Tag Archives: crime

Failure to process rape kits leaves serial rapists on the street

Photo of forensics lab by Tym, published under Creative Commons license.

Photo of forensics lab by Tym, published under Creative Commons license.

The Star Tribune reported last week that more than 3400 Minnesota rape kits have never been processed, characterizing the number as “part of a continuing national scandal.” Nationwide, the number of unprocessed rape kits may reach the hundreds of thousands.

A similar Cleveland Plain Dealer investigation, ongoing for the past five years, revealed serial rapists who were never prosecuted because rape kits were never processed. That, says Columbia Journalism Review, “means that every unsolved case is even more likely to be another rape waiting to happen, and that removing even a single rapist from the street eliminates an ongoing threat.” Continue reading

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The feds are coming!

The FBI is bringing a gang task force to town, moving in as the investigation of corruption, mismanagement and abuses by the now-disbanded Metro Gang Strike Force continues. The FBI will operate under a whole different set of rules — or maybe the main difference is that it promises to play by the rules. Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | MN Dept of Health withholding H1N1 clinic info / Above average, but slipping / Stupid criminals on YouTube / Omar Jamal

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Want flu shot info? MN Dept of Health won’t tell you More H1N1 vaccine has been shipped to Minnesota, but the news has been kept quiet by the Minnesota Health Department, reports MPR:

But up to this point, the vaccine distribution process here has been shrouded in secrecy. Some Minnesota clinics have withheld information from the public about their vaccine supplies. And the state Health Department has deliberately kept quiet about which clinics and hospitals have received doses. …
The Minnesota Department of Health has encouraged clinics to be cautious about promoting their vaccine supplies publicly. In fact, as of today, the agency still refuses to publish a list of providers that have received the vaccine. Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Twin Cities are tops in housing, safety / Police lie, Minneapolis pays / More U.S., U.N. deaths in AfPak war

Number One

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We’re number one! Forbes magazine has just named the Twin Cities the safest place to live, and Twin Cities home price increases lead the nation, with 3.2 percent in August, on top of 4.6 percent from June to July. Of course, when you look at the numbers a little more closely, you find that foreclosure rates are also higher than the rest of the nation, and that home prices are still one-third below 2006 levels, but why let the numbers get in the way of a good headline?

The Star Tribune reports that rising home prices in the Twin Cities lead the nation, though prices remain 13.7 percent below August 2008 levels. One of the factors bolstering the housing market is the federal first-time-home-buyer tax credit, which has pushed homes sales throughout the summer, but is set to expire at the end of November. The Strib reports: “The median price [for Twin Cities homes] peaked in September 2006 at $229,000 and bottomed in April at $153,000.” August’s median home price was $175,000.

Foreclosure rates are rising right along with home prices:

Data released today by Realty Trac, an online marketplace for foreclosed properties, show foreclosures rising faster locally than nationally. The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area had 9,767 foreclosure filings in the third quarter, a 13.5 percent increase from the second quarter and nearly double the third-quarter total last year, Realty Trac said.

But at least Forbes loves us, gushing:

Minneapolis tops our list of America’s safest cities, and not just for its crime rate. In ranking the cities on our list, we looked at workplace fatalities, traffic-related deaths and natural disaster risk; the City of Lakes ranked in the top 10 of all four categories. It’s also one of America’s best places to live cheaply and offers easy access to some of the most scenic drives in the country.

And what about St. Paul? We’re just lumped in as part of the “Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI” metropolitan area.

Minneapolis pays again This time the city is paying $100,000 for bad policing, a settlement for police misconduct caught on a Hennepin County Safe Zone video camera, reports the Star Tribune. The lawsuit alleged false arrest and discrimination, and the video showed that police officers’ descriptions of what happened were just about 180 degrees from the truth. See the video on the Strib website. One of the officers is already under investigation for his actions as part of the Metro Gang Strike Force, but police spokesperson Jesse Garcia said he wasn’t aware of any internal investigation or discipline based on the north Minneapolis traffice stop resulting in the settlement.

Judge Robert Blaeser had earlier dismissed criminal charges filed against the couple in the case, after viewing the tape and reviewing the police reports:

“One officer says the car was silver; one says it was gold,” Blaeser said. “One says it ran a red light; one doesn’t say anything about that. One says he saw somebody throw something out the driver’s door; the other one did not. One says the passenger was jumping on the back of an officer, pulling the officer, and that he maced her; and the other one does not. I’m going to find that there’s not enough credible evidence for a stop in this case.”

Bostrom vs. Fletcher Assistant St. Paul police chief Matt Bostrom formed a Bostrom for Sheriff committee, which means he probably will run against incumbent Sheriff Bob Fletcher in next year’s election, according to the Star Tribune.

