Minnesota Reformer – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 11 Jun 2023 04:16:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.10 Hate Groups’ Political Influence Growing: Southern Poverty Law Center https://www.juancole.com/2023/06/political-influence-southern.html Sun, 11 Jun 2023 04:06:53 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=212565
By: – J

Via Minnesota Reformer

Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

Not the Onion: U.S. Supreme Court Justices take Gifts – Then Raise the Bar for Bribery Prosecutions https://www.juancole.com/2023/05/supreme-justices-prosecutions.html Sun, 07 May 2023 04:06:14 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=211835
( Minnesota Reformer) – Justice Clarence Thomas might be the most egregious when it comes to taking gifts and not disclosing them, but he’s not alone. His colleagues on the U.S. Supreme Court also haven’t been shy about taking fancy freebies from rich people — many of whom have an interest in the actions of the court.

The justices seem not to think it’s fair to have to entertain themselves on their $268,000 salaries that are in addition to whatever other income they get from book deals, investments and other sources. So it might not be a coincidence that in 2016, those same justices unanimously voted to make it a lot harder to prosecute public officials — including themselves — for accepting bribes.

No matter how much fun they are to hang out with, average people aren’t likely to be offered a $500,000 Indonesian vacation on a private jet and a superyacht. Nor is a billionaire likely to buy your mother’s house, pour tens of thousands into it, and let her live there rent-free.

But when ProPublica exposed those regal freebies — and the fact that Thomas failed to disclose those and others for decades — the justice in a statement characterized them as just the kinds of things good buddies do when they want to hang out. And he implied that his status as a Supreme Court justice had nothing to do with it.

Describing Texas billionaire and conservative activist Harlan Crow and his wife as among Thomas and his wife’s “dearest friends,” Thomas wrote, “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them.” He added that he had no conflict because it was “personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court.”

Thomas made the claim even though Crow has spent at least $14.7 million on conservative causes over the years — including to move the judiciary to the right. That figure doesn’t include any 501(c)(4) dark money contributions by Crow that Thomas helped to facilitate with his affirmative vote in the 2010 split decision, Citizens United v FEC.

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

Crow didn’t make Thomas’s acquaintance until he was on the Supreme Court and it seems unlikely that their friendship would be so dear if Thomas’s powers were limited to working a cash register — the most common job in the United States — as opposed to having a potentially dispositive say over the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. And in his statement, Thomas didn’t mention that as part of many of the freebies he’s taken from Crow, the justice was in close proximity with other conservative activists who also have had business before and a strong interest in the makeup of the federal courts.

Across the ideological spectrum

Thomas has been far from alone on the court in enjoying the largesse of the uber-wealthy.

Late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2018 took a trip to Israel compliments of billionaire Morris Kahn, who had business before the court just a year earlier.

Late Justice Antonin Scalia took at least 258 subsidized trips while he was on the court and he was on one when he suddenly died in 2016.

Scalia’s more-liberal colleague, retired Justice Stephen Breyer, took at least 225 subsidized trips between 2004 and 2016. They include a 2013 trip to the exclusive island of Nantucket compliments of private-equity billionaire David Rubenstein, Gabe Roth, executive director of the group Fix the Court, reported.

Those were some of the 1,309 trips Supreme Court justices took compliments of others between 2004 and 2019, according to a list compiled by the watchdog group Open Secrets. That’s nine trips per justice, per year, and it’s unlikely they stayed at the Holiday Inn on most of them.

And those are just the ones that justices disclosed. It’s unclear how many — like decades of Thomas’ travels — have been unreported, or whether the justices will suffer any consequences for not reporting them.

Disturbing examples of such non-disclosure continue to flow in — thanks to investigative reporters, not the justices themselves.

Politico recently reported that Justice Neil Gorsuch had been trying for some time in 2017 to unload a 40-acre property he co-owned in Colorado. Nine days after he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, the property was purchased by the CEO of a law firm that has had numerous cases before the court — and whose clients Gorsuch has sided with much more often than not.

Gorsuch disclosed that he made between $250,000 and $500,000 off of the sale, but he left blank the box that would have informed the public of the identity of the person who paid the money, and who had a lot of lucrative business that Gorsuch would preside over, Politico reported.

Despite all the ethical lapses, at least some justices from across the ideological spectrum are indignant at the notion that their conduct should be scrutinized. When Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in 2006 proposed an inspector general to keep an eye on the justices, liberal icon Ginsberg likened it to “Stalinism, saying that such oversight ‘is a really scary idea’ that ‘sounds to me very much like [how] the Soviet Union was,’” Roth of Fix the Court wrote.

Watering down bribery prosecutions

In the midst of such hostility to oversight, the court in 2016 took up McDonnell v United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, it sided in its decision with a powerful public official who had taken expensive gifts from a wealthy friend who was pushing a special interest.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife had been convicted in 2014 on charges of bribery. But the McDonnells appealed their convictions, arguing that federal prosecutors failed to show that McDonnell undertook an “official act” in return for the presents they received.

The couple got about $175,000 worth of stuff from Jonnie Williams, including rides in a private plane, a Rolex, $20,000 worth of designer clothing, a $50,000 loan and $15,000 for their daughter’s wedding. Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific, was trying to market a nutritional supplement made from a compound found in tobacco, and he wasn’t having much luck interesting the scientific community in conducting research.

To help, the governor directed Williams’ proposals for research at the Medical College of Virginia and the University of Virginia School of Medicine to his director of health and human services. When that didn’t bear fruit, McDonnell hosted a lunch at the governor’s mansion and brought in university officials. Even so, the actual scientists were skeptical of Williams’ claims and didn’t embrace his supplement.

As a general matter, governors have great sway over state budgets and public universities partly depend on state funding. Governors also often appoint public universities’ governing boards — in the case of the University of Virginia, the Board of Visitors. So, when McDonnell pushed Williams’ supplement on his health director and on university officials, it probably wasn’t easy for them to say no.

But in writing for the Supreme Court in the case, Chief Justice John Roberts said McDonnell’s attempts to help Williams didn’t amount to an “official act.”

“An ‘official act’ is defined as ‘any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit,’” Roberts wrote.

Somehow, he and the other eight justices couldn’t see it as an abuse of the governor’s place of trust or profit when he brought subordinates and quasi-subordinates to his official residence to hear a new-age medical pitch from a guy who had given the governor $175,000 in fancy presents. Perhaps the gifts the justices themselves were taking had influenced them in ways they didn’t see.

