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Election Blues 04/11/2013

Posted by zoidion in Mundane.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The sound of the wind buffeting the trees, tearing away and scattering the scarlet and golden leaves, seemed fitting weather for the day and night of a solar eclipse on Fall Back Sunday. It was a sunny day, almost mild but for the wind, and yet it all filled me with a feeling of foreboding. (Images from the opening scene of the film “Doctor Zhivago” came unbidden: denuded trees in the pale light of day, darkness marked by the insistent tapping of a branch against a window.)

Political canvassers were going door-to-door about their duties, as I seized the afternoon for very nearly the last garden-related work of the season. I cut down the hop vines that had formed a green canopy that sheltered a portion of the deck from the harsh summer sun. I tied up the loose branches of the elderberry bushes that stand on either side of the steps down from the deck to the garden–marveling as I did so at how extravagantly, yet solidly, both have grown in only two seasons. I merely looked at the now-dormant herb garden, which grew so vibrantly in its first season: the anise hyssop, fennel, lovage, thyme, arnica–also the rogue comfrey, impossible to eliminate, useful as sheet mulch. I dug, filled with wood and filled up again, yet another hugelkultur trench. After three hours, I was thoroughly sore and fatigued, fed by the eternally wild energies of earth and sky, chastened by the puny scale of my endeavors.

This curious mix of emotions applies also to the surrounding civic fabric, on the verge of elections focused on local candidates and issues. Here in Minneapolis, we get to experience, for the first time, the function (or dysfunction) of a ranked-choice voting system: Voters for mayor, council and other offices indicate first, second and third choices. Overall, the city is getting a big political shakeup: Crowd-surfing three-term mayor Rybak is stepping down, almost half the council members will not be returning (several are running for mayor), the sizable Somali community is showing itself a force to be reckoned with. 

Minneapolis has a weak-mayor system, so in a way it seems absurd to invest much attention in mayoral candidates. The mayor has little direct influence on many pressing issues: educational disparities (among the widest in the nation), the struggling Northside (with much of the city’s black population, hundreds of vacant lots: some on account of the 2011 tornado), housing foreclosures, crucial transit-related decisions. The council members, each with a fief to account for and to, have the power.  

The council member from my ward is virtually unopposed this time, though many (including yours truly) are deeply offended by his vote in favor of the Vikings stadium package; so there has been no public debate. I expect it has been much different in other wards.

The stadium project–coming within five years of the completion of two others, the Twins baseball park and the University of Minnesota football stadium–is largely talked about by candidates as a done deal but that as a city we must somehow make the best of it. One mayoral candidate openly vows to undo the deal, but touts a proposal for a downtown casino as a vehicle for jobs and “tax relief.” Yeah, right.

A few say we’ve hit the wall with our city finances, as the reckless spending continues. (The outgoing mayor has just inked a deal for another renovation, costing the taxpayers tens of millions, of the basketball arena–will the lame duck city council approve it?) Most maintain that various forms of “growth” are the key to a viability city in the near future: greenwashing, as I see it. A couple reportedly have Super-PACs funding their campaigns: Who would have their ears? A few still seem to be talking a we-can-have-it-all line–stadium, light-rail, streetcars, solutions this, solutions that.

I thought light-rail was great–at first. Streetcars, too–sure! Not any more. Maybe it could have been viable, to begin rebuilding a public transit system that most people would want to use, even if it was little more than an echo of the one that once was perhaps the nation’s best. But the start came too late, too many decades after gutting the city to accommodate the drive-everywhere lifestyle (that most wanted). And the choices made were consistently the most expensive, the most complicated, the most disruptive. Not “sustainable.”

The choices came from the belief, the expectation, that we could have whatever we wanted, that we could undo bad choices made in the past.


This watershed moment is aptly represented in the astrological charts. The reference chart is for “modern” Minneapolis, dating from the consolidation of the city that began on the west side of the Mississippi River at the Falls of St. Anthony with the city of St. Anthony on the east side. (The two sides really do have different feels, as reflected in the invented compound name–Minne = water / lake + polis = city–and the Old World religious name.)


The tension between the growth impetus and the realities of resource limits is symbolized in the “modern” Minneapolis chart by the opposition between Jupiter in Cancer and Saturn in Capricorn–both having dignity in their respective signs. Jupiter, however, is “exalted”: having benefits without responsibility. Saturn, on the other hand, is “domiciled” in Capricorn: Saturn is at home, has permanence.

The two conditions are distinguished by Patti Tobin Brittain in Planetary Powers: The Morin Method:

Planets in Domicile: When a planet is in its own sign, it is pure and intense. Its effect is constant. The planet will function at its highest level. . . .

Planets in Exaltation: An exalted planet has an increase in force. Exalted planets attract benefits, which come in spurts . . . Planets in exaltation do not increase quality but do increase quantity.

It has been remarkable to witness the construction boom here during the “recovery” from the financial crash and trade reduction of 2008 and the years immediately following. New high-rise towers downtown for the wealthy, new privately-owned housing for debt-accumulating college students, new entertainment venues for the wealthy. This is the Jovian side of the axis: Jupiter in Cancer. The growth may kill the host, or require excision if the host is to survive.

Jupiter is doubly potent in the “modern” Minneapolis chart: exalted in Cancer and stationary direct in motion: the apparent retrograde phase ending.

But as this election takes place, two days after a solar eclipse, Jupiter is in the exact same degree of Cancer once again–and stationary retrograde. There has been an era of growth, expansion, building, speculating–it is ending, the tide is turning.

