Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving Day. It is my favorite holiday of the year. It is all-inclusive without regard to religious preference. It remains relatively non-commercialized. Most importantly, it allows us to reflect on the blessings we enjoy and sometimes take for granted. Even in these difficult and anxiety-provoking times, there is a sense of peace that comes with being able to take inventory of the pieces and parts of our lives that provide contentment throughout the year.

We tend to realize how much we each have to be grateful for by comparing our own circumstances with those of others. As I write this, the morning newscaster just lead a story with "One in ten Minnesotans have no idea where their next meal is coming from . . ." A "one in ten" statistic should bring pause to all of us and certainly instill thanks in the lucky 90%. We spend billions of dollars a year on lottery tickets where the chance of winning is 1 in 146,107,962. Statistically, we are significantly closer to living in hunger than living in lottery riches. I am thankful that my family and I are hunger free and grateful that my children recognize their good fortune by supporting programs designed to eradicate hunger.

I am thankful that I live in a country that retains its faith in our Founding Fathers' vision of serial executives designed to allow new leadership to address the problems arising during the term of predecessors. Acting on this faith, we allow our system to work; we resist the temptation to panic; we do not resort to military solutions to redirect the policies of our government. This phenomenon manifests itself in the relative calm that our nation embraces as we await the commencement of the Obama Administration. The President-elect's steady, self-assured, focused and honest demeanor has proven to be a source of comfort strong enough to overcome the seemingly hopeless economic circumstances we face today. I am personally thankful that we have elected a leader who understands that his ability to deliver the promise behind "hope" requires a willingness to acknowledge the challenges we face instead of relying on empty slogans and jingoism.

We understandably count our thanks by measuring the well-being of our children. My children are now two young adults. I am proud of their values. I am proud of their ability to set long term goals for themselves and work diligently to achieve those goals. For six years, I ran a chemical dependency treatment center. On many occasions, I would meet a young man or woman whose bad decisions led to the need for treatment at our facility and think "There, but for the grace of God, goes my child." I am thankful that both children have escaped the personal devastation and replacement of dreams with nightmares that results from chemical dependency. My heart goes out to my friends and family, and to parents I have not yet met, who, tragically, are facing struggles with their own children.

My children give me other reasons to be thankful. As a preview to the 2008 Stern Family Holiday letter, I will share that Phil has moved from working with troubled youth in an Americorps program to teaching in a local school district and, consistent with his commitment to the less fortunate, has signed up to participate in the Big Brothers program. Ellie's inner compassion is evidenced by her dedication to continuing her education at the University of Arizona's accelerated R.N. program and the extra effort she makes on behalf of her patients, both in Tucson and previously at the nursing home in Minnesota where she worked after graduating college.

I am incredibly thankful for my wife, Deb. There is universal consensus that I do not deserve her. That's probably true. But until death us do part, I am thankful for her love, support, role modeling, compassion, industriousness and appreciation of a simple lifestyle.

I have the blessings of friends and family, many of which have been discussed in this blog over the past year. I have the the blessings of a career in which I can take pride in assisting others face challenges and pursue opportunities and I am thankful for the many clients and colleagues who continue to support me after my six-year hiatus from the full-time practice of law. I am thankful that I can make subjects happy with whatever skills I bring to a photo session. Their delight with the results encourages me to continue to pursue my artistic avocation. I am thankful for the strokes to my ego when one of my tens of readers comments favorably on my pondering. I am grateful that my blog mentor, Charlie Leck, continued to encourage me to write when I doubted I had anything to say. I am thankful for the relaxation I find when I take the time to write.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Find your own blessings in your life and recognize how they provide a platform from which to address life's challenges. Let the people you care about know that you care. Doing so sends a signal to the recipients that they have something additional to be thankful for.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My New Tool

I am often accused of loving my "toys". I often respond, "it's not a toy, it's a tool". I had a phone in my car before cell phones. When I purchased my first cell phone, shortly after they were available, my law partners could not understand why I needed to talk on the phone while driving. "It's a toy!" was the mantra. That was the early '80's.

I am probably more tech-savvy than many of my same-aged colleagues; it's part of being an Apple geek for the past 24 years. However, contrary to some public opinion, I am not one to rush out and purchase the latest, greatest computer/television/PDA/camera/_________ (fill in the blank) on the market. I realized a long time ago that there is no "latest, greatest" because the market is always bringing out later and greater. I tend to shop for something that will satisfy my needs and stick with it for an extended period of time.

