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Minnesota stats show an economic ‘surge’

Deadly canoe trip; winter’s expensive road costs;  tougher ed tests could lower scores; revisions planned for drug-user ID program; blogger sees LGBT “encroachment” on scouts; and more.

The Strib’s Adam Belz lays out the stats showing a surging Minnesota economy. “Minnesota’s economy grew faster in 2012 than it has in nearly a decade, spurred by broad gains in manufacturing, wholesale trade, finance and insurance, and real estate rental and leasing. The state’s gross domestic product surged 3.5 percent over the previous year, the fifth-fastest pace in the nation and Minnesota’s best year since 2004, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Commerce. ‘We are in an economic expansion here,’ said Toby Madden, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. ‘The Minnesota economy is doing pretty well.’ ” But … but … what about our crushing, business-hating tax burden?

A vivid story from Mary Lynn Smith of the Strib on a not-so-young couple’s last canoe trip: “Headed to her dream wilderness lake on the first leg of a three-week canoe trip, Elaine and Dick Barber paddled into the Basswood River rapids just as they had done a decade ago. On that July day, the Minnetonka couple had easily navigated the canoe through the rippling rapids in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario. But on Sunday, the water was high and fast. So rather than hug the left side of the rapids as they had done before, they went right, where Dick Barber, 78, thought the water looked calmer. ‘But it dropped, like a waterfall, and it took us down,’ Elaine Barber, 75, said Thursday evening. The canoe capsized; the packs and the Barbers spilled out into the frigid water. Elaine Barber, her life jacket zipped on, grabbed one of the rubberized packs and swam to shore.”

Yeah … so how much will they need this month?  The AP reports: “The Minnesota Department of Transportation this week tallied the road salt usage for the winter driving season. It came in at more than 304,500 tons. That’s a marked increase from the year before, when 154,000 tons of salt were laid down in an unseasonably warm winter. It’s also 47 percent above the five-year average. In western Minnesota, they ran out of salt on hand and had to import it from MnDOT districts in the state’s east. All told, MnDOT says it spent $90.5 million on labor, equipment and materials.”

New standards might mean lower scores for Minnesota schoolkids. Tim Post at MPR reports: “In a May 30 letter to parents, state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius wrote that because Minnesota schools began using more rigorous standards to teach English arts last fall, schools also gave students more challenging tests to measure their progress towards meeting higher expectations. As a result, Cassellius wrote, ‘we may see what looks like a drop in reading test scores when they are reported this summer.’ However, she said it would not be appropriate to compare a student’s test scores with a previous year’s as they measure different sets of expectations.”

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That controversial drug-user identification program — exacerbated during the Occupy movement demonstrations — will be “revised.” The AP says: “Minnesota public safety officials say they are revising a troubled program aimed at training law enforcers how to better spot drug users. It had been suspended while authorities investigated claims that officers had given people illegal drugs and incentives to participate. The Drug Recognition Evaluators program is also the subject of a federal lawsuit by people who say they were subjected to an ‘unethical clinical trial.’ ”

On the conservative blog site True North, Colleen Smith does not like encroaching LGBT influence over the Boy Scouts … “Since the LGBT community has vowed to continue the fight until gay leaders are accepted then I want to know when is it going to be enough? Will it be enough that the charter churches allow gay scouts, or will the activists insist that the bibles in the churches be removed because they are filled with “hate speech” against homosexuals? Will the activists insist that reverence toward God be removed because it excludes atheist wannabe scouts? Will the activists call the churches hypocrites because they allow gay scouts to meet in their churches and help in church events but exclude gays from their church leadership?  Will they insist that girls who identify themselves as boys be admitted? The answer is that it will never be enough. Progressive activists will continue to push until religious institutions are divided or bankrupt by fighting lawsuits. That’s the end game: morality gone, judgments gone — the larger ideological goal that is not addressed.” Or in other words … “Yet another apocalypse is nigh!”

The GleanOver in Wisconsin, the debate over a proposal to kick an investigative journalism center off the U of W-Madison campus continues on … and on. Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes: “Charlie Sykes, whose morning show airs on WTMJ-AM (620), ripped the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee for its early-morning vote to evict the nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from its offices at UW-Madison. Sykes called the vote ‘petty’ and ‘vindictive.’ But fellow Milwaukee talker Mark Belling — with an afternoon show on WISN-AM (1130) — came out with a full-throated endorsement of the legislative panel’s vote, calling it a ‘brazen conflict of interest’ for a news organization to receive free office space from a government entity. Off air, Belling expressed outrage that his longtime radio competitor was speaking out for what Belling views as a left-leaning journalism center. ‘I will remind you Charlie is the author of ‘A Nation Of Moochers’ in which he decried the very mooching he is defending,’ Belling said by email to No Quarter.” I like that word, “brazen.” Gotta work it in more.

Also … a whiff of nuance from “Mr. D” at the similarly conservative Mr. Dilettante’s Neighborhood site. “The broad point of this morning’s revelations is pretty simple — we all stand naked in the public square, but our government does not. It’s not a Republican/Democrat issue, either, since the programs began under the Bush administration and have continued apace under Obama. If there’s a political point to be scored here, it’s that there really aren’t too many consistent civil libertarians on the field these days, and that the Fourth Amendment is pretty close to a dead letter, for this and other reasons. We’re overdue for a national conversation about that sort of thing.” Who could disagree?

On the foodie site Heavy Table, John Garland offers a quickie profile of a couple of new local … distilleries: “In a corner of the Pour Decisions Brewing Co. warehouse in Roseville, Bartley Blume (above) shows us a gorgeous 200-gallon fermenter. It was built from western red cedar by a friend of his in Alabama and will be used exclusively to craft his Bent Brewstillery‘s upcoming bourbon. ‘I wanted to get a different wood character in there, and it’s more traditional,’ he says, on not using stainless steel to ferment his bourbon base. … Blume appears to be taking the same approach as Loon Liquors, the Northfield distiller who will bottle a white whiskey filtered through birch charcoal. That is, not attempting to hide the flavor of the base spirit, but to balance it with ones equally distinct. It’s a gamble, as this market is largely unfamiliar with the taste of un-aged whiskey and many drinkers seem outright opposed to the style. It will be interesting to see which (if any) of the local moonshine iterations really catch on.” Hey, if this is as good as summer’s going to get, Mr. Blume will be seeing a lot of demand for his product.