Out of touch

In an interview last week, Roth of Fix the Court said the Supreme Court decision in McDonnell made it a lot harder to prosecute public officials in federal court for taking bribes.

“I think (the decision) appears to be a simultaneously textualist and tone-deaf decision,” he said. “The opinion is focusing on what the parameters of what the law are as written by Congress, but it’s never that easy. It’s never just, ‘Oh, hey, I’m going to do a bribe.’”

Perhaps making it seem extra tone-deaf lately has been Roberts’ continued inaction as Thomas’s failure to report millions in gifts and payments to his wife from conservative groups is serially revealed.

In concluding his opinion in McDonnell, the chief justice seemed to express his own hostility to oversight, slamming federal prosecutors for their “boundless interpretation” of bribery laws.

The claim seems hard to square with exploding dark money expenditures by undisclosed special-interests as federal corruption prosecutions have gone down in recent decades. But Roberts implied that the feds are out of control when it comes to charging public officials with taking bribes.

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that,” Roberts wrote. “But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this Court.”

Recent revelations about the lavish freebies Thomas and his colleagues have been accepting cast the decision in a new light. Roth said that when the McDonnell decision was handed down seven years ago, the public wasn’t as sensitized to the fact that many on the court are taking ritzy presents from oligarchs, granting them extended facetime and then pretending it doesn’t influence their decisions.

“I was screaming about this in 2016,” he said. “Now folks are getting wise to the fact that the lavishness is not restricted to state officials in Virginia, but it has in fact infected the highest court. It is an incredibly elite, incredibly out-of-touch institution.”

Take me out to the ballgame

Roberts illustrated such a lack of self-awareness in his opinion.

He used an example of a social interaction that overzealous bribery prosecutions might dampen that is wildly different from Thomas’ trip to Indonesia, Ginsberg’s to the Holy Land and Scalia’s many, many luxurious hunting vacations that came compliments of billionaires. What’s wrong, Roberts asked, with constituents wanting to take an official to a good, old-fashioned ballgame?

“The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns — whether it is the union official worried about a plant closing or the homeowners who wonder why it took five days to restore power to their neighborhood after a storm,” the chief justice wrote. “The Government’s position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships if the union had given a campaign contribution in the past or the homeowners invited the official to join them on their annual outing to the ballgame.”

When wealthy patrons shower justices with gifts — the likes of which average Americans will never see — it’s only logical to think they expect something in return, Roth said.

“The justices say they only care about what they see or read that exists within the four corners of the page,” he said. “But clearly if someone is taking the time to get to know someone once he’s already on the court you can’t help but expect there to be some sort of quid pro quo or ulterior motives there.”

He added that it’s up to Congress to fix the problem.

Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017 and coming to the Ohio Capital Journal in 2020. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.


Via Minnesota Reformer

Physicians: Ruling banning Abortion Pill could harm Women experiencing Life-threatening Miscarriages https://www.juancole.com/2023/04/physicians-abortion-jeopardy.html Sun, 09 Apr 2023 04:06:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=211232 By and

A Texas federal judge with a history of anti-abortion beliefs has thrown into jeopardy the most common form of abortion since Roe v. Wade fell last summer. U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk released his decision on the cusp of Easter weekend to pause the Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of the abortion drug mifepristone while a lawsuit against the agency proceeds. However, whether this ruling will ever be enforced remains to be seen. Legal experts have called into question the judge’s ability to suspend an FDA approved drug without going through agency protocol.

Doctors and abortion providers around the country told States Newsroom the decision will likely exacerbate abortion care that has already been delayed and diminished following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let states regulate abortion laws.

The order is scheduled to go into effect by April 14, but that could change because of appeals. The U.S. Department of Justice launched an appeals process Friday within hours of Kacsmaryk’s ruling.

“Any delay in abortion care is unnecessary and cruel, and it’s a dangerous precedent to deny access to a safe medication that science tells us is safe,” said Dr. Mollie Nisen, a family physician and abortion provider in Washington state.

Nearly simultaneously on Friday afternoon, a Washington District Court judge issued a contradictory ruling preventing the FDA from taking adverse action on mifepristone. That ruling affects the plaintiff states who brought the case, which includes 17 Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia, while the Texas case has nationwide implications. It remained unclear how the two rulings might be resolved on Friday.

As of 2020, use of mifepristone in conjunction with the drug misoprostol accounted for more than half of abortions nationwide. But in the eight months since Roe v. Wade was overturned and the FDA loosened certain regulations, the prevalence of medication abortion regimen has expanded, especially for women living in one of the 13 states that currently fully or mostly ban abortion.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Nisen said about half of her patients seeking abortion use the mifepristone and misoprostol combination rather than a surgical procedure. She also knows of patients who have managed their own abortion care at home after obtaining the drugs by mail. Like abortion providers in so-called abortion-haven states, Nisen sees patients from everywhere and is bracing for a surge in new patients following this ruling. On a recent workday, she saw patients for medication abortion from seven different states.

“People coming from as far as a seven-hour plane ride to get a five-minute procedure is what we’re looking at right now,” Nisen said.

People seek medication abortion over surgical procedures for different reasons, including cost and allergic reactions to anesthesia. But for many, it’s the only accessible abortion method, given how abortion clinics are now scattered across the country and separated by vast distances, and many of them don’t offer the surgical procedure. Until now many people have been able to avoid traveling significant distances and other delays that lead to later abortions by taking advantage of the telehealth option allowed in some states.

    “There’s no real reason to get rid of it except to inhibit access to a standard of care. And for folks that are advocates of banning abortion, that means not getting the standard of care for an abortion, but the unintended consequence is for miscarriage management as well”.

– Dr. Loren Colson, Idaho primary care doctor

Additionally, doctors worry this ruling could have serious health consequences for women experiencing miscarriage, which can be life-threatening. Already providers around the country have reported that their state’s restrictive abortion laws have forced them to turn away pregnant patients even if they’re experiencing, or at risk for, serious health complications.

Ruling has implications for miscarriage management, doctor says

In a “friend of the court” brief filed in the lawsuit in February, leading medical and public health societies that include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the American Medical Association wrote: “Recent research has shown that prescribed mifepristone, in conjunction with misoprostol, improves safety outcomes for patients experiencing pregnancy loss.”

Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which a pregnancy needs to progress. It’s followed by the drug misoprostol, which has other indications but also causes the uterus to expel the embryo or fetus. The FDA has recommended it be used up to 10 weeks in pregnancy; the World Health Organization says 12.

Dr. Loren Colson, a primary care physician in Idaho who is also a fellow with national advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health, is among those concerned for his miscarrying patients. Idaho has a near-complete ban on abortions at any stage of pregnancy. Doctors who provide abortions must prove they were trying to save the pregnant person’s life. (Similarly, survivors of rape and incest who want an abortion have to first file a police report.)

Colson said he has seen many patients at his clinic seeking care for miscarriages since the ban went into effect, and while the clinic has had difficulties securing mifepristone, the doctors have been able to use it to help those patients.

When a pregnant person miscarries, which happens in as many as 26% of all pregnancies, the pregnancy often does not completely end for weeks if not months, Colson said. According to his estimates, about 80% of patients’ pregnancies will resolve within one month, while the remaining 20% could take six weeks or longer. Mifepristone and misoprostol taken in combination after an early miscarriage has a success rate of completing miscarriages by day two in 84% of Colson’s patients, according to his data.

Misoprostol alone – which is what many doctors currently prescribe for an early miscarriage, depending on the situation – will still be faster for some patients than using no drugs at all, Colson said, but by itself, the number of prescribed doses would increase, which creates more cramping and other side effects. The ruling bothers him because the medicine now pulled from shelves has fewer side effects than misoprostol and creates a better outcome for patient comfort.

“(Mifepristone is) an incredibly safe medication, and there’s no real reason to get rid of it except to inhibit access to a standard of care,” Colson said. “And for folks that are advocates of banning abortion, that means not getting the standard of care for an abortion, but the unintended consequence is for miscarriage management as well.”

Adapting to new challenges

Abortion-rights advocates and providers have been preparing for this legal outcome since plaintiffs sued the FDA last November. Some advocates have been forming an underground network of abortion pills and helping people access the medication outside of the U.S. legal system.

Some abortion clinics have already promised to keep offering medication abortion, regardless of Kacsmaryk’s ruling.

Some doctors, like Colson, plan to recommend misoprostol alone for patients who want or can only access abortion via medication – something OB-GYNs sometimes did before the FDA approved mifepristone in 2000.

Dr. Deborah Nucatola, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Great Northwest Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana and Kentucky, has practiced abortion care in nine states for more than 25 years, which includes a stretch of about five years before mifepristone. When the drug was introduced, effectiveness and speed to complete an abortion rapidly increased, she told States Newsroom.

“Losing access means patients still have access to options, but it takes longer, and the risk of failure is higher,” she said.

Nucatola expects more patients will have incomplete abortions and will need to return for the surgical procedure, called aspiration, which involves using suction to empty whatever tissue remains in the uterus.

Time is the most important factor when it comes to optimizing women’s recovery from spontaneous or induced abortion, Nucatola said. Medication abortion works quickly, and has a low infection rate. She expects infection rates will remain low with misoprostol-only, but the longer it takes for a pregnancy to fully end, the higher the chances of infection and other complications.

Misoprostol is still a safe and effective medication, she said, but the higher doses cause more side effects, such as chills, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress and fever. The recommendation is 12 misoprostol pills, as opposed to four for medication abortions before eight weeks.

“(Patients are) just going to have a lot more discomfort for longer,” Nucatola said, underscoring that providers will continue to support patients amid the coming challenges. “We trust our patients to do the best thing for themselves, and we’re going to do everything we can to support them, whether or not we have access to mifepristone.”

But for anti-abortion lobbying groups, today is a huge victory, years in the making.

Students for Life of America (SFLA) – a national group that fights against abortion and birth control access on college campuses – has for years campaigned against mifepristone and against the FDA’s loosening of restrictions, which most recently included allowing retail pharmacies to dispense the medication abortion regimen directly to patients.

SFLA president Kristan Hawkins said on a recent webcast. “When I launched Students for Life more than 16 years ago, we knew we were going to need a trained army, ground troops ready to go in states and communities around the country the moment Roe versus Wade was reversed. And we began looking at this issue of chemical abortion five years ago.”

Like the plaintiff anti-abortion medical groups in this lawsuit, Students for Life uses the number 28 to argue that mifepristone should be banned. It’s the same number the FDA uses to argue that it’s safe: 28 deaths out of an estimated 5.6 million people in 23 years have been associated with the FDA’s abortion regimen, which is a markedly lower rate than many common FDA-approved drugs, like Tylenol and Viagra. And as the FDA notes, that small number includes fatal cases “regardless of causal attribution to mifepristone,” including people who died from homicide, suicide, and pulmonary emphysema.

But Hawkins did acknowledge that the procedure her movement is trying to ban terminates pregnancies early, in the first trimester – which is something most Americans favor, in public opinion polls.

“We became very concerned that there were legislative advances to make chemical abortion pills the preeminent type of abortion that’s offered in our country,” Hawkins said. “Because the abortion industry reads the same polls that we read. They know that the majority of Americans oppose second- and third-trimester abortions.”

A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll contradicts Hawkins, finding that 52% of Americans oppose restrictions that make it illegal to obtain an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Asked via email if SFLA expects an increase in second- and third-trimester abortions if this ruling makes first-trimester abortions harder to access and what the impacts of banning abortion drugs will be, Hamrick said, “Lives will be saved.”

Many doctors across the country disagree with her.

“Making mifepristone unavailable nationwide — even in states where abortion remains legal — will impose a severe, almost unimaginable cost on pregnant people throughout the United States,” write the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the other medical and public health societies in its brief.

“Medication abortion’s relative availability makes it more accessible to patients who otherwise face challenges to access medical care, including low-income patients and patients of color—the very people who are most likely to experience severe maternal morbidity and more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications.”

Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie is a reproductive rights reporter for States Newsroom based in Idaho


Sofia Resnick
Sofia Resnick

Sofia Resnick is a national reproductive rights reporter for States Newsroom, based in Washington, D.C. She has reported on reproductive-health politics and justice issues for more than a decade.

