News Day 2/25/09: Carstarphen still coy / Govt funds for MSM / Mueller and the mosque / MN Job Watch, recount, more

Carstarphen still coy St. Paul schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen still isn’t talking about whether she is a candidate for the Austin, TX superintendent’s position, reports Doug Belden in the PiPress, and she’s also not answering questions about whether she has applications in anywhere else.

Meanwhile, a consultant report on SPPS physical plant got mixed characterization, with Doug Belden in the PiPress quoting the report as finding that the district’s 79 buildings are in “average” shape, while Emily Johns in the Strib gave SPPS “an ‘A’ for upkeep.” Find the Powerpoint presentation from the consultants to the board of education on the SPPS website.

Obama nails it In a rousing 52-minute speech, President Barack Obama hit the campaign trail again, declaring energy, health care and education the top priorities for America. Full text here. Minneapolis got a mention: “There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.”

MN funds for private biobusiness park The MN Department of Employment and Economic Development granted another $1.2 million to complete infrastructure projects for the Elk Run Biobusiness park north of Rochester, bringing total state money for the project to $1.8 million. Sea Stachura reports on MPR that investors have been meeting with state officials and an announcement on the project is expected soon.

Them that has MN has seen a big crop of lively on-line media growing up in the past few years, including the Twin Cities Daily Planet, which I edit, so I won’t brag about it here; The Uptake, with dramatic RNC footage and gavel-to-gavel coverage of the recount; the Minnesota Independent, offering intensive political coverage and much more; and MinnPost, which looks a lot like an online version of the Strib that Joel Kramer once edited, which is to say among the best of the mainstream media back in the day. All of these on-line and non-profit media organizations (and others) are scrambling for funding.

So now comes the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership program, with a $238,000 grant of government funds to the U of M School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Duluth News Tribune to retrain newspaper staffs for “a mix of learning new computer programs to help sell advertising and tell news stories, and fundamentally rethinking how to deliver news and advertising.”

Rob Karwath, executive editor of the News Tribune, said he envisions money going toward rethinking how to sell new products that deliver news and advertising to readers, and setting up methods to increasingly receive feedback from customers.

Guess the Duluth News Tribune needs more reporting, as David Braure reports all of the Strib’s coverage of MN will now take place from its Minneapolis office. The Strib is pulling Larry Oakes out of Duluth and back to Minneapolis.

MN Jobs Watch AP reports that Cliffs Natural Resources plans cutbacks and temporary shutdowns at its taconite plants, possibly laying off 83 HibTac workers for more than six months. MPR says that Northshore Mining’s 557 workers will be laid off during April as that plant closes for a month.

MN-based Medtronic is cutting its global workforce, reports the Strib. About 8,000 of Medtronics 38,000 employees work in MN. Last year Medtronic cut 1100 jobs worldwide, with about 350 of those in MN. Execs took a five percent pay cut.

41 percent drop in profits – could be worse I had to read on when the Strib said targets 41 percent drop in earnings during the 4th quarter was really not so bad. Part of my confusion is that the headline said profits dropped and the first paragraph said earnings dropped — two distinctly different measures. Halfway through the article, some hard numbers appeared. Target revenue (earnings) was down $19.56 billion, 1.6 percent below 2008’s fourth quarter. Its net income (profits) “fell about 22 percent to $2.85 billion, or $2.86 a share,” while annual sales (earnings) grew 2.3 percent.

The reason that Target’s bad news is not so bad is that all retailers — except low-end leaders WalMart, Costco and Dollar Store — are seeing gigantic drops in earnings, reflected in fourth-quarter reports released yesterday. In other business news, Home Depot reported a 4th-quarter loss of $54 million, which is bad but better than previously expected,

And now … Pawlenty gets to decide on the Senate race? If the three-judge panel awards victory to Al Franken, will he get to go to Washington at last? Maybe not, warns Tom Scheck on MPR. The governor and the secretary of state sign an election certificate when there is a “final determination” of the contest, but Norm Coleman will almost certainly appeal any adverse decision, and T-Paw could say that nothing is final until all appeals are exhausted. Exhausted is the way that most Minnesotans feel about the whole process, but Pawlenty has previously said that he thinks Coleman has a good chance of winning an appeal, so he’s not likely to sign until the MN Supreme Court rules on an appeal. And then, there’s the possibility of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court …

Mueller and the mosque FBI director John Mueller said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that a Minnesota Somali man carried out a suicide bombing in Somalia after Shirwa Ahmed “was radicalized in his hometown in Minnesota.” Mueller gave no details on how the alleged suicide bomber was “radicalized,” but his remarks ramped up hostility to Somalis and Muslims in Minnesota once again, reports Laura Yuen on MPR.

Jessica Zikri, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations. Zikri said many Somalis are living in fear as federal authorities continue their investigation into the missing.

“They’ve already been receiving phone calls and were stopped by the FBI,” Zikri said. “And then hearing these allegations vaguely connected to Minnesota just add fuel to the fire.”

That fire continues in Minnesota streets, with hostility expressed toward both Somalis and Muslims. To combat misunderstanding and prejudice, As-Saddique Islamic Center will welcome neighborhood residents and organizations for a community dinner intended to increase understanding about the local Somali Muslim community and mosque tonight. Organizers have invited FBI director Robert Mueller to attend.

Mardi Gras marchers protest police Mardi Gras marchers went from the State Capitol to St. Paul City Hall to file notice-of-claim forms based on events during the RNC, reports John Brewer in the PiPress. Meanwhile, over in the Ramsey County court, prosecution and defense attorneys accused each other of trying the case in the press, and prosecutors complained that too much secret police information was becoming public.

Writing with less The Loft Literary Center cut two full time employees, and everyone else is taking pay cuts,

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