Tag Archives: Pakistan

NEWS DAY | The flu or the weather? / God’s bank closed / Under the radar and off the web / more

SH-Med-syringe-082204-4The flu or the weather? Everybody’s talking about them, and nobody seems able to do much about the course that either will take. This week’s forecast: rising flu saturation throughout the state, with a continuing shortage of flu shots.

Crookston schools closed Wednesday, as 15 percent of the districts 1,270 students were out with the flu, according to Minnesota 2020. Some 210 schools across the state reported flu outbreaks October 4-10, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent figures, up 72 percent over the preceding week. The MN 2020 article has more recent reports from a dozen schools across the state.

A 54-year-old Waseca hospital administrator died Saturday night, after an H1N1 diagnosis, reports MPR. It’s not yet clear whether H1N1 was the cause of death. The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed 10 deaths due to H1N1 and others are under investigation.

The Star Tribune reports that H1N1 is keeping lawyers busy. That doesn’t sound like a logical connection, but the story is that employment lawyers are getting queries from businesses about what kind of workplace rules they can establish — Can they require vaccination? Do they have to pay people who are sick but have no sick days? And so on.

President Obama declared  a national state of emergency Saturday, in regard to the H1N1 flu. According to the Washington Post, the declaration will allow greater flexibility for hospitals to respond:

The president granted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to lift some federal regulations for medical providers, including allowing hospitals to set up off-site facilities to increase the number of available beds and protect patients who are not infected.

Oh, and that weather forecast? WCCO says rain possible by Wednesday, staying through Friday, with temps above freezing until Saturday.

God’s bank closed, others on watch list
Riverview Community Bank failed Friday, becoming the fifth Minnesota bank and the 106th U.S. bank to be closed this year. MPR reports that the bank’s owner had claimed divine backing:

When Riverview opened in March 2003, co-founder Chuck Ripka told the Pioneer Press that God told him to get the bank going.

“He said, ‘Chuck, if you do all the things I told you to do, I promise you I will take care of the bottom line,”‘ Ripka said in 2004.

The bank was cited by the FDIC in June for “unsafe and unsound” banking practices, according to the Minnesota Independent. Former MN secretary of state Mary Kiffmeyer was on the bank’s board of directors.

According to MPR, bank regulators from the MN Department of Commerce said in October that 71 of the state’s banks, some 22 percent of the total, are on a watch list. That’s up from 65 on the watch list in the spring. Riverview’s two branches were set to reopen on Saturday as branches of Stillwater-based Central Bank.

The City Miracles blog wrote about the bank in 2004:

One of the key indicators of the success of the Elk River prototype, and a component of the detonation process, has been Riverview Community Bank. This bank, founded in March, 2003, has accumulated $100 million in deposits in 28 months, making it one of the fasted growing start-up banks in the history of the State of Minnesota. During this period 100 people have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord during banking hours. Additionally, 70 people have been healed when they received prayer at the bank. The New York Times wrote a ten-page article about this bank in their Sunday Magazine published on October 31, 2004.

Under the radar and off the web
In a print-edition-only article Sunday, the Star Tribune reported the latest on a fraudulent currency investment program promoted by Twin Cities money managers that swindled investors across the United States, Europe and Latin America. According to the Strib, “complaints have flowed into federal authorities” since at least last November. In July, nine people from Ohio filed suit in Minneapolis federal court, and since then the feds have been investigating through the SEC and a grand jury. At that time, the Star Tribune reported:

Two Ohio families and their pastor filed a federal lawsuit in Minneapolis this week accusing some “confusingly intertwined” Twin Cities investment advisers and a dozen business entities of fraud, misrepresentation and other breaches in the handling of their life savings.

The eight plaintiffs claimed Trevor Cook, 37, of Burnsville and Gerald Durand, 58, of Lakeville persuaded them to invest nearly $5 million in a currency arbitrage program that guaranteed instant liquidity and promised annual returns of 10.5 to 12 percent

According to several sources, the Department of Justice simply does not have enough experienced staff members to keep up with complex financial fraud cases. Maybe they should hire the Strib’s Dan Browning, who has reported extensively on the story, following the money trail from Minnesota to California to Panama. Browning’s reporting is a textbook example of the need for full-time, salaried investigative reporters. Few if any free-lancers or bloggers could afford to devote as much investigative and reporting time to this story that he has done, and that time is needed to produce comprehensive coverage of a real public menace.

