Category Archives: News and Politics

Mugshots and Corporate Crime

gates mugshot Let me start by saying, I’m not sure whether I am for or against the prominent use of mugshots in the media. On one hand I think public shame and humility for your crime seems like it could be an acceptable deterrent for a community. On the other hand, see the world through our predetermined perceptions and we might only reinforce our stereotypes. So, long story short, the verdict is still out as to how I feel about mugshots in general. That said, let me move on to my topic.

I read the Star Tribune in my reader every morning. Mostly I browse headlines and scan pages, but I’ll read whole articles when I think it’s relevant. I’ve been doing this for the past year, so I feel this insight is at least partially backed by a decent research sampling of the Star Tribune’s online articles. Here’s my observation: The Strib tends to print mug shots of street crime criminals that fit the archetypal “Black Male”, at least that seems to be what I have seen. And then there is the mug shots that the Strib doesn’t print (In fact, it seems rare any news outlet does). The rather anonymous ones are the corporate criminals. The white collar men and women who’ve stolen and spent millions of dollars in tax fraud and real estate scams. The ones whose crimes have affected hundreds and caused the sort of instability in our economy we are currently facing. For Example, Jon Helgason and Tom Balko of TJ Waconia, who plead guilty almost a year ago to a $35 million dollar housing fraud scheme in my neighborhood. What’s crazy is that they haven’t even been sentenced yet, they are still walking the streets as free men, and the Star Tribune has yet to post a picture of either of the two men. In fact, a Google search brings up any photos of either of these men on any news site. Why is that?

I’ll cut to the chase, whether intentional or not, the Star Tribunes use of photos of criminals seems to clearly be unequal. In Strib articles, Street criminals (often African American Males) tend to have photos posted with the article, while white collar crime (often White Males) tends not to. It goes without saying that we are a visual people, and while facts and stories slip in and out of our memories, those images will stick in our minds. It’s a great disservice to us as a community and an injustice to us as a people that we continue to reinforce incorrect stereotypes and ideas of what crime is and what we should be afraid of.

I’ve pointed out before that it is corporate crime, not street crime that really wrecks havoc on our lives and nation, but when we continue to publish media the way we do that fact won’t really sink in.

Here’s a brief overview of stories from the past year that were covered in the Star Tribune, without photos.

  • TJ Waconia trial– As I mentioned it’s been over a year since they plead guilty (the case has been around even longer), which is plenty of time to get at least a photo. The Star Tribune has published multiple stories on this case and has never included a picture. My own councilman, Don Samuels, whose 5th ward was particularly affected by the crime, has never seen a picture of what these guys look like (and he’s asked).
  • Tom Petters– This was the biggest corporate crime story of the year in Minnesota. Tons of articles published on Petters, and since even his arrest was a public news story there were photos of him (including of his lavish, money spending lifestyle). There were many others involved in the scheme, but only one other photo that I saw.
  • Robert Beale– A millionaire who was involved in church planting and running a successful medical device company, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax fraud. No picture that I could find on the Star Tribune (though a google search turns some up from other sites).

There are multiple others, in fact the Strib wrote a summary article about all the corporate crime in 2008, of course without photos. Oddly, the only other corporate crime article I ran across that had a photo displayed, besides Petters, was of Carolyn Louper-Morris who defrauded the state out of $2 million through a fledgling tutoring company. What’s odd about it? Of all the corporate criminals they could choose from to publish a picture of they pick Louper, an African American women. How do you interpret that.

And just as a final quick contrast (sorry this has gotten quite long), here are a couple articles that address the very downfalls of what I’m talking about.

  • Valleyfair Beating– the Star Tribune and others posted photos of eight black male suspects in this crime. Outrage ensued with blogs, news sites (including the Tribune) and local talk radio lighting up with claims of this being a hate crime. It wasn’t till later that it was made clear the victims were also black.
  • Ali Abdilahi – was a suspect in an abduction case and his mugshot was plastered on TV and elsewhere. Though the charges were dropped Abdilahi lost jobs, his vehicle, thousands of dollars raised by friends and family for bail, and a difficult and frustrating few months afterward.
  • Publicizing mugshots of ‘Johns’ – I think prostitution and the men who perpetuate it is wrong. So, reading about this effort by the city to use a billboard to encourage people to view the photos of those charged for soliciting prostitutes seems like a strategic deterrent to the crime. But where are the public dollars to make corporate criminals publicly shamed as well?*

In conclusion, my point is simply this: if we are going to use public photos of criminals, do it consistently. Don’t simply reinforce the stereotypes that have been so ingrained. And if your reading or watching your local news, keep a critical eye on bias in the media. It’s there.

