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Haitian tragedy reveals — and creates — more Minnesota connections

ALSO: Pawlenty proposed tougher sex offender sentencing; Rybak described as a “bundle of contradictions”; a bewildering political billboard.

The Onion satirized America’s general ignorance about Haiti in an article titled “Massive Earthquake Reveals Entire Island Civilization Called ‘Haiti,’ “ which is funny, but, at the same time, for Minnesotans, what the earthquake in Haiti revealed was both that residents of our fair state have enormous resources of compassion for the country and an unexpectedly deep connection with it.

A surprising number of Minnesotans were in Haiti when the earthquake hit, including Macalester professor Joëlle Vitiello, who Joe Shansky interviews for the TC Daily Planet. “[T]his happened in the first week of a carnival season,” Vitiello explains. “During Carnival, there are neighborhood bands that go around singing and having offerings. So you could hear them going from neighborhood to neighborhood and see them in the hills.”

The Associated Press offers up a story that illustrates Minnesota’s complex relationship with Haiti, telling the tale of Blaine resident Betsy Sathers, who lost her husband when the I-35W bridge collapsed. At the time, she thought she might be pregnant. She was not, and that compounded her sorrow: “I was grieving the loss of my husband and the family we had hoped to have together.” After the earthquake, Sathers adopted twins from Haiti. “I don’t think I rescued them,” she tells author Jeff Baenen. “I feel like if anything, they’ve rescued me.”

Additionally, the Minnesota Legislature is pushing through a bill to make donations to Haiti tax deductible for 2009, as mentioned in Monday’s Glean. The bill has now been approved by the legislative tax panel, and, according to the Associated Press, is expected to pass rather quickly, with bipartisan support; the previous sentence, by the way, is one that seems to show up less and less in news writing, and it feels good to write it.

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That being said, one expects a forthcoming proposal from Gov. Tim Pawlenty is likely to enjoy support from both sides of the aisles, if only because politicians like to show that they are tough on crime, and the crime Pawlenty is addressing is an especially despised one. According to the AP, he will be pushing for longer sentences for sex offenders. There are currently no details about the proposal available, leaving us at the Daily Glean curious. After all, new legislation is always instigated by something. Was there a study that Pawlenty read that made the case for longer sentencing? Was there some recent, heinous crime from a sex offender who had just been released? We do not want to be cynical about such a thing, but so much of Pawlenty’s recent behavior has been geared toward fleshing out his resume for a presidential bid, and we would just hate to think he’s playing politics with sentencing guidelines exclusively for the sake of bolstering his national rep.

While we’re on the subject of reputations, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who hopes to replace Pawlenty in office, seems to be solidifying one. Unfortunately, that rep is as a “bundle of contradictions,” as City Pages boils it down. They’re referring to a story by Governing Magazine called “Radical Renewal,” which looks at Rybak’s unusual attempts to encourage financial growth in Minneapolis. Rather than simply offer tax benefits to big business (which is a common technique for governors looking to goose the economy), Rybak’s approach seems to have been to offer those benefits to small, local businesses, often in blighted areas. The story reads like a walking tour of Minneapolis, starting at Midtown Global Market, as the author, Josh Goodman, describes the various compromises in his campaign promises that Rybak has made, as well as many of his successes.

Of course, Minneapolis mayors are bound to be a little contradictory; the story reminds us that the Mill City has a weak-mayor system, and so anything the mayor does is generally accomplished by persuasion and compromise. It’s got to be a bit hard for a new mayor to figure this out, but, fortunately, as the blog points out, there is actually a handbook for Minneapolis mayors. It’s called, appropriately enough, The Minnesota Mayors Handbook, and can be read in PDF form here. The booklet is rather enjoyable, in part because it’s written with the sort of breathless prose one associated with how-to books written for teenagers in the ’50s. An example, from the introduction: “It’s easy to understand why a person would be excited about becoming a newly elected or appointed mayor. It’s a terrific hallmark in one’s life. Serving a city says a lot about a person’s sense of public responsibility!”

There is a billboard in Wyoming, Minn., that has been bedeviling Minnesotans. Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins witnessed it with his very own eyes, and publishes a photo: The billboard offers a photo of former President George W. Bush, along with the words “Miss me yet?” His post generated considerable partisan bickering in the comments section (sample: “When you look at all Obama’s failure, Bush wasn’t so bad!”). FOX9 suggests a reason it may be so perplexing: The billboard is vague about what it means, leaving people speculating “whether the roadside sign was an indictment of President Barack Obama’s performance so far or a reminder of Bush’s unpopularity.” It really is a pickle!

Here’s an update on a story that’s been kicking around for a while. You might remember Todd Lappegaard, a former Minnesota police officer who lost his job after a video got out that showed him pressing a Taser to a suspect’s neck, apparently unprovoked (video of the incident). Well, according to the Star Tribune’s Matt McKinney, Lappegaard believes his firing was the result of his department caving to public pressure, and undeserved, and he wants his job back. McKinney’s story looks into the case against Lappegaard, which is quite interesting; for instance, on Lappegaard’s own records, he had used his Taser 11 times in four years, but his Taser itself keeps records of how many time it is fired, and his had sometimes been fired several times per day. Lappegaard says these were tests to make sure the Taser was working properly (“They make it look like I’m out there electrocuting anybody and everybody that I possibly can,” he complains). The man Lappegaard Tased currently has a $400,000 lawsuit against the city.

The Star Tribune’s David La Vaque looks outside the world of professional sports and finds quite a story in Columbia Heights boys basketball and football, in the person of Toby Frisby, captain of both teams. High school hasn’t been easy for Frisby, who was homeless for long stretches of it, which he seems to have worked his way through with the equanimity of a Taoist master. “As stuff got more difficult, I realized that stuff isn’t always going to be easy and you have to make the best of what you’ve got,” Frisby tells La Vaque. “The whole time I would think, ‘This is just temporary. It’s not going to last forever. There’s stuff ahead of me.'”