The October 25 article says that Jerry Watkins used his “Your Money matters” radio show to recruit investors for Oxford Global Advisors, and that the firm was also promoted by Minneapolis money manager Trevor Cook, Burnsville radio talk show host Pat Kiley (“Follow the Money”), and associates at “a number of Twin Cities business entities that have Oxford, Universal Brokerage or the initials UB in their names.” The investments were also promoted on the Worldwide Christian Radio shortwave network. Watkins continued to promote the schemes and take people’s money, even while awaiting sentencing in Minneapolis on “an unrelated scheme that had bilked $20 million from investors,” which was run by Forest Lake preacher Neulan Midkiff.

Christopher Bebel, a former SEC attorney and federal prosecutor, said:

“I’d have to say that this case is especially appallling because it’s an affinity fraud in the sense that it focuses on investors who have their guard down because of the trusting environment–the Christian radio network that was utilized.”

National/International news

Zimbabwe Some 50 government soldiers were sent to search and ransack the offices of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, headed by Prime Minister Mogan Tsvangirai. AP notes:

The raid signals the fragility of Zimbabwe’s unity government and undoubtedly will worsen the already bitter relationship between President Robert Mugabe and the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr. Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing government with Mr. Tsvangirai, a longtime opposition leader, after disputed elections. Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the coalition government on Oct. 16.

War Reports

Afghanistan Fopurteen U.S. soldiers and civilians were killed in two helicopter crashes, reports NPR. In the south, two helicopters collided. In the west, the helicopter had left an area of heavy fighting, but U.S. officials said it was not shot down. Two other U.S. troops died on Sunday, bringing the total number for October to 46 so far. August was the worst month for U.S. combat deaths, with 51.

Run-off elecdtions scheduled for November 8 have been agreed to by both President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah. But now, reports BBC, Abdullah Abdullah is demanding the removal of the head of the election commission. That commission presided over and tried to deny the massive fraud in the August 20 elections.

Iraq car bombs kill more than 150 Two car bombs in Baghdad killed at least 155 people on Sunday, and wounded at least 500 more, reports BBC. The bombs “hit the ministry of justice and a provincial government office near the heavily fortified Green Zone” during the morning rush hour, in the deadliest attack since April 2007. Analysts fear a ramping up of violence will continue as the January elections approach.

Pakistan army claims gains After a week of the offensive in South Waziristan, the Pakistan army says it has captured Kotkai. The New York Times explains:

The town, Kotkai, most of whose 5,000 residents had already fled, is the home of the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, and one of the most feared Taliban commanders, Qari Hussain.

As fighting continued in South Waziristan, NPR reported that violence still wracks the rest of the country, with Friday bombings killing 24 people, including 17 who were on their way to a wedding. The army claims a total death toll during the South Waziristan offensive of 23 soldiers and 163 militants. Because access to the area is restricted, no independent verification is possible.

According to McClatchey news service, one of Friday’s car bombs exploded outside a suspected nuclear weapons facility, the airbase at Kamra.

Al Qaida has made clear its ambitions to get hold of a nuclear bomb or knowledge of nuclear technology. Several other sites associated with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been hit previously.

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NEWS DAY | The plane / Animal stories / Flu scams / more

Question MarkWhat happened on that plane? Nobody knows, but the black box may tell. Pilots on Northwest Flight 188 say they were involved in a heated policy argument … that apparently distracted them so much that they didn’t see city lights below them, didn’t hear radio calls from Denver and Minneapolis, and completely lost track of the passage of time, as the plane flew over Minneapolis and continued for 100 miles off course into Wisconsin on Wednesday evening. Not everyone is buying the “heated argument” explanation, with some suspecting the pilots fell asleep. Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Gangs in the news: MPCA gag order / Gang Strike Force claims / UnitedHealth profits up

<a href=MPCA issues gag order: What? Right, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued a gag order against a Carver County Commissioner after he showed — on camera — that their inspector’s report about a sewage system was wrong, wrong, wrong. How does the MPCA get the authority to issue a gag order? Not clear to me, or to Carver County Commissioner Tom Workman, according to the Star Tribune. 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 | St. Paul school board contest heats up / A sheriff who’s been around / Bloody news from the war fronts / more

ballot box graphicSt. Paul school board contest heats up The teachers’ union refusal to endorse three incumbents and the revelation that Republican candidate John Krenik’s employment as a teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools was terminated last year make the school board race look a lot more interesting.

CLARIFICATION: In an email asking for a correction, John Krenik says he wasn’t fired: “After a settlement was reached I resigned/retired, I was NOT fired.”