*aside: a brief look at the website they’ve posted shows 22 arrests made in the last six months, but they all occurred on only three different days. If the city really wants to crack down on crime I suggest they keep their eyes out for ‘Johns’ all 182 days of the next six months, not just three of them.

Government Employees Should Be Stipend-Receiving Civic Servants

mrpresidentI’ve been impressed by a number of initial moves by Obama as he’s assumed the presidency. One of them was a pay freeze. There’s a nice video where he addresses that and a few other executive orders, but I was able to pull this quote from the memorandum on

Many have accepted the call to serve in Government and to assist me in restoring a sound economy and in improving the lives of average Americans. In this challenging economic period, it is only appropriate that senior officials on the White House staff forgo pay increases until further notice.

Accordingly, as a signal of our shared commitment to restoring the country’s economic vitality and because of the serious economic conditions we are facing, I intend to freeze the salaries of senior members of the White House staff, to the extent permitted by law. I direct you to report back to me within 30 days with recommendations for actions to implement this freeze.

The memorandum was directed to the Assistant to the President, but since it was out there on the interwebs and he does ask for a “report back” with recommendations, I figure it’s my duty to give him a response as well.

In 2003-2004, right after I was married, my wife and I went to serve for one year with AmeriCorps in Atlanta Georgia. AmeriCorps is our government funded Civic Service program encouraging volunteer civic service (like the PeaceCorps). It’s a one year program where you serve full-time, usually with a government program (school, park district, etc) or a non-profit (for me, Hands On Atlanta). For your commitment you receive a living stipend, which is enough to provide you with adequate housing and transportation cost in your area, you receive an education reward of about $4500, and you are eligible for food stamps. Most volunteers are overworked and clearly underpaid (figure probably less then minimum wage). It’s a commitment and sacrifice to choose to participate in this program (but, don’t ask me, ask Dr. Jackson, whom I worked with, a phd educated woman with a daughter and grand daughter still under her roof).

I give you that background as my research for what I think a ‘freeze’ should look like for the White House and the rest of your government leaders. I don’t mean this as a criticism of their work, rather, I believe if politicians are going to true servants of the people, then we need to take away some of the other incentives (namely: money).  So, here’s my brief letter to Obama.

Mr. President,

I believe, effective immediately, all members of government should cease to receive salaries and instead receive living stipends based on federally recognized ‘living-wage’ standards for the area in which they serve (i.e. Washington D.C. or Minneapolis, MN). This stipend can take into account family size and other household incomes, but should remain reasonably based on data. The stipend need not account for food costs, as explained in the following paragraph.

All members of government, will be eligible and enrolled in the EBT-Foodstamps program in their state. Again, this would account for family size, but should follow the same paramaters as all other citizens of their state. For example, regardless of the government employees income, if the combined household income is greater then the qualifying rate, they need not be eligible since according to state standards they can afford to cover their food cost out of their own pocket.

Finally, similar to incentives in AmeriCorps and Teach For America, I think government members should receive some sort of education incentive. Since many in our upper levels of government have already pursued and exhausted their education advancement, they should have the option to use their education incentive for their children. This would help balance out some of the sacrifice of the living stipend rather than a salary.

Pay freezes on already overblown salaries is a small step to walking in step with the American people. If this administration is truly committed to “the call to serve” then I think this pay change would be a true step toward civic servitude.


Ariah Fine

Active Citizen

YouTubesday: Pre-Inaugurational version

I don’t want this to be a partisan post. I think anyone from any political stand point can recognize the significance of the events of today and recognize how far our nation has come in terms of race and inequalities.
I was at some MLK celebrations yesterday and listened to numerous elders in my community stand up and talk about their vivid memories of tragic injustices in their lifetime. I don’t think you have to agree with Obama in the slightest to appreciate the meaning this Inauguration has to so many in this nation.
Make sure to watch the inauguration, but if you want some other reminiscent videos for beforehand, here’s my recommendations.

