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Twins’ Luis Arraez, in quest for batting title, trying to stand between Aaron Judge and Triple Crown

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Twins’ Luis Arraez, In Quest For Batting Title, Trying To Stand Between Aaron Judge And Triple Crown
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CLEVELAND — Amid a historic season that has him approaching the American League single-season home run record, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has emerged as a threat to win the first Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Doing so would put him in rarified air — Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb are among those who accomplished the feat.

But there’s someone in the Twins’ clubhouse currently standing in his way: Luis Arraez.

Judge seemingly has two of the three categories all but wrapped up. With 59 so far, he entered the day with a 22-home run lead over Houston’s Yordan Álvarez. He has 127 RBIs to Cleveland’s José Ramírez’s 113.

And now he’s making a play for a batting title.

He has crept up lately on Arraez, who has spent most of the season with the highest batting average in the American League. After Monday’s play, Arraez is hitting .317 to Judge’s .316. Like Arraez, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, who is hitting .316, poses a threat to Judge’s hopes, too.

“You don’t want to get in between Aaron Judge and probably anything in this world,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the Yankees’ 6-foot-7, 282-pound outfielder, “but I do think it’s a pretty wonderful visual when someone pastes it all together on the internet to have Luis Arraez standing in between him and the Triple Crown. That would be a pretty funny imagine if someone does it the right way.”

All joking aside, Arraez could be the only thing standing between Judge and history when the season is over.

While Arraez has seen his average slide a bit recently — he has hit .284 in the second half of this season — Judge has made a push, batting .374 since the all-star break. Though Bogaerts has passed him at times during the second half, Judge has never been so close to him in the race.

“Luis ultimately cares about winning,” Baldelli said. “That’s the most important thing to him more than anything else, but if there is a second thing, I think winning a battle title would be important to him. He takes a lot of pride in what he does and the work that he puts in. My money’s on Luis.”

HENRIQUEZ DEBUTS

In the midst of a 11-4 loss to Cleveland on Monday, Twins rookie Ronny Henriquez was called upon for an extended outing after starting pitcher Sonny Gray was forced out of the game early with hamstring tightness.

Henriquez, who has both started and pitched in relief at Triple-A St. Paul this season, tossed four innings in his debut, giving up three runs on four hits. Those three runs came in the sixth inning on an Amed Rosario home run.

“Ronny came out there and competed very well,” Baldelli said. “His offspeed looked excellent. He can pitch with that slider and with that changeup very, very well, and he’s almost mixing in the 94- and the 95(-mph fastballs). But he’s got a good, fast arm. He showed some composure. I really liked what I saw.”

BRIEFLY

The Texas Rangers claimed pitcher Drew Strotman off waivers. Strotman was part of the return from the Tampa Bay Rays in the trade for designated hitter Nelson Cruz, along with starting pitcher Joe Ryan.

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Aimee Pugh Bernard: An immunologist offers tips for assessing health info in the wilds of the Internet

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Aimee Pugh Bernard: An Immunologist Offers Tips For Assessing Health Info In The Wilds Of The Internet
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As a mom with real concerns about my kid’s health, and as an educator and scientist who appreciates the hard facts, I understand how difficult it can be to make choices that affect your family’s health. This has been made even more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic; the decisions we make not only impact ourselves but the people around us in our communities.

Being skeptical and learning as much as we can before we make important decisions is a good thing. Researching information regarding our health and well-being can be complicated. Today’s world is filled with conflicting information online, in the media, and among peers and family members – it’s hard to know which sources are accurate and reliable.

Conflicting information during the pandemic has also come from scientists and medical experts. That doesn’t seem right! Why does that happen?

 

It’s important to know that science is always evolving.

At the start of the pandemic, scientists knew just as much as the general public.Until we started collecting and analyzing clinical data and doing experiments with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, we had very little information about how the virus worked and how it spread. The more we learned, the more information we had to make recommendations for the health and well-being of our communities. I know it was (and still is) frustrating. I was right there with you. Mask or no mask? Wipe down the groceries, let them sit without being touched for a day or load them into my cupboards right away? We didn’t know.

What we do know is that the more we learn about the virus, the more information we have to make and update our recommendations. Sometimes new information leads us to revise an earlier recommendation. This is even more complicated as variants emerge that act and work a little bit differently than the original virus.

You can think of variants as kids. While kids have the same genetic information as their parents — it’s a little bit of a mixture with some unique changes — it often results in a human that looks and acts differently. This is the same with viruses. It means that we, as scientists, are always chasing after the newest variant of the virus to learn as much as we can to update our recommendations to the general public based on the most recent clinical and scientific data.

