News Day: Unemployment numbers / Running for governor / White collar fraud / Rondo Days / Twitter hacked (why you should care) / more

CivicSummit2009_212I’m back in MN, after a Poynter Institute conference packed with lots of good ideas and good people … and long hours. Next up: the National Civic Summit, which started in Minneapolis yesterday. Mike McIntee of The Uptake and I will be presenting “Citizen Journalism: Your stories, your voices” on Friday at 3 p.m. — join us there at the Minneapolis Hilton!

Latest unemployment figures The Department of Labor reports seasonally adjusted NEW claims for unemployment insurance at 522,000 for the week ending July 11, down 47,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 569,000. New claims in Minnesota were up by 1,176, and MN unemployment for June rose to 8.4 percent, up from 8.1 percent in May. Although new claims are falling, total unemployment remains high.

the U of M’s Smart Politics blog trumpets bad news from South Dakota, with a headline saying, “South Dakota Sets Historic 76 Percent Yearly Increase in Unemployment Mark in June.” Read on, however, and you find that SD unemploymenet is still only 5.1 percent in June — substantially below Minnesota’s 8.4 percent unemployment rate and the official national rate of 9.5 percent in June.

NPR’s Planet Money reports that the Federal Reserve’s June 24 meeting minutes predict increasing unemployment through the end of the year, with the gloomy note that:

The large number of people working part time for economic reasons and the prevalence of permanent job reductions rather than temporary layoffs suggested that labor market conditions were even more difficult than indicated by the unemployment rate.

Running for governor, and more Can’t keep track of all the candidates? On the DFL side, announced or soon-to-announce candidates include state Sen. Tom Bakk, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, state Rep. Paul Thissen, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former House DFL Leader Matt Entenza, former state Sen. Steve Kelley and state Sen. John Marty.

And on the GOP side, former audiitor Pat Anderson, president of the Minnesota Free Market Institute and organizer of this spring’s anti-tax “tea parties,” is throwing her hat in the ring, along with state Sen. David Hann. Already in the race: State Rep. Marty Seifert, Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria, Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano, Sen. Mike Jungbauer of East Bethel and former Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin. And out of the race: former U.S. Congressman Jim Ramstad and state Rep. Laura Brod (at least for now). Still on the fence: former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman.

On the congressional side, Eric Black says State Senator Tarryl Clark will challenge Michelle Bachmann. Other candidates in the Sixth Congressional District: Elwyn Tinklenberg, who ran against Bachmann last year; Dr. Maureen Reed, who is seeking both DFL and Independence Party endorsement;

Rondo Days begins, anti-gang order issued Rondo Days gets underway in St. Paul with a golf tournament today, a gospel concert tomorrow, and the Major Taylor Bike Ride, drill teams, food and fun all weekend long.

A Ramsey County judge banned nine named members of the Selby Siders and another nine members of the East Siders “from associating with each other, confronting each other, using gang signs and wearing gang clothes during the Rondo Day community festival,” according to MPR. St. Paul City Attorney John Choi said that the gang members are not prohibited from attending the festival, but only from specific behavior. A similar injunction was issued for this year’s Cinco de Mayo festival.

White collar fraud The MN Attorney General’s office charges that the National Arbitration Forum, which represents itself as fair and impartial, in fact has extensive ties to the debt collection industry. Moreover, reports the Star Tribune:

Swanson said that credit card companies, banks, retail lenders and cell phone companies increasingly place mandatory arbitration clauses in the fine print of their consumer agreements. The consumer agrees — often without realizing it — to have any dispute resolved by an arbitrator chosen by the credit card company or another creditor, waiving the right to have it heard in a court of law.

A June 9 report on NPR highlight horror stories from the arbitration industry. While arbitration records are generally closed, California ordered that decisions be reported, and NPR found that consumers lost 94 percent of the time.

Whistleblower suit against medical device companies Local medical device manufacturers — Boston Scientific, Medtronic, St. Jude Medica — and four other manufacturers are targets of a whistleblower lawsuit that charges they “initiated a nationwide sales campaign including illegal kickbacks and other improper means to entice physicians and hospitals to use the products for ‘off-label’ purposes,” reports the PiPress. The whistleblower lawsuits, filed in South Texas in 2007 and 2008, were sealed until July 10, and were filed by a former employee of Boston Scientific. The Department of Justice is now investigating and has until August 21 to decide whether to join in the lawsuit.

Twitter hacked (why you should care) Twitter was hacked — again — highlighting the inherent risks in “cloud computing.” The hacker apaprentl gained access to Twitter documents after acquiring access to one employee’s email account. This, in turn, allowed access to all company information stored in Google.apps. According to AP:

Password-guessing programs are also a common hacking tool. An attacker runs the program against an account, and if it’s allowed to try lots of times and the password isn’t very complicated, the hacker’s in.

That’s apparently what happened to Twitter, which shares confidential data within the company through the Google Apps package that incorporates e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet, calendar and other Google services for $50 per user per year.

Twitter’s co-founder, Biz Stone, said in a blog post quoted by BBC:

“From the personal account, we believe the hacker was able to gain information which allowed access to this employee’s Google Apps account which contained Docs, Calendars and other Google Apps Twitter relies on for sharing notes, spreadsheets, ideas, financial details and more within the company.”

Closer to home, PIM reports that some State of MN websites are in bad shape, with the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS) getting especially bad marks. Some of the state websites crashed during the hearing on state IT problems.

One useful tip: DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com, which indicates whether sites are offline.

World/National Headlines

Kim Jong Il and succession As stories about Kim Jong Il’s grave illness circulate, speculation about his successor centers on 26-year-old Kim Jong Un, the third and youngest son of Kim Jong Il, reports the Washington Post. the young man is rumored to have spent time two years in Switzerland at the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli Schule, a German-speaking state school.

Sotomayor You can’t turn around without hearing more about the Judiciary Committee hearings. Right, left, radio, tv, newspapers, Twitter, Facebook — the Sotomayor hearings are all over the place. No need to write more here.

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