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Tuesday | March 20, 2018





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Popular vote vs Electoral College

Letter to the Editor:

The Electoral College on November 8, 2016 elected Donald Trump, despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by more than 2.9 million votes. The American Bar Association criticized the Electoral College as archaic and ambiguous, and its polling showed 69 percent of lawyers favored abolishing it in 1987. The president of the United  States should be elected by popular vote of the people.

Bob Uppgaard
Pequot Lakes, MN

Minnesotans for Pipeline Cleanup, Landowner Richard Shustarich - photo submitted

Minnesota landowners, pastors call for to clean up of abandoned pipelines on their property following a new report

Letter to the Editor:

For the first time in Minnesota history, landowners are facing the threat of having Enbridge’s old oil pipelines left on their land without legal protections

Grand Rapids, MN - Enbridge is on the verge of abandoning hundreds of miles of old pipeline across Northern Minnesota, without legal protections for landowners.

On March 8, 2018, dozens of Minnesota landowners gathered at a news conference to call on Enbridge to clean up old pipeline left on their property at St. Andrew’s Church in Grand Rapids.

For the first time in state history, a pipeline company is seeking approval to permanently abandon deteriorating pipeline in the ground. If the Canadian pipeline company’s plan is approved, it will set a new state precedent for dealing with the 12 other pipelines that cross the state when they become outdated.

Enbridge plans to leave deteriorating Line 3 pipeline in the ground while it builds a larger pipeline across a new route. The old Line 3 spans 282 miles and crosses beneath public waterways, tribal land, church property, and farmland.

According to the March 8 report released by Minnesotans for Pipeline Cleanup, it is only a matter of time before old, rusty pipeline leaks and contaminates landowner’s property and environment.

The report details the threats facing Minnesota landowners, regarding the financial, legal, and environmental consequences of Enbridge’s plan.

“Who will be responsible?” asked Richard Shustarich, a landowner from Blackberry, Minnesota. “Years from now when that old pipe rusts, leaks, comes up out of the ground or creates holes that our kids and pets fall in - who is going to take care of it? What happens if the company goes out of business? We let them cross our property in good faith, and now that they are done making money on it, they need to clean it up.”

Under current law, Enbridge could legally walk away from the long-term costs of abandoning the pipelines they own. This could leave Minnesota landowners and taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars to deal with leaks and contamination to land and water.

“Enbridge has the money, and if they can put a pipe in, they can clean it up,” said Shustarich.

Pastor David Anderson of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church said, “We have a responsibility to protect and provide for the earth. That’s what the word dominion in scripture means. For us that means we shouldn’t be leaving pipes in the ground, whether they are intact or rusted, underground or emerging out of the ground, whether they are clean or leaking. I believe that this pipeline and any other pipeline that is decommissioned ought to be removed. It’s not only #3 that is going by us, but it is my understanding that there are two other pipelines on our property and this very well could be prescient setting.”

Pastor Anderson added, “If the pipeline is decommissioned and the property owners become liable for additional  cleanup that would put a financial burden on our church that we could not meet.”

Colleen Bernu, who has 6 pipelines along her homestead near Sawyer, Minnesota sees pipeline cleanup as a potential win for the whole community.

“The corporation is trying to save about $35 million by leaving these pipes in the ground.That money could be food on our tables, it could send our kids to hockey camp or pay their college tuition. It’s union labor that would be called on to take the pipes out.”

Bernu wants neighbors and public officials to come together to set a precedent that will keep families safe, protect the land and the environment.

“When my husband and I found out about this issue, our first thought was maybe we should move, but that wouldn’t solve the problem.It would leave the problem in someone else’s back yard, and that’s not okay. Making Enbridge take responsibility for removing their old pipeline would be a win for all of us—property owners, taxpayers, workers and the environment.”

Submitted by Minnesotans for Pipeline Cleanup; a grassroots coalition of landowners raising their voices for pipeline cleanup

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March 11-17, 2018
“Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.”

Sunshine always right

Sunshine Week Editorial:

By Jim Zachary
CNHI Deputy National Editor Editor, The Valdosta Daily Times

Open government is not a political platform.

It is a basic American right.

The political landscape is more polarized than ever and there seems to be little common ground for conservatives and progressives.

Transparency — keeping the light on the people’s business — ought to be something everyone can agree on.

Instead, conservatives want to reveal the secrets of liberals and liberals want to expose the actions of conservatives.

Openness in government is not a liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, independent, Libertarian or freedom caucus issue.

It often appears that whatever party is in the minority becomes the champion of transparency right up until the time it is in the majority.

Politicians stump on transparency and are all about open access, until they have something they want to keep secret.

The need for transparency in local, state and federal government transcends parties and political ideologies.

Checks and balances provide few checks and little balance when officials broker deals behind closed doors and conceal documents that contain important information that the public has the right, and often the need, to know.

Local government has the biggest impact in the lives of people on a day-to-day basis.

Whether it is in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, business taxes, state-shared dollars or federal grants, loans and funding, local government is 100 percent taxpayer-funded.

The public has the right to know how its money is being spent. The decisions being made, the dollars being doled out and the records being kept by city hall, the county commission, the board of education or the utility district all belong to liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, independents, Libertarians and even politically disinterested individuals.

All stakeholders have a stake in open meetings and public records and should care about transparency issues.

The lack of and need for true government transparency should be about the most bipartisan cause that exists.

Any elected official who truly cares about public service in a real and meaningful way and fully understands what a representative form of government is all about, should not only champion openness in government, but should be the most effective watchdogs, looking out for the public trust.

Sadly, those kinds of elected officials are hard to find.

