March 05, 2006

Leaving for Seattle, But Before I Do. . .

I'm attending a SHARE conference in Seattle through Wednesday, so blogging will likely be non-existent. But, before I go, I thought I'd kick Nick Coleman in his journalistic Nardles.

We are getting closer to that glorious day when Minnesota throws hundreds of millions of dollars at new sports facilities.

How do I know?

Because you know stuff?

Because on Friday, 50 babies got thrown out of a preschool in north Minneapolis, which means we have more money for millionaire sports heroes and owners.

Chucked out of a four story window, they were, their soft pink bodies making squishy noises as they bounced lifelessly off the ground, while off in the distance, Vikings and Twins players snickered and guffawed.

Don't be shocked. We've been heading this way awhile.

Yes, for as long as Nick Coleman has been writing, we've been informed we've been heading this way for awhile. He's been saying the sky is falling for so long, the sky is thinking about falling just to shut the guy up.

After cutting huge chunks out of programs for the poor to balance the state budget without harming the ambitions of our political leaders, we are celebrating: This year, we will have a surplus! And that means, yes, it's time to get those stadiums underway.

Based on? I'm sure Nick has a source, somewhere, some figures, somewhere, that back up that statement. Surely Nick didn't just make up some conjecture in that gelatinous mass he laughingly refers to as his brain. Perish the thought.

Do you hear anyone complaining? No?

Just you, Nick, but then you've always carried the Torch of Complaints for all one of your devoted readers.

Babies can't talk so good.

And Nick Coleman can't write so good, but we already knew that.

After 21 years, the St. Anthony Developmental Learning Center in the hard-hit Jordan-Hawthorne area of the city -- where two shooting victims hit the pavement just last week and where "For Sale" signs dot the landscape -- shut its doors.

Huh. Fascinating. So, let's see if I understand this: a crime-ridden area of a city is so unpleasant to live in, residents are abandoning it in apparent droves. And in this environment of a retreating population amidst growing crime, a learning center is closing its doors. Color me unsurprised. Of course, to Nick, this is a great injustice that could have been avoided if the state just threw money at the learning center, which ignores the larger problems of, say, people retreating in droves because of growing crime.

I told you about St. Anthony's troubles on Feb. 24. But no one rode to the rescue.

Awwww, Nick's miffed that his lofty position as Minnesota's worst columnist didn't result in outraged mobs chaining themselves to a learning center. That old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be. . . ain't what she used to be. . . ain't what she used to be.

So on Friday, there were tears and anger, and there were dozens of young families -- many led by single mothers still trying to finish school or to beat addiction -- scrambling.

They're scrambling. . . despite apparent advance notice that this was exactly what was going to happen. Unless they went and pinned their hopes on a Nick Coleman column, which. . . *shudder*

Not even Grandma Comfort could stop the hurt.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the patented Nick Coleman "amazing Person On The Street" column inclusion! Nick find's these people with the precision of laser eye surgery, and they're always, ALWAYS, portrayed as altruistic victims of a society that didn't give them a fair shake, like the reformed "near-murderer" rapper, Young Plukey.

Grandma Comfort, 70, is a Liberian refugee named Comfort Davies. She has volunteered at St. Anthony for 10 years, helping to feed, change and rock the babies in the infant room. Coming to the United States to escape a war that cost the life of one of her sons, she can't believe a government would let St. Anthony close.

Yeah, it's just incredible that a government would look at a learning center that's a perpetual financial drain due to rising area crime and decreasing population and decide that maybe, just maybe, continuing funding isn't that prudent.

"It will be very hard on the babies," Grandma Comfort said. "The babies will suffer. When they come in the morning, they are starving. These girls who are having the babies are babies themselves. They don't know anything about babies. That is what we help them with. I am begging the government to keep this place open."