Bostrom starts his race with a lot of firepower backing him with campaign co-chairs including U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.; state Sen. Mee Moua; Police Chief John Harrington and Ramsey County Commissioners Victoria Reinhardt and Tony Bennett.

Bostrom helped oversee RNC security plannning, and drew criticism from Fletcher during that time, recalls the Minnesota Independent, with Fletcher “repeatedly warning that the St. Paul department had failed to recruit enough police officers to ensure that it went off without serious problems.” Fletcher’s RNC conduct is certain to be an issue in the campaign, but it’s not the only one:

The four-term incumbent’s also been at the center of an investigation into the activities of the beleaguered — and now disbanded — Metro Gang Strike Force. Two damning reports released earlier this year alleged that the law enforcement agency routinely seized money from citizens without justification, failed to adequately keep track of its assets and displayed a general disregard for the civil rights of citizens, particularly minorities. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department was the fiscal agent for the gang strike force.

War Reports

Pakistan Nearly 100 people are already reported killed in a market bombing in Peshawar, reports NPR, as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrived in Islamabad for a three-day visit. According to the Washington Post:

The bombing early Wednesday in a crowded market in Peshawar — about three hour’s drive from the capital — was the deadliest attack in Pakistan this year, and the latest in a wave of suicide bombings, assassinations and attacks staged in response to a major Pakistani offensive against insurgent sanctuaries near the Afghanistan border.

Afghanistan Eight more U.S. troop deaths in two attacks Tuesday brought the total U.S. troop toll to 55 for October, the highest number in any month since the war began, according to AP. All the deaths were in Kandahar province, and other troops were wounded in the fighting.

The military issued a statement saying the deaths occurred during “multiple, complex” bomb strikes. It said several troops were wounded and evacuated to a nearby medical facility, but gave no other details.

In addition to military deaths, three U.S. DEA agents were killed, along with soldiers, in a helicopter crash on Monday, and the bodies of three civilian crew members were recovered from the wreckage of a U.S. army plane that crashed in western Afghanistan two weeks ago. According to BBC, the three were also U.S. nationals.

Also on Wednesday, reports AP, the Taliban attacked both a U.N. guesthouse and a luxury hotel in the capital city of Kabul:

Gunmen with automatic weapons and suicide vests stormed a guest house used by U.N. staff in the heart of the Afghan capital early Wednesday, killing 12 people – including six U.N. staff – officials said. The U.S. Embassy said one of the U.N. dead was American. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, saying it was meant as an assault on the upcoming presidential election.

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NEWS DAY: Metro Gang Strike Force hearing / New LRT station in St. Paul / State Fair opens today

Metro Gang Strike Force: Abuse, theft, racismmgsf_logo Legislators heard testimony on criminal activity by some Metro Gang Strike Force officers yesterday, with investigators describing a pattern of abuse of citizen rights, unjustified seizure of property, and taking seized property for private use. The investigative reports and testimony described a pattern of seizure of cash from anyone carrying large amounts of money when stopped by MGSF officers and noted that “these encounters almost always involved a person of color.”

Even with the testimony offered, Ruben Rosario writes, the committee did not hear about some of the more troubling aspects of MGSF behavior: the pursuit of immigrants with no gang or criminal ties, just because of their brown skin. MGSF instructed Minneapolis impound lot employees to call them when “Mexicans” came to claim their cars, and 29-year-old Dagoberto Rodriguez-Cardona was among their victims. The MGSF cops came to the impound lot on July 31, 2008, searched and questioned the two “Mexican” families there, seized more than $4,000 from Rodriguez-Cardona, and searched the cars of the two families:

No drugs were found.

None of those bagged that night had gang ties. Rodriguez-Cardona had no arrests, not even a parking ticket. Other than an acknowledgment that a little more than $4,000 was seized, Luger’s report found minimal information on the encounter in strike force records. No crime was alleged or prosecuted against those arrested and held in custody that night.

Yet, police contacted federal immigration officials in violation of a Minneapolis ordinance that prohibits officers from doing so unless a crime has been committed.

Now Rodriguez-Cardona faces deportation, and is suing to get his money back, showing what his attorney calls “raw courage” in coming forward.

The legislators heard from investigators yesterday. They heard about seizure of a wood chipper and stump grinder, and wondered how these could possibly have been thought to be involved in gang activity. They heard about seizures of flat screen TVs and sloppy accounting methods, and the need to change state seizure laws — never mind that many of the seizures seemed to be in blatant disregard of existing laws. The testimony that they did hear was damning, but they did not hear from victims. Rosario writes:

But the one thing lacking in Wednesday’s legislative hearing was testimony of someone like Rodriguez-Cardona. He would have driven home the human experience of someone placed in handcuffs in front of a sobbing relative and stripped of money earned by the sweat of his brow. Throw in the fact that his alleged muggers were officers of the law.

