Post Bulletin, July 26

Farm bailout piles bad policy on bad policy

First, the president launched a trade war. Now he's planning a $12 billion bailout to cover some of the financial damage — just the short-term financial damage — inflicted on farmers.

What sense does this make?

The White House announced Tuesday, in advance of President Trump's visit to Dubuque, Iowa, today (Thursday), that it will make up to $12 billion in emergency relief available to farmers affected by the U.S.-initiated trade war, which has pushed down crop prices and threatens to undo years of work to expand U.S. trade worldwide.

In announcing the bailout, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made it crystal clear that the administration has no intention of backing down from the increasingly bellicose threats to impose a tariff on just about everything imported from China, much less the tariffs imposed or planned for other global trading partners.

"The actions today are a firm statement that other nations cannot bully our agricultural producers to force the United States to cave in," Perdue said during a call with reporters Tuesday.

If there was any inclination among farm leaders to greet the $12 billion in direct payments to farmers warmly, that comment undid it. Farmers and farm state political leaders have been remarkably patient as the president has threatened tariffs and commodity prices have plunged. But the whole concept of billion-dollar bailouts has provoked strong opposition from congressional leaders of both parties, who are deeply concerned about the president's trade policies.

Kevin Paap, the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation president, responded fairly mildly Wednesday, calling the bailout plan "reassuring," but he said the organization "strongly believes that farmers prefer to maintain and expand markets for their products first and foremost."

The National Farmers Union president was less forgiving: "President Trump's escalating trade war with China and much of the rest of the world requires that we go to significant lengths to protect the men and women who grow our food, fuel and fiber," Roger Johnson said. "Market prices for farm products are plunging from already very low levels, and it's been estimated that farmers lost more than $13 billion last month alone due to trade disruptions. . The administration must develop a support mechanism that will mitigate the significant damage that is being inflicted upon our most vital international markets for years to come."

What's most baffling to Trump's supporters in Congress and in farm country is why he's doing this at all, and others asked where the demands for bailouts will end. Farmers aren't the only ones hurt by the president's hard-edged attempts to negotiate new trade deals with our friends — this newspaper, among others, has been hurt by Trump's threatened tariff on Canadian newsprint.

According to The New York Times, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, asked how the president can single out farmers for a $12 billion bailout when manufacturers, energy companies and every other economic sector is being affected. "Where do you draw the line?"

The White House is "trying to put a Band-Aid on a self-inflicted wound," Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, noted on Twitter. "This bailout compounds bad policy with more bad policy."

President Trump, who on Tuesday tweeted, "Tariffs are the greatest!," is 167 miles down U.S. 52 from Rochester today. Hopefully he hears clearly from our neighbors to the south — and not just from farmers — that this trade war is a gaping wound that a crate full of Band-Aids won't fix.

The administration needs to step back and rethink what it's doing to farm country before it's too late.


Mankato Free Press, July 24

Scooters: Cities will have to balance interests on rules

Why it matters: Bike and scooter rental businesses are growing, leaving cities scrambling to keep pace with sensible regulations.

Mankato, like many cities, had to scramble to update its ordinances when Uber and Lyft brought their on-demand private driver services to town.

The operations, in which customers use an app on their phone to summon a ride, didn't fit into the mold of the traditional and more regulated cab company service.

It won't be the last new idea in transportation the city will have to deal with.

Increasingly bicycle and motorized scooter rental operations are popping up. Like Uber and Lyft, the services are starting in the largest cities but then spread to smaller cities.

The Twin Cities have had bicycle rental businesses for some time and motor scooters are now showing up.

Even bike rentals, a seemingly benign, motorless transportation system, raise complications for cities and users. Different companies operate in different geographic locations, leading to confusion on where users can leave bikes when they're done with them. And cities have taken different approaches, some allowing various companies to come in and others designating which company can operate.