Yes We Can (also, check out It’s a New Day, which I can’t embed) [Both short videos to get your heart stirring]

Obama’s Speech on Race [Long, but deeply significant, if you haven’t heard this speech bookmark it and listen to it this week]

A&E Biography Barack Obama [Haven’t seen it but I’m sure it’s interesting]

Music video montage [Bonus if you need another short one]

Christians and Homosexuals: Love’m or Hate’m? attended a rally downtown speaking out against Prop 8 that passed in California on Nov. 4th. I carried a sign that said “I’m a Christian Against Christians Hating and Oppressing Others.” It has been my experience, that regardless of the motivation or intent of Christians who take strong stances against same-sex marriage, the perception (and I’m afraid it is often an accurate one) is that Christians hate and want to oppress people who practice homosexuality. And so I went, if only to let those at the event know, that not all Christians feel that way. I was glad to be there.

In dialogging with others about the event, I fleshed out some thoughts that I thought I’d share here. I already posted my views on prop 8 and other same-sex marriage bans here. These are additional thoughts, I’d like to hear your thoughts as well regarding this issue and topic.

Regarding why I protested a bill that was voted in by a state majority:

As you well know, just because the majority of people believe something, doesn’t make it right.
And while I agree it might be a decent way to choose nation’s leaders, I don’t believe Christians voting against allowing a secular government to grant legal rights to committed same-sex couples is an appropriate Christian response.
Voting means the …  Read Moremajority of the people who voted agree or disagree with what’s voted on, it is not necessarily a moral compass. I encourage you to stand up as a voice in opposition to injustices when you see them. I encourage you to come along side people who have been oppressed and hated (and this in the name of Christ) and show the what true Christ-like sacrificial love looks like.

Regarding whether I think Christians who voted for Prop 8 are hateful and oppressive:

I believe there are Christians that with no hate or ill intent voted against same-sex marriage, I’m not out to judge the motives of those individuals.
Rather, I’d challenge you to ask every homosexual person you know, who will answer you honestly, if they have ever felt themselves at the receiving end of hate from Christians. I have yet to meet a person who does not have multiple stories that one can only describe as hatred (but don’t take my word for it, ask individuals yourself).
As to the oppression, I think my answer would be similar to above.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

The Church: Pro-Life or Pro-Birth? (Your Stories) of the comments on Monday’s post, Moving Beyond Pro-Birth, struck a cord and reminded me that it would be wise to reflect on where we as a church have been in an effort to figure out where we are to move to. The church, as made up of individuals, but it often becomes it’s own entity, for better or worse. So, this is a call out for you to share your stories about your church or a church you know of and how the church addressed the issue of birth and life.

Some have stories of hurt and judgment; others have stories of love and grace. We’d like to hear them all. Please feel free to post your story in the comments section below, and if you don’t have a personal story, please come by and read the comments of others. If we are to move forward it is wise for us to look back.

[photo credit]

Wishing I Could Say Something Brilliant Right Now

This isn’t going to be much of a post, mostly rambling. Everyone’s reflecting on the Election and I’ve really been trying to just take it all in. It’s been a roller coaster of emotion lately. Here’s a snippet.

Excitement. Going to the polls and joining hundreds of your neighbors to participate in the democratic process. Kids where shouting from the school buses that passed by. We were all excited (those I knew were voting for Obama, others I knew were voting for McCain, others casting blank ballots). Many hoping for their candidate to be victorious, but more then that there was just a real sense of purpose and excitement that we were doing something important.

Nervousness. Throughout the day about the votes I’d casts, the decisions I was now complicit in. Later nervous about the safety of the president elect.

Joy. Around ten, after we heard the report on the television, you could hear horns honking in the street, kids running around shouting. You could feel it in the air in our neighborhood. The significance of this historic moment.

Sadness. Largely due to facebook, I’ve witness the extreme negativity expressed by people I know and respect about the election results. The most troubling are those I call fellow followers of Christ. (Update: My sister pointed out this came across wrong, here’s a further explanation) I deeply respect people on both sides of the election results. My sadness is regarding the doom and gloom response that the election is ushering in the death of America, bringing on communism, destroying Israel, that the election was stolen, and that those who applaud the victory do not care about human life. (all of that summed up in people’s facebook statuses). I’m not trying to censor or discourage people’s opinions, it just makes me sad that that is the first and primary response from so many people I know.

