News Day: Gangs in the ‘burbs? / Bedbugs to Borers / Peeling back The Onion / Raiding health care fund / more

Gangs in the ‘burbs? Right on cue, as criticism of the Gang Strike Force mounts and grumbles about withdrawing from the multi-jurisdictional mess are reported, comes a Strib article about the gang threat in the suburbs. The ominous warning:

Last year, police in the suburban counties of Scott, Dakota, Carver, Washington, Anoka and Rice came into contact with gang members at least 4,200 times, ranging from brushes with the law at traffic stops to arrests for serious crimes. By comparison, police in Hennepin and Ramsey counties recorded 12,700 contacts, according to the Metro Gang Strike Force. [Emphasis added]

The article focused on a “brawl” at Chaska high school that involved nine students in shoving, pushing and throwing some punches. Police said one of the students is a gang member, and that gang signs were flashed. According to the Strib, “Over the next few days, a flurry of angry exchanges ensued between the district school superintendent and the Chaska police chief over whether the fight was gang-related.”

Is this a new development? A real threat? Or good P.R. work by someone for the Metro Gang Strike Force?

Bedbugs to Borers The is going buggy today, with stories on a costly explosion of bedbug infestations attributed in part to the foreclosure/housing crisis and the also-serious threat of the emerald ash borer now arriving in Minnesota.

Two bills to T-Paw The House and Senate approved two omnibus bills Monday and sent them to the governor for his signature. The energy and environment omnibus bill and the transportation omnibus bill are the first of 11 tax and spending bills. Both passed by wide margins, and are expected to be signed. The energy and environment bill provides for program spending cuts. According to the PiPress:

The [transportation] bill doesn’t bar Metro Transit from increasing bus and rail fares, but the chairman of a House transit subcommittee, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said Metropolitan Council officials told lawmakers they would not boost fares during the next two years.

The measure doesn’t authorize the Met Council to increase property taxes to keep Metro Transit buses running. The Senate approved a property tax hike to help plug a $76 million hole in the bus system’s budget, but the bill covers that shortfall through fund transfers and an increase in Metro Transit’s share of motor vehicle sales taxes.

St. Paul may close three schools The Strib reports on recommendations to the St. Paul school board for cost-saving and efficiency, including closing three elementary schools, combining Humboldt junior high with the senior high, and changing attendance areas to reduce busing. The recommendations also include applying for Q-Comp and modifying labor agreements.

Raiding the Health Care Access fund Bob Collins takes a look at the way that the governor and legislature “as a ‘slush fund’ to balance shortfalls in the state budget, over the objection of the health care providers.” Payments to the Health Care Access Fund (HCAF) come from a 2% “sick tax” on doctors, dentists, and other health care providers, and from MinnesotaCare premiums. They HCAF is supposed to be used to pay for health care, but it’s a tempting target and the governor has pulled more than $400 million from it to patch other gaps during his term. Collins has a good analysis of the vicious cycle that has the dedicated tax flowing into the fund, the state pulling money out for non-health-care expenditures, and then making cuts in health care eligibility because there’s not enough money in the fund.

Tom Scheck reports that the MN Hospital Association is asking for an increase in the provider tax in order to avoid some of the drastic (perhaps deadly?) cuts proposed by T-Paw:

With just two weeks before the Legislature is required to finish its work, one of the major disagreements between Gov. Pawlenty and DFLers is the level of spending on health care programs. Today, officials representing two hospitals said the cuts under Gov. Pawlenty’s budget plan would harm their care for children. They say the cuts are so severe they’re willing to support a tax increase to prevent them.

Peeling back The Onion The Onion is peeling away some of its editions, reports BrauBlog, but it will stay in Minnesota, at least for now. Brauer says the likely targets are in California, and observes that it’s “no secret that its core audience (for advertisers, anyway) is exactly the type that doesn’t read papers anymore.”

U.S. Supreme Court: NO to identity theft charges It’s too late for hundreds of workers in Postville, IA, and thousands around the country, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that charges of aggravated identity theft cannot be based on giving a false social security numbers to an employer. The ruling ends the recent Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) strategy of using identity theft charges as a threat to get undocumented workers to agree to immediate deportation.

National/World Headlines

NPR: ” As Taliban militants wage a growing insurgency in Pakistan, U.S. officials are increasingly anxious about the deteriorating security situation in a fragile country armed with nuclear weapons and vital to U.S. strategy in the region. ”

New York Times: Nepal is in crisis as the Maoist prime minister resigns, in protest over the president’s overruling of his decision to fire the army chief, Rookmangud Katawal.

BBC: Zimbabwe human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko and 18 others have been ordered back to jail in Zimbabwe.

NPR reports on fears that more U.S. troops will mean escalating violence in Afghanistan, and Representatives Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and Lynne Woolsey call for a change in U.S. focus:

The United States should provide additional resources for reconstruction and economic development initiatives, along with other civilian tools that will be more effective in bringing about long-term peace and stability. One way to accomplish this would be to drop the administration’s plan to increase existing troop levels and instead shift resources toward a “civilian surge.” Our military forces could then be redirected to support these efforts, while minimizing the impression that they are serving as an indefinite occupying force.

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