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Very green acres

Do you feel wealthier? Farmers are. Minnesota's median net farm income topped $100,000 last year, reports MPR. It's a whopping 70 percent jump over 2006; no year this decade has seen income more than a hair over $60,000. Reporter Mark Steil calls it the best year for farmers since 1973, the shank of the Earl Butz Era. Ethanol gets the credit, boosting corn demand and reducing soybean and wheat production, which caused those grains to get costlier.

Farm wealth probably explains why Minnesota's per capita income grew 5.6 percent in 2007, according to the Business Journal. The jump to $41,034 per person wasn't enough to keep Minnesota in the Top 10 states nationwide; Minnesota fell to 11th, behind Colorado. The PiPress notes that the state's fourth-quarter growth was just 1.1 percent.


Late-breaking: AP reports that authorities have identified the remains of the Buffalo, Minn. contractor kidnapped in Iraq more than a year ago. TCF bank has set up a Paul Reuben memorial fund, and you can donate at any branch.

A fascinating science story from the Strib's Josephine Marcotty: a U researcher says she can prove the state's smoking ban reduces health risks. The researcher recruited 24 bar workers, and before the ban tested their urine for nicotine and an unspecified carcinogen. Post-ban tests revealed both poisons dropped 80 percent. Although it seems logical such a drop would reduce the likelihood of cancer, that link is not explicit in the story, and perhaps in the research. A union official says yeah, sure, but the ban still bites our pocketbooks.

MPR quotes a Cal-Berkeley steel-truss bridge expert saying the St. Cloud bridge gusset plates are more than bent: they're buckling. "If it proves to be buckling, it means overstressing of this truss bridge," says the prof. MnDOT's Bob McFarlin calls the plate deformation "almost imperceptible." The Strib reports MnDOT officials will make a replacement decision April 10. The paper says 35W's gusset plates were bent more than St. Cloud's are. A MnDOT spokesperson says the bending had "nothing to do" with the decision to close the bridge. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar will go back to the well for federal funding if a replacement is ordered.

A National Transportation Safety Board memo made public yesterday says the cause of the 35W bridge collapse "appears to be clear": added weight atop a flawed bridge design. The NTSB has resisted a public hearing, and PiPress, quoting the memo, adds this nugget: "... the outcome of our investigation appears to be clear, so showing our cards at a public hearing or in the final report is simply a matter of timing." Why wait then?

The Strib's Mike Kaszuba reports on a 35W bridge survivor favoring a $400,000 individual-compensation cap, but I have to admit I couldn't understand her rationale as presented. "The reason, she said, is simple: State law now caps such compensation and 'society has tended toward finding ways to ignore laws that inconvenience' people." Gov. Tim Pawlenty favors a bill with the individual caps, after earlier suggesting he'd endorse higher payments in the worst cases.

Another bridge closed?
This time, pedestrians are out of luck: it's the photogenic "M" bridge in Dinkytown. The KSTP.com web crew says heavily rusted connection plates "were ready to fall apart."

The Strib editorial page makes goo-goo eyes at DFL state Rep. Ann Lenczewski's business tax cut plan. She would slice rates a full percentage point while eliminating special breaks, but editorial writers conclude Rep. Tom Bakk's proposal to boost local government aid is more realistic, and preferable to Gov. Tim Pawenty's "tiny" 0.125 percent sales tax cut. (Math note: that's half of the quarter-cent gradually being levied for transit. And that hike is expected to raise $100 million just in the metro area.) The PiPress reports Bakk's plan would only trim property tax hikes, not reverse them.

Today's talker: A legislative bill would allow dogs into restaurants and bars with outdoor service; currently, only assistance dogs can enter that zone. The Strib's Jon Tevlin reports that the original rule was probably made only with indoor service in mind. Restaurants near dog parks are especially thrilled. Minneapolis state Sen. Scott Dibble says the flood of new downtown denizens prompted his bill; fellow Sen. Dick Day is the story's killjoy: "I can't imagine you're having a steak and the guy next to you has two pitbulls." Dick — you're running for Congress; can an anti-dog platform help?

