Tag Archives: economic crisis

NEWS DAY | MPCA: Oops / H1N1 update / Atrazine on Halloween / Reporting on the economy

Hear No Evil , See No Evil , Speak No Evil

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MPCA: Oops The MPCA has apologized for issuing a gag order telling a Carver County Commissioner that he couldn’t talk about the problematic septic system at the Waconia Events Center. The Star Tribune reports that the apology came about a week after the gag order, and said, in part, “The letter of warning was not intended to limit your rights to vocalize concerns or comments, either publicly or privately.”

The MPCA, of course, has absolutely no legal authority to order anyone to stop talking about anything. As for “warning” someone about talking – same deal. As one comment in the Star Tribune suggests, “This should really raise a red flag. Does the MPCA need a shakeup in management to get back to it’s roots of pollution control?”

H1N1 update: Two schools closed, 266 hospitalized, 12 deaths New information released by the Minnesota Department of Health shows 266 people hospitalized last week and two more deaths, bringing the H1N1 deaths in MN to 12, according to the Pioneer Press. Some 288 schools reported flu outbreaks.

WCCO reported that St. Paul Academy and Summit High School are closed today because of flu, and students already have tomorrow off because of teacher conferences. Some 30 percent of their students are at home with the flu. Salem Lutheran in Stillwater also closed for the rest of the week because of flu.

The Star Tribune reports that 915 Minnesotans have been hospitalized with H1N1 complications since spring, including 655 since September 1, and that most of the hardest-hit patients between the ages of five and 18.

Atrazine on Halloween A Minnesota review of atrazine safety by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the state’s Department of Health, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is due out around Halloween, according to MinnPost. That’s a few weeks after the feds announced the beginning of a major review of the controversial pesticide.

In MinnPost, Will Souder explains:

Atrazine was first licensed in the United States in 1958, and for many years was the most heavily used pesticide in the world. It has also been one of the most frequently detected contaminants of water. Atrazine and its breakdown compounds have been found in lakes, streams, reservoirs, clouds, rain, snow, fog, and in water ready for human consumption from drinking-water systems in agricultural areas. …
The new EPA review follows media accounts of inadequate monitoring and regulation of community water systems and a damning report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) last August that accused the agency of ignoring atrazine contamination in drinking water and in natural watersheds across the Midwest.

The European Union banned use of atrazine in 2003. Critics point to its persistence in drinking water and to spikes in atrazine presence in drinking water that are not measured well. They also argue that, whether or not atrazine is carcinogenic, it is linked ot various other problems, has been shown to cause deformities in frogs, and is an endocrine disruptor.

Economy up, economy down, and joblessness continues The economy “grew at a 3.5 percent pace in the third quarter, the best showing in two years,” signaling an end to the reccession, according to an AP report published in the Pioneer Press today. That’s good news, says the AP, despite the fact that joblessness is growing and wages are declining. But wait – another AP report published in the Star Tribune described “signs of a weaker housing market and a gloomier outlook on the economy” causing the stock market to slide.

Somehow economists and the media accept the end of a recession is measured in terms of “economic growth,” despite the fact that unemployment is still increasing. But even stranger is the seesaw reporting that has “a gloomy outlook” in one report and “the best showing in two years” in another.

Meanwhile, this morning’s figures from the Department of Labor show 530,000 new unemployment claims last week.

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NEWS DAY | St. Paul school board / Insurance denied: Too fat, too thin, too … raped? / more

tc_schoolhouseSt. Paul school board elections – a real contest? With the teachers’ union endorsing challenger Jean O’Connell, and refusing to endorse incumbents Elona Street-Stewart, John Brodrick, and Tom Goldstein, the school board race is shaping up to be a real fight, reports the Pioneer Press, despite the fact that no incumbent has lost in the past three election cycles. In addition to O’Connell, who is running as an independent with both union and chamber of commerce endorsements, two Republicans are also in the race — Chris Conner and John Krenik. Then there’s the separate race to fill the seat vacated by Tom Conlon, with DFL and union-endorsed Vallay Varro squaring off against Republican-endorsed Pat Igo.