We all want to do what’s right and make the best decisions possible. With all the conflicting messages we see in the media, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and maybe even be led down a path of inaccurate and sometimes harmful information. The internet and endless number of social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, etc.) have made finding credible information challenging. Anyone who wants to share their message with the world has the ability to do so. This means that experts and non-experts alike have found an equal voice in the wild world of the internet and social media.

This is where I come in; I’ll use my expertise as a scientist and my experience as an science communicator and educator to help you distinguish between the facts and fake news.

 

What can you do to make sense of conflicting information?

How can you find information that comes from credible sources and experts who are sharing their expertise to empower you to make decisions based on facts and the truth?

Here are four quick tips that I always use to help me decipher facts from fakes news:

1.      Check my emotions. Does what I just read or watched make me feel strong emotions?

2.      Check the author. Is the author an expert in the field? Does the author have experience and/or training in the area for which s/he is writing about?

3.      Check the source. Is this a reputable source? Is it source that medical doctors and scientists would use to get and/or share information?

4.      Check the references. Does the article or video share the source of information?

 

My motivation to share these tips came from a Letter to the Editor the Pioneer Press published on Aug. 28 titled, “Ongoing debate on vaccines for kids.”

As a PhD immunologist for over 20 years, I can tell you that there is no debate in the medical community about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. We agree that vaccines are one of the greatest medical advancements in existence and they have saved millions, if not billions, of lives. The author of the letter shared a YouTube channel from an individual who is not an expert in the field of medicine and, contrary to what was stated in the opinion piece, is not “respected by persons on all sides of the COVID issue.”

How did I figure this out?

Let’s use that YouTube video recommendation (which I will not list here for reasons stated above) as an example and go through my list of four quick tips together.

1. Check my emotions. How did this YouTube video make me feel?

The video was definitely created to spark strong emotion. It was designed to invoke fear and anger; the author conveyed that he was revealing information that the medical establishment did not want the public to know. The desired outcome was to inspire fear and anger against the medical establishment but trust in him, since he was (allegedly) letting us in on a secret.

2. Check the author. Who is this person? What makes him an expert?

After a little digging, I found out that he is not a medical doctor or a biologist. He also has no training in immunology, vaccine biology or infectious disease. He calls himself a doctor because he has a PhD in the study of open education resources. Having a PhD does make it legitimate to call oneself “doctor” (as I know from personal experience) but his expertise and training are not in the area this video was focused on – COVID and vaccines. Bottom line is that he is not an expert in the field that was the focus of the YouTube video.

3. Check the source. Is this a reputable source of information? Is this a source that scientific experts would use to find factual information?

No. YouTube is not a source that medical doctors or scientists use to gather factual information. The most legitimate sources of information about infectious disease and medicine used to treat them come from science articles that are published in scientific journals, medical textbooks, and reputable academic and medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Although YouTube can be a source for factual information, much of the time when scientific information is revealed on YouTube, it is coming from people who are not experts and do not have the scientific data to get their news published in a reputable source.

Can YouTube be a source of factual information? Absolutely! Scientists and medical professionals use YouTube as a communication tool to disseminate information about exciting new developments in disease treatments and research studies that have been published in scientific journals. Furthermore, there are fascinating YouTube videos created by music professors discussing the elements of music theory, mechanics explaining how braking systems work, chefs talking about the latest and most innovative cooking techniques, and so much more! YouTube is an audiovisual library filled with hours of informative and entertaining  videos. To figure out if the YouTube video you are watching is factual, go back to Tip #1 (check emotions) and Tip #2 (check the author).

4. Check the references. Are there any references listed? If so, what are they, and are they reputable and valid?

First item of business here, if there are no references listed, that’s a red flag. For our investigation, this video did use a reference known as a “pre-print.” In science, pre-prints are versions of articles that communicate the results of scientific findings that have just happened but have not yet been validated and reviewed by other scientific experts through a process called peer review.

Peer review is a big deal in science. It is the process by which science experts in the same field as the author of the paper, but who are not part of the study, scrutinize the data and determine if the findings in the paper are accurate and valid. Peer review is the process in science by which we determine if the scientific findings are fact or fake news. Pre-prints have not yet undergone this intense scrutiny and should not be accepted as fact. It’s kind of like telling all your buddies about a huge fish you caught without having any witnesses with you on the fishing excursion. It could be true but could also be fake news.