For additional accounts of yesterday’s hearing, see Metro Gang Strike Force: “Bad actions overshadow the good actions” in the TC Daily Planet, Metro Gang Strike Force hearing: Plenty of blame, but no answers in the Pioneer Press, Forfeiture law questioned after gang force misuse in the Star Tribune.

Big win for Central Corridor communities? The City of St. Paul will pay for an LRT station between Snelling and Rice Street under a tentative agreement reached Wednesday, reports the Pioneer Press:

St. Paul will put up $5.2 million for a new station — probably at the intersection of Western, Victoria or Hamline, according to a vote by the Central Corridor Management Committee.

In exchange, the Metropolitan Council will purchase an $8 million downtown property at East Fourth and Cedar streets, which would allow trains to make an easier turn. A prior agreement required St. Paul to foot the bill. …

The vote also prioritized the construction of two more east metro stations using money from a capital reserve built into the project — provided all goes well.

That’s huge for the community about to be disrupted by Central Corridor construction, as previous plans called for the trains to zoom along with stops a mile or more apart in low-income areas along the eastern part of the University Avenue line, though stops are closer together in other areas. However, the change still offers little to University Avenue small businesses. MPR reports:

A group of business owners met today to discuss their ongoing concerns. They say their voices aren’t being heard.

Lysa Bui, who owns the Saigon restaurant, says her business and many others won’t be able to survive the four-year construction project.

Central Corridor spokesperson Laura Baenen responded to business concerns by saying, “There’s absolutely no money in the project budget for handouts,” but she said that limited funds are available for “mitigation,” such as signage to tell customers where to look for parking, and free business consulting to offer advice to business owners.

State Fair opens today! What more can you say? Lots, actually, but I’m out of time this morning. So get your State Fair news here and here and most of all at the official source, right here

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News Day: Town brawls and anti-Pulitzer nomination / Evicting Rosemary – or not / New anti-gang police plan

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Crazy days of summer From “town brawls” (more here) to death threats to Congress members and the SEIU, the weekend headlines described a political scene loosely tethered to reality. “It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Stupidity,” proclaimed the Daily Kos, linking to half a dozen stories of right-wing blather and bluster.

Josh Marshall at TPM commented: “Teabaggers say they want their country back. But Afro-Arab socialists have only had it for like 6 months. Can’t they wait their turn?”

“Idiot Nation, Idiot Press,” read another Daily Kos headline, this one denouncing Politico’s serious treatment of Sarah Palin’s outrageous and completely non-factual claim that the “Obama health plan” would set up a “death panel,” and that such a panel would have condemned her aging parents or her Downs Syndrome son. Hunter writes:

I think there should be such a thing as an anti-Pulitzer. There should be an award for the reporter or reporters that most willfully ignore the basic falsehood of a story — something like “fire is cold”, or “if you shoot yourself in the head, M&M’s will come out” or “if we reform our nation’s healthcare, the President will send a Death Panel to murder my disabled son” — and instead treat as if it was a debatable point worth reporting as fact.

For a factual analysis of claims about the health care reform proposals, turn to PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter, which ranks claims on a scale ranging from truthful to “liar, liar, pants on fire.”

Evicting Rosemary – or not Rosemary Williams has become a symbol of the foreclosure-and-eviction crisis in the Twin Cities, and Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies arrived on Friday for what could have been the final act — eviction. The deputies turned Rosemary and her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren out of the home on the block where she has lived for 55 years, and padlocked the doors. As soon as they were gone, her supporters got back inside the house, and spent the weekend moving her possessions to a safe place and setting up an occupation inside the home, reports the TC Daily Planet.

Similar stories abound, with inner city residents who refinanced their homes with adjustable mortgages and then were unable to keep up when, after an initial grace period, monthly payments “adjusted” to double or triple the original amount. A Facebook post by a neighbor noted eight boarded-up homes on his block.

New anti-gang police plan In the wake of the dissolution of the Gang Strike Force, police chiefs in 36 out of 37 Hennepin County jurisdictions (including Minneapolis) are working on a new strategy — communication and prosecution, reports the Star Tribune. The old Strike Force was heavy on property and cash seizures, and light on prosecutions. The new, collaborative arrangment will emphasize prosecutions, according to County Attorney Mike Freeman, who has assigned a prosecutor to meet with the police chiefs.

In addition, the police departments will collaborate on “focused, proactive investigations to head off crimes,” information sharing, collaborative investigations, and, when a local chief feels it is necessary, a “surge ‘suppression’ operation in which officers would blanket a neighborhood.”

Next up: St. Paul budget In 2009, the city of St. Paul scrambled to meet a $5 million budget deficit. In 2010, St. Paul faces an $11 million plus gap due to decreased state aid. Tuesday, Mayor Chris Coleman will present his proposal, which will then go to the City Council for debate and revision, with passage of some budget by December.