Friday was the exception. For months, I had been bombarded by e-mails, snail mails, video clips, television ads, flyers, and word of mouth ad nauseum about Verizon's new BlackBerry Storm, "The World's First Touch Screen BlackBerry". It went on sale Friday.

At about 3 p.m. Friday, I received a call from a friend asking if I had my new Storm. "I'm customizing it now," I replied. "You're !#$%ing me!" was the response. "I tried to buy one today and they were sold out", my friend said. "I was just kidding when I asked the question."

Unlike my friend, I had been to the Verizon store at 7:45 a.m. and received voucher #26 to earn the right to purchase a Storm. I thought I was going to buy one in the morning. But that store only received a shipment of 25. I was told to come back in the afternoon when the second shipment would arrive.

I had made the decision to upgrade because if I am going to pay for Smartphone technology, and an extra $30/month to have e-mail and Internet access on my phone, I want a system that works well. I cannot use an iPhone because they do not work on Verizon's system. The BlackBerry I acquired from my darling daughter when she upgraded to the then latest, greatest version before leaving for school in May left much to be desired. E-mails referencing the Internet were gobbledy-gook and scrolling to find the "news" in the Star Tribune's "news alert" meant trying to decipher paragraphs of html code to get to "Vikings lose again". I'm too impatient to spend a lot of time figuring out I've received junk e-mail. The Storm was advertised as an alternative with a legitmate smart phone Internet browser.

I think BlackBerry hit a home run. It took me the weekend to figure some things out. By Sunday night I posted a new status on my Facebook page: Sam is thinking that the Storm is the first purchase in a long time that lives up to its hype- a Verizon iPhone!

I've been receiving inquiries all morning asking what I think about my new tool. Apparently, Verizon's marketing has reached a lot of people all over the country. In response, I prepared the following memo and decided to post it here as well as on Facebook. That way, I can just refer folks to Prairie Pondering and get back to work and/or playing with my new toy. ;-)

To my friends/family asking about my new BlackBerry Storm:

I decided to try to put some quick thoughts down on paper because I’m getting a lot of questions about my experience.

First impression: I love it. I now have a BBerry that meets the expectations I had about being able to access the Internet. The browser it uses is miles above the earlier version on my 8830. E-mails that come with html code are intelligible, not meaningless code.

Navigation: If you have used a touch screen device, like an iPhone or iPod Touch, it doesn’t take much getting used to and makes moving around menus and applications pretty fast. It incorporates the same menus as my old BBerry so the learning curve was not too steep.

Typing: BBerry uses three different means of typing. Standard QWERTY in landscape mode and, in portrait mode, either the old multi-tapping to get the letter you want on a phone keyboard or a “smart” typing system (like on the iPod Touch) that figures out which word you want from the sequence of tapping. For example, it knows that tapping the AS-TY-ER-ER-BN keys on the combined QWERTY keyboard, means “Stern”. It’s a little counterintuitive at first until you just let yourself go. Then it seems to work and there’s mechanisms for correcting as you go (although they require clicking on options and slow you down).

Screen: Bright and easy to read. No “pinching” like the iPod or iPhone to increase/decrease screen magnification; there’s a menu work around for that. I am using a screen protector and I’m constantly wiping off finger prints.

I haven’t used the music capabilities or loaded photos on the device. Verizon has a roll out special where they are packaging the device with an 8 gb Micro SD card so I didn’t need to buy one. There’s a lot to learn.

I use a MacBook Pro and I had some problems with my initial synchs. The Verizon store where I bought it could only transfer 3,000 of my 5,500 contacts. I could not get the calendar to synch until I went on the Missing Synch website (I already used the software) and followed instructions for clearing out my Apple iSynch software. It’s worked fine since. If you are using a PC, it should be more seamless. The CD’s I received with my device are not for use on a Mac so there are features I guess I won’t be able to access.

Recommendation: I wouldn’t get any other BBerry. I already sent in my rebate form, not worrying about whether I’d want to return this one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

All God's Children

It is easy for me to use this blog to lecture readers on the evils of racism and preach tolerance of one another, regardless of skin color. I suppose I could really go out on a limb and write about how having a daughter made me truly understand the evils of sexism. But, dear readers, this is approximately the one year anniversary of Prairie Pondering and it is time to get in your face about another civil rights issue, the issue of gay rights.

