NEWS DAY | UnitedHealth vs. health care reform / Tale of two “students” / Joking judge crosses line / Selling cheap, making money / Pakistan bombing

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UnitedHealth vs. health care reform Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth is trying to turn employees into lobbyists, urging them to write to senators and newspapers to stop the health care reform bill, reports the Star Tribune.

In an aggressive new effort to influence the congressional health care debate, UnitedHealth Group this week e-mailed its 75,000 U.S. employees, urging them to contact their senators and providing two form letters attacking specific legislative proposals.

In addition, the Minnetonka-based insurer urged employees to write letters to local newspapers and then share those letters with the company’s lobbying arm.

UnitedHealth is the nation’s biggest health insurer. According to Open Secrets, an organization that tracks lobbying expenditures and political contributions, UnitedHealth reported spending $4.7 million on lobbying in 2008, $5 million in 2007, and reported $3.7 million through the third quarter of 2009.

Tale of two “students” Police descended on St. Paul College September 23 after a woman reported that a man, upset about financial aid, pulled a gun on her in an elevator. Since then, police have determined that:

There was no man in the elevator. There was no gun. And the woman accused of a hoax that emptied a St. Paul College building in September wasn’t who she said she was.

Vonda Kay Hill, 43, used the name of her friend, Charleeta Brown, to attend school and to file the false report. Brown said she didn’t think there would be any harm in letting Hill attend school under her name.

Hill has been booked on charges of filing a false crime report, but police say there are lots of questions left for both women to answer.

Neither Hill nor Brown is likely to be among them, but many more transfer students are showing up at the U of M these days. Students save money by enrolling in less expensive community colleges for their first two years, reports MPR.

The U is concerned however that transfer students aren’t always happy once they come to the U. Surveys show they’re less satisfied with their experience at the U of M than students who started as freshmen.

Could some of the dissatisfaction come from the bigger classes and bigger tuition bills at the U?

Joking judge crosses line “I’ve been married 45 years. We’ve never considered divorce; a few times murder maybe.” That comment, made by Judge Stephen Aldrich in an October 21 divorce hearing, was the final straw for WATCH, a courts watchdog group. WATCH is calling for Judge Aldrich’s resignation or removal, saying this is just the latest in a string of inappropriate remarks.

Aldrich apologized this time (“I tried to use humor to lower the tension in the courtroom and in retrospect I chose the wrong words.”), according to the Star Tribune. WATCH executive director Marna Anderson said they have filed multiple complaints against him in the past and that he has been reprimanded by the Board of Judicial Standards. The Strib reports that Aldrich, 68, was elected judge in 1996, re-elected in 2002 and 2008, and is nearing the mandatory retirement age of 70.


Selling cheap, making money During what the media now calls the Great Recession, WalMart has made big money as other stores falter and fail. NPR reports that record profits that WalMart is pulling customers in with its widely-advertised promise of low prices, and advertising that prices will go even lower during the holiday season. WalMart “has its tentacles in just about every segment of retail,” reports NPR, with groceries, books, hardware, clothing, and more.

Outright price wars, such as the $9 best-seller pricing, cost all retailers money. WalMart evidently feels that its price-slashing hurts competitors more than it hurts them, bringing consumers into the store for the bargain item and keeping them there for much more.

McDonalds and Burger King have been competing for customers with one dollar specials, but now some of Burger King’s franchisees are suing, reports AP, saying that they cannot be ordered to sell burgers below cost.

While costs vary by location, the $1 double cheeseburger typically costs franchisees at least $1.10, said Dan Fitzpatrick, a Burger King franchisee from South Bend, Ind. who is a spokesman for the association. That includes about 55 cents for the cost of the meat, bun, cheese and toppings. The remainder typically covers expenses such as rent, royalties and worker wages.

As the holiday shopping season starts,
with many stores already offering sales and deals, NPR’s Adam Davidson reminds us that consumer spending drives the U.S. economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of our economic activity. Consumer spending has remained weak but steady for the past three months, and now everybody is watching this year’s holiday spending as an indicator of how long and how deep the current recession will be. With Black Friday just two weeks away, rumors and leaks about planned specials are making the news. After Black Friday – the traditional big shopping day after Thanksgiving – comes Cyber Monday, when people return to work and shop online. And now there’s Free Shipping Day, which debuted last year on December 18 and will repeat this year on December 17, with major retailers offering free shipping and before-Christmas delivery for all orders on that day.

War Reports

Pakistan Another suicide bombing targeted the nation’s spy headquarters in Peshawar, killing nine people and injuring more than 50, reports the New York Times. A second bombing at a police station killed six people, and five NATO trucks were attacked in the province of Baluchistan, with one driver reported killed.

There was no doubt about the target or the motive of the bombing on Friday: Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, is a prominent symbol of military power, and militants have struck at it in different cities in Pakistan. The military is conducting a campaign against insurgents in the western mountains of Waziristan, an offensive that has led to a sharp increase in reprisals by militants.

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