According to the Star Tribune, the mayor’s budget proposal will increase police on the streets, by using ARRA federal funding, and will keep the Hamline Midway library open through 2010. The budget will cut some city positions, cut library hours, close some rec centers, and eliminate some city jobs. According to the Star Tribune:

The city employs about 3,000 people.

Under Coleman’s proposed budget, about 160 jobs would go away. The majority are vacant positions.

About 50 current employees would be laid off across the departments.

A property tax increase will also be part of the budget, though a smaller amount than in previous years.

Kids Count – down The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2009 Kids Count Data Book on July 29. The Kids Count report noted some progress, but also continuing racial disparities:

Our ability to progress as a nation depends on the degree to which we can create opportunities for all children to succeed. In fact, nationally, since 2000, gaps in the differences in child well-being along racial and ethnic lines have decreased in some areas—most notably, the high school dropout rate. However, on the whole, non-Hispanic white children continue to have greater opportunities for better outcomes compared with most other racial and ethnic groups.

Minnesota ranked second overall in ten measures of the well-being of children. But, reports the Star Tribune, “Child poverty in Minnesota rose 33 percent between 2000 and 2007, six times the national average, and several other measures of child well-being declined.”

Kara Arzamendia, research director for the Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota, is preparing a Minnesota state report that will include Kids Count data.

Arzamendia argues that restoring funding for some state programs could help.

“We made cuts in 2003 when we had major state budget problems and we didn’t buy them back,” she said. “What did other states do? Well, some of them are doing something right. While our numbers remain pretty good, Minnesota’s changes generally were not as good as the national average.”

Somali travel agency raid, arrest In unrelated cases, a Somali travel agency was raided by FBI agents and its owner was arrested, MPR reports. The raid was staged in connection with an ongoing investigation into travel to Somalia by young Somali-Minnesotans.

The owner of the agency, Ali Mohamed, was arrested for fraud in connection with an unrelated case on charges of “scamming customers out of more than $33,000 in airline tickets that he allegedly never arranged for them.”

World/National News

Waiting in line for health care – today In a report that every Congress members should read, NPR tells the story of tens of thousands of people in miles-long lines waiting to see a doctor. Right here in the United States. Right now under our wonderful private health care system.

5:34 a.m.

That was when the weekend’s free mass clinic was supposed to open. But the line of cars trying to get in was a mile long. In the pre-dawn darkness, headlights snaked down the road as far as we could see. Doctors and dentists were also stuck in that traffic jam, so the clinic couldn’t open on time.

People seeking treatment had been arriving for two days. Many camped in a grassy parking lot while they waited. Some had long drives to get there; there were license plates from at least 16 states.

Read the whole story. And then send it to your Congress member.

Honduras The OAS continues trying to find a compromise that will reinstate Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup on June 28. However, the acting government, put in place by the coup, has refused to allow a high-ranking OAS delegation including OAS secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza and several foreign ministers to enter the country, according to BBC.

War Reports

Iraq BBC reports that Sunni insurgents continue to target Shiites. The latest:

Two truck bombings in northern Iraq and attacks targeting day laborers in western Baghdad killed at least 51 people and wounded scores early Monday, Iraqi authorities said. …

The truck bombings killed at least 35 people in Khazna, a small Shiite village 12 miles north of Mosul. Residents said at least 80 houses were destroyed in the blasts.

Last week’s bombings included blasts in Shiite areas of Mosul and Baghdad, which killed more than 50 people.

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News Day: July unemployment numbers / Swine flu ahead / Operation Red Zone / Scam alert

jobs on a white background with a magnifierJuly unemployment numbers Surprisingly, unemployment fell slightly in July, with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting the figure as “9.4 percent, little changed for the second consecutive month.” Economists had forecast an increase. The U-6 unemployment figure, which includes all workers who are marginally attached to the labor market and those who are employed part-time for economic reasons, remained at 16.8 percent. The total number of non-farm jobs declined by 247,000.
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News Day: Beer Summit / Gangs of St. Paul / Police gang / Harassment by pizza / Iran repression

Picture 4Beer Summit Red Stripe for Henry Louis Gates, Blue Moon for the police officer, and Bud Light for the president: beer choices at the White House were all over the news yesterday, along with Congressional admonitions to the president to drink American.
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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: Central Corridor starts / Police & crime / New hope for old homes / Trouble on the farm / more

LRTCentral Corridor starts Downtown St. Paul will see streets dug up, starting Monday, so that utility lines can be moved before construction of the Central Corridor light rail line begins next year, reports the Star Tribune. Street closings and restrictions will begin on 4th Street between Minnesota and Jackson streets.
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