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NEWS DAY | Your zip code and your health / MN banks / H1N1 / Afghanistan

stethescope_morguefileYour zip code and your health “Social determinants,” including education, income, race and even where you live affect your health, reports MPR. According to Camara Jones, research director on social determinants of health and equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta:

“There are tremendous differences in every single health outcome you look at whether it’s an infectious disease, whether it’s heart disease, whether it’s cancer, whatever, education is a tremendous predictor of health outcomes.”

Better health outcomes are also tied to higher income. And, reports Paul Matessich of the Wilder Institute, the zip coding of health is demonstrated right here in the Twin Cities:

“If you live in certain ZIP codes in the Twin Cities you will live five, seven or eight years less,” said Paul Mattessich, executive director of Wilder Research in St. Paul. “Or say it more dramatically, you will die five, seven or eight years sooner than people who live in other zip codes because of the different community factors.”

The community factors he’s talking about are social determinants of health — things like crime, pollution, the quality of housing, access to full-service grocery stores, jobs and recreation. The presence or absence of any of these conditions can have an enormous effect on health behaviors in a neighborhood.

When Allina Hospitals started the Backyard Project to improve the health of the neighborhoods around the hospitals — Powderhorn, Phillips, Central and Corcoran  — they found that social determinants were at the top of people’s lists of things that affected their health:

“We hear a lot about jobs, we hear about housing, we hear about school, we hear about safe environments for kids to be able to play, about having access to and being able to afford healthy foods, stress, just a lot of the challenges of daily life that really do have a profound impact on a person’s health,” Zuehlke said.

One participant noted that, while he tried to get his family to eat healthier foods, that cost more than 99 cent burgers at McDonalds. A second installment in the MPR series on health and environment focused on availabiilty of healthy food, noting that “poor people, and people of color, often live in neighborhoods without full-service grocery stores.”

The Wilder Foundation’s Compass Project research has zeroed in on disparities, including disparities in health, within the seven-county metro area. Recently, a legislative hearing and a community roundtable with Senator Al Franken have also focused on racial disparities in health and health care.

The legislative hearing circled around to another of the social determinants of health with the testimony of State Demographer Tom Gillaspy:

Gillaspy testified that recent trends show Minnesota’s poverty rate increasing along with the U.S. rate, although Minnesota’s poverty rate of 9.6 percent remains lower than the 13.2 percent national average. Gillaspy said that between 2007 and 2008, the state’s poverty rate increased by 1.9 percent, and added that the rate of people at 100 to 150 percent of the poverty level also went up by 10.1 percent.
Gillaspy said the statistics that are currently available are “frustrating” in that they do not reflect the massive economic changes that have occurred since 2008.

Who’s watching MN banks? The MN Commerce Commission watches Minnesota banks, and right now about one in five state-regulated banks and credit unions are on its watch list, reports AP. That’s 71 banks and 21 credit unions, if you’re counting. Four MN banks have gone under this year, the highest number since 1990. Nationally, 98 banks have failed and 416 are “problems.”

The Star Tribune reports troubling testimony before a legislative committee hearing yesterday. According to James LaPierre, regional director for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation:

Minnesota banks have just 61 cents of cash reserves on hand to cover every dollar in problem loans, down from 81 cents a year ago. Regulators recommend that banks keep at least as much cash in reserves as they have problem loans.

Joe Witt, president of the Minnesota Bankers Association, said MN banks are actually doing well, with 333 making a profit in the second quarter. He said that problem loans come not just from “risky lending,” but more from the national economic recession.

Needle or nasal spray, vaccine is on the way The H1N1 nasal spray — some 2.2 million doses — was released in some states on Monday, reports AP, and the shots will be on their way next week. Meanwhile, a shortage of seasonal flu vaccine has caused the cancellation of two more flu shot clinics at the University of Minnesota. Despite earlier promises, a manufacturer said it could not deliver 14,000 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine this week, as originally promised.

According to the flu.gov website, Minnesota has ordered doses of the nasal spray, but the MN Department of Health website has no information on availability.

Chamber strikes out When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce continued to oppose cap-and-trade and other climate change measures, Apple left. Three big utilities — PG&E, Exelon and PNM Resources — had already left, for the same reason, and Nike resigned from the board of directors.

The departures weaken the Chamber’s influence in Washington. NPR summarizes:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce bills itself as “the voice of business.” But when it comes to climate change, business no longer speaks with one voice.

But, notes NPR, the Chamber still has three million members and spent nearly $92 million on lobbying last year.

