- Associated Press - Monday, July 23, 2018

St. Cloud Times, July 21

President Trump, stop talking and start acting like a president who puts America first

Blatant incivility, complete disregard for facts and bombastic rhetoric are hallmarks of President Donald Trump.

Yet even those un-presidential parameters were not enough to contain Trump this past week. He made multiple comments that raise troubling questions about his commitment to deep-rooted U.S. allies, trust of his own executive branch, and whether he is more supportive of deadly dictatorships than free and open democracies.

The credible path forward for him is to act (not talk) in ways that clearly show he supports NATO and European allies, stands firmly behind his administration - especially intelligence operations - and immediately stops the false equivalencies he’s projecting involving Russia and the United States.

As for his supporters - specifically U.S. Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer and other elected officials and candidates at all levels - their continued silence about Trump’s supposed diplomacy amounts to supporting his views.

Voters must demand Emmer and others break their silence and explain exactly why they would not condemn Trump for a disaster-filled week that truly only made Russia great again.

Trump’s comments supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the conclusion of their meeting in Helsinki are easily the most shocking statements he has made since entering politics.

They might even be the most embarrassing comments from any U.S. president - even Richard Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” and Bill Clinton’s “what the meaning of is is.”

Equally disturbing, Trump’s attempt to walk them back - like so many of his previous, ahem, clarifications - rang undeniably hollow.

For starters, it took 27 hours to make the statement. And when he did, Trump undercut what was left of his credibility.

In reading a formal statement saying he accepts “our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place” he ad-libbed “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” And then he repeated his oft-mentioned assertion that there was no collusion.

That interjection is why his assertion he misspoke - saying he used “would” when he should have said “would not” - lacks credibility. And it was yet another vintage display of Trump’s ego-driven, I-really-did-mean-what-I-said mentality.

See also his comments about the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the Barack Obama birth conspiracy and attacking reporter Megyn Kelly after she moderated a presidential debate.

Like those, his clarification this week only served to reinforce - not reverse - his original message.

That’s why Americans must question Trump’s loyalty, not to mention his honesty. It also shows why Trump must stop talking and instead start acting in ways that prove his top priority is championing America’s interests.

Remember, in the days leading up to the Putin meeting, Trump essentially attacked many of America’s longest-standing and most loyal allies in meeting with NATO and European leaders.

In the days since Helsinki, it became known he at least considered a request from Putin to question Americans (including at least one high-profile diplomat) who Russia does not like in exchange for allowing America to question Russians indicted here for tampering with U.S. elections.

And, of course, amid the continual bipartisan firestorm over his actions, he again trotted out his tiresome claims about media coverage. Only his most die-hard loyalists buy that line. And this time those did not even include Fox News.

Americans may have become accustomed to Trump’s blatant incivility, complete disregard for facts and bombastic rhetoric. The past week, though, his un-presidential, unpatriotic words lowered the bar even more.

Who knew that was even possible?


Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 20

MNLARS and the politics of IT in Minnesota

One year on, problems linger as politicians seek to score points with snafu.

Heard of MNLARS? A year ago, most Minnesotans would have said no. Today, those attuned to state politics would report that they’ve heard a lot about the badly launched new computer system for Minnesota motor vehicle licensure and registration - and maybe add that they wish the topic would fade away.

With sympathy for that sentiment, let us advise that MNLARS likely won’t return to obscurity soon. MNLARS’ flaws and the costs and irritation they have caused both deputy registrars and the driving public have considerable utility for Republican candidates who want to accuse Gov. Mark Dayton’s DFL administration of waste and/or ineptitude. Just as was the MNsure health care exchange four years ago, MNLARS will be a Republican campaign talking point.

That’s so even though MNLARS’ origin traces to the administration of Dayton’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is trying for a comeback this year. And even though remedies for the system’s ills have been slowed by the refusal of the GOP-controlled Legislature to provide the full funding boost that the Dayton administration said corrections require. Minnesota Information Technology (MNIT) Services, an interagency IT service unit, and the Department of Public Safety, which oversees MNLARS, were granted just $9.6 million of the $43 million they sought to fix the ailing system.

Nevertheless, corrections to the year-old system have been made and more will be coming soon. Deputy registrars are reporting “incremental improvements” and a more stable system, said Jim Hirst, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Deputy Registrars Association.