During the early days of COVID, pre-prints were valuable to the medical community. The peer review process is time-consuming and when we needed to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible, pre-prints allowed us to do so. Those of us trained in science could distinguish good data from bad data by analyzing the methods and statistical analysis in the pre-prints. We know from years of training which pre-prints had information that might be valid. We also know that pre-prints need to go through peer review and only those that go on to publication in a scientific journal would prevail as fact. Those that did not, would be chalked up to fake news.

 

Walking through the four quick tips together, we found out that:

1.      The video sparked strong emotion (even for a Minnesotan)

2.      The author is not an expert in COVID, vaccines, or pandemics

3.      The source is YouTube, which is not an accepted platform for the communication of scientific information

4.      The reference is a pre-print, which can be a source of information but has not yet undergone the scrutinous peer review process and should not be accepted as fact

Using the 4 quick tips, the result of our investigation suggests this is not a valid source of information and we should not accept this particular YouTube video as accurate.

 

As a scientist and educator, I encourage you to remain curious and skeptical when it comes to your health and decisions that will impact your life and the lives of your loved ones and the greater community.

Knowledge is power. As you do your own research to learn as much as possible before making important decisions regarding your health and the health of your family, keep in mind the four quick tips listed above. Distinguish fact from fake news by remembering that credible information rarely comes from sources that evoke strong emotion, people who are not experts in the field of which they write, in a YouTube video, and without references from credible sources.

For more information on how to become a pro at deciphering facts from fake news, I encourage you to visit the News Literacy Project ( website.

For more information about how vaccines work with the immune system to train our bodies to fight infectious diseases, check out my “Immunology 101” blog series at Immunize Colorado Team Vaccine (

Aimee Pugh Bernard is an immunologist and professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus. She was born and raised in South St. Paul and attended college at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter. 

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Trudy Rubin: Putin’s threat to use nukes is a sure sign his war is failing

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Trudy Rubin: Putin’s Threat To Use Nukes Is A Sure Sign His War Is Failing
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Twenty-two years ago, at the Davos World Economic Forum, when a little-known Vladimir Putin had just become president, I asked four senior Russian leaders: “Who is Mr. Putin?”

Seated in a row on stage, all four refused to answer, apparently fearful of their new boss. The audience burst out laughing. Russian TV, in the front row, filmed the whole episode and ran it repeatedly — for years. “Who is Mr. Putin?” became a meme that has endured until the present.

Now, as Putin threatens (again) to use nukes to rescue his failed war in Ukraine, his psyche is once more being dissected. Is he bluffing? Is he mad? Can he be enticed to negotiations?

These are the wrong questions. Vladimir Putin is a bully who only stops when confronted. He has made clear that he is a danger to Europe, the United States and the world — not just Ukraine.

Now is the historic moment, when Putin is reeling from a string of Ukrainian military successes, to take advantage of his weakness. At long last, the West must give Kyiv the critical weapons it needs to push Russian troops out of Ukraine.

Putin’s Sept. 21 speech — in which he called for a “partial” military mobilization of 300,000 soldiers and hinted that Russia might use nuclear weapons — was a clear sign of weakness. Ukraine’s advances in the north of the country led to the collapse of the ill-equipped, poorly led Russian occupation troops, and his call-up won’t rejuvenate his troubled army.

“There is almost no chance they will get anywhere close to 300,000, because nobody wants to do it,” I was told by Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of the United States Army Europe, by phone from Romania.

“It will be months before any of these guys show up, never mind get trained,” Hodges added, especially since Russia is running short of uniforms, supplies — and capable commanders. And fears of the call-up are already generating social unrest in big cities.

Knowing this, Putin has trotted out his veiled nuclear threat, stating that, if any nation jeopardizes “the territorial integrity of our country … we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.”

Yet Putin and his circle have made nuclear threats frequently in recent years — and they have always been a bluff. “They typically back down if you ignore them or you make a very clear response,” said Hodges.

The reason that Putin’s use of tactical nukes is highly unlikely is that it won’t gain the Russians any military advantage.

“There is zero strategic upside,” Hodges explained. Putin is not going to start a strategic nuclear war with NATO, which would destroy him. As for using tactical nuclear weapons (which have a much smaller yield), Hodges noted that they wouldn’t do as much damage as Moscow’s conventional missiles have done to major Ukrainian cities such as Mariupol.

But their use would provoke a global outcry against breaking the nuclear taboo that has existed since 1945, forcing even China and India to condemn Putin. “It would be impossible for the U.S. not to respond, and the response would be devastating,” said Hodges.

President Joe Biden told “60 Minutes” last Sunday that the U.S. response would be “consequential.” One hopes private White House messages to Putin make clear that Biden’s retort is not a bluff.

