News Day: Un-real tax values / MN Stimulus /Closed U /Jail bust, not break /CIA torture /Pakistan protests /more

Un-real estate tax values So you paid $155,000 for your house just two months ago — and now the tax man says it is worth $189,000? That’s the story for one south Minneapolis homeowner, reports the Strib, and homeowners throughout the metro area are girding to do battle over assessed valuations this spring. Though home values have fallen swiftly, the taxable values set by metro-area tax authorities have not. All seven metro counties predict declines in assessed valuation of two to ten percent, although the average home sales price has fallen by one-third since September 2007. Tax assessors say the problem is the lag time in estimating values. They expect an avalanche of appeals from assessed valuations this year.

Stimulus in MN/Wis St. Croix Falls will upgrade its wastewater treatment plant with federal stimulus money, keeping down costs for residents and improving water quality of discharges into the St. Croix River, reports the PiPress. AP reports that federal stimulus money will fund 11 road projects in MN, with $40 million in contracts to be awarded within 30 days. More projects are coming in both the Twin Cities and greater MN.

Closed U MN Daily guest editorialist Chris Ison charged that the U of M “isn’t much interested in an open, public dialogue” these days. Ison, now an associate prof in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, edited the Daily in 1982-83, and says “it wasn’t always this way.” He cites current difficulties in getting U of M information for reporters from the MN Daily and other news organizations.

Sulfide warning A MinnPost Community Voices wrter says mining company reps who oppose proposed legislation regulating sulfide mining are trying to have it both ways: saying sulfide mining is safe but opposing efforts to make sure that is true. “Times are tough. Jobs are scarce. Water is scarce too,” writes C.A. Arneson, noting that sulfide mining, which is new to MN, has a history of polluting in other places.

Protesters win in Pakistan Pakistani President Zardari agreed to reinstate former Supreme Court justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and six other judges who had been ousted by former President Musharraf last year, reports BBC. Zardari had promised to bring back the judges when he took office following the assassination of his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto. The Long March on Islamabad continues, as does the political crisis that began several weeks ago, when the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from holding elected office.

As the government cracked down on journalists, lawyers and the opposition, Pakistan’s information minister Sherry Rehman resigned on Friday. BBC reports that the government had blocked the leading TV station, as the government sent police to block protesters attempting to march toward Islamabad from cities around the country, arresting hundreds of opposition activists and lawyers. Oppoisiton leader Nawaz Sharif defied government “protection” that attempted to keep him confined to his house, joining the “long march” that was planned to arrive at Islamabad Monday, from various points in the country.

According to BBC:

The [ruling] Pakistan Peoples’ Party has representation across the country, particularly in the province of Sindh, Mr Zardari’s base. Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League is the party of the Punjab, the largest and wealthiest province. … Some observers have also expressed concern at rhetoric which appears to endanger the fragile threads of Pakistan’s federation, implying that a Punjabi leader is trying to destabilise a Sindhi president.

Attacking discrimination The NAACP filed suit in California on Friday, reports AP, accusing Wells Fargo and HSBC of discriminating against black borrowers, forcing them into subprime mortgage loans even when white borrowers with similar qualifications got lower-rate prime mortgages. Wells Fargo said the charges were unfounded, but a recent report from MN’s Institute on Race and Poverty lays out substantial evidence showing discrimination by lenders resulting in segregated communities and higher rates of foreclosure for black homeowners. (See 2/13 article, Report documents mortgage discrimination in Twin Cities in the TC Daily Planet.) The NAACP has similar lawsuits pending against a dozen other subprime lenders, and calls the lending practices “systematic, institutionalized racism.”

Charge those teeth NPR reports that one kind of credit is getting easier — specialized dental credit cards offer instant payments for dentists, but sometimes charge patients much more than they count on. If patients’ confidence in the cards is inspired by endorsements from the California Dental Association or the American Dental Association, they should beware: both organizatiosn are paid to make the endorsements. California legislators are hearing testimony on proposed legislation to regulate the dental credit cards.

Jail building bust No, not a breakout, but a market failure in jail cells. With dozens of new jails built in MN over the past fiew years, reports Tom Robertson on MPR, counties are now seeing lots of empty cells. And, with crime falling, fewer people are going to jail. Jails like the one in Park Rapids are searching for federal and state prisoners to fill (and pay for) the empty cells.

CIA torture documented Mark Danner reports on torture by CIA operatives in secret overseas prisons during the Bush administration, with a shorter op/ed article in the New York Times and a full report in the New York Review of Books based on confidential government documents. The documents include Red Cross interviews with 14 former detainees, compiled into a report that was then submitted to the CIA.

Beginning with the chapter headings on its contents page — “suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box” — the document makes compelling and chilling reading. The stories recounted in its fewer than 50 pages lead inexorably to this unequivocal conclusion, which, given its source, has the power of a legal determination: “The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

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