The press tries to keep an eye on government and expose clandestine actions and in response journalists are often ridiculed, belittled and even threatened for just doing their jobs, as they work to keep government honest by making use of access laws.

But, the public needs to understand that access to government documents and actions is not just a media right.

It is your right.

Jim Zachary is the deputy national editor of CNHI, editor of the Valdosta (Georgia) Daily Times, president and chairman of the Red & Black Publishing Company serving the University of Georgia, vice-president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, director of the Transparency Project of Georgia and a member of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications Board of Trust. He can be reached at jzachary@cnhi.com.

Access to information sheds needed light on government secrets

Sunshine Week Editorial:

By Sandy Davidson
School of Journalism
University of Missouri

Sunshine Week this year is March 11-17. The “sunshine” refers to access to government information. Journalists value access, but it’s a right that belongs to everyone — the right to know what your government is doing, or maybe failing to do.

A clear indicator of whether a government is more totalitarian or more democratic is the amount of access to information on how the government is functioning. Secrecy helps dreadful schemes go from dreadful dreams in perverted minds to perverted reality.

Granted, sometimes knowing about vicious plots in the making is not going to stop the onslaught of tragedy or brutality. Knowing about less pernicious plots may not avoid future silliness. But not knowing about the plotting leaves a vulnerability that knowledge can sometimes repair.

The United States is not immune to mad endeavors conducted in secrecy, and the U.S. Supreme Court is not always a friend to sunshine. An example of the Supreme Court’s complicity in secrecy is the case of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) v. Sims, decided in 1985.

The case unleashed an ongoing saga for some U.S. military veterans, but first some details are important to set the stage for what, in many respects, was a stupid tragedy.

CIA v. Sims has a plot similar to the movie “The Manchurian Candidate.” The original movie, released in 1962 and starring Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey, is about a Communist plot to employ mindcontrol over a poor soldier captured by the Soviets during the Korean War and taken to Manchuria.

After brainwashing, the soldier, when he sees a queen of diamonds playing card, turns into a virtual automaton and does whatever he is commanded to do. Spoiler alert: After the war is over, he returns to the United States, where he murders even the woman he loves, but he does not murder a presidential candidate he was ordered to assassinate.

The former prisoner’s wicked mother (Lansbury) is somehow involved with these brainwashing Communists to plot her son’s mind-controlled assassination of the candidate. It doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s Hollywood.

The remake, from 2004, stars Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber. In this version of “The Manchurian Candidate,” it’s no longer Communists who are the bad guys, and mind control is achieved through  nanotechnology.

Hollywood can be forgiven for its far-fetched plots. From “Dracula” to “Aliens” to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” flights of fantasy become entertainment. But when the U.S. government sponsors flights of fantasy, the result can be deadly.

The CIA is the heavy in the unfortunately real-life adventure of twisted individuals armed with governmental power — and secrecy. The CIA program in question is called MKULTRA (pronounced “MK-ULTRA”).

In CIA v. Sims, the Supreme Court described the CIA’s broad MKULTRA program as follows: “Between 1953 and 1966, the Central Intelligence Agency financed a wide-ranging project, code-named MKULTRA, concerned with ‘the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.’ The program consisted of some 149 subprojects that the agency contracted out to various universities, research foundations and similar institutions. At least 80 institutions and 185 private researchers participated.”

The Supreme Court explained that “MKULTRA was established to counter perceived Soviet and Chinese advances in brainwashing and interrogation techniques. Over the years the program included various medical and psychological experiments, some of which led to untoward results.”

As for those “untoward results,” the Court said: “Several MKULTRA subprojects involved experiments where researchers surreptitiously administered dangerous drugs, such as LSD, to unwitting human subjects. At least two persons died as a result of MKULTRA experiments, and others may have suffered impaired health because of the testing.”

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against ordering the CIA to release information identifying researchers and their institutions in its program to attorney John C. Sims and a doctor who were both working for Public Citizen, a Ralph Nader group. The Court upheld the CIA’s refusal to disclose names of MKULTRA institutions and researchers, invoking the “national security” exemption for “intelligence sources.”

Thus, CIA v. Sims demonstrates the power of “national security” as an exemption to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Years later, a group of veterans sued the CIA in federal court for information about alleged experiments on veterans. They feared that they were some of the persons described by the Supreme Court as “unwitting human subjects.” Perhaps “unwitting guinea pigs” would be an apt translation of the subjects’ statuses.

In July 2015, in Vietnam Veterans of America v. CIA, the Ninth Circuit upheld a win by the veterans. Veterans sued the CIA in California to receive information about their health and to receive health care.

Granted, some secrecy in government is necessary. As Justice Robert H. Jackson said in 1949, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” But national security should not be used as a broad talisman to ward off requests for information.

In the mid-1970s, several committees looked into abuses by intelligence agencies, including a committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church, the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities.

A permanent U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, established in 1976, is now supposed to provide some oversight of intelligence activities. Calling activities such as MKULTRA “intelligence activities,” however, seems a misnomer.

MKULTRA proved tragic. If only more sunshine had penetrated this CIA adventure before it was implemented, maybe this real life “Manchurian candidate” scenario would never have materialized. Maybe someone with a little sanity and humanity would have stopped the tragedy in its incipiency. At least, one can hope that more rational minds would have prevailed.

However, too much secrecy not only prevailed then but arguably was also condoned after the fact by the U.S.  Supreme Court. For anyone who believes that ours is a truly open society, CIA v. Sims probably would be sobering reading. It’s certainly something to reflect upon as “Sunshine Week” nears.

Sandy Davidson, Ph.D., J.D., teaches communications law at the MU School of Journalism. She is a curators’ distinguished teaching professor and the attorney for the Columbia Missourian.

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