My children are fond of making fun of their father because over the course of seven years of college and law school, I had four different gay roommates who did not identify themselves as such until after we had lived together for a year or more. My children, who have been raised in an atmosphere of tolerance and for whom homosexuality is a non-issue, cannot fathom how I was too blind and/or naive not to realize that my various roommates did not share my sexual preference. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my children have not had to consider how tightly one can hold onto a secret when one believes that its disclosure will destroy every shred of self esteem and every relationship established in its shadow. Tolerance of same-sex relationships was not rampant in the Seventies and early Eighties and my friends, my fellow students, struggled with "coming out" and the ramifications that followed with family and less liberal-minded friends.

It seems like it should be easier today. Depictions of gay lifestyles in the media are not limited to the Some Like It Hot antics of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon or the faux homosexuality of John Ritter in Three's Company. On the other hand, it is not the straight community, even though more desensitized to the concept than thirty years ago, that is "coming out". I can imagine the internal struggle that persists for members of the gay community who consider the still prevalent homophobia in America before mustering the courage to live their lives as normal human beings, i.e., sexual beings not forced to feign attraction where none exists.

In August, 1973, I drove with a friend from Carleton from Minneapolis to Los Angeles where I was going to spend my senior year of college. We shared many mutual friends and many of them were gay. As we were driving across Nebraska's endless plain, I was asked "Why aren't you gay?" That was shorthand for "Sam, you have so many gay friends with whom you hang out, travel, party, confide in, rely upon, etc., so why aren't you gay?" I explained to my travel companion that I had no interest in physical intimacy, on any level, with another male but, as long as we all practiced "live and let live", I did not care what anybody else did. I knew, before being so informed, that my gay friends were hardwired that way, much as I was hardwired to stare at female cleavage. There was never a point in my life when I had to stop and consider which team my raging hormones would have me bat for. If I may mix a metaphor, I always assumed that my friends batting for the other team were similarly on auto-pilot.

That, dear readers, is the heart of the matter. If we can readily agree that there is no justification for discriminating against someone because of the color of their skin, or their gender, or their place of birth, then how do we justify discrimination on the basis of sexual preference? Like skin color, gender or national origin, sexual preference just is what it is. I believe that even persons with multiple preferences, bi-sexuals, were born that way and that claims of "curing" homosexuality reflect nothing more than successful exercises in repressing part of the victim's bi-sexuality.

All this pondering results, of course, from my reaction to the passage of Proposition 8 in California two weeks ago. Prop 8 overturned the California Supreme Court's decision that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional in California. It amended the California constitution to make it clear that marriage was allowed only between one man and one woman. In so doing, the majority of the California electorate, much like the Alabama electorate would have done in 1962 given the chance, trampled on the civil rights of a class of its citizens. Besides demonstrating why, in our system of checks and balances, an independent judiciary is needed to protect against the oppression of the majority, the passage of Prop 8 serves as a reminder of why so many gay men and women dare not live their lifestyle openly.

I am frankly outraged that discrimination on such a grand scale is still defended today in America. What are we so afraid of? Hordes of marauding interior designers? Leagues of women bowlers? Proselytizing dance instructors? It's ridiculous. We ought to be promoting loving, committed relationships as role models for our children and for ourselves. Live and let live! To believe that we are somehow threatened by the sexual preference of those who were born to be gay is idiotic and should not serve as a basis for minimizing the civil rights and citizenry of otherwise fully entitled children of God.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How to Help with the Recount

I just got off a conference call with Al Franken, his campaign staff and the attorneys they've hired to oversee Al's recount efforts. The good news first: Al will likely prevail in the recount (more later). The bad news: It will take $3 million in the next 30 days to finance the effort underway.

Unfortunately, Federal Election laws limit individuals to a $12,300 contribution, made payable to the Franken Recount Fund. So, rather than just writing out a $3 million check myself, and asking the campaign to hold it until it is good,
I need 244 of my loyal readers to send a check for $12,300, made payable to the Franken Recount Fund, to 2575 University Avenue W, Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55114.

In addition to sending the Franken Recount Fund $12,300 (
or any portion of the limit that you can afford; now's the time to step up), you can send an e-mail to and offer to volunteer and/or to provide housing to some of the 1,000 volunteers being recruited who need housing.

To expedite your show of support, click here and follow directions.