The achievement gap between students of color and white students and budget issues are at the top of every candidate’s issues list. For more info, see:

John Brodrick (incumbent)
Chris Conner
Tom Goldstein (incumbent)
John Krenik
Jean O’Connell
Elona Street-Stewart

Pat Igo
Vallay Varro

Insurance denied: Too fat, too thin, too … raped? After Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert both went after insurance companies for denying coverage to a “fat” baby, UnitedHealth is now in the spotlight for denying coverage to a too-skinny, but healthy, two-year-old, according to the Star Tribune:

Aislin, who weighs 22 pounds, was turned down by UnitedHealth’s Golden Rule subsidiary for not meeting height and weight standards. Children who are considered to be too slight are often viewed as at higher risk for contracting an illness.

After Aislin’s family went on national television, UnitedHealth reversed its decision.

Another insurance company is taking some heat for denying coverage because of a woman’s medical treatment for rape, apparently another pre-existing condition. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund reported her story, and says it’s not the only one.

Meanwhile, Governor Tim Pawlenty, who believes in leaving health care insurance to the insurance companies and keeping the government out of it, is proposing a new interstate compact tolet health insurance companies sell across state lines. The PiPress quotes the Guv: “Our citizens will benefit from more robust competition, leading to increased choices and better values.”

And Paul Krugman reminds us that, when it comes to health care reform, “the facts have a liberal bias:”

Reform with a strong public option is cheaper than reform without — which means that as we get closer to really doing something, rhetoric about socialism fades out, and that $100 billion or so in projected savings starts to look awfully attractive.

Land of 10,000 (polluted?) lakes Environment Minnesota released a new report showing that more than two million tons of toxic chemicals were dumped into Minnesota lakes and rivers in 2007, part of 232 million tons of toxic chemicals dumped in waters across the country. Minnesota ranks 30th among the states in tonnage of toxic chemicals reported.

The full 44-page report, based on the federal government’s Toxic Release Inventory, notes that the TRI covers only industrial pollution, and does not include pollution from wastewater treatment plants, agricultural facilities or other sources.

Pollutant releases from factories, power plants and other industrial facilities are a key contributing factor to the pollution that leaves 46 percent of the nation’s assessed rivers and streams and 61 percent of its assessed lakes unsafe for fishing, swimming or other uses.

The report recommends encouraging the development and use of safer alternatives to toxic chemicals and strengthening enforcement of the Clean Water Act, expanding it to include “headwaters streams, intermittent waterways, isolated wetlands and other waterways for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of recent court decisions.”

H1N1, but no shots Rather than the 120 million shots promised for October delivery, only 12.8 million were available by October 20, according to AP. Federal officials are now predicting 50 million doses by mid-November and 150 million in December. Adults need one shot, and children need two.

In a sign of how rapidly the virus is spreading, education officials said 198 schools in 15 states were closed Wednesday because of swine flu, with more than 65,000 students affected. That was up from 88 school closings the day before.

For Minnesota information, call the new Minnesota FluLine – 1-866-259-4655. Be prepared to wait – yesterday was the first day, and call volume was heavy.

R.T. for Dolan No surprise here.  Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is backing Police Chief Tim Dolan for a second three-year term, reports the Star Tribune, citing an “unusually strong partnership.” After serving for six months as interim chief, Dolan was approved for the position in 2006 by a 12-1 council vote, with only councilmember Ralph Remington dissenting. Remington says he hasn’t changed his mind, but it’s unclear whether the next vote on Dolan will come before the end of the year, when Remington is retiring from the council:

[Remington] was troubled by allegations of institutional racism raised by five high-ranking black officers in a lawsuit, which the city settled for $740,000. Remington said Dolan also hasn’t been consistent in doling out discipline, an issue raised by the Police Federation. He criticized Dolan’s record on diversifying the department, though nearly 19 percent of the department are people of color, the most ever.

Dolan’s supporters point to double-digit decreases in violent crime over the past three years, and say he has disciplined more police officers than any other chief.