MNLARS lacks sufficient funding to complete the job, said Johanna Clyborne, who took charge at MNIT in January. But there is enough for a scaled-back staff and contract workers to function this year until another funding plea - likely in the $25 million range - can be made to the 2019 Legislature.

That will come with another MNLARS-related plea from the deputy registrars, who operate the mix of public and private licensing centers that issue motor vehicle titles and licenses. Their costs spiked because of MNLARS’ defects. Dayton vetoed a $9 million relief bill in May, saying that he would agree to bail out registrars only if new funding were also provided for MNLARS software improvements. The Legislature responded by authorizing the reallocation of existing funds to MNLARS and including it in a massive omnibus spending bill, which also was vetoed.

All of that will be in addition to the $93 million - well beyond initial estimates - that state taxpayers had already sunk in MNLARS when it rolled out last July 24. The Office of the Legislative Auditor is examining those cost overruns as well as conducting a broader evaluation of MNIT, which was under such heavy Republican fire in the last legislative session that bills to disband the office were launched.

Though campaign clocks are ticking, state politicians would do well to wait to hear the judgment of the legislative auditor before drawing policy conclusions from the MNLARS experience. Clyborne is also worth hearing. A seasoned IT manager, attorney and brigadier general in the Minnesota National Guard, she came to state government with fresh eyes six months ago.

Is state government up to the challenges of creating and operating 21st-century computer-based services? “Yes and no,” Clyborne says.

MNIT’s design as a service provider to other state agencies has a built-in disadvantage. Final control over an IT project like MNLARS resides in the agencies among political appointees, not with Clyborne or the IT professionals in her shop. The result has been a tendency within agencies to set deadlines that are arbitrary and too aggressive, take shortcuts on testing, and downplay the risks of dysfunction until those risks become full-blown crises.

Deeper understanding of what IT development requires is needed within state agencies - as well as the Legislature and governor’s office, Clyborne said. That’s true whether agencies opt to buy new software externally or develop it internally in conjunction with MNIT. In either case, agencies need the flexibility to cope with the unforeseen problems that are endemic to the work - and they should answer to elected officials who appreciate and budget realistically for IT talent. State salaries for IT professionals are not competitive at mid- and upper-management levels, and that’s a problem, she said. Yet many talented people opt to work for state government because they want to do “IT with a mission,” hoping to contribute to improving Minnesotans’ common life.

Clyborne wants Minnesotans to know two things. One: “MNLARS is a mistake, but it is not representative of everything our state employees do, especially on the IT side. There are lots of great state employees doing fabulous work.” And two: “IT is a bipartisan issue. It is not Republican. It is not Democratic.” That latter point might be wishful thinking in this election year - but it’s a wish we share.


Mankato Free Press, July 23

Immigrants needed for healthy economy

Why it matters: State population projections point to the need for immigrants to fill Minnesota job vacancies now and down the road.

A recent visit to southwestern Minnesota by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis president reaffirms what many economic experts already had determined, but the message bears repeating: Rural Minnesota needs immigrants to work and live here.

Neel Kashkari visited Worthington for two days this month, and as MPR News reported, he said immigrants are helping that southwest Minnesota city grow, something many communities in rural parts of the state can only hope for.

A Worthington banker estimated immigrants own more than a quarter of the businesses operating in that community. “If we embrace it, it’s what’s going to help rural Minnesota grow again,” said First State Bank President and CEO Greg Raymo.

Here, in the south-central area of the state, we have seen similar reliance on a diverse workforce both in small cities and in the regional center of Mankato. Meat plants in St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Windom depend heavily on minority workers. Mankato manufacturing plants also hire immigrant workers and a number of immigrants have become small-business owners.

They’re the only population group still growing in Minnesota, according to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit policy research organization based in Mankato. The Minnesota State Demographic Center says the percent of Minnesota’s population represented by people of color (those self-identifying as one or more races other than white, and/or Latino) is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035.

So no matter what people’s level of acceptance of diversity is on a personal level, the reality is that the economy needs immigrants - and always has. Hoping young people will return to their rural hometowns after college to work is not happening, at least not in numbers needed to keep communities viable.

Population projections predict that as baby boomers retire, enough workers won’t be available to fill the vacant jobs in Minnesota. Our newest segments of population are going to be key to keeping our businesses going. And a continuing tradition of strong public education in Minnesota, with the financial support it deserves, should help train those workers of today and tomorrow.

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