Thank you for reading the really important section of this blog entry. For the rest, here is what is going on:

Without even reading my November 9th installment of Prairie Pondering, the Franken campaign believes that the votes thus far not counted by the optical scanning machines will, for the most part, end up being counted as votes for Al. I think the analysis of whose vote were not counted offered in my last edition of
Prarie Pondering will turn out to be accurate with the possible exception of its blindness to the fact that young, new voters have been filling in ovals all their lives and probably did so on November 4th. On the other hand, one reader observed that young, new, liberal voters do not like being told what to do and may have marked the ballots as they saw fit.

Currently, Norm Coleman is ahead in the count by 206 votes. Based on an audit of precincts selected at random this week, the Secretary of State's office expects that there will be about 1,600 ballots containing votes that were not counted by mechanical means. If that is true, and if anything more than 56.5% of the untallied ballots reflect an intent to vote for Al, Al wins the election.

The recount will start on November 19th. There will be about 120 counting sites statewide. The Franken campaign will have 1 volunteer attorney and 2 observers at every counting table at each of the 120 sites. The campaign is hiring 125 staff to work around the state overseeing counting locations. In addition to hiring staff, the campaign is recruiting 1,000 volunteers and 100's of volunteer attorneys. This will be a massive, expensive effort to make sure that every ballot is counted and that the voice of the electorate is heard.

There is some thought that the Coleman campaign expects a recount to end badly, explaining the negative tone of its communications and its proclivity to rush into court to keep ballots from being counted. There is nothing untoward going on at Al's campaign. Even the 32 ballots which were the subject of Coleman's failed restraining order have been acknowledged as legitimate by the Senator Coleman's attorney.

The Franken campaign needs your support to get it through the recount process. If you have been wondering how you can help, you have your answer. Donate money to the Franken Recount Fund. Offer to volunteer. Offer to provide housing. Ask your friends to do the same.

As an incentive and a demonstration of my appreciation for your support and readership, I will send a 5x7 of the photo shown above, autographed by the photographer (or not, your call) to anyone who donates $50 or more (preferably more) to the Franken Recount Fund and tells me they did so.

Do not allow what happened to one Al in 2000 happen to another Al in 2008.
If for no other reason than to protest the theft of the presidency by the Republicans eight years ago, support the recount effort!

Thank you for your help. And don't forget to cyberjump.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Knock, Knock . . .

Who's there?
"Senator" who?
Don't ask me. I'm from Minnesota.

Thus I recall a variation on a joke making the rounds in Minnesota when I was 10 years old and the outcome of the gubernatorial race between Karl Rolvaag and Elmer L. Andersen was not determined for 4 months. The fact that this gem of political humor remains with me 46 years later is probably a testament to how deeply emotions ran in the otherwise politically idyllic period in American history often referred to as Camelot.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether this State, or any State, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all ballots are created equal, can, for a few more weeks, endure.

Sorry. I guess I long for political peace and the remaining rancor brings to mind the wisdom of past great leaders.

I spent election night 2008 in St. Paul at the DFL headquarters hotel. After spending more time and money than in any previous election since taking a leave from my U.S. Senate job to campaign in 1978, I wanted to be in the middle of the action when we brought in victories for Barack Obama and Al Franken. I decided to get a room for the night so I could host some friends, monitor election results on television and be available to join the crowds in the hotel's ballroom.

By Tuesday afternoon, I expected Al Franken to win. I had spoken to a friend who is a confidant of Norm Coleman and the Senator's comments to our mutual friend suggested that he had seen some internal or exit polling and that he was not pleased with the results. Clearly, the race would be close. However, the extraordinary turnout the Obama campaign was generating bode ill for Senator Coleman's reelection.

Ultimately, the Senator's election day jitters may prove to have been justified.

Five days after the election, I am regularly asked by friends and acquaintances who feel, generally erroneously, I am more tuned in than they are, what I anticipate as an outcome, why the initial tallies keep changing and what will result from the recount.

I have decided to share my take in order to be on record for believing that there is a process in place that assures a fair review of the results, that the process needs to allowed to work, and that post-election interference with the process constitutes a much greater disservice to the electorate than any threat posed by ACORN employee misfeasance.