Published under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Solar and Wind to Supply 16% of US Electricity this Year, But some States are in the Vanguard https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/supply-electricity-vanguard.html Fri, 31 Mar 2023 04:06:35 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=211017

Despite supply-chain problems amid the lingering effects of the pandemic, 2022 saw major increases in solar and wind power in the United States, though that growth varied by state, according to a report released last month by a nonprofit focused on climate change.

Minnesota top 10 in wind

Nationally, electricity generated from solar and wind grew 16% from 2021, with wind accounting for about 74% of that, per Climate Central’s ”WeatherPower Year in Review: 2022” report.

The New Jersey-based group analyzed data from its WeatherPower tool, which combines data on installed solar and wind facilities with observed and forecast weather information to create predictions of daily wind and solar generation by state, county, media market or congressional district in the lower 48 states. Alaska and Hawaii were not included because of data limitations, the report says. (However, Yale’s Climate Connections broke down 2021 numbers on where electricity generated in all 50 states comes from). 

President Joe Biden’s administration has set a goal of a 100% clean electric grid by 2035 and net zero carbon emissions for the entire U.S. economy by 2050. As of November, 36 states and the District of Columbia have established a renewable energy goal or a renewable portfolio standard, which generally requires electric suppliers to provide customers a minimum share of electricity from renewable sources..

“We wanted to help people understand how much renewable energy is being used, how it has grown and how much more it needs to grow in order to help meet climate goals,” said Jen Brady, manager of analysis and production for Climate Central. “In particular we discussed the climate goal of reaching net-zero emissions in the U.S.”

If historic trends continue, Brady said, the U.S. will fall short of those goals, though taking into account data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on approved renewable projects, “we are seeing an increase in renewables that could lead us to satisfying net-zero goals.”

The electric power sector accounts for about a third of U.S. carbon emissions, which makes decarbonizing power production key to mitigating the effects of climate change. Though U.S. energy-related carbon emissions increased in 2021 by about 6% over 2020, that followed “a rise in economic activity and energy consumption once the initial economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic began to subside,” according to the U.S. EIA. Despite the increase, 2021 emissions were still lower than 2019 by about 5%, and 19% lower than the 2007 historical peak, the EIA said.

Solar and wind are expected to together account for 16% of total U.S. electric power generation in 2023, up from 14% in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. All told, the Climate Central report says, the 683,130 gigawatt hours generated across the country from wind and solar were enough to power 64 million average American households, defined as a residential customer who uses about 886 kilowatt hours per month.

But there can be big differences as far as what’s being built in individual states. And to understand the Climate Central findings, it’s crucial to know two different electric industry terms: capacity and generation. Capacity, measured in megawatts, is a measure of the maximum output of a given electric generation plant under optimal conditions, like strong winds or full sun. Generation, measured in megawatt hours, is how much electricity is actually produced.

Texas led the nation in both wind capacity (nearly 37,400 megawatts) as well as actual generation (nearly 130 million megawatt hours). California led the nation in installed solar capacity (about 28,500 megawatts) and solar generation (nearly 59 million megawatt hours). Texas was also second place in both categories in solar, though Florida, North Carolina and Arizona were also in the top five for solar generation. In wind capacity and generation, Iowa and Oklahoma followed Texas.

In a different analysis, the American Clean Power Association, an industry group, said 18 states installed more wind, solar or battery storage in 2022 than in 2021. Six states that installed no new capacity in 2021 — Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Tennessee — installed new capacity in 2022, the group said, noting that Mississippi, Washington and Hawaii saw the highest growth in annual installations from 2021 to 2022. The association said the top states for renewable projects in development are, from biggest to smallest, Texas, California, New York, Indiana, Virginia, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio and New Jersey.

“Certain locations are more suitable to certain types of renewable energy,” said Brady. “With the exception of offshore wind, which may increase wind power in smaller states along the East Coast, it is reasonable to expect places with more open land (and more wind) to install more wind turbines. Solar is a bit more universal, but locations still may weigh its suitability versus using more wind power, for example.”

Solar and wind are expected to together account for 16% of total U.S. electric power generation in 2023, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Photo by Robert Zullo/ States Newsroom.

To achieve 100% clean energy by 2035, solar and wind need to provide 60% to 80% of U.S. electric generation, according to a least-cost scenario modeled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Big transmission upgrades are also required, mostly to bring electricity from wind-rich but sparsely populated areas to big urban and suburban areas with large electric demand.

“To achieve those levels would require rapid and sustained growth in installations of solar and wind generation capacity,” the report says.

In 2022, wind provided a little more than 10% of U.S. electricity, while solar supplied 3.4%, per the EIA.

Top 10 states for wind and solar capacity in 2022

*Does not include Alaska or Hawaii



1. California 28,493 megawatts

2. Texas 12,702 megawatts

3. Florida 7,170 megawatts

4. North Carolina 6,242 megawatts

5. Arizona 4,841 megawatts

6. Nevada 4,210 megawatts

7. Georgia 3,323 megawatts

8. Virginia 3,260 megawatts

9. New Jersey 2,954 megawatts

10. Massachusetts 2,731 megawatts 



1. Texas 37,365 megawatts

2. Iowa 12,259 megawatts

3. Oklahoma 11,715 megawatts

4. Kansas 8,261 megawatts

5. Illinois 7,057 megawatts

6. California 6,269 megawatts

7. Colorado 5,177 megawatts

8. Minnesota 4,710 megawatts

9. New Mexico 4,410 megawatts

10. North Dakota 4,333 megawatts

Source: Climate Central, “WeatherPower Year in Review: 2022”



Robert Zullo
Robert Zullo

Robert Zullo is a national energy reporter based in southern Illinois focusing on renewable power and the electric grid. Robert joined States Newsroom in 2018 as the founding editor of the Virginia Mercury. Before that, he spent 13 years as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. He has a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He grew up in Miami, Fla., and central New Jersey.

A Ramadan primer: Why Muslim Americans Fast https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/ramadan-primer-muslims.html Mon, 27 Mar 2023 04:04:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210935
Abdulrahman Bindamnan
Abdulrahman Bindamnan
( Minnesota Reformer) – While growing up in Yemen, I was introduced to the practice of fasting. It ‎was a common practice, in which all the families ‎will encourage their children, as young as 7, ‎to practice fasting.