The new "dockless" bike services are causing new issues. The original model had bikes attached to various "docking stations" and riders who rented one with their app would return it to that or another docking station. New technology eliminates the need for docking kiosks. Someone looking to rent a bike taps into their app and GPS tracking in the bikes shows them where the nearest one to them is so they can start their ride. When they're done, they leave it where it's most convenient for them.

But that's led to people leave bikes lying on sidewalks causing a hazard for pedestrians and those with disabilities, or leaving them in a hazardous spot along a roadway.

Motorless scooter rentals are raising even more serious safety issues. Scooter rental companies suddenly appeared in Minneapolis and St. Paul recently. Minneapolis, just last week, adopted new regulations for scooters. In St. Paul, the city ordered Bird Rides Inc. to get their scooters out of the city until after the city can set up rules next month. Bird Rides has a history of simply launching the business without seeking permission from cities.

The zippy scooters look undeniably fun, but most people have never or rarely used one. Pedestrians are often startled by scooters passing them on sidewalks and nearly clipping them. Many cities require motorized vehicles to be on roadways, but others have no firm ordinance regulating motorized scooters.

Bicycles, too, are a frustration to many pedestrians on sidewalks. State law doesn't prohibit bikes on most sidewalks, except in business districts.

And while many bicyclists and motorists have long had an uneasy relationship on the roadways, motorized scooters zipping in and out of traffic on the streets heightens the conflict and safety concerns.

Giving people the option of using bikes or scooter rentals to quickly make jaunts around town without driving a car is a good thing. And motorists and cyclists and scooter riders need to continue working on mutual respect, riding and driving responsibly and sharing the roadways.

It won't be without its bumps, but new ways of getting around will continue to evolve and cities can find reasonable ways to accommodate them while protecting public safety.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 27

Getting nonviolent offenders the mental health care they need

Hennepin County recognizes that jails can't solve growing problem.

The Twin Cities metro area has a severe shortage of secure psychiatric beds — so severe that many inmates who need treatment sit in jail cells for weeks or months before receiving any care.

In response to the needs, this week the Hennepin County Board wisely moved to expand efforts to address the shortage. The board unanimously approved spending $200,000 to study converting a building at the workhouse in Plymouth into the county's first secure mental health facility. Earlier, the board set aside $13 million for the project.

The new "mental health stabilization center" would house inmates and other residents for shorter-term stays. It would take those who couldn't get into the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center, are ready to leave the county jail or are temporarily at Hennepin Healthcare.

Hennepin County's plan to provide more beds is a step in the right direction. But even when the new facility is up and running, it alone will not solve the larger problem in the metro area and across the state. The state of Minnesota and other counties also must do more to provide appropriate treatment for the mentally ill.

A 2016 report from the state's legislative auditor found that jails often failed to perform mandatory checks of inmates, putting them at risk of self-inflicted injury or suicide or endangering others. The report noted that there had been more than 50 suicides and 770 suicide attempts in Minnesota jails since 2000.

For several years, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has rightly urged the state and county to provide adequate facilities and treatment rather than warehousing those suffering from mental illness in jails. Stanek estimates that up to one quarter of the 35,000 to 40,000 admitted to his jail each year have some form of mental illness. And many of them get worse while in custody because jails can't provide care or treatment as they await court hearings.

The new secure facility will serve the most seriously ill and potentially violent patients. However, Hennepin County has been working to provide a range of improved services for several years.

In late 2016, Hennepin County leaders approved bringing psychologists into the downtown Minneapolis jail complex to evaluate nonviolent offenders who screen positive for psychiatric problems. That allowed them to release dozens of inmates into court-monitored treatment programs. The idea is to help break the cycle of arrest, incarceration and release that has trapped many people with psychiatric disorders in the criminal justice system for relatively minor offenses.

In addition, the county is working with community organizations and Hennepin Healthcare to create a mental health and substance abuse residential treatment program in south Minneapolis.

In Minnesota and nationally, there is growing recognition that many offenders with mental illnesses belong in treatment, not in jail. It's encouraging that Hennepin County is stepping up to make that happen.