your while:

  • West St. Paul coupon book: The most popular reward by far has been our coupon book. You get $350 in value for $25. See the full list of participating West St. Paul businesses and their deals.
  • Mayor meetup: West St. Paul Mayor Dave Napier has graciously agreed to attend a private meetup with a select group of backers. This is a fun little insider option to hang out with the mayor. Only seven slots left!
  • Lunch & tour: For the big spenders I’m offering a chance to hang out with me—we’ll do lunch and take a tour of West St. Paul highlights. I’m not exactly sure what that tour will be yet, but I’m thinking we’ll hit some lesser known sites, hit a few historic locales and show off some hidden gems of West St. Paul. This one also includes a subscription to Zebra Cat Zebra, the bi-monthly zine of local artist Carolyn Swiszcz. Only six slots left!
  • Businesses: For the business community, I’m offering a big sponsorship opportunity. They can get a six-month banner ad and a sponsored post on West St. Paul Reader for $300. That sponsored post can be a great way to connect with vocal locals and boost your SEO. Only nine slots left!
  • Local art: For just $5, backers can get a handwritten thank you postcard featuring artwork by Carolyn Swiszcz (known for the famous West St. Paul song).

The Hyperlocal News Angle

While rewards are great, I think the bigger picture angle of offering hyperlocal news is worth considering.

Writing about my community is something that excites me. I’ve been doing it for five years now, slowly getting closer and closer to the idea of launching a dedicated site.

Why a West St. Paul Site?

I kept rejecting the idea of a West St. Paul blog, deciding I didn’t want to commit to another time suck. But as time went on and I kept writing about West St. Paul more and more on my personal blog, I couldn’t get away from this idea.

I’ve connected with a lot of people by writing about West St. Paul. When I went door knocking for campaigns last year, I was surprised by how often people already knew me. They’d seen my writing about West St. Paul, and it connected.

Let’s face it: It’s hard to know what’s going on in your community.

We’re a town of 20,000 people in a metro area of more than 3 million. Local media doesn’t pay much attention to us. And why should they? If you want to know who’s running for city council or why some road construction project is a big deal, it was really hard to find answers.

West St. Paul has an incredibly active Facebook group, but for all the benefit it brings, it’s often full of so much snark and noise that it’s hard to get straight answers.

So there’s interest, and there’s need, and I’ve got the passion.

The Benefit of Hyperlocal

What’s so interesting about West St. Paul Reader is the potential of hyperlocal news. I think when people can be informed about their community, they’re more likely to engage. When they engage with what’s going on, they’re more likely to connect with their neighbors.

Being informed, engaged, connected—that all creates a sense of pride in your community. You feel like you belong.

That’s definitely the spirit of West St. Paul, but it’s been so much stronger lately when people have been learning about what’s going on, engaging in volunteer and community efforts, and connecting with each other.

Just ask how many people have attended city council meetings for the first time in the past year.

West St. Paul Stories

So what stories are we telling? West St. Paul Reader has been live for 10 days, but here are some of the local stories we’ve already told:

Support West St. Paul Reader

It’s been fun sharing these stories, and we’re just getting started.

But to keep it up, we need support. Please support the Kickstarter campaign, get some of those great rewards, and enable this hyperlocal effort to keep going.

Our next stretch goal is for guest columnists (because this project should be more than me). As of right now, we need another $910 to hit that goal. It’s a big ask, and definitely a stretch, but I think we can do it. We’ve got 17 more days to go.

Thanks to everyone who has made this happen.

Help Launch West St. Paul Reader

Update: West St. Paul Reader went live on May 14, 2019.

I’ve been blogging about West St. Paul since 2014. I’ve shared a lot of interesting things and met a lot of amazing people.

I like to be informed about my community. When you know what’s going on, you feel like you belong.

Now it’s time to take it to another level.

New West St. Paul Site

I’m launching a West St. Paul blog to help busy people know what’s going on. It will be called the West St. Paul Reader, and it will allow me to do a lot more:

  • Hear from new voices.
  • Tell new stories.
  • Build a community to sustain this effort.

I’ve thought about doing this for a while, but I kept resisting it. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. This personal blog is pretty limiting, and a focused site opens up a lot of doors.

Because I can’t do this by myself.

The Experiment

So I’m starting an experiment to launch this blog and see what works.

I’m launching a Kickstarter project to invite people to help make this idea a reality. There are a ton of fun, West St. Paul-centric rewards at various levels:

People often come up and talk to me about the things I write about West St. Paul. I know there’s a lot of interest out there, so let’s see if we can make writing about West St. Paul a more regular and consistent thing.

My goal is to create a dedicated source of info for what’s happening in West St. Paul. I want people to know what’s happening in their community and feel like they belong.

Thanks

I’ll be talking more about this (of course), as the project moves forward. I’ve got 30 days to hit that initial goal of $1,000, and then there are a bunch of stretch goals I’m excited to reach. This project opens the door to so many fun things—honestly, I’m a little giddy to see how it unfolds.

I hope you’ll consider supporting it.

And thank you. Seriously, thank you. There are so many people who have been gracious and encouraging and excited. People talk about how scary it is to chase a dream—to step out and make it happen. I’m a freelancer, so I know that feeling pretty well. But this dream was a new kind of scary. I couldn’t have done it without support.

I’m incredibly grateful. Thank you.

Crap Week

Last week was a crap week.

Being a writer, I process through writing. But I’ve had a hard time processing this week. I’ve wanted to talk about it, but I’m not sure how. It’s actually made me withdraw from social media (which is probably an OK thing).