In my household, I had ‎parents who were very observant of Islam. In fact, my father was an imam of a local ‎mosque, and my mother was responsible for teaching women the principles of Islam. ‎When I was 7, my parents gave me the option ‎to fast, abstaining from both food and drink. ‎

We had to wake up at 5 a.m. to eat a meal ‎known as suhoor, an Arabic word that literally means the time at dawn at which the ‎meal is provided. We will eat a heavy meal of ‎protein because we are about to embark on an ‎epic journey of self restraint, completely abstaining from food and drink. In my family ‎tradition, we often eat rice and an option of ‎meat — fish, chicken or lamb. ‎

On my first day of fasting, my trick was to stay up all night — a common practice in ‎many Arab and Muslim societies during ‎Ramadan — so that I can sleep through the day. The plan certainly worked until I woke up in the afternoon; I was living in the southern part of Yemen, where the afternoons get hot. Walking outside induces thirst, so I stayed in the house. Even so, ‎I had to go out and meet friends. In such a ‎case, and in my first attempt ever at fasting, I ‎broke my fast after just a half day. ‎

Of course, Muslims are required to fast when ‎they hit puberty and the age of adult responsibility, ‎usually around 15, but observant ‎parents often encourage their children to fast ‎when they are even younger. In Yemen, eating during fasting ‎hours is a crime enshrined in the public ‎conscience. Those who do not fast are often ‎subject to public ridicule. In severe cases, they can be prevented from eating in public since that violates the unspoken rules of Ramadan.

But why do Muslims fast in the first place? ‎What is the point of abstaining from food, ‎drink and sex from sunrise to sundown? ‎

Via Unsplash

In Islam, Muslims are required to fast such that they remember those who live in chronic poverty poor and often ‎cannot find food to eat or water to drink.

Fasting teaches discipline. From a ‎biological perspective, voluntarily abstaining from ‎food and drink is irrational. But observant ‎Muslims willingly engage in this seemingly irrational behavior to please God. ‎

By abstaining from eating, drinking and sex from sunrise to sundown, Muslims look inward and ‎practice ‎mindfulness ‎of their daily actions. Muslims hope to emerge from ‎‎Ramadan spiritually transformed.

Muslim ‎have a shared human ‎experience as they ‎dramatically change their daily ‎habits. ‎Muslims ‎recharge and reconnect ‎with God ‎during Ramadan.

The Quran, which is the ‎holy book of Islam, was revealed during ‎Ramadan, and it is a longstanding practice ‎that Muslims frequently read and study the ‎Quran during Ramadan. Muslims even ‎compete on how many times they can read the ‎book of the Quran from cover to cover. Some ‎scholars reportedly read the Quran — a book ‎whose pages exceed 600 — once or twice ‎daily. ‎

In 2023, the last 10 nights of March mark the ‎first 10 days of Ramadan. Although I am pursuing my doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, and although Minnesota is the ‎home of a large Muslim community, I am spending ‎this Ramadan in Miami, where I have found a ‎community with whom to spend this ‎communal month.

Ramadan is a big deal for ‎Muslims; its cultural significance is perhaps ‎akin to that of Christmas in the United States. ‎Ramadan is a time of reunion, meditation and ‎generosity. ‎

When Ramadan comes, Muslims greet each ‎other with the truncated phrase — Ramadan ‎Mubarak — meaning “I wish you a blessed ‎month of Ramadan.” It is similar to the ‎truncated phrase of “Merry Christmas,” which means “I wish you a Merry Christmas.” And just as you do not have to be a Christian to wish Merry Christmas, you do not have to be ‎Muslim to say Ramadan Mubarak to your Muslim friends. ‎

Ramadan Mubarak!‎


Abdulrahman Bindamnan
Abdulrahman Bindamnan

Abdulrahman Bindamnan is a PhD student and a fellow in the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change at the University of Minnesota. He is a research assistant at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. He earned a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA from the University of Miami. He is a contributing author at Psychology Today. He can be reached at binda019@umn.edu.


Published under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Minnesota Reformer

Rep. Ilhan Omar makes her Move into the Mainstream https://www.juancole.com/2023/02/ilhan-makes-mainstream.html Sun, 12 Feb 2023 05:08:41 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210022 By Doug Rossinow | –

( Minnesota Reformer) – Only six months ago, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s future looked cloudy, her political base shaken. She had barely fended off a primary challenge. Her political judgments appeared questionable. Her critics appeared to have grown in number.

Now House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his Republican allies have shoved her off the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It might look like she has been brought low. Yet the opposite is true. Omar’s ouster caps her rapid rise in stature in her party — not as a gadfly, but as an insider and a rallying point for Democratic Party unity.

Omar got into the U.S. House as a boat-rocker, defeating a long-serving incumbent in a 2016 legislative race before running for Congress in 2018. She replaced Keith Ellison in the 5th District metro Minneapolis seat. 

Omar is a woman and wears a hijab, which inflames Islamophobic as well as sexist opposition to her. Her comments concerning the impact of pro-Israel campaign contributions and the commitments of American Jews to the state of Israel — delivered in a flippant tone better suited to Twitter than to Congress — alienated many in her own party. On the other hand, a lot of progressive voters in the district have been proud to support a Muslim woman, and they admire Omar’s willingness to advocate for Palestine and to criticize imperialism and its legacies. Ellison, also a Muslim, remains a beloved figure among vast numbers of DFLers in Minnesota.

Neither Islamophobia nor sexism explains why Don Samuels almost defeated Omar in her August primary. In 2020, Antone Melton-Meaux primaried her. He was actively supported by pro-Israel groups (which stayed away from the race this year). Omar beat Melton-Meaux easily.

In 2022, Omar faced a new kind of challenge from Samuels, her strongest conceivable opponent. People who know Minneapolis politics knew this would be a real race as soon as Samuels declared. He has deep and extensive connections in the historic Black community of North Minneapolis.

Omar had championed police reform measures that became associated with the “Defund the Police” slogan that proved politically toxic over the past two years. In 2021, she supported a Minneapolis ballot measure that would have replaced the city police department with something new. She also had intervened, needlessly, in city politics by opposing the reelection of Mayor Jacob Frey, who had staked his campaign on his opposition to that ballot measure — and who reaped the rewards by getting stronger support from Black than from white Minneapolitans as he emerged victorious.