One imagines Nick frantically scribbling these quotes, convinced he has the material of the century. The Pulitzer is just within his grasp. "Yes!" thinks Coleman to himself with deep satisfaction. "She said 'babies' no less than four times! There's nothing scripted or suspicious about a quote like that. Nothing at all."

I wanted to talk to another volunteer grandma. But Grandma Bernice, who is 80, went home early, weeping.

Oh, right to the heart! Grandma Bernice went home weeping! Clearly, this is the worst thing to happen to Minnesota since Coleman decided to be a journalist!

"We feel totally abandoned," said St. Anthony's executive director, Pati Yeager. "No one seems to care about what happens to the kids in this neighborhood. All of the politicians say they want to make safe neighborhoods. Well?


Okay, first off, what the hell is the executive director of ANYTHING saying "Hellooo!" for? Second off, keeping a learning center open that acts as an enabling facility for babies having babies doesn't strike me as the best way to make a neighborhood safer.

One suburban nonprofit child center offered $100,000, but the school needs four times that much in new annual funding to keep going. And so it closed.

And the baby chucking began.

St. Anthony DLC, named in honor of the patron saint of lost things, has been itself lost.

*soft blowing of Taps on the winds*

Now, watch the topsy-turvy Nick Coleman haphazard segue machine roar into action.

Carl Pohlad and Zygi Wilf were not on hand to demand that we invest more in quality child care that comes with family counseling, speech therapy and hugs in an area that needs all that and more. No one was.

Yes, yes, those heartless Twins and Vikings owners are so heartlessly heartless, and. . . hey, what the hell does that have to do with ANYTHING?

So 21 years of saving babies is over, undone by budget cuts and demands for academic performance from preschoolers so poor they don't know how to eat at a table, let alone know their alphabet.

Wait, I thought it was because Wilf and Pohlad weren't on hand signing checks. I'm so confused.

Experts say it would take $28 million a year to provide quality preschool care for every at-risk child in Hennepin County.

Again, do you have a source for that, dickhead? Who are these experts? Grandma Comfort? Young Plukey?

By coincidence, that's the amount of new taxes a baseball stadium will cost. Or maybe it's not a coincidence. Maybe it's a straight trade.

This is what passes for journalistic standards in Nick's world. It's kind of sad, really.

Pro sports? Or babies?

You may say we can have both.

Baby football! Now there's an idea!

Maybe we could. But that's not how it has shaped up. We are choosing just one.

Based entirely on Nick's own conjecture. No sources. Nothing to back up his claim. Just good, old-fashioned, Nick-Coleman-Knows-Stuff intuition.

And babies come in second.

Yes you do, Nick. Yes you do.

Posted by Ryan at March 5, 2006 01:29 PM | TrackBack

I walked by the newspaper boxes last week, and the headlines on our two papers (the Times and the P-I) were an interesting juxtaposition. One was about the Sonics asking for several hundred million dollars in taxpayer money to upgrade the stadium which is stil being paid off, and the other headline was about the Seattle school system closing 12 schools. It's hard not to draw some kind of connection.

Feel free to look me up when you're in town. Or hey, listen to our NPR station, KUOW on Tuesday at 2PM, and you can hear me playing music and being interviewed. And hopefully not sounding like a complete tool.

Posted by: flamingbanjo at March 5, 2006 02:25 PM

Of course, how many billions of dollars do the Sonics bring in revenues to Seattle? Pro sports teams are one of the best businesses a city can have, and they never cause a money drain. Perhaps, just perhaps, backing up some funding into some stadia could increase the amount of money that goes into the government coffers? You know, like it has before, in every city in the US with a sports team?

Man, though. After reading the drivel that Coleman spouted there, my Logical Fallacy Alarm is burnt out. I think it was the particularly egregious False Dichotomy at the end. Done melted the fuses in there.