The Star Tribune reported that Krenik “said in June 2007 that he heard from an administrator that he would be recommended for termination.” According to the Star Tribune, he accepted a $12,000 settlement last year, in return for quitting his job as a special education teacher at Murray Junior High School and promising “not seek or accept work as a teacher with [the] district at any time in the future.”

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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 | War at home / MNDOT lowers hiring goals / Somali president visits / Seifert wins straw poll / War reports

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The war at home claims another life Pamela Taschuk, a 48-year-old juvenile probation officer and social worker, died Thursday, another casualty of the war at home. According to AP, Allen Taschuk dropped their 16-year-old son off at a gas station and then went to find and klll Pamela. Then he killed himself.

Pamela Taschuk was afraid of her husband, and had gotten a no contact order to keep him away after she filed for divorce last month.

AP: Since 1995, police were called to the Taschuk home 48 times – 22 domestic-related. Allen Taschuk was arrested three times, the most recent Aug. 26.

Pamela Taschuk told police that she feared for her life. The no contact order did not protect her.

Less than a month ago, North St. Paul police officer Richard Crittenden responded to a call for help from another woman with a violent partner. Like Pamela Taschuk, she had obtained a no contact order, in which the court told her partner to stay away from her.

MPR: Stacey Terry, his wife, had filed three orders for protection against him over the past nine years.

Like Allen Taschuk, Devon Dockery violated the no contact order. When Officer Crittenden answered the call for help on September 7, Dockery shot and killed him.

In 1994, the Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). According to MS Magazine, VAWA “changed the way the judicial system handles cases of intimate partner violence and increased the availability of public resources for victims.”

Pamela Taschuk is one of more than 200 women killed in domestic violence in Minnesota since 2000. The tools we use to address domestic violence may have improved with VAWA and subsequent state legislation, but those tools are not good enough.

The Star Tribune reports that St. Paul is about to launch a new initiative, called the Blueprint to assess when higher bail should be set for defendants in domestic violence cases.

“In the really lethal cases, our arrest or prosecution of them is not a deterrent to stopping their stalking or battery. It does deter them when they’re locked up,” [Comdr Steven Frazer, head of the Family and Sexual Violence Unit at the St. Paul Police Department], said. “We’re not making an argument on whether he’s coming back to court next week. We’re making an argument on whether he’s a threat to the people he’s been in contact with that warrants some other level of review.” …
According to most recent statistics, Frazer said, 54 percent of women killed in domestic situations had told police they believed they were going to be killed.

The Blueprint might have made a difference for Pam Taschuk. Her husband was released on $5,000 bail a month before he killed her.

The Blueprint might have made a difference for Officer Richard Crittenden. Dockery had been arrested more than once on charges related to domestic violence. He was arrested on August 26 on charges of violating the order of protection.

Here’s another suggestion — use technology to enforce the no contact orders. Both parties can wear an electronic ankle bracelet, and if they come in close proximity to one another, an alarm would sound in the police station. (Hat tip to Ron Salzberger for this suggestion.)  For some people, the knowledge that the police would be alerted might be a deterrent.

Of course, higher bail and stricter monitoring won’t solve all the problems. Rebecca McLane, program manager for the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, told the Star Tribune that a shift in society’s attitudes is needed.

Part of that, she said, would involve prioritizing. “If we could have anything in the world that we wanted, it would be more shelters, more advocates, more cops on the streets, and more close monitoring of these dangerous offenders,” said McLane, who added that the metro’s dozen battered-women’s shelters are nearly always full.

MNDOT moves the goalpost After years of failing to meet its own goal for contracting with women and minority-owned firms, the MN Department of Transportation has finally figured it out: rather than increasing hiring/contracting efforts, they will cut the goal. MPR reports:

For nearly the entire decade, companies awarded MNDOT contracts have fallen short, sometimes far short, of meeting hiring goals for women and minority subcontractors. …

A MnDOT consultant several years ago concluded contractors can attain the 15 percent goal since there are nearly 400 certified women and minority-owned construction companies. …

[Bernie Arseneau, director of the agency’s policy, safety and strategic initiatives division] said MnDOT’s goal for next year is 9 percent.

Hiring minority and women construction workers is the other half of the MNDOT challenge, and, reports MPR, “Every year for the past several years, the number of women and minority construction workers has stayed the same or declined.”

After months of protests led by the HIRE MN coalition, MNDOT has also found a way to address that problem, by hiring a consultant and agreeing to talk about the problem. For the first time, MNDOT also agreed to meet with HIRE MN representatives.