Of course, many observers wonder if that response to any Russian escalation would be nuclear. But the U.S. has many non-nuclear options — from so-called bunker busters to cyber counterattacks — to seriously punish such a strike. Their extent should be made clear to Moscow.

“Of course, good people worry (about the nuclear threat),” Hodges said, “but if we give in to Putin’s blackmail there is no end to this. Where does it stop?” Such threats could be used against small NATO countries. China and North Korea are also watching how the West responds to Putin’s nuclear threats.

Which brings us to the pipe dream of peace talks, a frequent proposal by those who fear a Putin who runs “crazy.” The Russian leader has so far rejected peace talks (despite lies to the contrary), and would only use them to regroup his military. Putin has said Ukraine has no right to exist and is preparing to annex occupied Ukrainian lands via rigged referendums.

So there is no possibility of serious talks before Russia is forced to give up most or all of the lands it has annexed. Indeed, the administration should stop talking about “strengthening Ukraine’s hand” at the negotiating table.

On the contrary, this is the moment, when Putin is on the back foot, that the West must expedite delivery of the weapons systems Ukraine needs to win this conflict.

“Yes, we have a few HIMARs” — the precision multiple rocket launchers sent recently by Washington, that have enabled the Ukrainians to knock out Russian logistics and command centers — I was told via WhatsApp by Brig. Gen. “Marcel” Melnik, commander of the Ukrainian Army’s Kharkiv garrison, as he drove around newly liberated towns last week. “But if we would have more HIMARS, along with air defense systems, and armored cars, we can win.”

There is no reason for the U.S. and its allies to keep denying the Ukrainians the air defenses, long-range missiles, tanks and planes that could defeat Putin. It is critical to deliver them now, before winter sets in, before Russia mobilizes, before Putin bombs every bit of civilian infrastructure left in Ukraine.

Let’s stop letting fear of “mad” Putin’s nukes spook us. Get off the stick, Biden administration (which has done much right, but is still holding back key weapons systems)! Put your weapons where your mouths are, France and Germany! Now is the moment to help Kyiv push Putin’s army out of Ukraine.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at [email protected]

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Movie review: ‘Blonde’ a tour de force take on Marilyn Monroe’s fabulous, tragic life

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Movie Review: ‘Blonde’ A Tour De Force Take On Marilyn Monroe’s Fabulous, Tragic Life
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Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde” is a “Phantom of the Opera” whose phantom hides her psychological scars behind the mask of a Hollywood screen goddess. Based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the beautifully shot, almost three-hour film, which switches back and forth from color to black and white, presents Marilyn Monroe as both a damaged flesh-and-blood human being and a semi-divine, hyper-sexualized product of the 1950s studio system. This creation was fodder for gossip columns, abused and victimized by powerful men and designed to lure audiences, especially men, into movie theaters.

As the blonde of the title, Cuban actor Ana de Armas is genuinely heartbreaking. Her Monroe is, yes, beautiful and sexy, but also delightful, vulnerable, profoundly talented, far more intelligent and knowledgeable than she was ever given credit for and tragic. It is an exciting, star-making performance.

Also brilliant is Medford’s Julianne Nicholson as Gladys, the mother of little fatherless Norma Jeane Baker (a fine Lily Fisher). Following Oates’ Freudian lead, Dominik creates a father myth for Monroe when mentally unstable Gladys gives her daughter a dramatic photo of a dark-haired man, telling her that he is her father, but that she cannot utter his name. The film’s Marilyn calls her male partners, “Daddy,” for the rest of her life. After getting a start in modeling, Marilyn breaks into acting and is assaulted at her first major studio audition. Much of “Blonde” is prefigured in a scene in which Norma Jeane’s mother drives her as a child into the smoke and flame-filled hills of Hollywood. Welcome to the inferno, honey. Marilyn learns to place herself in a “circle of light” from an acting coach. She will need that skill to shield herself from most of the men she meets.

Marilyn gets a break playing the troubled Nell in “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952). She also gets involved in a scandalous threesome with the sons of Charlie Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson. De Armas is topless in a lot of “Blonde.” We see simulated sex acts. But that NC-17 rating is as over-the-top as some of the dialogue (Dominik adapted the novel). Dominik chooses to distort the image to make it look like the threesome bodies are merging. “Niagara” (1953) makes Monroe a sensation, if not a human waterfall. Daryl F. Zanuck buys “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for her. But Jane Russell makes 20 times more. Also, Monroe will be forced to have an abortion to keep the production moving along.