Posted by: Sean at March 5, 2006 05:14 PM

I don't know if I properly finished my argument, flamingbanjo. According to the P-I, the schools are closing because they don't have enough students to meet minimums there. Why shouldn't these schools be closed? If I have a poorly-attended school with no active parental support and a completely sub-standard test scores, shouldn't that indicate that my children should be somewhere else? It's not like these kids don't get to go to school anymore, they just have to get up a few minutes earlier to go to the school a few miles away... the one with a PTA and teachers who know how to, you know, teach.

Seems a no brainer to me, but you're the native (and I'm just a Minnesotan who's read a few articles in your newspapers). What's the real argument with closing schools so underpopulated and ineffective that they can't meet minimum standards?

And, if putting several million dollars into a stadium that reaps twice as much in property and sales taxes and keeps a city asset from moving away, why wouldn't that be a positive thing for Seattle? Couldn't you help fund schools better if the Sonics stay? Do you think revenues will go up when a major draw like pro sports leaves the city?

Posted by: Sean at March 5, 2006 05:26 PM

Sean, let me elaborate: My noticing those two headlines was not intended to be an actual argument against funding the stadiums. It was just an interesting coincidence.

However, some background: Seattle has, in the last ten years, funded two entirely new, state-of-the-art stadiums as well as contributing substantial dollars to the Sonics' current stadium in the form of taxes that were called "temporary" when they were approved. In the case of the Mariners' stadium, the voters rejected a plan to fund the stadium but the legislature found a way to do it anyway without a public vote. In the case of the Seahawks, the voters turned down one proposal to publicly fund the new stadium (a plan which called for the demolition of the existing stadium, itself still being paid off) and narrowly approved it in a second vote in a "special election" held by Seahawks owner, Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen (held at his expense and supervised by his people.)

The Sonics' most recent bid for state funding for upgrades comes at a time when programs from healthcare for children to funding for public schools are being cut because of budget restrictions. What's more, Washington has passed a number of citizens' initiatives to make it more difficult to raise taxes or create new ones, riding on a crest of public anti-tax sentiment. One reason the current Sonics plan is favored by Howard Schulz (Sonics owner and Starbucks CEO) is because it wouldn't have to achieve the super-majority required to pass new taxes, instead merely "extending" an existing tax. Nevertheless, the latest bid has just been killed in the legislature, largely becaue of some pretty persuasive studies that seem to indicate that sports teams have little or no positive impact on the region's economy. Thanks to the two new stadiums, there is plenty of recent data on which to base these conclusions. The teams' own studies, predictably, show that the teams are a tremendous boon to the region.

Against this backdrop, Seattle has turned down numerous voter-supported transit plans (notably the monorail, approved by voters four times before failing on a fifth vote) and the Seattle Schools have experienced serious budget shortfalls. We are continuously being told there is not enough money to pay for these things, so every time I drive by the Seahawks stadium (which cost roughly half a billion dollars, including cost overruns from the initial pricetag which were, again, covered without being put to a vote) I can't help but think how else that money could have been spent.

I have been to the Mariner's stadium (it's very nice) and have been to many Sonics games (not much of football fan, but I hear the Hawks did okay this year.) So I'm not against sports per se. But I think the insistence of these private, for-profit businesses that their facilities be paid for with public dollars (remember, the public who is buying these stadiums still has to pay to get into them), while constantly threatening to move the team somewhere else if they aren't accommodated, has become a disturbing trend across the country. And really, if these businesses, which earn millions in ticket sales and licensing rights, can't turn a profit without constant infusions of public money, one does have to ask oneself if it isn't their business models and not their stadiums that need to be revamped.

That being said, Nick Coleman is not a very good writer.

Posted by: flamingbanjo at March 5, 2006 06:30 PM

Ryan, you dick. We write back and forth for years while I'm in Seattle. I leave town and-- whoosh. There you go. You're in Seattle.

I dunno, man.

Posted by: Joshua at March 5, 2006 09:32 PM

Not up to me, Josh. I am only carried where the tech conferences dictate. Believe, the irony hasn't been lost on me, either.

Posted by: Ryan at March 6, 2006 11:30 AM
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