News Day 2/12/09: Between bailout and stimulus / $7 billion MN deficit? / MN Job Watch / Housing prices, and more …

Between bailout and stimulus Sick of reading about it / thinking about it / worrying about it? So am I, but I still keep trying to understand how and why we bail out the bankers and bash the poor. One of today’s better analyses:

Steve Perry, writing in MinnPost collates a number of analyses of the latest bailout and concludes: “Thanks to the ways the money is being used–to keep the banks in private hands and their shareholders out of harm’s way–the chances that these unthinkable sums will actually prevent continuing disaster appears to diminish by the day.”

And the sums are truly unthinkable: Bloomberg reports that the total amount of bailouts, and government loans and pledges to banks, and stimulus is close to $9.7 TRILLION — “enough to send a $1,430 check to every man, woman and child alive in the world … almost enough to pay off every home mortgage loan in the U.S., calculated at $10.5 trillion by the Federal Reserve.”

Meanwhile, Congress continues to quibble over the economic stimulus package, now nibbled down to $790 billion by cutting such unworthy projects as $20 billion in school construction funding and additional amounts in Medicaid spending, according to the Washington Post.

And back to Perry:

The ultimate peril of our monstrously overgrown financial sector–which, pre-crash, accounted for about 20 percent of GDP and 30-40 percent of U.S. corporate profits, proportions that are absolutely unprecedented in U.S. history-is that government has a very hard time seizing control of the banking system when the banking system, for practical purposes, has seized control of the government.

A billion here, a billion there Gov. Pawlenty said that MN’s $4.8 billion deficit could grow to $6 or $7 billion by March. That’s almost 20 percent of the state’s budget, notes the Strib. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis predicted that the recession will last through 2009 — not exactly a surprise. The Fed predicts MN unemployment rates of 7.8 percent, but the hardest-hit part of the region will be the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with a predicted 14 percent unemployment rate.

MN Job Watch Toro cut 100 salaried and office jobs Wednesday, three-quarters at its Bloomington HQ, reported the Strib. The company earlier accepted 50 voluntary retirements.

More than a thousand Minnesotans are applying for unemployment benefits each month, and four out of ten will be unemployed for 26 weeks or more, exhausting their benefits, reports Annie Baxter on MPR. For most of them, a federal extension will give them up to an additional 33 weeks, and possibly another three months after that. Lee Nelson, the state’s head unemployment benefits attorney, told MPR that, “Minnesota paid out a whopping $45 million in jobless benefits and extensions the week before last,” and payments are likel to keep increasing at about a million dollars a week.

According to the Washington Post, more employers across the country are contesting worker applications for unemployment benefits, claiming employee wrongdoing or quitting, in an attempt to keep their claim level and rates down. Department of Labor figures show record highs of just over 25 percent of claims being contested.

The play’s the thing Penumbra became the latest TC theater to announce budget woes Wednesday, cutting its operating budget by 24 percent, but maintaining plans for a half-million dollar renovation and keeping all staff on board, reported Rohan Preston in the Strib. Penumbra will postpone production of August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” from May to October.

Revise, not recount Secretary of State Mark Ritchie proposed changing election laws to require fewer automatic recounts and to allow voters to vote early and in person, and to register online. Meanwhile, the recount court is considering Coleman and Franken arguments on what categories of absentee ballots should be considered, and the end is not yet in sight.

Buyer’s market? The median home price in the Twin Cities fell 24 percent in January, writes Christopher Snowbeck in the PiPress. The St. Paul Area Association of Realtors reported a median home price of $155,000.

More on the local housing market: Lenders discriminate. Housing is segregated. Communities of color are hit harder by the foreclosure crisis than anyone else. That’s the ugly face of racial discrimination in the Twin Cities revealed in a 54-page report released by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Flowers for sheep Sheep will eat most of the flowers raised by Gaza farmers again this year, but Israeli authorities have agreed to allow the export of 20,000 carnations to Europe for Valentine’s Day. According to BBC, “Cut flowers, along with strawberries, were some of Gaza’s main exported raw goods, providing a valuable source of income to thousands of families in the Gaza Strip” before the Israeli blockade stopped almost all exports in June 2007. Before the blockade, exports brought in half a million dollars a day.

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