Category Archives: Politics

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.

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 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.

Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne’s Last Roller Derby Bout

Recently appointed West St. Paul city council member Lisa Eng-Sarne hangs up her roller-skates after 11 years of playing in the Minnesota RollerGirls roller derby league.

Known on the track as “Diamond Rough,” Eng-Sarne’s last game will be Saturday, March 30.  Grab some tickets and check this one out.

If you’ve never seen roller derby before, it’s pretty epic. The rules… well, I still can’t explain them, but basically two teams muscle their way around a flat track while trying to slow the other team down. Points are earned, elbows fly—it’s all pretty wild. Continue reading Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne’s Last Roller Derby Bout

West St. Paul City Council Recap: March 25, 2019

Last night’s West St. Paul city council meeting was mostly routine business and well-deserved city boosting. But it also included a seemingly benign change that turned contentious. It resulted in the first non-unanimous votes in Mayor Dave Napier’s new tenure.

City Boosting

  • The food drive in support of Neighbors Inc. continues, and all indications are that West St. Paul is crushing neighboring South St. Paul. You can get details about where and how to donate at WSPFoodDrive.com.
  • Mayor Napier and Council member Lisa Eng-Sarne were among the many volunteers who joined the effort to fill sandbags in South St. Paul as the Mississippi River rises.
  • The West St. Paul Days organizers gave an update about this year’s events, which are coming in May, including a combined City Hall open house and festival at Harmon Park.
  • Mayor Napier honored former council member and city manager Tom Hoban, who passed away recently with a proclamation for his long list of service to the city.
  • A report on the city’s shared volunteer program highlighted that it’s saved the city $78,000. The program also boasts 470 volunteers in West St. Paul.

Continue reading West St. Paul City Council Recap: March 25, 2019

West St. Paul City Council Recap: March 11, 2019

A relatively quick and uneventful city council meeting tonight in West St. Paul. Here’s the recap:

Food Drive

The South St. Paul vs. West St. Paul food drive beef continues, but it’s all in support of Neighbors Inc. Mayor Dave Napier taunted South St. Paul, saying he just picked up some Henry Sibley Warriors jerseys, ready for the South St. Paul city council to wear when they lose. You can get all the details at WSPFoodDrive.com.

A food local businesses are offering special incentives for bringing in donations, such as a free day pass from the YMCA. You can find the listing on the WSPFoodDrive site.

Survey Results

A survey was conducted at the recent West St. Paul Neighborhood Meetings, along with participation online, and the results are now available (the report also includes results from 2017 and 2018).

One of the most interesting (and obvious) results of the survey is the proportion of people who took it online and their corresponding ages. While the 65 and over crowd was easily the largest age range in all three in-person meetings, three younger age brackets them in the online survey. The online responses even beat the in-person responses in sheer numbers (158 responses online, 147 in person).

Council member Lisa Eng-Sarne encouraged residents to keep contacting the city council, noting that it’s never to late to give input.

Passing of Tom Hoban

Mayor Napier noted the passing Tom Hoban, former West St. Paul city manager (1972-1985) and city council member (1962-1966; 1968). Napier noted that Hoban had been his mentor (“we always met at Perkins”) and taught him how to bring people together.

The funeral is on Thursday, March 14 at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church. Napier noted that the city would prepare a proclamation at a future council meeting.

New Firefighters

Four new firefighters were welcomed to the South Metro Fire Department. Mayor Napier also gave a heartfelt thanks to retiring Fire Chief Mike Pott, who has served with South Metro (which was the WSP Fire Department before that) for 36 years.

Act on Alzheimer’s Team

Claudia Egelhoff from Act on Alzheimer’s gave a presentation about their group’s effort to help address dementia in West St. Paul. The group started in 2017 when a citizen approached Mayor Jenny Halverson. The community has rallied in response, with participation from nearly every major organization in the city.

  • There’s a brochure making the case for why businesses should care: “70% of people with dementia live at home and shop in their own community.”
  • The group has accomplished a lot in two years—including raising $2,500 for the Alzheimer’s Association, training 200 community members in West St. Paul, and sending 300 info packets to local businesses.
  • Here’s a list of dementia resources.

Winter Storms Having a Spring Impact

We had record snowfall in February, and we’re starting to see the impacts:

  • Council member John Justen encouraged residents to shovel out any blocked storm drains to alleviate the flooding that’s bound to come this week with rising temperatures and—that’s right—rain.
  • Council member Dick Vitelli noted that the city is nearly out of salt and will be using a mixture of sand and salt from here on out. So if you see a lot of sand out on the roads, that’s why.

Livingston Street Improvements

The city council awarded a bid for the reconstruction of Livingstone Avenue from Mendota to Wentworth. The bid came in nearly $1 million $550,000 lower than the estimate, so that’s some good news.

Temporary No Parking

At a recent city council meeting a resident suggested during citizen comments that the city should allow for temporary no parking zones. They gave the example of moving and needing to park a moving truck in front of their house and wanting to save that parking spot. Having dumpster delivered is another common example—what do you do if cars are parked in front of your house and there’s no where to put the dumpster?

The city had an ordinance to allow for that dumpster, but nothing to ensure that cars weren’t parking there when it was delivered.

The idea also expanded to allow for temporary parking for special events in areas where parking isn’t permitted.

Overall it’s good to see the city responding to citizen suggestions. Mayor Napier encouraged citizens to read over the new ordinance (plain English explanation and the actual ordinance) and give the council feedback. This was a first reading of the proposed ordinance. Next will be a second reading and a public hearing.

West St. Paul City Council Recap: Feb. 25, 2019

This week’s West St. Paul City Council meeting didn’t seem to have any major items on the agenda, but there were still several noteworthy items. So let’s do a quick recap of the Feb. 25, 2019 meeting.

Food Drive: South Side vs. West Side

In a bit of friendly competition, the West St. Paul city council has challenged the South St. Paul city council to see who can bring in more food and donations in support of the Neighbors Inc. food shelf. The losing city council will wear the hockey jersey of the winning city’s team at a meeting. So it’s South St. Paul High School Packers vs. Henry Sibley High School Warriors. You can find more details including a list of places to bring food or donations online.

It’s been reported that Neighbors Inc. has lost an $89,000 grant from United Way, so they could definitely use the extra support this year. Continue reading West St. Paul City Council Recap: Feb. 25, 2019

How Much Do Election Campaigns Cost in West St. Paul?

We had a competitive and heated election season in West St. Paul, Minn., in 2018. That hasn’t always been the case, but it also means an increase in costs.

Let’s take a look at the cash spent in recent elections in West St. Paul.

Most Expensive Election?

2018 at nearly $37,700 total. Only one race was uncontested and there was an extremely expensive primary in ward 3 where all four candidates spend over $2,000.

I only looked at data going back to 2008, but given inflation and the rising cost of campaigns, it’s likely the most expensive election season in West St. Paul history (I don’t quite have the data to verify it, but I’m pretty confident). Continue reading How Much Do Election Campaigns Cost in West St. Paul?