Commitment. I’m committed to moving on. Moving past this political discourse and toward a dialog and commitment to action to address the issues that have been so passionately on the minds of those with whom I share my faith. I pray we can find common ground and worked toward living out the unified love of Christ in this broken world.

[photo credit]

Allegience and Hygiene: An Election Day Reminder’ll be the first to admit, I can get pretty caught up in the political scene and scandals this time of year. The latest news story, the terrible “what if’s”, the deep ideological questions and more, all draw me in (which is not all bad). The danger of this, for me, has come when I lose sight of my allegiances.

I consider myself a follower of the teachings of Christ, though it’s a miserable attempt at best, I live my life trying to follow those teachings. In doing so, I swear an allegience first and foremost to another kingdom, the kingdom of God. Before I am a US citizen, I am a citizen of the kingdom of God. (Try not to get too creaped out by that statement. If you want to know what that looks like lived out, read more of my blog). All Christians, those who follow the teachings they read in the Christian scriptures, swear alligience first and foremost to the kingdom of God. Yet, we often, and especially during election season, forget that. We lose our creative abilities to live like Christ, radically and subversivly living his kingdom on earth.

Personally, I believe voting is like brushing your teeth. We all know “cleanliness is next to godliness” (It’s not really, and that’s not in the bible, but humor me for a moment). While we recognize brushing our teeth and taking regular showers is important, it’s not something we as Christians, pastors or churches spend a whole lot of time on. In all my years of church attendance I’ve yet to hear a sermon on personal hygiene. It’s something important, and something we should do, but we don’t spend a lot of time and energy on advocating for it. Instead we take care of our hygiene and move on to more important things like loving our neighbor as ourselves and living the kingdom here on earth and being the church.

What has struck me by the political discussion I’ve engaged in these past couple months is the passion so many Christians have about issues, and those issues are factors in their voting process. My earnest hope and prayer is that on Nov. 5th that same passion is translated into action by the churches and Christians on those same issues. I’d love to be a part of the movement in the church that takes that passion about pregnant women and babies and translates it into graceful compassionate churches that love the people, woman, babies, men so passionately. I’d love to see the same relationship building involvement by Christians and churches in the GLBT community. My fear and disappointment is that is not what I’ll see, may I be proven wrong.

I’ll close with a seven minute video by John Piper. A pastor and preacher who has been extremely foundational in my Christian faith. He is a phenomenal theologian and eloquent speaker and he summarizes his election reminder far more thoughtful then I:

(I’ll post a four minute version tomorrow for YouTubesday. But it’s worth a listen. Also, for the record, I don’t necessarily agree with everything John Piper says or believes.)

[photo credit]

A Brief Look At Local Candidates (My Ballot)
Click on the Picture to download my PDF ballot

Well, less then a week away we’ll be casting our ballots (some of you already have), and it turns out there is more then just Obama and McCain to choose from. I’m not just talking about McKinney (she would have had my vote in 2004), I’m talking about the local politicians. This is not an endorsement, just a quick rundown on my picks so far. For those of you having a hard time investigating the local elections, let me lend a hand. (Sorry to you none Minneapolis folks) [also sorry that this is kind of long. Hopefully it will be helpful to you local folks. And I’d love to dialog if you have any comments on any of this].

(If your interested in doing your own research, here’s candidate info from the Star Tribune, and from the League of Women Voters) (And if you want to vote just like me. You can download my nifty PDF ballot right here)

Who I Endorse

Bobbie Joe Champion – This guy has my vote hands down for State Rep 58b (My district). The main reason: I see him everywhere. We are old pals now, because I run into him at every community event I go to, see him in the neighborhood, at the grocery store. He’s local and approachable. Hearing him talk and checking out his website gives me confidence he’ll have the communities interest in mind, and I also know I could go and knock on his door and complain if I had a problem, and he’d listen.