That a crisis is upon us is reflected in the eclipse chart itself: The New Moon / solar eclipse occurred at local sunrise, with Saturn (limits, hard choices, grief) and Mercury retrograde (change of thinking) rising on either side of Sun and Moon. All this in the sign holding the Moon in the city chart: the Moon (representing the citizenry) “in fall”: the people historically disempowered.

Other stresses and major transitions are hinted, though obfuscated and hidden: slow-moving Neptune has been hovering around the city’s Mercury position, and Pluto (plutocracy) in Capricorn is exactly connecting with the city Sun position (the mayor). Miscommunication and confusion have been rampant, as the power of concentrated wealth has moved into a system of diffused political power.

But there is now a significant body of citizens who recognize the situation clearly enough. It is time for those within the machinery of government to discard solutions, get out of the way of authentic and realistic responses to the realities of limits, and recognize with clearer eyes the prospects for what is possible.

<- zoidion ->

P.S. Minnesota governor Mark Dayton signed the Vikings stadium bill on 14 May 2012, when the Sun (executive) was exactly conjunct Jupiter (largesse) in Taurus (sign of money and material resources). Neither Sun nor Jupiter has planetary dignity in Taurus.



1. David R. Roell - 06/11/2013

Hello Pete,

It’s interesting to see how blogs evolve over time. You have an excellent grasp of local politics.

I’ve been skeptical of mass transit for decades. All you need to do is stand on a typical residential street corner and ask yourself how many people, within walking distance, would come for a bus/train, and how many times a day you might get anyone at all. Suburban population densities are far too low for that.

The best book on the subject, written at white-heat nearly 60 years ago, is Jane Jacob’s Death and Life of Great American Cities. It stunned me 30 years ago. She had just fought Robert Moses to a standstill in his efforts to turn Manhattan into what he did to the south Bronx. She died only a few years ago in Toronto, if memory serves.

Zoning, not transit, is the problem, and the problem with zoning are city flunkies who like their color-coded city maps. Shops here, apartments there, single family homes over yonder, an industrial park or two, etc., all linked together by roads that never manage to keep up with traffic volume. They hate high density and they hate mixed use, and the people who sell cars, tires, gas, fast food, big box stores and a thousand others, like it just the way it is.

Consequently, ever since the introduction of zoning just before WWII, local governments have been dominated by get-rich-quick real estate moguls and their attendant strip-mall developments. Santa Fe, New Mexico, and even more in neighboring Albuquerque, have been ruined by this kind of development. To say nothing of Los Angeles, Houston, etc.

Jacobs gives the history of this blundering nonsense. In brief, zoning was in reaction to early industrial cities that were overrun with poor people seeking work, living in cramped tenements (New York’s Lower East Side comes to mind), and drowning in horsie poop, which was a health nuisance. The resultant Radiant Garden City solved those problems, but gave us what we are now facing.

In Santa Fe was the solution as well: Spanish courtyards. There are two surviving, just north of the Cathedral: Take an entire city block. Ring it with a single 3-4 story building. Put greenery in the center: the courtyard. The ground floor are shops. The second floor are offices. Floors 3-4 (5 and 6 if you want to go that high) are apartments. Underneath it all is a parking garage. In the eight city blocks that face it are row developments, such as you have in New York. Behind which are duplexes and single family dwellings.

The result provides a variety of different living situations, as well as employment (offices, shops, restaurants) for most of the people who live in the area. Merchants are local. Density varies from low to high. Big box stores are avoided, which means delivery trucks are small and can be handled in early morning hours. Traffic is minimal.

Very much like your planetary exaltation definition. Mercury in Aquarius: A smartass. I’ve been one all my life.

We had an election here yesterday, too. Completely unnoticed. I ran it down. Two members of the city (county) council, running unopposed. One single polling location located downtown. Turnout was, of course, zero. Which is what was intended. I tried to vote in a local election for seven or eight years here in Maryland and simply gave up. Local elections are separate from general elections. Local elections have only one candidate – a Republican (suburbs are invariably conservative, world-wide). The real contest was in the primaries. But only party members can vote in primaries and you can’t switch on election day itself. Moreover, primary day is when, exactly? First Tuesday in May, or is it some other month?

People talk about how both Republicans and Democrats are finished as parties, but so long as they are explicitly named in state election laws and so long as at least three valid votes are cast, there are no alternatives. Or we can try to get the relevant limitations thrown out by a judge.

zoidion - 06/11/2013

Hello Dave,

Thanks for your rich comments. As for voting, I went prepared with a book (J H Kunstler’s The Long Emergency, a reread), but unlike 2012 there was no line. Pathetic turnout really, considering that these were all local issues/candidates.

The apparent winner for mayor here was heard at some point to say — or was it on campaign literature? — “if you like the way things are going now, vote for me.” No thanks. At the forum I attended, she voiced her vision of growth in the form of 100,000 more residents. Well, I guess that would be greater density, and it would make streetcars appear more viable, but how realistic is that? Not very. And jobs for all those people? Hello!

I liked the candidate (who got <1% of course) who came up with a new slogan: "more garden plots, not parking spots."

Still, several firsts here on the council: first Somali, probably first Latina and Hmong reps.

Heh, I admit I've never read Jacobs' book, though I remember seeing it in my brother's hands: He was an architecture student. But I've read plenty of J H Kunstler and other stuff about the costs of suburbia and car culture; J H K's Geography of Nowhere and Return from Nowhere are classics of the genre, but those led him (and me) to investigate peak everything.

There's a video I've lately come across by MN-based StrongTowns that cleverly sums up how new development gets subsidized and how it wrecks whatever good urbanism already exists: http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2010/12/6/conversation-with-an-engineer.html#.Unr-QhY73-Y So true it hurts.

Re: Santa Fe: I spent part of a day there a long time ago, found it gave me the feel of a much saner country.

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