But sometimes I’ve learned it’s just easier to get things off your chest, even if you don’t have the right words to say.

So yeah, crap week:

  • Last Monday night, my cousin injured two police officers, killed my uncle, and then took his own life. I traveled to attend my uncle’s funeral, offering what little support I could to my parents, grandparents, cousins, and extended family. It was an emotionally overwhelming few days, and I’m just the out-of-town nephew. My uncle, Tom Madden, was quiet, liked the simple life, and did right by people. He served on the school board for over 20 years, an inspiring example of public service. As his son wrote, “He was always there no matter what.” There’s a lot more to say about Tom, but I just haven’t had the time and space to fully process it.
  • Saturday morning I heard the news that progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans had died suddenly after a series of seizures and a medically induced coma. While I didn’t personally know Rachel (though I think we emailed at some point), I’ve read all her books. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again was one of my favorite books so far this year. The Why Christian conference she co-organized was incredibly inspiring to me. Her voice will be deeply missed.
  • In the midst of all that, I heard the news that Tessie Sylvester died. Her story gained national attention in 2017 when her husband died from complications of ALS the same day she was diagnosed with inoperable stage four cancer. She leaves behind two boys and a mountain of caring family. I didn’t directly know Tessie either, but her sister served as the mayor of West St. Paul, and her strength and resolve during this trying time was a sight to behold. After a funeral later this week, there will be a celebration of Tessie’s life at an arcade on Saturday (she said to “make it fun!”). You can support the family through this memorial fund.

So like I said, a crap week.

I don’t know what to say in the face of all that.

I keep coming back to these words from the Book of Common Prayer. They’ve often struck me in a certain way, and I shared them with my mom on Monday night when no one knew whether my uncle was alive or not:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

West St. Paul City Council Recap: April 22, 2019

A lot of business on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, but nothing very involved or controversial.

A few highlights:

  • Pad Drive: Women of West St. Paul is hosting a pad drive fundraiser at Dunham’s on May 11. $5 and a feminine product to get in the door (or just $10). All donations go to Neighbor’s Inc.
  • Senior Center: You can eat at Baker’s Square on May 2 and 20% of your bill will go to the Thompson Park Senior Center. You need a flier to get the donation, which you can pick up at city hall or from the senior center.
  • Shred: Saturday’s free shred event was so successful people were turned away. Look for another shred event on June 26.
  • Food Drive: The spring food drive raised more than 84,000 pounds of food for Neighbors Inc.—and the cross-town rivalry resulted in the South St. Paul city council donning Sibley hockey jerseys.
  • New Police Officers: Two new police officers were sworn in tonight, a semi-formal ceremony instituted by Police Chief Bud Shaver who recalled his rushed ceremony in a hallway more than 30 years ago. Shaver will be retiring next month. (In addition to sharing pie with his new officers, Shaver also took a pie in the face as part of another fundraising challenge.)
  • New Firetrucks: South Metro Fire will be getting new firetrucks. Fun fact: Fire engines serve on the frontline for 10 years and serve another 10 years in reserve. So South Metro will be retiring two 20-year-old fire engines.
  • Marie & Oakdale Trails: With the help of a $1 million federal grant, new trails will be going in on Marie and Oakdale. Initially passed in 2017, construction is expected to begin in June and be done by the fall.

Tax Day: Impact of the 2017 Tax Cut

It’s April 15, which is tax day here in the U.S. Federal and state income taxes have to be filed by today. It’s also the first chance we can see the actual impact of the tax cut Republicans passed in late 2017.

So did you pay more or less on your 2018 taxes? 

There’s been a lot of political rhetoric surrounding these tax cuts—that I think turns out to be wrong on both sides—as well as plenty of skewed perceptions.

Let’s look at the reality. Continue reading Tax Day: Impact of the 2017 Tax Cut

West St. Paul City Council Recap: April 8, 2019

It was a pretty light city council meeting this week, so we’ve got a short recap.

  • Pedestrian safety: Ken Paulman recently wrote about a missed opportunity to improve pedestrian safety at Smith and Dodd, and he shared those findings with the council. It’s an interesting read and can introduce you to the term “sneckdown.”
  • Road repair: Another resident expressed frustration over cracks appearing in Charlton after it was just recently resurfaced. That’s actually expected because the road wasn’t fully reconstructed, it just received a mill and overlay—a bandaid solution that can stretch the life of the road another 10 to 12 years before a full reconstruction is needed. Why isn’t public works doing full reconstructions? Cost. If you want perfectly smooth roads, you have to pay for them. Given the current tax increases in West St. Paul, it seems like we’re doing the best we can with what we have.
  • New restaurant: Hamburgeusas El Gordo is coming to West St. Paul at 1731 S. Robert Street (the old Rib Shack location). They hope to open this spring, though no exact date is known yet.
  • Food drive: Final totals aren’t available, but the food drive has been a tremendous success—and definitely a community effort. Neighbors Inc. serves more than 500 families every month, so thank you to the many volunteers and donors who made this happen.
  • Continued debate: The Open Council Work Session (OCWS) opened a debate on the Inflow/Infiltration (I/I) ordinance changes that didn’t past last meeting. Rather than debating the specific changes, the council mostly discussed the need for an I/I ordinance at all. It’s a convoluted debate with lots of questions and few clear answers. And this discussion didn’t resolve any of them, so look for this to be an ongoing conversation.

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.