Afghanistan President Obama told a group of Congressional leaders that he will not propose a major troop cut in Afghanistan, but that he has not yet decided whether to ask for more troops, reported the New York Times. The Washington Post noted “bi-partisan concerns over strategy” – big surprise there.

Icasualties, a website tracking U.S. and coalition deaths in Afghanistan, shows the acceleration of deaths in the past two years. Keep in mind that the 2009 numbers are year-to-date, and there are still almost three months left in the year.

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And the most recent (mid-September) CNN poll shows Americans opposed to the war, by a 58  to 39 percent margin. In Minnesota, anti-war activists will mark the eighth anniversary of the war at the weekly peace vigil on the Lake Street bridge Wednesday.

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News Day: The Usual Suspects / Second chance / Credit unions in trouble / Twitter, iPhone dangers / Blue Dog deal

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The Usual Suspects The Pioneer Press has a new crime blog, dedicated to “chronicling bizarre and quirky tales from our crime and court beats.” I’m bookmarking and following it right now, so I don’t miss news that ranges from the absurd (a driver who blamed a crash on snakes in his pants, stupid criminals stories) to the straight news (Sheriff Fletcher defending himself for defending Gang Strike Force.) Okay – maybe sometimes the distinction between absurd and straight news isn’t so clear, but the blog promises to be a great read. Last night’s post – Wiliam Finney will not run against Bob Fletcher for sheriff in 2010.

Waterfall dries up Minnehaha Falls has fallen victim to the drought (precipitation is 16 inches below normal for the past 14 months), and now is only a trickle of its former self, reports the Pioneer Press. Minnehaha Falls dries up when the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District closes the Grays Bay Dam. That happened on June 2 this year, though the dam usually stays open until September. Other recent years when Minnehaha Falls was dried up: 2000, 1988 and 1964. The average precipitation by this time in the year is 17.36 inches, but the Twin Cities has received only 9.49 inches this year.

Second chance for MN refugees Three Salvadoran teens who fled their home country because of threats from the MS-13 gang may get a second chance at asylum in Minnesota, reports the TC Daily Planet:

They were recently jailed for about 17 days and faced imminent deportation. Then they scored a major victory. Not only were they released from jail, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also has joined with their attorneys to ask the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen their case. Ben Casper, one of their attorneys, called DHS’s decision very unusual. “I have never heard of it before,” he said.

Conflict of interest for U of M doc? U of M Dr. David Polly received more than a million dollars from Medtronic, and U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) thinks that may be a conflict of interest. Grassley is asking for an investigation, because “Polly went before Congress in 2006 and testified about a program that had ties to Medtronic, but Polly didn’t disclose his own ties to Medtronic,” reports MPR. U of M officials are reviewing the matter, and Polly remains on the Medtronic payroll.

Credit unions follow banks into deep water The Thumper Pond development is emblematic of new risks taken by some credit unions, reports the Star Tribune. When credit unions strayed from their traditional customers and loans to members, they courted the same trouble that banks have seen in the current economic crisis.

Losses on risky loans, from Twin Cities housing projects to out-of-state ethanol plants, are one reason why nearly half of the state’s 156 credit unions lost money in the most recent quarter, compared to 35 percent of credit unions nationwide. Seven of Minnesota’s credit unions are near or below capital levels the government deems adequate. And two were in such bad shape they had to be sold.

Want to check your credit union’s asset rating? The Strib has a list.

World/National news

Twitter danger BBC reports that a Chicago real estate company is suing a former tenant who tweeted about mold in her apartment. Horizon Group Management says her tweet was defamatory, and sued. Jeffrey Michael, whose family has run Horizon for decades, told the Chicago Sun-Times they didn’t talk to her about the tweet and didn’t ask her to take it down, saying, “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organisation.” Tenant Amanda Bonnen had 20 Twitter followers at the time that she posted the tweet, and has since closed her Twitter account.

iPhones in peril? Forbes.com reports on an iPhone hack that could “give a hacker complete power over any of the smart phone’s functions,” and then propagate itself to take over every iPhone in the world. Two cyber-security experts say that they notified Apple about the problem more than a month ago, but that it hasn’t released a patch.

If you receive a text message on your iPhone any time after Thursday afternoon containing only a single square character, Charlie Miller would suggest you turn the device off. Quickly.

The researchers have also found bugs in Windows Mobile and Google Android phones.

Beer today! BBC reports: “Cambridge police sergeant Jim Crowley and Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard scholar he arrested after responding to a report of a possible break-in at Mr Gates’s home, will sit down with Mr Obama on Thursday for a conciliatory beer.”