Hunters shoot ducks for sport, but twist a duck's head off and you get 21 days in the pokey. The perp, Scott D. Clark, got a $1,000 fine, a stayed two-year prison term and will do 80 hours of community service at Dorothy Day Center and Union Gospel Mission. You can't ignore this lede: "Quite simply, he's not a psychopath." The Strib reports that Clark, an auditor, already lost his job and is losing his CPA certification. What's that last one got to do with animal cruelty?

Yesterday saw the official product launch of Norm Coleman 3.0 after many months in beta. Version 1: Clintonian Dem. Version 2: Dick Cheney's handpicked U.S. Senate candidate. Version 3: Now with independence and casual drooping forelock! Coleman, who's bashed likely opponent Al Franken as angry cynic, added a second meme yesterday: Franken has no experience. Given Washington's condition and Minnesota's populism, is this a bad thing? The Strib fronts Coleman's rally on its Metro cover; it stuffed Franken's Capitol rally on an inside page yesterday. Calling a speech a kickoff makes all the diff. WCCO's Pat Kessler has a well-timed "Reality Check."

United Way had a record year,
collecting $88.4 million in 2007, the Strib reports. General Mills kicked in a record $7.3 million, including a corporate match. A nice economic datapoint: The drive was helped because "fewer than usual companies moved, went out of business or downsized last year." The group is focusing its work, meaning less money for American Red Cross CPR training.

Nick Coleman adds some insight to Day Three of the Vets for Freedom saga in Forest Lake. Seems one reason that anti-war protesters leafleted the school is because the vets group alerted the media about its school appearance. Not the sort of thing groups restraining their political agenda do.

Maybe we can buy Sunday booze! Well, at least for a week or two around the Republican convention, and within 10 miles of Xcel Energy Center, AP reports. That proposal, which also includes 4 a.m. bar time for an 11-day period, unanimously passed a state House committee yesterday. According to our map, the 10-mile radius extends from Woodbury to Lake Calhoun and from North Oaks to Eagan.

Oh, the irony: The Strib's Laurie Blake reports we'll get $3 million to $6 million out of national Republicans because the quarter-cent transit sales tax will be in place by then.

Oh, the bigger irony: Archer Daniels Midland is suing the five largest U.S. railroads in Minneapolis federal court for alleged price-fixing, according to the Strib. ADM alleged railroad owners fixed fuel surcharges, but the plaintiff has a history as one of the world's biggest price fixers; in the 1990s, ADM paid a $100 million fine and saw three execs packed off to prison for manipulating the price of lysine and citric acid. Despite the seemingly dry subject matter, the case produced one of the most riveting business books ever, Kurt Eichenwald's "The Informant." A second Strib story reports farmers and rural businesspeople want to end the railroads' anti-trust exemption. Tie-in question: Does that exemption cover fuel surcharges?

Elusive local angle: The Strib's Richard Widmark obit leads with the actor's Minnesota birth; the PiPress's doesn't mention local ties at all. Dad was a traveling salesman, so giggling gangster of "Kiss of Death" probably didn't live here long.

Freak beat: Man uses pitbull in robbery. Cops say they've never seen that before. One wonders what took so long.

North Minneapolis house explodes;
according to FOX-9, authorities suspect stolen copper. Story doesn't say, but that would have to be gas piping, right? The significance is that this danger certainly isn't going away in the current foreclosure climate.

Toyota deal: a few days ago, we were asking what Toyota got for giving 10 cars and $300,000 to each of the Twin Cities. According to thecarconnection.com, Toyotas could be placed at all city events, with co-branding of public energy savings programs.

Nort spews: The phlegmatic Wild beat Edmonton 3-1 and return to first in their firmly packed division. Winona State hoopsters advance to the NCAA Division II semifinals. And yes, the Wolves lost again, but if you've never sampled the analysis of Britt Robson, the state's best basketball scribe, you can find it here
 

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