Then, in November of 2021, Omar, along with other members of the progressive “Squad” in the U.S. House, voted against the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. They wanted the far more expansive Build Back Better legislation to pass first — but the infrastructure bill was all that President Joe Biden could get through both the House and Senate at the time. It was that or nothing. The infrastructure bill had progressive features and is bringing significant money to Minnesota. Omar was not supporting the governing agenda of her party’s sitting president, a stance that was not especially popular among DFLers, even progressive ones.

After Omar’s close call in August 2022 came her turnabout. As detailed in the national press  she worked closely with Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a moderate Democrat, to salvage the compromise Invest to Protect Act of 2022. The law will provide more, not less, federal funding to local police departments, while emphasizing mental health support and violence de-escalation training. Other squad members — Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Cori Bush of Missouri, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — voted against it. Omar’s new pragmatism seemed to show she had gotten the message from the DFL voters in her district. Samuels had criticized her for not being a team player, and she showed she knows how to be just that.

Congressional progressives are tactically divided. Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington leads the faction that wants to be in “The Room Where It Happens,” to quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” They believe that supporting their party’s leadership is the path to positive policy change. 

Ocasio-Cortez and her allies remain inclined to stake out maximal positions in the hope of shifting national debate leftward.

For now, Omar has sided with Jayapal. Perhaps this will not last, but the politics of Omar’s district favors her new direction.

McCarthy thinks it’s all gain, no pain for him to serve up a Muslim, immigrant Black woman who has been critical of the U.S. as red meat to his party’s base. Yet he may have misunderstood Omar’s rising position within her caucus and the respect she has gotten for her serious, well-informed attention to African issues on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

She has mended fences with Democratic colleagues who have found her Israel-related comments grating — recently signing on to a House resolution supporting Israel. U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Jewish colleague who increasingly looks poised for statewide office, has defended her against charges of antisemitism. (Phillips and Omar are in position to help one another, and Phillips comes out of this episode smelling like a rose.)

Her party’s ranks rallied around her, and whenever Democrats retake House control in Washington, Omar may turn up in “The Room Where It Happens” on future occasions.

Doug Rossinow
Doug Rossinow

Doug Rossinow is professor of history at Metro State University in St. Paul, and the author of many works, including “The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s,” published in 2015.

Via Minnesota Reformer

Minnesota House passes Bill mandating Move to Carbon-Free Electricity by 2040 https://www.juancole.com/2023/01/minnesota-mandating-electricity.html Tue, 31 Jan 2023 05:02:37 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209787 By Michelle Griffith | –

( The Minnesota Reformer ) – The Minnesota House passed a bill late Thursday that would force Minnesota utilities to move to entirely carbon-free electricity by 2040, after hours of debate that sometimes strayed far off topic.

House Republicans sought to derail the bill and score points with over 30 amendments. The debate— which lasted late into the evening — touched on a range of topics unrelated to electricity: child slave labor, outdoor picnics and Grogu/Baby Yoda from “The Mandalorian.” Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, presided over the floor session, and he had to remind several Republicans to stay on topic.

The House passed the bill after nearly eight hours of debate 70-60.

Gov. Tim Walz will likely sign the bill if it passes the Legislature. The bill would require utilities to increase their electricity portfolio generated from carbon-free sources — like wind, solar or nuclear — to 55% by 2035. Lawmakers amended the bill so that utilities would need a 60% carbon-free portfolio by 2030 — the bill had originally required 80%. The mandate would increase to 100% by 2040.

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, left, and House Majority Leader Jamie Long at a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 26. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

The bill’s chief author, House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, offered the amendment, citing municipal utilities and co-ops that are concerned about the ambitious goals. (The bill allows “off-ramps” for utility companies that demonstrate that reaching the standards would have significant impact on reliability or cost.)

The bill would be a boon for wind and solar power developers, but Republicans argued that solar panels made in China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo use slave labor and accused their colleagues across the aisle of supporting slavery.

“How many slaves are going to be needed in China and other places in the world so that you can achieve your green energy goals?” said Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria. “How many more children are going to be needed in order to achieve your blackout goals?”

Long said the federal government is stopping solar panels built with slave labor from entering the country in the first place.

Republicans — who deemed the legislation “the blackout bill” — said barring utilities from using carbon-based energy will cause electricity disruptions and cost Minnesotans thousands of extra dollars each year.

If the carbon-free methods of producing electricity cost the utilities more, they will indeed pass the cost on to ratepayers. But the cost trajectory of fossil fuels vs. solar, wind and other non-carbon sources in the next decade is unclear. A recent study found that states that rely on fossil fuels for electricity are likely to pay higher utility costs than those with more carbon-free sources.

Long said during the House debate that Minnesota is behind other states in transitioning to renewable energy. 

The House passed a similar 2040 clean energy bill in 2021. Republicans on Thursday sharply criticized Democrats for pushing the bill through only one committee, alleging the bill lacked thorough vetting.

House Republicans attempted to pass several amendments that would have bolstered non-fossil fuel energies — like nuclear, hydroelectric and carbon capture — but the Democrats voted them down. The Energy and Policy Institute reported last week that outside fossil fuel groups are pushing Republicans to amend the legislation to include carbon capture, which seeks to take fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions and store them for eventual productive uses before they enter the atmosphere and worsens climate change.

Republican lawmakers argued that their constituents on the Iron Range and in agriculture would suffer because the bill would inhibit economic growth by driving up electricity costs and taking away farm land for solar panels.

“We cannot shun rural Minnesota … and say that ‘We don’t care that you’re not going to have reliable energy,’ ” said Rep. Pam Altendorf, R-Red Wing. “Democrats, you cannot ignore greater Minnesota. You cannot shut them out of this debate.”

Earlier this week, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum sent a letter to Walz and other state officials warning that passage of the bill would violate legal precedent. Republicans attempted to amend the bill to prevent potential legal action from North Dakota, but Democrats rebuffed them. 

Earlier on Thursday, state Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, told reporters that the bill’s advocates were “very confident” the bill as written would hold up in court should North Dakota sue.

The bill must pass the narrowly divided Senate and win Walz’s signature. Still, it’s something of a capstone for Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, who is completing an arduous trek toward the carbon-free mandate. In 2015, when Democrats were in the minority, she offered an amendment to a Republican energy bill, simply stating that global warming is real and caused by humans. The amendment failed and mustered just one Republican vote.



 Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. 

Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues. For two years she was also a corps member with Report for America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms and news deserts. She lives in St. Paul and likes to knit and watch documentaries in her free time.