Giant, voluptuous images of Monroe appear over theater marquees. She’s bigger than life, a modern-day sex goddess. We see de Armas recreate the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” routine. She is very good. But Monroe was iconic. The film’s Marilyn begins to use pills and booze to self-medicate. She marries Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) in part to get out of Hollywood and study acting in New York City. But he is viciously jealous and beats her. Monroe did not invent the “male gaze.” But she turned it into her superpower. She marries celebrated playwright Arthur Miller (Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody) and almost clasps the happiness that has perversely eluded her. In the end, she becomes the cruelly treated plaything of an unnamed JFK. “Am I meat to be delivered?” she wonders. Her life is a wilderness of broken mirrors, ringing phones, talking fetuses, booze, drugs and voice-overs by a probably imaginary, letter-writing father. She needs a doctor on set to complete “Some Like It Hot” (1959). “Blonde” is a spooky, troubling evocation of Hollywood’s most obsessed-over star. If you liked “Mank,” “Blonde” will once again send you to movie heaven … and hell.

‘BLONDE’

Grade: A-

MPAA rating: NC-17 (for some sexual content)

Running time: 2:46

How to watch: Now in theaters and streaming on Netflix Sept. 28

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ASK IRA: Are Heat keeping trade options open to potentially seize a moment?

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Ask Ira: Are Heat Keeping Trade Options Open To Potentially Seize A Moment?
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Q: Hey Ira, I am intrigued by the process of signing/waiting to sign Tyler Herro. Since Tyler was not a starter (but did play significant minutes) last season, it would seem logical for the Heat to argue that Tyler could sign a larger contract next offseason, or take less now on the laurels of a non-starter this past year. I would think that Tyler needs to decide if he wants to be paid prior to the season starting (for less) or bet on himself for further success this season to enhance the contract offer next summer. – David, Venice.

A: While I appreciate the logic, all the financials and analytics are secondary to this: The Heat effectively cannot trade Tyler Herro this season should an agreement be reached on an extension prior to the extension deadline at the start of the regular season. So even more than Tyler’s value in the moment is whether he could stand as a trade component by February’s NBA trading deadline (or before). And the Heat won’t know where they stand with Tyler as a rotation component until they first see where they stand with players such as Victor Oladipo, Max Strus and even Gabe Vincent.

Q: I see some upside in fringe players such as Marcus Garrett, Darius Days, et al., that could have Max Strus-like impact. That’s why I agree with Pat Riley’s philosophy of nothing being given, but rather earned. Right now saying the team’s rotation will be the same as the roster in April entering the playoffs is premature. – Leonard, Cornelius, N.C.

A: Exactly. A year ago at this time who thought that Caleb Martin would become a primary rotation component, or Max Strus? The Heat have a way of making it work. That is why I already mentioned keeping an eye on Haywood Haysmith. Now, it might not be Marcus Garrett or Darius Days. But the Heat are known for presenting opportunity. Will there be someone this time around to seize it?

Q: Ira, the 5 at 35 segments have really taken me back through the years. What are your professional Top 5 Heat moments in the last 35? – J.J.

A: Honestly, just being able to be here for all of it, including starting season No. 35 on Monday at media day at FTX Arena.

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How has Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan spent the past 4 years? Advocating, just like before

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How Has Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Spent The Past 4 Years? Advocating, Just Like Before
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On paper, the Minnesota lieutenant governor is basically a backup.

Aside from chairing a few boards and commissions as required by law, the lieutenant governor’s only duty under the state Constitution is to take over if the governor can’t do the job.

But that’s changed over the years, and Peggy Flanagan, who was elected with Gov. Tim Walz in 2018, can’t be described as a mere backup.

Instead, according to Flanagan and those who’ve worked with her, the 43-year-old former state lawmaker is more of an insider advocate — critics say activist — for issues she’s spent most of her career supporting: public aid to poor parents and children, especially racial and ethnic minorities.

Now, she’s seeking a second term along with Walz, who will face the Republican ticket of former state Sen. Scott Jensen and his pick for lieutenant governor, former NFL star Matt Birk, in November’s general election.

Flanagan is married to former Minnesota Public Radio host Tom Weber, who now is assistant director of marketing at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and has a 9-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

Here are some things to know about Flanagan and how she’s spent her first term.

