Minneapolis City Pages - May 4, 2016


2016-05-05 04:41:42

THE SHORTLIST The Who’s potential Twin Cities farewell was a smash citypages.com/slideshows THE STAT SHEET 48 Percentage of Minnesotans planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, according to the latest Star Tribune poll 35 Percentage of Minnesotans planning to vote for Donald Trump 74 Percentage of income Minnesota’s minority families made in comparison to white families in 1960 50 That same percentage today “Being old at a rock concert is a microaggression.” Reader Charles Carmean responds to “What’s up with the shots at older music fans?” at citypages.com CAPITALISM IN THE PAST, Minneapolis could only charge $3 extra for special events at its parking lots and garages downtown. But this brought complaints from private lot owners, who felt the city was undercutting their ability to gouge. So last week, the City Council voted to appease private interests, raising the special events hike to $10. Apparently lost on the council is that, technically speaking, it’s supposed to represent the people of Minneapolis, not those trying to take the people’s money. POPULAR STORIES AT CITYPAGES.COM What Prince ate: An interview with PRINCE’S PERSONAL CHEFS Report: Prince’s massive MUSIC VAULT drilled open 53 THINGS you might not know about Prince Listen to Prince’s entire FINAL CONCERT CLASSIC BURGERS at King’s Place in Miesville are worth the drive BLOTTER THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE Minnesota is prepared to ease back on sentencing — except, weirdly, on weed There are too many Americans going to prison. Liberals think the system is unfairly punitive and inherently racist, with the school-to-prison pipeline doing everything it can to destroy families. Conservatives say the whole thing just costs too damn much. The trend of lockin’ ’em up and throwin’ away the key is slowly coming to an end. Even in Minnesota, which imprisons its people at the second-lowest rate in the country, behind only Maine. Still, with 289 out of every 100,000 people in the joint, Minnesota’s incarceration rate would rank us 37th among countries worldwide. Just behind Iran. According to the Star Tribune, lawmakers have reached a tentative deal that would drastically reform sentences for drug crimes. As it stands, anyone caught with 10 grams of methamphetamine or cocaine is facing about seven years in the slammer. Under the new law, the threshold would be 17 grams (about half an ounce), and the sentencing guideline would be cut to more like five years. More important, people with up to three grams would face four years of probation instead of four years in prison, as it’s currently structured. This is good! Here’s what’s bad: While cops and prosecutors are cool with lowering the penalties on dealers and users of hard drugs, they’re rolling out harsher punishments for the most common drug of all: pot. Though Minnesota has approved it (sort of) for medicinal use — and it’s perfectly legal in four states and soon the whole of Canada — Minnesota is going backward. Under the terms sketched out by the Strib, the amount of marijuana necessary to trigger a 65-month sentence would drop from 110 pounds to 55 pounds. Likewise, the amount of weed needed to trigger a second-degree possession charge would also be cut in half. Here, at least, the reforms would give offenders four years of probation instead of four years in prison. Admittedly, 55 pounds of marijuana is a lot of weed. For an individual user, it’s enough to easily get you through the next 40 times Willie Nelson or Snoop Dogg crash on your couch for the weekend. But remember, it’s 2016. If you had 100 pounds of pot to get rid of and lived in, say, Denver, you’re not a felon. You’re an entrepreneur. —MIKE MULLEN OPINION The plot to save the Pioneer Press A desperate attempt to free the paper from hedge-fund goons Elizabeth Mohr spent March 31 crying at her desk. Crying and typing. A week earlier, she had approached Pioneer Press editor Mike Burbach, telling him she’d take a buyout after a decade as the paper’s cops and courts reporter. Mohr, 35, was by far the youngest of six employees leaving the paper. She was on deadline that day, filing an investigation into court handling of mental health cases. Just as she was supposed to take a break for her “going away” cake, someone came by Mohr’s desk with breaking news: Charges had been filed in a recent homicide. She filed both stories and ate her cake. Someone gave her a bottle of whiskey. She and other reporters started doing shots at her desk. “I’m a mom, I have kids,” Mohr says. “I was in a job that was getting harder and more stressful, and I was never going to get another raise.” The oldest newspaper in Minnesota had been reduced to a skeleton. Now, its overlords were simply picking at the bones. On paper, the Pioneer Press is owned by Digital First Media, a chain with papers in California, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and along the East Coast. In truth, it belongs to Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund with billions of dollars in its portfolio. Alden specializes in what’s called “vulture capitalism,” buying businesses that are undervalued, but still on the way down. They wring out these companies far away from Alden’s Manhattan skyscraper. Then they pick at the scraps. When the Pioneer Press moved to its new offices on St. Paul’s west side, someone looked out the window and noticed that a bird had taken up residence on a ledge. A turkey vulture. The next week another showed up, then a third. Reporters named the trio “Alden,” “Global,” and “Capital.” There was no formal announcement to staff that Alden had acquired Digital First. Reporters discovered this fact by combing through bankruptcy filings in 2010. As far as they know, no one from Alden has ever set foot in the newsroom. It’s not that the Pioneer Press isn’t making money: Last year, reporters and editors got profit sharing after the penny-grubbers at Alden took their cut. It’s just not making enough. Hedge funds promise their investors returns in the neighborhood of 20 percent. Newspapers haven’t been that profitable for decades. The only way to hit those numbers is to cut costs. That’s usually done by slashing employees. Dave Orrick, an outdoors writer and the leader of the Pioneer Press union, says the “holy shit” moment came last year, when reporters learned their printing plant and downtown office building were being sold. The office had been listed for $4 million. How much of that profit would be invested in the paper? They asked. None. The hedge fund was taking it all. A while back, the union took out one of the strangest newspaper ads in memory. For sale: One newspaper, with a small, desperate but dedicated staff, and a Sunday circulation approaching 200,000. Sale price negotiable, as determined by money men in Manhattan. The Pioneer Press business department turned down the ad. So they took their business to the Star Tribune. It worked. Orrick and others have heard from prospective buyers, and are hitting up wealthy sources and acquaintances. A couple weeks ago, Orrick and reporter Nick Woltman had coffee with “an important individual who cares about the East Metro,” Orrick says. Their companion had no idea the paper was being plucked to death. “A lot of people don’t know the situation we’re in,” Woltman says. “They’re surprised when we tell them we’re owned by a hedge fund, based in New York, and we have very little control over what happens to us.” Local media hound David Brauer says people have been pre-filing obituaries for the Pioneer Press since at least 1987. He admires the way the band has kept playing long after hitting the iceberg. “I’m rooting for them. But do I think it’ll be around 10 years from now?” Brauer says. “No. But then I would’ve said that 10 years ago.” One of Orrick’s conversations progressed far enough that the possible buyer asked for financial details about the company. “There was this awkward exchange between me and other people in the company, saying, ‘Hey, I’m a reporter here in St. Paul… and I’ve got someone who may want to buy us,’” Orrick says. Weird as it was, they took him seriously. Orrick is in the curious position of trying to sell something he doesn’t own. He’s not a salesman, or even a business guy. Last Wednesday, Orrick intended to spend his afternoon “out in the woods,” hoping to get far enough out to lose cell phone service. He’s more at home out on a lake. Now, he’s rigging up the biggest lure of his life, hoping something’s biting. mmullen@citypages.com Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikemullen_

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