Via The Minnesota Reformer

Child poverty rates highest in states that haven’t raised minimum wage https://www.juancole.com/2023/01/poverty-highest-minimum.html Wed, 04 Jan 2023 05:04:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209222 By Casey Quinlan | –

( Minnesota Reformer ) – Of the 20 states that have failed to raise the minimum wage above the federal $7.25 an hour standard, 16 have more than 12% of their children living in poverty, according to a States Newsroom analysis of wage and poverty data. Anti-poverty advocates say that’s a sign that there’s an urgent need for lawmakers to increase the federal minimum wage and do more to help struggling families.

Congress had the opportunity to achieve the latter by expanding the child tax credit before the end of the year, but lawmakers did not arrive at a deal with Republicans to include it in the omnibus spending package. The expansion, which was part of the American Rescue Plan, provided as much as $3,600 in monthly installments to qualifying families and is credited with lifting 3.7 million children out of poverty at least temporarily.

Raising the minimum wage would not lead to as fast or drastic an improvement, but a 2019 Congressional Budget Office analysis found that increasing the amount to $15 an hour would lift more than 500,000 children from poverty. And the Economic Policy Institute estimated in 2021, that if Congress passed a $15 minimum wage increase by 2025, up to 3.7 million people wouldn’t have to live in poverty — 1.3 million of those being children.

Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said there is a strong connection between the minimum wage and poverty.

“It’s not a 1-1 connection, but there is a pretty strong connection,” said Zipperer, whose expertise is on the minimum wage, inequality, and low-wage labor markets. “The main determinants of poverty in this country are whether you work and how much you work, so whether you have a job during the year and how many hours a week or weeks per year you work at that job. … And then the third [determinant] is how much you were paid for an hour of work at your job. If you’re getting paid relatively low wages, the minimum wage affects that.”

Where the minimum wage is rising in 2023

Alaska – $10.85
Arizona – $13.85
California – $15.50
Colorado – $13.65
Delaware – $11.75
Florida – $12
Illinois – $13
Maine – $13.80
Maryland – $13.25
Massachusetts – $15
Michigan – $10.10
*Minnesota – $10.59
Missouri – $12
Montana – $9.95
Nebraska – $10.50
**Nevada – $11.25
New Jersey – $14.13
New Mexico – $12
***New York – $14.20
Ohio – $10.10
Rhode Island – $13
South Dakota – $10.80
Vermont – $13.18
Virginia – $12
Washington – $15.74
*For employees at companies with revenues over $500,000; $8.63 for all other workers
**If companies provide health benefits the minimum wage requirement is $10.25
***$15 in New York City and surrounding counties
Oregon’s minimum wage adjustment will be made in July based on the Consumer Price Index. It is currently $13.50 for most of the state; $14.75 in Portland.

Congress last raised the minimum wage in 2009, but 30 states now require employers pay more than the federal standard, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Numerous municipalities have also passed living wage laws for city or county workers.

Twenty-seven states, including New Jersey, Florida, California and Missouri, will raise their state’s minimum wage in 2023, after passing legislation or voter-approved ballot measures that gradually increase the state minimum wage over several years or tie it to inflation. Washington ($15.74), California ($15.50) and Massachusetts ($15) will have some of the highest state minimum wages in 2023, although the high cost of living in those states mitigates the effect on poverty rates.

In Missouri, where the minimum wage will be $12 next year, a 2018 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute found that Proposition B, the ballot measure that is responsible for raising the wage, would increase wages for 677,000 people in Missouri.

States where legislatures have not raised the minimum above the federal $7.25 an hour include Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. All have child poverty rates of 20% or higher, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news site. Mississippi has the highest child poverty rate in the United States, at 27.6%, with Louisiana following at 26.3%.

Zipperer said that many of these low minimum wage states are concentrated in the Southern United States for a reason. He pointed to the political deals lawmakers made to leave Black workers out of 1930s labor rights gains, which were done for the benefit of Southern Democrats.

“That legacy of racism plagued the initial years of the national minimum wage and labor law generally in the United States, and while it was somewhat improved and overcome through the civil rights movement, you see the parallel to that now where you have a lot of places in the South that don’t have minimum wages and or have very low minimum wages, and so they follow the federal standard which Congress has refused to raise over the past 13 years,” he said.

He added, “That kind of decline in the cost-of-living adjusted value of the minimum wage disproportionately harms the people who are paid the lowest wages in the U.S. economy and because of our sexist and racist labor market, that is women and people of color.”

In Louisiana, for instance, 64% of women of color earn less than $15 an hour, while 58% of Black workers and 50% of Hispanic workers also earn less than $15 an hour, according to Oxfam America’s analysis of U.S. Census data.

The results of that disparity can be seen in an analysis of data on Lousianans’ standard of living done by Talk Poverty, a project of the Center for American Progress. It found:

  • 19% of people in Louisiana had incomes below the poverty line in 2019.
  • 20% of working age women and 29% of Black Lousianans in 2019 lived below the poverty line.
  • Louisiana ranked 42nd in the nation in high school graduation rates and 45th in higher education attainment during the 2017-2018 school year.
  • In 2018, 20% of young people aged 18 to 24 without high school degrees were not in school or working.
  • From 2017 to 2019, 15.3% of Louisiana households were food insecure.

Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Louisiana Progress, said several factors contribute to the number of Louisianans living in poverty. Louisiana hasn’t prioritized putting funding into programs that would provide economic relief, has focused its tax reform on benefits for the wealthy and for businesses, and has a particularly unjust criminal justice system that punishes the poor, he said.

“Social services in Louisiana are largely underfunded, making it easier for generational poverty to continue,” Robins-Brown said.

The state also favors landlords’ rights over tenants rights and people living in the southern parts of the state that experience the most severe weather disasters have to live with high premiums for homeowners insurance, which further contribute to economic inequality, Robins-Brown explained.

Although Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is a Democrat, and has expressed support for raising the minimum wage, both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature are controlled by Republicans. Louisiana is one of 24 states without a process for citizens to offer ballot initiatives and voter referendums.

“Both the House and Senate committees that deal with labor issues are low-priority for Republicans and Democrats because industry interests usually predetermine the outcomes in those committees,” Robins-Brown said.

For these reasons, Robins-Brown says Louisianans are depending on the federal government to take action to raise the minimum wage. He said his organization supported expanding the child tax credit because it was been a powerful tool in reducing child poverty.