GREW UP ON WELFARE

  • “There it is! My old locker,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan after spotting it as she walked through St. Louis Park High School on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Flanagan returned to her alma mater to speak at a voter registration rally. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

  • Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Left, Is Greeted By Principal Lanisha Paddock At St. Louis Park High School In St. Louis Park On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Flanagan Returned To Her Alma Mater To Speak At A Voter Registration Rally. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

    Flanagan, left, is greeted by principal LaNisha Paddock. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

  • Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Signs The Visitor Log At St. Louis Park High School In St. Louis Park On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Flanagan Returned To Her Alma Mater To Speak At A Voter Registration Rally. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

    Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan signs the visitor log at St. Louis Park High School. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

  • Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Waves To Students In The Auditorium At St. Louis Park High School In St. Louis Park On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Flanagan Returned To Her Alma Mater To Speak At A Voter Registration Rally. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

    Flanagan waves to students in the auditorium. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

  • Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Talks To Students At St. Louis Park High School In St. Louis Park On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Flanagan Returned To Her Alma Mater To Speak At A Voter Registration Rally. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

    Flanagan talks to students at St. Louis Park High School. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

  • Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Greets Isaac Israel, 17, Center, And Sebastian Tangelson, Organizers Of A Voter Registration Rally At St. Louis Park High School, In St. Louis Park On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

    Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan greets Isaac Israel, 17, center, and Sebastian Tangelson, organizers of a voter registration rally at St. Louis Park High School. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

  • Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Left, Poses With Student Marley Curtis, 15, Center, And Larry Kraft, A Candidate For Minnesota House District 46A, In The Auditorium At St. Louis Park High School In St. Louis Park On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Flanagan Returned To Her Alma Mater To Speak At A Voter Registration Rally. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

    Flanagan poses with student Marley Curtis, 15, center, and Larry Kraft, a candidate for Minnesota House District 46A, in the auditorium at St. Louis Park High School. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

  • Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Walks Down Familiar Hallways At St. Louis Park High School In St. Louis Park On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Flanagan Returned To Her Alma Mater To Speak At A Voter Registration Rally. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

    Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan walks down familiar hallways at St. Louis Park High School. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

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Flanagan grew up in St. Louis Park, raised primarily by her mother. And, as she frequently points out in speeches and interviews, they were poor. She says it was only because of taxpayer-funded programs, including federal Section 8 housing vouchers, welfare payments and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — then called food stamps — that her mother was able to live in the suburb.

As a welfare recipient and member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Flanagan says she understands the experience of feeling marginalized. “There’s a lot of people around the Capitol who talk about ‘those people.’ I am one of ‘those people,’ ” she said in a recent interview with the Pioneer Press.

With some influence from her father, American Indian rights activist Marvin Manypenny, Flanagan set out to change what she saw as a system of public aid that needed improving.

“I was really intentional in building a career that allowed me to advocate,” she said, referring to a course steeped in left-wing activism.

BACKGROUND IN ADVOCACY

Flanagan served on the Minneapolis school board from 2005 to 2009 and worked at Wellstone Action — now called Re:Power — training progressives to organize. That’s where she first met Walz, who at the time was less experienced in politics and considered Flanagan a mentor.

In 2013, she was hired as executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, which often lobbies the Legislature to fund programs that help poor kids. In 2015, she was elected to the Minnesota House, where she was a founding member of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus.

When Flanagan speaks about her American Indian identity, she’s direct.

“It’s hard to be a Native woman in a system that was not created by us or for us, and in many ways was created to eliminate us,” she said.

That sort of language, as well as her focus on racial justice and equity, have led some Republicans to keep Flanagan at arm’s length. More than a legislator or lieutenant governor, they see her as an activist who views everything through the lens of race.

Several Republicans who have worked with Flanagan on issues declined to speak on the record for this story, citing the charged atmosphere of the election season.

As for Jensen and Birk, their central campaign messages of improving public safety and the economy often target Flanagan and Walz as a unit for their response to the riots following George Floyd’s murder, spikes in violent crime and for what many Republicans viewed as a heavy-handed response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As for her identity as an American Indian, Flanagan — the first tribal member elected to statewide office in Minnesota and at one point the highest serving elected Indigenous person in America — has leaned into it from day one.

FLYING THE WHITE EARTH FLAG

The Governor Speaks From Behind A Lectern.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, right, and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, left, speak with reporters on May 2 at the Capitol following a news conference. (Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service)

Inside the ornate Governor’s Reception Room of the Minnesota Capitol, three flags hang: the American flag, the Minnesota state flag and — since Walz and Flanagan assumed office — the flag of the White Earth Nation.

“We’re in this office, and I’m a citizen of White Earth and I’m a citizen of Minnesota, so why not have both flags?” she said.