I went to sleep at about 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning. My friend Bert Black, the Secretary of State's attorney (in fact, not in title) had come to the hotel after leaving work late in the evening. We spent time until about 1 a.m. reviewing which results were missing as the number of reporting precincts grew past 90%, then went downstairs to hang out with the party faithful. By 2 a.m., Al was behind about 11,000 votes. However, I was cautiously optimistic because Bert's analysis had shown that Duluth, Eveleth, Grand Rapids and other parts of the Iron Range had yet to report. I made some assumptions about how the vote would split, how many votes would be cast and went to bed believing Al could make up the deficit. In fact, four hours later, the deficit had been reduced by more than 10,000 votes.

I was devastated. The late surge had not been enough. I called Bert Wednesday morning and received no news that led me to believe Al would pick up 728 votes in an automatic recount. Then the totals kept changing and the spread started to dwindle. In fact, the same phenomenum occurs during every election. Election officials, made up of judges from both political parties, undertaking their responsibilities in a system that is designed to prevent voter fraud, always review the unofficial numbers reported to the Secretary of State the night of the election to make sure that the figures they will give as part of the official count are accurate. The changes result from various forms of human error and do not reflect any change from the actual results of the just-concluded election. Usually, the change from the unofficial count is not reported by the media because it is not enough to affect the outcome of the election. In this year's Senate election, the changes are receving close scrutiny for obvious reasons.

The fact that there is such close scrutiny should provide comfort to us all. Crimes rarely occur when the criminal knows the world is watching. Why risk a conviction for voter fraud when (a) you know it would be difficult to manipulate numbers sufficiently to change an outcome, (b) every ballot is being scrutinized and (c) your candidate's opponent is on the lookout for cheating?

Because the results when officially reported on or about November 18th will show a difference of less than 0.005%, Minnesota law provides for an automatic recount. The purpose of the recount is to examine every ballot cast and determine as accurately as possible what were the actual results of the just-concluded election. Again, representatives of both campaigns are involved in monitoring the process and any unlawful activity would not go unnoticed.

It is important to note remember that, leaving aside votes for multiple candidates where only one is allowed, the law does not require that a voter complete a ballot as instructed in order for the ballot to count. The law provides that election judges are to determine the intent of the voter. Accordingly, if someone chose to draw an "x" through the oval next to Norm Coleman's name, the ballot is a valid vote for Norm Coleman. If someone circled Al Franken's name, the ballot would likely be considered a vote for Al Franken. Failure to neatly complete the oval on the ballot next to a candidate's name might make the ballot illegible to an optical reader in a mechanical ballot counter. Such failure does not disqualify the vote itself if another clear means of indicating preference is used.

The reality, of course, is that unless an election is close enough to justify a recount, the human machines who take over for the mechanical ballot counters never review the alternatively marked ballots. While not disqualified, absent a recount, the votes are simply not counted.

In the 1962-63 Minnesota recount, Karl Rolvaag picked up 233 votes during the process and defeated incumbent Governor Elmer L. Andersen. There were 1.3 million votes cast. As of this writing, there are less than 230 votes separating the candidates out of 2.9 million votes cast. My sense is that the recount will show that young and urban and first-time voters turned out by the Obama campaign are less likely to fill in the oval than, for example, the good Republicans of the Second and Sixth Congressional Districts. Again, that does not disqualify their vote, merely the machine's ability to read it.

Accordingly, I believe that a properly conducted recount, reviewing all ballots frozen in time as of November 4, 2008, whether or not counted by optical scanners, will determine that Al Franken has been elected to the U.S. Senate. I also believe that the system has enough built-in safeguards that, absent partisan judicial interference or evidence of material voter suppression by one campaign or another, the process will be fair and the choice of the electorate should be honored.

When I started writing tonight, I had intended to lament the venomous comments appearing on media web sites in response to reports on the election and the pending recount. I decided, instead, to put a more positive spin on my pondering. The paranoid conspiracy theorists expressing their opinions that the election is being stolen merely fall into my previously discussed class of citizens who are not bothered by the need to actually inform themselves before sharing their opinion or acting on the same. This includes, especially, "American1", whose comment on November 6's Strib article about the need for a recount declared that "people who can't fill out a ballot are to stupid to vote." I responded to him directly, like any good former newspaper editor would.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad!

It is early Thursday, November 6, 2008, as I write this. For reasons that will become obvious in a moment, this version of
Prairie Pondering will not appear until 6:30 p.m.

Today is my father's 80th birthday. He demurred at the suggestion of any extravagant celebration. At his request, he is celebrating by having dinner with two of his three sons and one of his grandchildren this evening.