Keith Ellison – Also lives in my neighborhood. I’ve been impressed with his work and commitment to the community even though he’s got a busy job and off in Washington a lot. He’s on KMOJ giving straight talk about the political scene. He supports things I can get behind. He even gives time to the conservative talk shows (I heard him interviewed about the bailout package on one). He’s got my vote.

Dean Barkley – Barkley is the independent between the Franken and Coleman heated senate race. I’m a third party guy when I can be. This guy is a viable candidate, and a healthy alternative to the depressing two party system. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I think Independents are the key to any real change in our current politics.

School Board And Related

YES to Operating Levy – Educating our children is the most important thing we do. Take a walk through some of the schools and you know we need more money in public education. Definitely a yes on the Levy.

NO on Referendum – They are interested in changing the school board to 9 members and do it by districts like the parks board. Not sure what I think overall, but I’ve been impressed by the diversity of the current board and it seems the referendum and districts would negatively effect that diversity. We’ll see, I’m not set one way or the other, but I think the way it is now is better.

Lydia Lee – She’s an incumbent on the school board. I’ve listened to a few school board meetings and have been continually impressed by her. She’ll win no problem.

Jill Davis and Carla Bates – These are the two other DFL endorsed school board candidates. I heard them both at a School board candidate forum and was impressed. They seem to know what they’re talking about and are qualified to get the job done.

Sharon Henry-Blythe –  is the other incumbent. I’ve heard she’s done well, but I haven’t been able to investigate much. There was this candidates forum on the northside which she didn’t even show up to (all the others, including a write in did). She has no website, haven’t seen any yard signs or literature. It just doesn’t seem like she’s making an effort to get re-elected. Your call.

Thomas Dicks – is a write-in candidate. It seems like he has no chance of getting elected, but he’s got some good things to say. He’s big on revamping the whole curriculum and doing away with the eurocentric textbooks and sort of text/lecture driven classroom style. Interesting things to say at the forum.

Mann and Reed – I’m hesitant about Mann and I really am opposed to Reed. Douglas Mann simply isn’t a good public speaker. At the forum we were at he had a hard time articulating his views. And though he had some challenging things to say, I don’t know that he’d function well on the school board. Kari Reed is a homeschooling parent. I’ve got nothing against that, but she seems completely out of touch with the challenges that face parents of public school kids. When asked about funding for extra-curricular she questioned why we are having the schools “babysit our kids”, not even acknowledging that any single parent with a job is going to need some option between the end of school and the end of the work day for their children. I don’t want her representing my community.


Paul H. Anderson – He’s the incumbent for the supreme court justice seat. Seems like a decent guy and basically his opponent freaks me out a little.

Deborah Hedlund – Makes a good case for herself over the incumbent. She’s got my vote. After reading this article about Hedlund, I’m definitely voting for the incumbent Gildea.

Philip D. Bush – His opponent is simply counting on people being repulsed by the last name Bush. This guy seems decent, and I know nothing about the opponent except that tidbit.

Ranum and Piper – Couldn’t really decide, but Ranum has Rybak and Don Samuels as supporters. That wins me over.

Haeg and Swenson – I’m really not sure on this one either. Your pick. The Incumbent is Swenson.

James Wisker – For Soil and Water Supervisor. He’s young (27) and aware of urban community needs, wins me over.

Jeffrey Beck – He mentions involving minority populations. The other guy just wants limited government involvement.

Terri J. Stoneburner – Because Stoneburner is a cool last name. Seriously, she’s the incumbent and I didn’t see a compelling reason to choose her opponent.

YES on Sales tax amendment – it’s 0.375% and it seems to support good causes. My neighbor John has a yard sign supporting it. If he’s behind it so am I.

I’m not voting on any of the uncontested, because I haven’t heard from any of them. If there is a viable write-in candidate, I don’t want to lessen their chances by my uninformed vote.

[photo credit]

To Christians in California, Arizona and Florida (Vote NO on Marriage Amendment)


How do we truly love our neighbor? If I may contextualize a bit: Jesus says do as the homosexual prostitute did when he, not judging or condemning, had compassion and cared for the needs of the church-goer who had been left for dead in the alley outside of the ministry she worked at, even after a fellow church member and a pastor drove by. (LUKE 10:30-37).

