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DOE to Investigate U of M Post That Richard Painter Dislikes

Plus crime dips, a pet store discriminates, and 2040 goes national in today's Flyover news roundup.

University of Minnesota|

Painter, left, Goldy, right.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily midday digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

Dept. of Education Looks Into 'Antisemitic' Post

Whatever limited contributions to the public discourse that Richard Painter may have once made eight years ago as an anti-Trump Republican (sorry, former Republcan), it’s not clear why local media outlets still treat him as a significant public figure. The U of M law professor is now best known, after all, as a perennial failed candidate for whatever high-level elected position happens to be contested at the time—hardly the best use of time for someone who is genuinely interested in reforming politics or contributing to the public debate. 

Painter resurfaced in December 2023 when he, along with former University of Minnesota regent Michael Hsu, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that a faculty statement posted to the Department of Gender Women & Sexuality Studies was antisemitic. Yesterday, the DOE announced that it would investigate their claims. (How exactly does one "investigate" a public post?)

“At a time when so many institutions are renewing a commitment to Israel’s right to ‘self defense,’" the post in question reads, in part, "we assert that Israel’s response is not self-defense but the continuation of a genocidal war against Gaza and against Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and life."

Such a statement, whether you agree with it or not, strikes me as a critique of a nation’s policy that falls within the bounds of acceptable academic discourse. But not for Painter. “This is not about being pro-Palestinian,” he told MPR News in December. “This is about official statements of departments on websites paid for by the Minnesota taxpayers that justify the actions of Hamas.” You’d think an eminent legal scholar would understand the difference between contextualization and justification—or that academic freedom means permitting U of M faculty to make statements that Minnesota taxpayers disagree with. 

Crime Wave Is at Low Tide

Since everyone wants to talk about crime, well then, let’s talk about crime. Minnesota Reformer data guy Chris Ingraham reports that, based on preliminary Minnesota Department of Public Safety stats, all categories of crime fell statewide in 2023. (We apparently don’t get the final, official numbers until later in the year.) Homicide? Down 5%. Carjackings? Down 38%. Rape? Down 20%.

In fact, overall crime is at its lowest levels since 1963, per the report. Violent crime, which never approached the peak levels of the 1990s or even the mid-2000s, is also declining, though it still has not receded to where it was before 2020, when it spiked following the murder of George Floyd. Homicide is also down, though again, not yet at the historically low levels of the 2010s.

My personal opinion is that annual fluctuations in crime numbers tend to be overstated, and it’s easy to overemphasize trends that can be statistical blips. But at the very least, we can say that the supposed understaffing of the Minneapolis Police Department—almost 900 cops in 2019 compared to 565 cops today—seems not to be having the detrimental effect that back-the-bluers predicted.

Pet Store to Pay $22K to Fired Pregnant Employee

It’s often difficult to win employment discrimination cases because a smart employer can find a zillion legal reasons to fire someone. You don’t often see the sort of apparent slam-dunk legal case that Bring Me the News reported on yesterday. In September 2022 Hannah Grell applied for a job at the Four Paws and a Tail pet store in Blaine’s Northtown Mall. (Not to add insult to injury, but is that a Four Weddings and Funeral pun, really?) She says she was hired, assigned shifts, and, before leaving the store, she mentioned that she was pregnant. An hour later, allegedly, she received a voicemail saying she was fired, which was followed up by a similar text. Greil, putting two and two together, then contacted the Minnesota Department of Human Rights with her allegations of illegal discrimination against a pregnant employee. The MDHR investigated the issue, and the parties reached a settlement agreement announced yesterday. Greil will receive $22,000 from her brief former employer. The system works!

Green v. Green

If it seems like supporters and critics of the Minneapolis 2040 plan are talking past each other sometimes, well, suggests Jerusalem Demsas in The Atlantic today, maybe they’re fighting different battles.

Demsas argues that environmentalists have split into two groups with different perspectives: older Cautious Greens, whose views were shaped at a time when growth and development were seen as threats to environmental conservation, and Crisis Greens, whose views have been shaped by the dangers of climate change. The latter supports the density and housing development goals of the 2040 plan, the former includes those individuals and groups who sued to prevent the plan from going into effect.

Demsas’s piece doesn’t quite hold together for me, because it assumes folks like anti-bike zealot Carol Becker (quoted here without the context to let anyone know who Carol Becker is) are acting in good faith, and it underplays the economic interests that might just motivate members of both groups. Still, not to get all Dean Philips about this, the article is a good exercise in attempting to understand the actual positions of the people in conflict over a contentious issue.

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