Sounds a lot like the MNDOT position back in March, as reported by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder:

“For the first time, we are bringing all of the stakeholders together:
contractors, unions, minority groups, advocates, community groups, big contractors, DBEs, women, businesses, Mn/DOT, federal highway [officials]…so that we can grow the DBEs in such a way that serves the community needs, the contractors’ needs, and ultimately the needs of the citizens of Minnesota.

“We are fully and wholly committed to this transformational change,” said Arseneau.

Except that now the goalpost is lower.

Somali president visits The president of Somalia, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, visited the Twin Cities this weekend, meeting with community members, parents of Minnesota Somali youth who have gone to fight with militias, Minnesota politicians, and the Books for Africa project. On Sunday, he spoke to an overflow crowd at Northrup Auditorium. Minnesota is home to an estimated 70,000 Somalis, the largest population in the United States.

The Star Tribune reported that the president gave Somali families “assurances from Somalia’s leader that he would publicly denounce Al-Shabab.” Since Al-Shabab is the leading group fighting to overthrow his government, that seems like a safe bet. The Strib also reported that the president promised to find out who was recruiting the young men and to work for their return home.

Seifert wins GOP straw poll State Representative Marty Seifert came in first, with 37 percent of the vote, trailed by state Rep. Tom Emmer with 23 percent and former state auditor Pat Anderson (14 percent) and state Sen. David Hann (12 percent.)

About 1,200 delegates to the MN Republican convention voted in a straw poll Saturday, reports the Pioneer Press, which also cautioned that, “off-year straw polls are unreliable crystal balls” for predicting the eventual nominee.

Seifert, however, had a more optimistic assessment of the straw poll’s implications. “Republicans want to bet on a winner,” Seifert said. “They don’t want to bet on the horse heading to the glue factory.

The Pioneer Press reported that other candidates had less reason for optimism:

State Rep. Paul Kohls finished fifth with 5 percent of the vote. Trailing far behind were former state Rep. Bill Haas, Sen. Mike Jungbauer, businessman Phil Herwig and frequent candidate Leslie Davis.

Delegates also voted separately for their second choice for governor, and Hann (18 percent) came out first in that poll, followed by Emmer and Anderson.

War Reports

Afghanistan Eight U.S. troops were killed in a Taliban attack in the Nuristan province near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, reports NPR. Five or six Afghan fighters were also killed in the attack, and the Taliban fighters captured 15 Afghan police, including the chief and deputy chief.

Nearly 300 militant fighters flooded the lower, Afghan outpost then swept around it to reach the American station on higher ground from both directions, said Mohammad Qasim Jangulbagh, the provincial police chief. The U.S. military statement said the Americans and Afghans repelled the attack by tribal fighters and “inflicted heavy enemy casualties.”

Jamaludin Badar, governor of Nuristan province, complained about lack of security and lack of coordination between Afghan and allied forces. The U.S. forces plan to withdraw from the region.

Pakistan Five people in a U.N. food agency office were killed by a suicide bomber in an upscale area of Islamabad on Monday, according to NPR. The New York Times report on the bombing said about 80 people work in offices “equipped with video surveillance cameras, motion detectors and explosives detection devices.” The U.N. immediately ordered a temporary closure of all offices in Pakistan.

The bombing came a day after Hakimullah Mehsud, the new Taliban leader, appeared at a press conference. BBC reports:

Hakimullah Mehsud said his group would avenge the killing of former Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud by striking back at Pakistan and the US.

He said he would retaliate against recent efforts on the part of the US and Pakistani security forces to target senior Taliban figures.

Because of security fears, the press conference was attended only by five journalists who are members of Mehsud’s clan.
Iraq The government arrestred about 150 suspected Sunni militants in the Mosul area, according to BBC. The militants allegedly have ties to either al-Qaeda or the now-outlawed Baath political party formerly headed by Saddam Hussein.

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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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News Day: Fighting foreclosures / Central Corridor money / Unemployment claims rise / Lies, damn lies and health care

Photo by Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet

Photo by Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet

Rosemary Williams: Back to the negotiating table? GMAC has agreed to return to the negotiating table with Rosemary Williams, according to a press release from the MN Coalition for a People’s Bailout and the People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. Williams and her supporters have been sitting in the house since an attempted eviction by sheriff’s deputies last Friday, expecting that police would arrive at any time to evict and arrest.