In recognition of his extensive traveling and instilling the love of road trips in his sons, he will be presented with a copy of
Tales of the Road: Highway 61, autographed by its author, the ever-gracious Cathy Wurzer, who once interviewed Dad on TPT's Almanac and who volunteered to make any necessary arrangements to meet for a book signing so she could participate in Dad's celebration.

There are many emotional realities that one faces when celebrating an 80th birthday with a parent, even in this day and age when "80 is the new 60". Those are for another Prairie Pondering installment. On the other hand, all who know my father remark at how vibrant and youthful he appears and acts. Some even blame recent Minnesota Vikings losses on Dad. He shares an exercise room in his apartment complex with several members of the Vikings. He works out daily. But, as the Vikings struggled last season, I imagined the scenario in which one exercising linebacker noted to a running back as he pointed to Dad, "Irv's done. I'm good."

Dad has touched so many lives through the years; most beneficiaries are unaware of his impact. Thirty years ago, he embarked on his political career, winning a race for Mayor of St. Louis Park. When I left for Washington, D.C., he visited frequently, using his work with the Carter Administration's Housing and Urban Development agency as an excuse to see me. On the other hand, his constituents did benefit from his official work: he obtained long delayed funding for the upgrade of Highway 12 to I-394 and obtained Federal funds to convert the intersection at Turner's Crossroad into the commercial center it is today (Park Place/Xenia), including development funds for the Park Place Hotel and adjacent office buildings.

As a member of the executive board of the U.S. Conference of Mayors with L.A.'s Tom Bradley and NYC's Ed Koch (I wonder which U.S. Senate Legislative Counsel made that happen. . .), he was part of President Carter's delegation to Hungary to return the Crown of St. Stephen's. Dad promoted trade with China before it was fashionable and, somewhere in my archives, there is a photograph of my then 3 year old daughter sitting on the lap of the future Premier of the PRC while he was sampling Bridgeman's ice cream as Dad's guest.

When he successfully ran for the State Senate in 1979, he used his tenure to introduce and pass legislation to acquire abandoned railroad right-of-ways, making the creation of Minnesota's system of hiking and bike trails possible for all of us. He would have eventually made a great Governor, had he not been defeated in his first bid for statewide office, that of State Treasurer, by a Florida barbeque restaurant owner with better name recognition.

And he is beloved by his family. In addition to Ms. Wurzer's phenomenal book, tonight he will receive a photo and essay coffee table book, contributed to by his children, grandchildren, cousins, in-laws and friends from around the country. You can get a measure of the extraordinary impact Dad has made on all of us by viewing the tribute book here.

So, Dad, Happy Birthday! Since you are starting yet another road trip early November 7th, you probably won't see this blog until you get to your home in Yuma, Arizona some days afterwards. By then, the secret will be out and everyone who wants to will have sent an e-mail to to join me in wishing you a happy and healthy fifth score.

Post-Dinner Postscript: The evening was a perfect celebration. Dad was thrilled with the book about U.S. Highway 61, a route he frequents regularly. Stepdaughter Hali Richard and grandchildren Lexi and Olivia had Sandy deliver their own album with photos and handwritten expressions of their love and admiration for the Papa who has been such a positive role model for more than twenty years, including all of Lexi and Olivia's lives. When he opened the box with the tribute from his family and friends, he welled up just staring at the cover.

Thanks to everyone for making this such a special birthday. I think Dad's friend Rick Nolan said it best in response to Dad's thank you note for a birthday celebration at lunch last week: Irv, I'm sure I speak for all when I say you are one of the most beautiful people we've had the good fortune to know in life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Time. Let's Do This.

It is 6:40 p.m. Monday, November 3, 2008. I have been generally unproductive all day as I anticipate election day. I am both giddy with excitement and apprehensive about having to rely on others to actually turn out and vote and put truth to the substance of all of the polls. In November, 1978, I went to bed the night before election day feeling confident that my employer would be returned to office because the prestigious Minnesota Poll conducted by the Minneapolis Tribune said so. In December, 1978, I moved back to Minnesota to start my new job. It is a lesson not lost in the past 30 years.

There is little more I can say to encourage you to vote to effect a new direction in America.


And watch this rerun of an earlier post by clicking here.