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NEWS DAY | Public wants public option / Jon Stewart on H1N1 / More

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© nicolasjoseschirado - Fotolia.com

Public option or private bankruptcy A clear majority of 57 percent supports a public option for health care reform, according to the latest Washgton Post-ABC News poll. That’s up from a mid-August low point of 52 percent, but down from June’s 62 percent in favor of a public option. A majority of Republicans support a limited public option: Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Flu, vaccine, and MN pigs / Mortgage foreclosures dead ahead / War Reports

<a href=Flu, vaccine, and MN pigs “Unprecedented levels” of flu were reported by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last week, saying that “the amount of influenza and pneumonia mortality is above the epidemic threshold.” The CDC and others say that more swine flu vaccine will be available by the end of the month, and express concern about resistance to getting vaccinated. According to NPR, about one third of people who don’t want vaccination are worried about side effects, 28 percent say they don’t think they are at risk, and 25 percent say they can get medication and treatment if they do get the flu. Not necessarily, says Arthur Kellermann, an emergency medicine physician at the Emory University School of Medicine who has treated swine flu cases: Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Crunching math scores / Wilder cutting jobs, programs / Going to the dogs / Pakistan attacks

Math_Symbol_ClipartCrunching the math scores Minnesota’s math scores remain above average for fourth and eighth graders, while national scores increased slightly for eighth graders and remained at the same level for fourth-graders, according to the national report released yesterday. Minnesota’s scores remained nearly the same as they were two years ago, with 54 percent of Minnesota fourth-graders showing proficiency.

Minnesota’s achievement gap remains large. MPR explains:

On the one hand, Minnesota’s black, Hispanic and American-Indian students all scored higher than the national average for each ethnic group….

On the other hand, Minnesota’s actual achievement gap is larger than the national average. While students of color regularly performed above the national average, so too did white students – which kept the gap large. The national achievement gap between white and black fourth-graders, for example, is 26 points. Minnesota’s gap is 28.

Wilder will cut 260 jobs The Wilder Foundation announced yesterday that it will cut 260 jobs, almost one-third of its 650-person work force, according to the Pioneer Press. The cuts come because of the recession’s impact, which slashed the value of the Wilder Foundation endowment.

Cuts will include:
• closure of residential treatment centers for troubled children and teens: Bush Memorial Children’s Center, Holcomb House and Spencer House;
• divesting from ownership of low-income housing in six buildings and ending management of low-income housing in an additional six buildings;
• closing the Home Health Agency (600 senior clients) and the Housekeeping and Homemaker service, which assists seniors.

With a $40.6 million budget in 2008, Wilder provided direct service to thousands of vulnerable people in the community; research that focused on community needs, accomplishments, and challenges; and a meeting place in its new building open to a wide variety of community events and organizations.

Wilder launched its first-ever capital campaign in 2005, opening its new headquarters at Lexington and University in 2008. The Second Century Capital Campaign came, according to Wilder’s annual report, “after 100 years of relying on funding its programs and services primarily from the Wilder family endowment established in 1906,” and was a signal that the foundation “needed support to continue its mission of serving the community’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Wilder Foundation CEO Tom Kingston was quoted in the Pioneer Press as saying that the new building does not contribute to the foundation’s current financial problems, but rather is “exactly on track with saving money,” and had actually improved cash flow.

News is going to the dogs And other animals.

Dog flu, aka H3N8, has spread to 30 states, according to Tampa Bay Online. WCBS in New York says that there is a vaccine, but that the mortality rate is low and the usual course is a couple of weeks of “coughing, high fever and runny noses.” The flu, first spotted at a greyhound track in Florida in 2004, is not related to H1N1, and is not contagious to humans. The new dog flu was originally a horse flu that went to the dogs.

Raising chickens in St. Paul will get cheaper, but not easier, reports the Pioneer Press. The city council lowered the permit fee from $72 to $27 but said prospective chicken owners will still need signatures from 75 percent of neighbors within 150 feet to get a permit, reports the Pioneer Press. And yes, roosters are still allowed.

• The Brits have created a fruit fly that is “sexually irresistible,” reports BBC.

A moose “calmly hung out in a Fargo, N.D., hotel courtyard for several hours Wednesday morning, munching on grass and leaves,” before being tranquilized and taken to a wildlife refuge, reports the Star Tribune.