A second foreclosed homeowner, Linda Rorenberg of Robbinsdale, said she was inspired by Williams’s example and would resist eviction, reports MPR:

“We’re both 60 years old. We’re both in family-owned houses,” Norenberg said Wednesday. “I want to stay here. I love it here. I love the neighborhood.” …

Norenberg’s house has been in her family for 65 years. She said her father built the home in 1944, and she bought in 1977 after he died.

Foreclosures dropped slightly in Minnesota in the first half of the year, according to a report by the Minnesota Homeownership Council, reports MPR. At the same time, however, the number of homeowners more than 60 days in default increased. In 2008, Minnesota had a record high 26,000+ foreclosures. Nationally, foreclosures rose by 7 percent in July. One of the explanations for the decline during the first six months of the year was a partial, voluntary moratorium during the first quarter.

Central Corridor: New money An inflation adjustment will send about $16 million more in federal funds to the Central Corridorreports MPR, but Met Council head Peter Bell says the money will not be used to add stations on University Avenue. Met Council officials had previously said that if they got additional money, it would go to meet community demands for adding stations at Hamline, Victoria or Western avenues as they cross the University avenue route in St. Paul.

From somewhere, in spite of a budget shortfall, St. Paul has found a million dollars for parking alleviation along the Central Corridor, according to MPR. The city council was slated to approve a plan that would allow small businesses to apply for up to $25,000 in forgivable loans to improve their off-street parking, or even more if they are sharing offstreet parking with neighbors.

“We have so many small businesses on University Avenue who rely not on big parking lots, but sort of need one spot right in front for that customer who comes out at 1 o’clock on a Tuesday to park and walk into their store,” [Council member Melvin] Carter said.

The Met Council has consistently said it has no money for parking alleviation on University Avenue, where the Central Corridor will eliminate 85 percent of all on-street parking. Some of the new city money could also be used for alley repaving.

World/National News

Unemployment claims up The Department of Labor reported a slight increase in unemployment claims today. NPR’s Planet Money explains what that’s a problem:

New claims for unemployment insurance rose last week to 558,000, from 554,000 the week before, the Department of Labor reports. Heading into Thursday morning’s report, analysts expected new claims to drop to 545,000. They had fallen for six straight weeks.

Other economic news was also bad. AP reported an overall 0.1 percent decline in retail sales. Not much, but retail sales had been expected to rise by 0.7 percent. Instead, even the major bump given by the billion-dollar Cash for Clunkers program couldn’t pull retail sales out of the red.

Worried? I am, but I’m not an economist. NPR reports that the Federal Reserve says the economy is stabilizing, and other experts agree:

A growing number of economists now say they think the recession is finally over — by that they mean the economy is starting to grow again.

Until growth translates into jobs, it’s not a recovery in my books.

Lies, damn lies and the health care “debate” The rabid anti-health care reform forces don’t really give a damn about truth. Case in point: the Investor’s Business Daily charge that Stephen Hawking would have died under a British-style national health care system, because national health care devalues the handicapped and the elderly. Hawking, of course, is British, a point that escaped the notice of IBD. The Guardian debunks:

The danger, says the Investor’s Business Daily, is that [Obama] borrows too much from the UK. “The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof, are legendary. The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror script … People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”

We say his life is far from worthless, as they do at Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge, where Professor Hawking, who has motor neurone disease, was treated for chest problems in April. As indeed does he. “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS,” he told us. “I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.” Something here is worthless. And it’s not him.

Robert Reich prescribes more information and more rationality in the debate. He says that the administration “needs to be very specific about two things in particular: (1) Who will pay? and (2) Why the public option is so important — and why it’s not a Trojan Horse to a government takeover.”

I’d like to believe that more information would make a difference, but it’s transparently obvious that the rabid right opinion leaders don’t really give a damn about facts. When confronted with the facts on Stephen Hawking, IBD excised that reference, but continued to insist that national health care will terrorize grandma. The objective of Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Investor’s Business Daily, et al is not informing the public, but stirring up fear and hatred. Unfortunately for the country, they succeed all too well.

War Reports

Pakistan At least 70 people are dead and scores of homes destroyed in Wednesday’s intense battle between Taliban fighters and a local warlord’s forces in the mountainous south Waziristan village of Sura Ghar, reports AP. The government sent in war planes in support of the local warlord, Turkistan Bitani, when an estimated 300 Taliban forces attacked his village. This is the region where U.S. and Pakistani forces believe that a missile strike an a residential compound killed Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on August 5, while Taliban commanders say he is still alive and that the missile strike killed civilians, including one of his wives and children.

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