NEWS DAY | Unemployment running out / U of M vs. LRT / Flu shots / Honduras update

help!need moneyRunning out of unemployment benefits With the average time between losing one job and finding the next rising, about a thousand Minnesotans are falling off the cliff every week — running out of unemployment benefits.

The House passed a 13-week unemployment compensation extension on Monday, which would extend benefits for 300,000 people in 27 states and the District of Columbia – but not Minnesota. According to MPR, the extension applies only to states with unemployment in excess of 8.5 percent, and Minnesota’s unemployment has not reached that level.

The longest time that a person can now receive unemployment compensation, with state and federal programs combined, is 79 weeks. As the economy continues to shed jobs, that’s just not long enough for more and more people.

The Star Tribune reports that Minnesota may be in better shape than many states, with the average unemployed worker receiving benefits for only 18 weeks (up from 12 weeks in 2006), but Dan McElroy, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), says the time of unemployment has steadily gone up, and no federal or state agency tracks what happens to people after their benefits run out. 

Last-minute save for Pratt The Minneapolis school board passed its Changing School Options plan Monday, with one last-minute change, according to the Star Tribune. The smallest school in the district, located in one of the oldest buildings, will remain open — Pratt parents won another reprieve.

Longfellow Community School, Folwell Middle School and Park View Montessori at Bryn Mawr are still scheduled to close, and Northrop Urban Environmental School, Cityview, Kenwood and Pillsbury will lose their magnet status.

The original plan, proposed last spring, sparked controversy in the community during the 40+ meetings held to introduce it, and was sent back to district staff for revision. Like the original plan, the current version divides the city into three zones – Southwest, South Central/Southeast and North/Northeast – and focuses on educating students close to home. Most students will remain in their from pre-K through high school. Each zone will have a limited number of magnet schools, with very few district-wide magnet or specialty schools.

Some flu vaccine clinics canceled Health Partners has canceled its walk-in flu shot clinics for the seasonal flu vaccine, citing vaccine shortages, according to the Star Tribune. The U of M also canceled clinics after 2,000 people turned out for the first one, standing in line for 40 minutes to get shots. Shortages of the seasonal flu vaccine are widespread, but some clinics continue to offer shots.

Last week, our family went to the CVS Minute Clinic at the Centennial Office Building near the State Capitol. A sign posted outside said they had run out of vaccine two days earlier, but when we walked in, the nurse said they had just gotten a new shipment, so we go tour shots. If you are looking for a flu shot, check out the list of places offering the vaccine and call ahead, if you can. (Minute Clinics don’t answer the phone, so you’ll have to take your chances there.)

U of M vs. LRT Train vibrations will disrupt science labs, said the University of Minnesota Monday, going to court over the Met Council proposal to run trains down Washington Avenue. The U of M and the Met Council will keep on talking, according to MinnPost. And Met Council chair Peter Bell called the lawsuit “premature and without merit.”  Maybe the University should wait until after the trains start running and the vibration and noise actually affect the science labs — and then sue?

Bell points out that “Over the past months, the Council and our project partners have held numerous meetings with the University …”

U of M President Bruininks disagrees, according to MPR:

“Despite months and months of meetings and lots of documents we filed, the Met Council has not come up with a plan that really addresses the serious concerns the university has, with respect to routing of the LRT down Washington Ave.,” said Bruininks.

The Council has had numerous meetings with all the stakeholders, from small businesses losing the parking their customers need to residents worried about loss of the bus transportation they rely on to MPR and churches on the St. Paul end of the line, also concerned about noise and vibration. Holding meetings, however, doesn’t mean they have made significant changes in the plan, or in any way deviated from the goal Bell states again: “keeping this important project moving forward on time and on budget.”

World/National News

Honduras update and media mistakes With ousted President Manuel Zelaya inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the de facto Honduran government has cut off lights, water, and telephones, reports BBC. The government also blocked roads leading into the capital, closed airports, imposed a curfew starting at 4 p.m., and forcibly broke up a demonstration in support of Zelaya.

Supporters inside Honduras reported police attacks on people demonstrating support for Zelaya throughout the day on Tuesday, with reports of at least 172 injured and 350 jailed from Narco News Bulletin. Security forces also occupied buildings next to the Brazilian embassy, lobbed tear gas into the courtyard, and attacked the offices of COFADEH, a Honduran human rights organization:

Later, when the lights were cut, there were fears the authorities might storm the gates [of the Brazilian embassy] at any moment, and side arms were handed out to security guards. The lights soon returned courtesy of the compound’s generator (and gas supplied by La Resistencia). The expected attack didn’t come until dawn, when police launched tear gas shells into the courtyard, and forcibly occupied neighboring buildings.

“These bullies can enter my home, and do anything they please,” said one disconcerted neighbor, lugging her valuables away from the scene. “Just because I live next to the Brazillian Embassy, they treat me like a criminal.”

Apparently, the “bullies” could do as they pleased throughout the capital on Tuesday. To mention just one example: The offices of the Committee for Detained and Disappeared Persons of Honduras (COFADEH) were attacked without provocation, when police fired tear gas canisters at the building.

The New York Times yesterday repeated the old canard, pushed by the coupmeisters and most of the U.S. media, that Zelaya “had violated the law by scheming to extend his term beyond that allowed in the Constitution, and therefore had to go.” In point of fact, the referendum proposed by Zelaya would not have extended his term. Instead, the non-binding referendum would have asked for an expression of voter opinion on rewriting the constitution at a future date, some time after Zelaya’s term expires. As summarized by Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, writing in the Guardian:

A constitutional crisis came to a head when Zelaya ordered the military to distribute materials for a non-binding referendum to be held last Sunday. The referendum asked citizens to vote on whether they were in favour of including a proposal for a constituent assembly, to redraft the constitution, on the November ballot. The head of the military, General Romeo Vasquez, refused to carry out the president’s orders. The president, as commander-in-chief of the military, then fired Vasquez, whereupon the defence minister resigned. The supreme court subsequently ruled that the president’s firing of Vasquez was illegal, and the majority of the Congress has gone against Zelaya.

Supporters of the coup argue that the president violated the law by attempting to go ahead with the referendum after the supreme court ruled against it. This is a legal question. It may be true, or it may be that the supreme court had no legal basis for its ruling. But it is irrelevant to the what has happened. The military is not the arbiter of a constitutional dispute between the various branches of government.

This is especially true in this case, in that the proposed referendum was a non-binding and merely consultative plebiscite. It would not have changed any law nor affected the structure of power. It was merely a poll of the electorate.

Therefore, the military cannot claim that it acted to prevent any irreparable harm. This is a military coup carried out for political purposes.

For in-depth reporting on the political issues involved and on the repression of dissent following the coup, see Benjamin Dangl’s report in UpsideDown World. For a report from inside the embassy very early in the morning on September 22, see Democracy Now.

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