Is this the way to better race relations in America? If not, it is at least the way to a summer’s worth of late-night TV fodder. From across the pond, BBC thinks it is tempting to view the whole episode as the “ultimate conflation of the age of Obama and the age of Oprah,” adding that, “Aside from the choice of beverage, there is something very daytime television, something very soft focus, something very soft sofa, about this attempt to defuse the controversy.”

For a truly hysterical look at the entire flap, tune in to Colbert Nation on race and farts.

Refugees drown Some 200 people fleeing the poverty and starvation of Haiti crammed a homemade sailboat, enduring hunger and thirst for two days — and then the boat sank. NPR interviewed survivors, who said:

The boat was jam-packed with people. Men filled the deck, exposed to the hot sun, while women and men alike filled the dark, nearly airless hold below, survivors later told rescuers. Pierre said the hold was packed so tight that nobody could lie down.

118 people were rescued, after 17 hours in the water.

Pierre was among those returned to Haiti:

Pierre, who was reunited with his mother, said for all the horrors of the voyage he was still desperate to get out of Haiti, where 80 percent of the people survive on less than $2 a day.

Health care fact-of-the-day Courtesy of Paul Krugman: “Since 1970 Medicare costs per beneficiary have risen at an annual rate of 8.8% — but insurance premiums have risen at an annual rate of 9.9%. … if insurance premiums had risen “only” as much as Medicare spending, they’d be 1/3 lower than they are.”

Blue Dog deal Minnesota Budget Bites has an analysis of the deal struck by Blue Dog Democrats to allow the health care reform bill to move to the House floor. The deal allows a public option to remain, but limits tax increases and employer mandates. According to the New York Times:

The House changes, which drew immediate opposition from liberal lawmakers, would reduce the federal subsidies designed to help lower-income families afford insurance, exempt additional businesses from a requirement to offer insurance to their workers and change the terms of a government insurance option.

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News Day: MN unemployment up to 8.2 percent / Foreclosures dip / Preventing the NEXT economic meltdown – or not / more

Illustration of a graph where the figures go through the roofMN unemployment up to 8.2 percent Minnesota’s unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent in May, up from 8.0 percent in April but still below the national rate of 9.4%, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. DEED’s press release this morning led with the announcement that MN employers had cut only 1,600 jobs in May, the smallest number since October. Total job losses in May were more than 10,000, but that number was offset by some job gains, including 7,100 in the leisure and hospitality industries and 900 in construction.
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News Day: Unemployment up to 8.9 percent / T-Paw starts the veto engine / World and national headlines

Unemployment up again The unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent in April, as the economy shed another 539,000 jobs. Looking for the bright side – that’s the smallest number of jobs cut since October. But it’s pretty hard to see much of a bright side in the highest unemployment rate in more than 25 years.

The Department of Labor also notes:

About 2.1 million persons (not seasonally adjusted) were marginally attached to the labor force in April, 675,000 more than a year earlier. These individuals wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.


In April, the number of persons working part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was essentially unchanged at 8.9 million; however, the number of such workers has risen by 3.7 million over the past 12 months.

And the Daily Kos takes on the concept of “natural” unemployment, in a readable and important analysis of employment/unemployment in “what has just became the longest running downturn since the Great Depression, [and] probable long-term effects of this crash.”
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News Day: Michelle Bachmann, Norm Coleman / Health care in jeopardy / Swine flu updates / more

Mad Michelle Minute Minnesota Independent chronicles the latest Bachmania, reporting that Bachmann offered an amendment to the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act to ban groups facing federal indictment for voter fraud from receiving federal foreclosure relief funds. She proudly explained that “I want to ensure that organizations, such as ACORN, are prohibited from receiving funds while simultaneously facing charges of voter fraud and tax violations.” Only problem with that: ACORN says “The truth is, no criminal charges related to voter registration have ever been brought against ACORN, its leadership, or partner organizations.”

Norm Coleman files Yesterday, Norm Coleman filed his brief before the MN Supreme Court, with “few, if any” surprises, reports Eric Black in MinnPost. Read the brief, which goes on for 62 pages ad nauseam (a legal term, of course), or the Eric Black summary — or just skip the whole lthing because there’s nothing there that you haven’t already heard over the past six months.
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News Day: Doing the recount math / Autism in Somali kids / Secret U.S. assassination squads / High school sports money / more

If you’re reading this … then the mega-worm has not killed the internet yet.