Some in our community feel that loving your neighbor is best done by voting yes on Marriage Amendments that would restrict “marriage” to be recognized only between a man and a women; I’m fearful of that action. We must be very clear that a Yes Vote on those amendments (Prop 8, Amendment 2, Prop 102) is NOT a stand against homosexuality as sin, but a political statement concerning the rights of those already practicing homosexuality. 

Jesus’ public condemnations where almost always directed to the Religious authorities within the religious community that he was a part of. In the early church we see most rebuking and moral standards being dealt with within the church, not to non-Christians. Paul even says, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (I Cor. 5:12)

The Support for these amendments are coming primarily from churches. The loudest statements being made by churches are a statement to oppress homosexuals (it’s not to “support family,” just ask a homosexual what they think). If this is passed it will define in many minds a view of Christianity and Church in direct relation to this issue. Literally using a secular governments physical force and laws to mandate religious views.

How did Jesus address the idea of using physical punishment or the threat of to uphold morality? He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone.” (Jn. 8:7) We are not to use the law as a means to force adherence to our moral standards. You want to love your neighbor who is a homosexual? Go hang out with them, be with them. Work with GLBT Teens, sit at the bedside of someone dying of AIDs whose family has disowned him or her. That is where you can share Christ love.

Before we try and take the speck out of others eyes (and I think by “brothers” Jesus meant other believers), have we made sure there is not a plank in our own? I’m not sure exactly how we go about doing that but I have some ideas of statements that we could make to the greater community that would at least be a step in that direction.

I have two suggestions for possible proposals and resolutions that I think we can as a Christian body collectively pass and send to every major organization that is fighting for gay rights. First, as it relates to the support of marriage. I think we can be humble and admit that Christians have not been a very good example of the sanctity of marriage. We can let the world know that we know that we too are sinners and fail to live up to God’s ideals. We can explain to others that God is and will forever be the one who has defined marriage, and no matter what we the church or the rest of the world does we cannot change that. And we can commit to being an example in years to come of what true marriage is, as a union before God.

The second statement I think we can make, relates to the homosexual people who this impacts. We, the church, have been a horrible example of Christ love to the homosexual community for years. Christ would have sat by the bedside of dying homosexuals in the height of AIDs in this country, yet we stood outside with signs saying they would burn in hell (or we passively stood by while those statements were made). We can beg forgiveness from the homosexual community for the hurt and hatred that has been dealt to them by members of the Christian community. We can commit to spending much more time personally showing and spreading the love of Christ in genuine ways to people who practice homosexuality.

If you believe it is best and most loving to vote Yes on these marriage amendments, then I pray you are doing equally as much to assure the that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons know the love of Christ. My personal opinion? Vote NO on the Marriage amendments and start a movement within the church to be a shining example, a light on the hill, of what a God-ordained, Christ-centered, loving relationship looks like.

[photo credit]

Is It Radical? Or Consistent Ethics?

(this is my first shot at this, so I hope there is no misunderstanding)

There is a large group of people in our society, who would consider themselves Christians and/or Republicans. I’m going to try and articulate some of their beliefs, as I understand them. Point out if I’m misrepresenting.

  • They believe war/violence is acceptable at times when the threat is severe enough (Iraq, Afghanistan, amongst others).
  • They believe in Capital Punishment; that some crimes warrant that person being killed.
  • They believe abortion is murder and is the cause of death of thousands of innocent lives every year. They describe it even as a genocide or a holocaust.

Am I on track so far? I hope I have not misconstrued anyones perspective, this is, to my understanding, what a lot of people believe. There is one last point that I have heard articulated from this same group.

  • They take great efforts to separate themselves from the “radicals” and “extremist” that have bombed abortion clinics or tried to kill abortion doctors in the past. In other words they make efforts not to be affiliated with those people or those crimes.

My question, to this group, is why do the people above get written off as “radical”? If you support violence for severe situations, wouldn’t infanticide clearly warrant violence, even a war against the perpetrators (abortion doctors and clinics) to stop the evil from taking place? Wouldn’t this be the same appropriate action as war in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Iran? Wouldn’t this meet the same criteria? It would seem that these group members aren’t “radicals” at all, they are simply following a consistent ethic of their beliefs.

This isn’t meant to be an attack, simply an area that I have a hard time understanding where this group stands and why. Please, someone, Enlighten me.