Vote. Thank you.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dear Star Tribune

(Blogger's Note: If you were directed here by my "Please read my blog" e-mail, enjoy this entry but please don't miss "He is Too!" which appears below and was the intended focus of my request. Thanks. SLS)

Dear Sirs:
I am using my blog, Prairie Pondering, to communicate my concerns over your failure to aggressively report on the allegations being asserted against Minneapolis businessman Nasser Kazeminy and his associates by Paul McKim, the former CEO of a Texas deep sea services company. As you know, Mr. Kazeminy is a long time benefactor of Senator Coleman whose financial support of the Senator has been questioned in the past. Mr. McKim alleges that his companies were forced by Mr. Kazeminy to funnel $75,000 to a Minnesota insurance firm that contracts with Senator Coleman's wife, Laurie. In fact, Mr. McKim alleges that the payment arrangement, specifically devised by Mr. Kazeminy to subsidize the Coleman family income, was for $100,000 but Mr. McKim refused to authorize the fourth $25,000 installment.

I have seen no effort on the part of the Star Tribune to report on the substance of the allegations as they might reflect on the character and integrity of your endorsed candidate for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Rather, the headline and sum and substance of the stories being run support Senator Coleman's dismissal of the allegations of financial impropriety as "sleazy politics" by the Franken campaign.

I have taken the time to read the entire lawsuit filed by Mr. McKim. Thank you for posting a link to it on your website. It appears, as claimed by Mr. McKim in press accounts carried by others, that the litigation is not directed at Senator Coleman, except as a result of his association with Mr. Kazeminy, the real target. It also appears that the $75,000 at issue with respect to Senator Coleman is a very small part of Mr. McKim's multi-million dollar claim alleging violations of corporate law by Mr. Kazeminy and his colleagues.

Nonetheless, one is left with the question of "What did Senator Coleman know and when did he know it?" with respect to the $75,000. If, in fact, he reported the $75,000 on his Senate Financial Disclosure Reports and if, in fact, the Minnesota entity through with the $75,000 was funneled had no real business relationship with the source of the funds and if, in fact, Mrs. Coleman provided no real services in consideration for the $75,000, then this is not about "sleazy politics". It is about corruption.

I trust you understand your responsibilities to the community well enough to realize that the Star Tribune should be asking questions to determine to what extent the ifs are true. Before Tuesday's election. You have designated the matter as "sensitive" on your website and claimed the right to screen readers' comments before allowing posting for public review. So be it. This is sensitive. But you shamefully abdicate the responsibilities of a free press if you make no effort to determine to what extent Mr. McKim has painted an accurate depiction of the business transactions of Mr. Kazeminy designed, in part, to directly benefit Senator Coleman.

Senator Coleman's blanket denial and efforts to shift the focus to Al Franken's campaign and, with not a little chutzpah, use the incident to once again smear the challenger, is not an answer to the questions you should be asking. There appears to be some substance to Mr. McKim's allegations. Not only did I read the Complaint, did some quick research on Mr. McKim's law firm, Haynes and Boone. Here's a small piece of what I found (which, actually, merely confirmed what I thought I knew as soon as I heard the name) on the firm's website:

"Today, with more than 500 lawyers in 10 global offices, Haynes and Boone is recognized by Corporate Board Member magazine as the top corporate law firm based in Dallas-Fort Worth, and is ranked among the 50 best corporate law firms in the country by Fortune 1000 corporate counsel surveyed by the BTI consulting group. Despite our growth we retain our historic commitment to fairness, respect, camaraderie."

This is not some fly-by-night publicity seeking law firm. There is every reason to believe this prestigious firm is convinced that its client has a good faith claim. The financial exhibits accompanying the lawsuit prepared on behalf of Mr. McKim seem to back up his claims of deceptive behavior designed to hide the diversion of corporate funds to Senator Coleman.

Minnesotans are entitled to know before Tuesday's election whether Senator Coleman could be facing the same type of criminal charges that were just successfully brought against Senator Ted Stevens. There is no evidence that the matter was instigated by the Franken Campaign or the Democratic National Committee. If there is a credible explanation for Mrs. Coleman's receipt of the $75,000, then let us all hear it. If there is not, then let us all know.

It is up to the media to get the truth out now. It may be "sensitive", but your decision on how to handle this sensitive situation will dictate whether a fraud perpetrated on Minnesota voters by either Mr. McKim or by Senator Coleman will be uncovered in a timely fashion.

Click on the image below to enlarge. It is an exhibit from Paul McKim's lawsuit purporting to show an effort to hide the payments to Hays Company, which turned the money over to Laurie Coleman.