Congress last failed to increase the minimum wage in 2021, when it was proposed as part of a larger pandemic relief package. Fifty Senate Republicans and seven Senate Democrats voted against raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025. The exclusion of the expansion of the child tax credit in Congress’ omnibus bill is one more lost chance to reduce child poverty.

“The child tax credit enormously reduced poverty during the recent expansion of that program and unfortunately that was temporary,” Zipperer said. “But I think that’s a very clear demonstration that we actually have, to some degree, the capacity to eliminate a lot of poverty in this country. All it takes is overcoming the political opposition to do that.”

Casey Quinlan is an economy reporter for States Newsroom, based in Washington D.C. For the past decade, they have reported on national politics and state politics, LGBTQ rights, abortion access, labor issues, education, Supreme Court news and more for publications including The American Independent, ThinkProgress, New Republic, Rewire News, SCOTUSblog, In These Times and Vox.

Via ( Minnesota Reformer

The Year Unions Came Roaring Back, while Public Support for Workers is Higher than in 55 Years https://www.juancole.com/2022/12/roaring-support-workers.html Sat, 31 Dec 2022 05:04:43 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209129 By Max Nesterak

( Minnesota Reformer ) – I visited picket lines in subzero temperatures and the high 90s this year, as I documented the surge in energy that workers are bringing to the labor movement.

It was an exciting year to cover labor, especially in Minnesota, with its high union participation rate and low unemployment rate.

Public support for unions is the highest its been since 1965, while the National Labor Relations Board reported union petitions were up 53% over last year. I expect the labor unrest we saw in 2022 to continue into next year, as workers seek wage increases to match high inflation and employers struggle to fill open positions.

Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner leads a rally of union nurses outside U.S. Bank’s corporate offices in downtown Minneapolis on Nov. 2, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Here’s a recap of three major topics that drove my reporting this year:

Labor strife

Brian McIntosh, a psych associate at M Health Fairview, speaks at a rally during a 24-hour strike by mental health workers at three Twin Cities hospitals on May 24, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.


Power struggles between workers and the bosses were a defining feature of 2022, even with the midterms, war in Ukraine and Elon Musk competing for our attention.

I reported on unionizing drives at national brands reaching Minnesota, including Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and Amazon. Workers at Planned Parenthood voted to unionize, and workers for the Twin Cities’ largest property management company launched a unionization effort.

Yet despite the surge in union drives, union membership stayed mostly flat. The share of Minnesota workers who are unionized barely moved — from 15.8% to 16% — while nationwide the share of union workers decreased slightly — to 10.3%. That’s a reflection of how hard it is to form a union, labor advocates say.

Workers in new and old unions also flexed their power to collectively stop working in seeking higher wages and better working conditions. Minneapolis teachers struck, as did thousands of nurses and hundreds of mental health workerstwice. Desk attendants in Twin Cities condo buildings also struck.

Minnesota’s public defenders voted to strike. As did social service workers in Hennepin County, bus manufacturers in St. Cloud, and service workers at the University of Minnesota. (They were able to reach deals with higher wages before walking off the job.)

I spent a weekend working in a U dining hall, earning more than the 23-year veteran worker who trained me. I learned about the economic hardship faced by many of the U’s lowest paid essential workers — nearly one in 10 of whom have experienced homelessness while working for the state’s flagship research university.

One of the stories I enjoyed working on the most was this profile of Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. She led the largest private-sector nurses strike in U.S. history, holding together 15,000 nurses across 15 hospitals. She has the vibe of a friendly Midwestern mom, who likes talking to strangers and is offended by the excesses of millionaires. This worked in her favor as she courted the public’s support over hospital CEOs.

Wage theft 

Jorge Duran, a union representative for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, talks about the routine wage theft experienced by workers in construction on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 at his desk in Saint Paul. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.


In May, the Reformer broke the story of dozens of construction workers claiming wage theft while working on the Minnesota Vikings’ owners’ massive Eagan development. The workers are mostly undocumented immigrants, yet came forward with the help of the local carpenters’ union to report their unpaid earnings.

I also reported the story of a woman who says she was raped by another worker on the Vikings’ development and then was fired after she reported it.

The stories about Viking Lakes highlight the appalling prevalence of wage theft and other labor abuses in the non-union construction sector, where underpaying workers amounts to a business model. The stories also illustrate how developers like the billionaire Wilf family insulate themselves from liability through layers of subcontracting.

The mistreatment persists in part because workers seldom report it to the authorities. Yet even when they do, justice is rare and slow-coming.

More than a year after first reporting the wage theft, the state Department of Labor and Industry has yet to conclude its investigation, and none of the workers have been made whole. The investigation has been delayed in part by subcontractors refusing to cooperate with authorities, according to a lawsuit filed against one by Attorney General Keith Ellison. The man accused of rape, meanwhile, has been charged but not apprehended.

Lawmakers did expand the investigative powers of the Commerce Fraud Bureau, which could lead to more criminal prosecutions of wage theft. To date, only one person has been charged (but not convicted) with felony wage theft.

Rent control overhaul 

Renters and activists urged the St. Paul City Council not to exempt affordable housing from the city’s rent control policy during a public hearing on Aug. 24, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.


The St. Paul rent control ordinance drafted by activists and approved by voters took effect in May, but yielded little benefit to renters despite being one of the most stringent policies in the country.

Some St. Paul landlords, facing soaring inflation and energy costs, tried to get around the city’s new rent control law by charging tenants for utilities that used to be included in the rent. Meanwhile, virtually every landlord who asked for an exemption to the 3% annual cap was granted one.

The policy also seemed to scare off new development, with permit applications for new housing plummeting in St. Paul even as Minneapolis and the suburbs saw a building boom. St. Paul was virtually the only city in the nation with rent control that didn’t exempt new construction, but tenant activists believed developers were bluffing when they said investors would flee if the ordinance applied to new apartments.

The dip in new housing permits led the City Council — which was largely opposed to the ordinance before it passed — to pass sweeping changes, including an exemption for new construction.

Despite the turmoil in St. Paul, members of a rent control advisory group in Minneapolis recommended it enact an identical ordinance to the one approved by St. Paul voters. That sets up a similarly contentious debate over how best to address housing affordability in 2023.

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

Via Minnesota Reformer

Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.