The move never was publicly questioned, but it’s made some conservatives and Capitol observers uneasy; after all, tribal policy and state policy sometimes are in opposition. Flanagan brushes off the concern.

“Of course, there’s tension when we’re interpreting tribal and state and federal law, but the quality of the relationships has been improving,” she said.

Indeed, formal relations between the state and the tribes arguably is at a high point. An early executive order by Walz bolstered the state’s recognition of tribal sovereignty by, among other things, requiring state agencies to consult with tribal officials on policy and procedures. Earlier this year, that stand was approved by the bipartisan Legislature and now is codified in state law.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Aside from the at times all-encompassing task of navigating the pandemic alongside Walz, Flanagan has grown into the role of behind-the-scenes policy advocate for her cherished causes.

The self-described “policy nerd” has been integral in working with the governor’s Cabinet formulating his budget proposals. She keeps a “hot sheet” to track bills relating to those issues, and she’s the primary liaison with the wider community of government and nonprofit providers — many of whom she’s known for years.

That level of access and understanding has been eye-opening, some say.

“The difference is that when Lt. Gov. Flanagan gets into that role, I don’t have to explain or educate people on that policy,” said Jessica Webster, a veteran lobbyist and staff attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, which advocates for programs for the poor. “She feels it. She knows it. And she’s experienced it. In the three administrations I’ve worked with — those include Republicans and Democrats — this is the first time that someone with an election certificate in that office really understands these programs.”

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Webster credits Flanagan for an early victory for advocates of anti-poverty spending: a $100 increase in monthly payments from the Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state’s welfare program for low-income families with children.

“That was huge,” Webster said. “I personally had been running an uphill battle on that for 17 years.”

The increase, approved in 2019, was the first in 33 years. “It hadn’t seen an increase since I was in eighth grade,” said Flanagan, who benefited from the program in her childhood. “It’s always been on my radar. I lobbied for it at Children’s Defense, I worked on it in the Legislature, and frankly, it matters who’s in the room where it happens.”

Despite her unapologetic posture as a progressive, Flanagan underscores that the MFIP increase and subsequent legislation that indexed future increases to inflation were approved by a politically divided House and Senate.

“Relationships matter, and I build those relationships,” she said.

Flanagan said she’s also helped secure state investments in affordable housing and the creation of a state office dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The latter was created with what amounts to lightning speed for the Capitol: In 2019, a task force was formed to study the problem — homicide rates for Native women are seven times higher than for white women — and earlier this year, the state office was up and running.

While Flanagan is quick to note that the plan had numerous supporters — from tribal advocates to fellow American Indian lawmakers and white Republicans — she has no doubt her presence as the No. 2 in the executive branch was critical when it came to approving funding in the public safety bill.

“For the first time ever in the history of Minnesota,” she said, “there was an Indigenous woman at the negotiating table.”

Coming soon: A report on Republican lieutenant governor candidate Matt Birk.

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Sheriff sounds alarm as Ramsey County jail population climbs

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A Jail Official Handles A Temporary Bed.
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Inside the Ramsey County jail, there are nights that people sleep on mattresses on plastic cots because there aren’t enough beds.

After clearing out many people from the jail during the coronavirus pandemic, the facility in St. Paul is back to being full, but now there are new concerns.

The Ramsey County sheriff’s office, which runs the jail, told county board members that a variety of factors are at work, including:

  • A state court backlog due to the pandemic.
  • More people being held on murder or attempted murder charges.
  • More people waiting for court-ordered evaluations for mental illness.

“The care and the safety of the inmates in our jail is at risk if the population continues to grow,” Sheriff Bob Fletcher told county commissioners recently.

The sheriff’s office requested an additional $2 million for housing and feeding inmates next year. The jail’s budget is $21.7 million this year.

County commissioners have been meeting with staff from the courts, public health, corrections and other departments about how to reduce the number of people in the jail when they’re not being held for violent offenses, said Trista MatasCastillo, chair of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.

“At the same time, we are looking deeper at the harder-to-solve situations about mental health,” she said. “There are a ton of budget implications and not easy solutions.”

SHARP INCREASE IN MENTAL HEALTH EVALUATIONS

The Ramsey County Adult Detention Center is a pre-trial facility intended to hold people for a short time. The average stay is six days, but some, such as murder suspects, can be held for a year or more, said Lt. Mike Johnson, the jail’s assistant superintendent. There were 36 people being held on charges of murder or attempted murder as of last week.

The average stay is 72 days for people waiting for a mental health competency evaluation, Johnson said.

“The fact is they don’t belong in a jail,” Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said during a county board budget committee meeting. “They belong in mental health facilities or getting services.”