On a more serious note, Ron Way’s excellent report in MinnPost yesterday asked whether the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) may finally be ready to enforce the law on large dairy and feedlot operations across the state. He notes the criticism arising from “excessive timidity by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to deal with a problem that’s left several families and children sporadically inhaling “dangerous” hydrogen sulfide fumes over a two-year period,” and recites the history of MPCA delays in responding to complaints, and lax enforcement against super-sized feedlot operations.

That “history of bowing to agriculture, especially in environmental policy” should be familiar to everyone in the state by now, and there’s nothing in Way’s report to indicate that it is changing.

World/National news

Social Security – no increase this year For the first time since automatic cost-of-living increases were instituted in 1975, social security recipients will not get an increase this year. Because of the recession, inflation has flat-lined or even dipped to the negative side, so there will be no benefit adjustment.

Pakistan A series of attacks across the country today demonstrated the reach of Taliban and Al Qaeda factions and the inability of security forces to maintain zones of safety.

Teams of gunmen attacked three security sites in or near the eastern city of Lahore, reports NPR, “showing the militants are highly organized and able to carry out sophisticated, coordinated strikes against heavily fortified facilities despite stepped up security across the country.” The attacks began just after 9 a.m., and streets emptied as the city shut down.

In northwest Pakistan, a suicide car bomb exploded next to a police station in the Saddar area of Kohat, killing 11 people. Another bomb, near a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killed at least five people.

According to the BBC’s Orla Guerin in Lahore, “Thursday’s co-ordinated strikes appear to say to security forces “the more you come after us, the more we’ll go after you.”

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NEWS DAY | T-Paw’s math failure and stimulus jobs / Shelter overflow / Health care reform

Math_Symbol_ClipartT-Paw’s math failure and stimulus jobs Governor Tim Pawlenty says that the 11,800 stimulus-created jobs in MN cost $135,000 each — but that’s wrong. MPR reports the explanation offered by MN Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson: Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize / Farm prices down / University enrollment up / War reports

obama official photoObama wins Nobel Peace Prize President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize today, in a decision that surprised many because it came so early in his term. The committee said Obama has created “a new climate in international politics.” Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | 9.8% unemployment – by the numbers, and beyond the numbers / St. Paul Extreme Makeover / UN Afghanistan election monitor fired

help!need money9.8% unemployment: By the numbers and beyond the numbers The national unemployment rate is up again, from 9.7 percent in August to 9.8 percent in September, with employers cutting an additional 263,000 jobs, according to the Department of Labor. Long-term unemployment numbers rose to 5.4 million, making up 35.6 percent of those who are unemployed. Although numbers tell an important part of the recession story, they can become both numbing and overwhelming. Robert Reich offers a description and explanation that go beyond the numbers, to the fear and discouragement that wear on most of us. Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Hard choices in recession: Wielding budget scalpel or ax at HCMC / Closing schools in Anoka-Hennepin / Women’s health and childbearing

<a href=A scalpel or an ax at HCMC Poison control? 24/7 psych emergency services? Burn unit beds? These are among the possible cuts at Hennepin County Medical Center, according to the Business Journal, as HCMC faces next year’s budget of $550 million, down from the current $600 million. The budget cuts are caused in large part by Governor Pawlenty’s line item veto of the state’s General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) health insurance program serving the poor. While HCMC officials say that no final decisions have been made, they are considering targets that include medical care for people who are not residents of Hennepin County and a variety of other areas: Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Vietnam’s lessons for Afghanistan war / Racist beatings in Brooklyn Park / UST censorship

800px-Marines_train_at_Tarnak_FarmsWar in Afghanistan and lessons from Vietnam Should the U.S. send more troops or get out of Afghanistan or choose some other course? That’s the decision facing President Obama and his advisers in the next few weeks. General Stanley McChrystal, in a thoughtful, grim report, has said that more troops are needed, but that there is no hope of success without a major change of strategy, and that no U.S. strategy can succeed unless the Afghan government and security forces take responsibility adn win the support of their people. Continue reading

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