News Day 2/23/09: Oscar-free zone / Stormin’ Norm / Bonding basics and blunders / World news and more

T-Paw playing fast and loose with bonding rules In theory, MN can’t borrow to pay for current spending. The tobacco bond borrowing is an end run around that prohibition, based on a fiction that the state is just borrowing against future tobacco settlement revenues. In fact, explains Steve Perry in MinnPost, other states have already found that tobacco bonds don’t sell well, and MN is marketing the bonds as general obligation bonds. The Department of Revenue says that $987 million in bonds now will cost $1.6 billion in payback.

Your chance this week! The St. Cloud Times reported on the first town hall forum on the state’s budget woes, with more than 250 people mostly agreeing on one part of a solution: “Raise taxes. Cutting the budget and services is not the best way to solve the problem.” Hearings started Thursday in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud, and continue across the state this week, including metro-area meetings.

Last-minute RNC lawsuits As the deadline for filing civil claims related to the RNC expires this week, expect more lawsuits. In an RNC-related suit last week, Betsy Raasch-Gilman charged that Sheriff Bob Fletcher failed to provide “all private and public data” on her. The State Department of Administration had already issued an advisory opinion that Big Bob failed to comply with state law, reports Randy Furst in the Strib.

And on Friday, St. Paul city attorney John Choi announced that no charges will be filed against 323 people arrested on the final day of the convention, but that 20 arrests are still being investigated.

Sinking Strib ship A bankruptcy filing says that Strib gross earnings plummeted by almost one-third in two years, down to $203 million in 2009 from the $303 million earned in 2007. The Strib survival plan, reports Braublog includes a demand that pressmen take a 23-50% pay cut, chopping $6-12 an hour from wage rates.

Secret meetings on health care reform According to the NYT:

Since last fall, many of the leading figures in the nation’s long-running health care debate have been meeting secretly in a Senate hearing room. Now, with the blessing of the Senate’s leading proponent of universal health insurance, Edward M. Kennedy, they appear to be inching toward a consensus that could reshape the debate.

Unfortunately for single-payer advocates, the NYT predicts this will mean “a requirement that every American carry insurance.” And Republicans, predictably, are not participating in the talks, though business is on board.

Around the world in 90 seconds In Mexico, the Juarez police chief quit, reports BBC. The border city, torn by drug war violence, saw a police officer and a prison guard killed just before Roberto Orduna quit. Gangs had issued a notice that they would kill a cop every day unless Orduna quit, and he said this was the only way he could safeguard police lives. Orduna took over in May after his predecessor fled to Texas following death threats.

In Afghanistan, , a tribal militia of “men and boys, armed with old riffle and true grit” in southeastern Paktia province is protecting people against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. The government and the U.S. plan a “Public Protection Force” to provide “community defence initiatives,” but insist it is different from the militias. In Pakistan, reveals the NYT, U.S. Green Berets are training Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops in a now-no-longer-secret task force.

Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebel planes bombed the capital, reports the NYT. Though this is the first air attack on the capital, the last six weeks “have seen a surge in civilian casualties, with up to 2,000 killed and 5,000 wounded as the government attempts to rout the rebels.”

In Somali, Islamist insurgent suicide bombers killed 11 African Union peacekeepers at an AU military base in Mogadishu, reports the BBC. The al-Shabab group said its members carried out the attack, as part of its continuing armed struggle against peacekeepers.

Corn vs. clean cars You might think that corn growers and ethanol producers would like legislation requiring lower emissions. Not so, reports Ron Way in MinnPost. The Corn Growers Association opposes clean car legislation, claiming that 18 flex-fuel and biodiesel cars and trucks are banned in California because of the clean car law. But wait — Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview, called CA car dealers and discovered that “the vehicles that the Corn Growers said are not available were in fact available and being sold.” When confronted by this information in the committee meeting, the Corn Growers lobbyist … had nothing to say.

Stormin’ Norm Since he continues to lose every battle in court, Norm Coleman now wants to recount ALL absentee ballots — that’s right, all 290,000 votes cast, not just those that were rejected, reports Jason Hoppin in the PiPress But wait — the PiPress editorial page goes even further, calling for the election to be thrown out entirely, and a new election held. That’s just what we need to do — hold a clean election, and throw out the results. Politico reports that the Republican National Committee has sent Norm a quarter of a million to pay legal fees in the recount battles.

Save northern MN land, string powerlines across south? As the DNR proposes using the dedicated sales tax funds to protect 187,000 acres of forest and wetlands in north-central MN through the Upper Mississippi Forest Project, private developers propose stringing hundreds of miles of intrusive high-power transmission lines across the rest of the state. More on this tomorrow.

Let’s make people miserable and lose money, too! A successful Anoka county program for meth-addicted moms is targeted by state budget-cutters, reports Brady Gervais in the PiPress. Not only would this particularly short-sighted and mean-spirited budget cut eliminate a successful program that helps addicted mothers kick the habit, find jobs and learn parenting skills — it would also lose money in the long run. Gervais writes that, “By reducing the need for social assistance and child protection services, the program is estimated to save between $8,400 and $16,800 per participant, according to a recent study by Wilder Research.”

Million Dollar Mile Oops, make that $9.2 million — for a one mile bike path in downtown Minneapolis. The Strib’s Pam Louwagie blows the whistle.

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