Though the jail has mental health counselors, it’s not intended to be a place for intensive treatment.

If a judge, prosecutor or defense attorney feels that someone charged with a crime doesn’t understand their court proceedings because of mental illness or a cognitive issue, such as a traumatic brain injury, they can ask for a competency evaluation.

The number of competency evaluations ordered in Ramsey County District Court increased by 84 percent from 2020 to 2021, and the numbers this year are on track to surpass last year, according to court information.

Court rules call for competency evaluations to be completed in 60 days, but evaluators can’t keep up with the caseload, said Ramsey County Chief Judge Leonardo Castro. Judges can order that people are released from jail, with conditions attached, if they aren’t a flight risk or a threat to the public; otherwise, bail is set.

At least 30 people in the Ramsey County jail as of last week were waiting for competency evaluations, Johnson said.

SLEEPING ON ‘BOATS’

Johnson shows a “boat” bed used when there’s a lack of space in cells. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Looking at the average daily population of the Ramsey County jail in June of various years, it was 319 in 2013; 379 in 2019; 172 during the pandemic in 2020; and 424 this June, according to the sheriff’s office. The high was 473 over the summer, Johnson said.

Any time the population rises above 440, it “causes logistical problems for us,” Fletcher told the county board. The jail’s average daily population has been above that number since April.

When the jail surpasses 440, some inmates have to sleep on a mattress on a Stack-A-Bunk — jail staff call them “boats” because they look like small canoes. There were three people who slept on the temporary beds Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

Though the jail has 492 beds, traditional cells have bunkbeds and the jail can’t use all of them because they need to separate people by gender or risk — people with the most serious mental health or behavioral issues are held in cells without another inmate, Johnson said. They’ve also been quarantining people when they arrive at the jail to make sure they don’t have COVID-19.

WORKING THROUGH COURT BACKLOG

Thousands of cases through Minnesota’s court system were put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic. Ramsey County had a backlog of about 1,500 gross misdemeanor and felony cases, but they’ve been able to reduce it by about 20 percent, Castro said.

“That backlog has a significant impact on people who are involved in the justice system — whether it’s the accused person, the victim’s family members, community members. Their lives are on hold,” Castro said. “We need and want these matters brought to conclusion.”

The judicial system in Ramsey County is coordinating with prosecutors and defense attorneys to have back-to-back hearings for less serious cases that have been lingering in the court system. Castro said the latest involved about 60 cases of people being held in the jail for non-violent offenses; however, it amounted to about 30 people because some had more than one case, Johnson said.

The next set of cases Castro said they’re aiming to get moved through the court system are gross misdemeanor charges from suburban Ramsey County. There are more than 200 cases that were filed at least six months ago, Castro said.

These aren’t situations of “catch and release,” Castro said, but letting people have their day in court without further delays. If the cases aren’t resolved through guilty pleas or dismissals, judges aim to get trials scheduled quickly.

If the courts can continue moving cases through the system, the jail can return to a population that’s in the “safe range again,” Reinhardt said recently.

$2M REQUEST FOR FOOD, HOUSING

County commissioners who heard from Fletcher about the jail at a budget meeting this month said they’re concerned about the situation, but told the sheriff that his budget request was too late for a meaningful discussion.

Reinhardt, who chairs the budget committee, noted a letter about the budget from Chief Deputy Dave Metusalem arrived late in the afternoon the day before Fletcher’s presentation and the PowerPoint presentation arrived the morning of the presentation.

“To get something this late … it’s not respectful of our process nor of this county board,” Reinhardt said. “… We will make full analysis of everything.”

Fletcher said the information is part of ongoing discussions they’ve been having about the jail and they’re not just beginning to deal with it. Commissioners listened to the sheriff’s presentation and said they will get back to his office about the budget requests.

The sheriff’s office requested $1.5 million to house inmates at other locations and that a reduction of $471,000 for 2023 food service be restored.

Because Ramsey County works in a two-year budget cycle, county commissioners aren’t proposing a change to the 4.54 percent property tax levy increase for 2023 they approved last December. The budget discussions they’ve been having are for a supplemental budget of $785 million for next year, which they’ll vote on in December.

TAX LEVY INPUT

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners will vote Tuesday to approve the proposed maximum tax levy to finance the 2023 budget.

Residents, businesses and other stakeholders can submit budget feedback to commissioners through an online feedback form that’s available at ramseycounty.us/Budget. They can also contact their commissioner directly.

A public hearing about the budget was held this month and a second one will be Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m.

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