Doing the math Let’s see — if Al Franken leads by about 225 votes, and the court has ordered another 400 ballots opened and counted, where does that leave Norm Coleman? Probably beating the bushes for money to finance endless appeals. To outpoll Franken, The Norm would have to win more than 300 of the 400 ballots, which seems highly unlikely. Counting day — April 7.
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News Day: Unemployment / Bad news for bus riders / Nick speaks! / Pigs flying? / Viking stadium / Outrage of the day / Wonk alert / more

Unemployment up even more than expected national unemployment figures jumped to 8.1%, even more than expected, rising half a percent in the last month, with the economy shedding 651,000 jobs. Rates for blacks (13.4 percent) and Hispanics (10.9 percent) continue higher than the average, while the jobless rate for teen-agers continues at a whopping 21.6 percent.
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News Day: More on MN deficit and recession

March 4: Back to school / MN Job Watch / TCF and TARP / TOP SECRET no longer / Sudan, Afghanistan, Mexico and more

Budget deficit: Day 2 In the aftermath of the revelation that the economic stimulus will keep the red ink from rising higher, lawmakers and the governor are back to sparring over how to make up the $4.6 billion deficit. A trio of MPR reports gives context: State Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson warned that the long-term problem will get worse, with a $5.1 billion deficit forecast for 2012-13, and that the economic stimulus is a one-time rescue that does not solve the structural problem.
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News Day 2/17/09: Never-ending recount / Zombie banks / Battered by spouse? Get out of town / More …

Never-ending recount The judges ruled Friday on which sets of absentee ballots would be considered (not counted, just considered for counting), and Coleman’s lawyers struck back Monday, asking them to reverse their ruling, reports Jay Weiner in MinnPost. Weiner sees the move as preparation for an appeal after the judges’ “final” decision on who won … and there’s still no word on when that decision will come. Trial, and posturing, continue today.

Zombie banks “A zombie bank drains bailout capital but doesn’t respond with any meaningful lending,” reports MPR’s Chris Arnold. When the government props up a zombie bank, it’s not lending but it won’t die. Andy Kessler, a former hedge fund manager, says zombie banks “eat the fabric of the economy,” and warns: “I’ve watched every single one of those zombie movies and everybody knows you can’t cure zombie-ism … you gotta shoot ’em, you gotta get rid of ’em, cut their heads off, put the silver bullet through their hearts–and get some healthy banks.” As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner proposes a complicated package of private investments and public loans to buy toxic assets from banks, the zombie bank explanation sounds a timely warning. Arnold and his guests discuss solutions such as wiping out the zombie banks, and then creating new healthy banks with taxpayers as the shareholders or taking over troubled home loans and giving them to smaller community banks to restructure.

Get on the bus and get out of town Finally find a way to escape that abusive spouse and get your children to safety? Now Twin Cities victims may be given tickets to ride the old grey dog to Bemidj, Brainerd, or Albert Lea, because metro-area shelters are out of room, reports Joy Powell in the Strib. With little affordable housing, shelters and safe houses have seen average stays go from 20 days in 2005 to 37 days in 2008, and there’s just no more room in either shelters or public housing. The recession has brought more violence at home. The statewide domestic abuse crisis line has seen calls rise from an average of 500 a month in 2006 to 900 a month now. Many victims remain in dangerous situations because there is just nowhere to go.

MN Job Watch The stimulus package will increase unemployment benefits by $25 per month, across the board, as well as extending the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) through December. A federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program extended benefits by 13 weeks in July, and by an additional 20 weeks in November. The 20-week extension was due to expire in March, but will now run through December.

The MN Green Jobs Task Force wants a new Green Enterprise Authority to coordinate state agency efforts to attract new green-collar jobs, reports Tim Pugmire on MPR. The task force also wants tax incentives and bonding for renewable energy projects.

Stimulus and MN deficit MN Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson said that MN will get up to $2.8 billion to bolster the state’s general fund, paykng for health care, education and state stabilization aid, reports Tim Pugmire for MPR. The money may make up some of the increase in the state budget deficit, which is expected to grow from the current $4.8 billion to as much as $7 billion when the next state economic forecast comes out on March 3. The federal money comes with strings attached. T-Paw will have to restore proposed cuts in health care programs and might have to give up an accounting shift for education funds.

But that still leaves most of the MN budget carnage in place. Sheila Regan writes in the TC Daily Planet about the impact of the T-Paw proposal to basically dismantle the Perpich arts high school and arts education center.

Could be worse? Kansas is suspending income tax refunds, reports AP, and may miss this Friday’s payroll for 42,000 state employees, as the legislature and governor fight over the state deficit. And in California, reports BBC, Gov. Arnie Schwarzenegger ordered layoff notices for 20,000 state workers after CA legislators failed to approve a $40 billion budget. This on top of two-day-a-month unpaid furloughs already in place for state workers and delayed tax refunds for everybody.

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