News Day: RNC court puzzles / One in ten MPS kids homeless? / Battle of the budgets / AIG awful / FMLN wins in El Salvador / more

RNC court puzzles In Minneapolis, the scheduled appearance of government informant Andrew Clark Darst (“Panda”) on criminal charges including burglary and assault from a January episode, didn’t happen. The Minnesota Independent reports: “Apparently owing to scheduling conflicts for attorneys involved in the case, the legal matter was dealt with in an impromptu hearing earlier in the day.” The upshot: no jury trial, meaning no public testimony. Instead, in a highly unusual arrangement, Darst agreed that a judge will decide whether or not he is guilty based on written court records. The ruling is scheduled for next Monday.

Also on Monday, accused Molotov-cocktail maker David Guy McKay might have decided to plead guilty, reports James Walsh in the Strib. Or not — McKay wouldn’t back off his statements that government informant Brandon Darby influenced his decision to make the bombs, and U.S. Chief Judge Michael Davis wouldn’t take the deal without that. Case adjourned until Tuesday a.m. for “time to cool off.”

Homeless kids in Mpls: One in ten? Time magazine reported yesterday that, “Right now, nearly 1 in 10 children attending public school in Minneapolis is homeless.” A call to the MPS communications office got a “we’ll check on that and get back to you” response, but no return phone call by this morning. Time gave high marks to MPS as “a national model” for identifying and serving “what it calls ‘highly mobile students.'”

Battle of the budgets Pawlenty will release a new budget proposal this afternoon, revising his January plan after a new economic forecast. The new plan, MPR reports, “assumes that local governments will raise property taxes” to make up for cuts in state aid, but still says no to any new state taxes.

The House DFLer Ann Lenczewski introduced a “bold” revenue-neutral tax plan, reports Patricia Lopez in the Strib, cutting many the mortgage deduction and education credits, among other fixes. What’s the point of a revenue-neutral plan in this revenue-critical year?

The NYT quotes the author of a recent report on state budget problems:

“While the federal stimulus package is a huge boon to the finances of state governments, even under optimistic assumptions it is not large enough or sustained enough to eliminate the need for significant state spending cuts or tax increases. Tax revenue is unlikely to recover sharply enough or significantly enough — based on analysis of the last three recessions — to replace the stimulus funds that disappear…”

AIG awful How can the AIG execs get away with it? Minnesota Independent’s Chris Steller poses the question to local profs, and gets some unpleasant truths:

Contracts guaranteeing bonuses to executives at collapsing businesses — like American International Group (AIG) — are held inviolable, while labor union contracts regularly get voided or reneged-on when corporations declare (or even threaten) bankruptcy. Legal experts say it’s the law of the land.

Dana Houle over at Daily Kos recommends the plan proposed by Michigan’s newly-elected Congressional rep Gary Peters to implement a complicated surtax scheme that would take back the bonuses through the income tax system. Look for more ideas, as everybody in DC tries to get some distance from the AIG pay-for-bad-performance bonuses. And a hat-tip to Kathlyn Stone for the Open Secrets article detailing AIG political contributions and its “heavy hitter” status as one of the top 100 political contributors of all time, in addition to spending $9.7 million on lobbying last year.

Integrating what? Quiz time: Where do more state integration aid dollars go — to the 93 percent white Stillwater district or to 73 percent minority (and much poorer) Brooklyn Center? Stillwater, of course, beating Brooklyn Center by $1 million to $240,000, reports Megan Boldt in the PiPress. And what does state integration aid pay for? In some districts, it pays for computers and history books. The 12-year-old, $88.1 million state program, says Rep. Mindy Greiling, “is clearly, hugely broken.” Nothing new – the problems were pointed out in a 2005 Legislative Auditor’s report. And nothing is likely to happen this year, except for freezing integration funding at current levels. What should happen? Instead of using the funds to bolster general operating budgets, Myron Orfield, executive director of the U of M Institute on Race and Poverty, has a few ideas:

The money should be used for pro-integration transfers, allowing kids to go to schools with students of different races, Orfield said. Or hiring a diverse teaching staff — not just black instructors for black students or white teachers for white kids, he said.

Another good way to use the funds is to promote activities and curriculum to help children of different races and backgrounds get along, Orfield said.

Reserve that tent now An AP report says MN state parks are filling up already, especially if you want a spot with a camper cabin or a campsite with an electrical hookup. To make camping or lodging reservations, call 1-866-85PARKS or 1-866-857-2757 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily, or visit

Rock-Tenn role model After Rock-Tenn’s energy retrofit saved the company big bucks, the St. Paul Port Authority wants to team up with Xcel Energy to spread the gospel of energy savings in a proposed “Trillion BTU Program.” The Port Authority wants a $24 million fund to finance retrofits for big businesses (think 3M), making loans that would be repaid out of half of the energy savings realized by the companies. The energy savings would keep companies afloat, saving jobs in MN. The Port Authority wants at least some of the fund to come from the economic stimulus-fueled state energy program. Xcel could provide $8 million in credits to the program, which would begin in areas of the state where Xcel does business.

Jeremiah goes national The Twin Cities Jeremiah Program, which has a 10-year record of providing safe, affordable housing for single moms with young children and giving them support in education and job-readiness, is going national, reports MinnPost. Fargo/Moorhead and Austin, TX are the most likely places for the first expansion, with Phoenix, Seattle and Boston also on the list. The program has demonstrated success in dollars:

A return-on-investment study suggests the program more than pays for itself by reducing social-service costs in the long run. But the upfront costs aren’t cheap. Jeremiah has a $4.1 million 2009 annual operating budget. That’s about $53,000 per unit per year. Women pay one-third of their income to participate. County child-care subsidies defray some costs, but 70 percent of the money comes from private donations.

FMLN wins in El Salvador Democracy Now reports on the presidential election victory of Mauricio Funes, of the former rebel FMLN party, who defeated the ruling right-wing ARENA candidate on Sunday by a 51-49 percent margin. Correspondent Roberto Lovato, reported from San Salvador:

I’ll just quote a song that says, “Y que venga la alegria a lavar el sufrimiento”—“Let the joy come and wash away the suffering.” It’s something on an order I’ve never seen in my life. As a child of Salvadoran immigrants and as someone who’s spent time here and as someone who saw the Obama experience, I really can’t tell you what this is like, when you’re talking about ending not just the ARENA party’s rule, but you’re talking about 130 years of oligarchy and military dictatorship, by and large, that’s just ended last night.

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