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Daily Glean: It’s hard to fly with an anvil on your tail

By David BrauerWednesday, April 23, 2008 In Wednesday’s local news roundup, Northwest acquirer Delta posts a massive first-quarter loss. Also: truly shocking numbers on Minnesotans driving drunk.

Late-breaking news out of Atlanta’s AP bureau: Northwest acquirer Delta lost a “whopping” $6.39 billion in the first quarter this year. Just the kind of outfit you want to get in bed with! Delta lost $16.15 a share, and $6.1 billion came from “non-cash” market-value losses pegged to fuel prices. We’ll need more explaining on that; the company’s fuel costs went up far less over the past year — $585 million. Delta shares, down 68 percent from last April, are sure to fall further. [Update: AP adds that NWA apparently lost $4.1 billion in the same period, putting the combined tanking at $10.5 billion.]

Hey, drivers! Look to the left of you. Look to the right of you. Look in front of you. Someone in the group has driven drunk in the past year. Minnesota has the nation’s third-highest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers — 23.5 percent. And don’t cross the border to get away: Wisconsin and North Dakota rank 1-2. AP notes the state made a record number of driving-while-impaired arrests last year. A survey says the national average is 15 percent. This story needs a deeper follow-up.

The timing on the alcohol-impairment story dovetails with the big sports news: The Vikes acquire NFL sack leader Jared Allen for three of their top four draft choices. The ex-K.C. Chief has a problem with the juice, and is one overserving away from a full-year suspension. Don’t tell him there’s a Warehouse District …

Investor fight!
United Health’s largest shareholder wants management to sell pieces of the company, the PiPress’s Julie Forster reports. UH’s stock fell 10 percent Tuesday after it cut full-year earnings forecasts. Big-profit health insurance enrollment is falling. The investor, Tom Marisco, wants UnitedHealth’s prescription-benefit and controversial reimbursement-setting analytics business sold, among other units.

The Strib’s Jeff Shelman goes document diving on the two U professors accused of double dipping. Francois Sainfort and wife Julie Jacko emailed Georgia Tech officials this February they hadn’t signed a U deal that was actually inked in October. The U’s general counsel isn’t fulminating yet; sounds like he wants to keep these folks. More trouble: GT questions $86,000 in consulting payments to Jacko’s brother. The Atlanta paper has more details. The duo’s $1.6 million Georgia home hasn’t sold.

KSTP chronicles the further adventures of publicity hound Rich Stanek. The Hennepin sheriff staged a photo op giving recovered shoplifted goods to a women’s shelter. Problem: His office had nothing to do with the bust. A frustrated Edina detective says no credit was given to Edina cops and Scott County deputies who broke the case. Minneapolis police and pols have already gnashed teeth over Stanek’s credit-hogging on the I-35W collapse.

Really, somebody needs to profile Stanek’s pound-mate, Joe Atkins. If only to contextualize the Inver Grove Heights DFL Rep’s repeated headline-grabbing (and enactment-failing) bill proposals. Now, Atkins wants Northwest to not only pay the $445 million it owes the state, but “up to billions” of dollars in damages, the PiPress’s Rachel Stassen-Berger reports. Why? Doesn’t the contract already contain penalties? Such big-bucks claims have no precedent, Atkins admits. Put us out of our misery and tell us what higher office you’re gunning for, Joe.

AP says the workers who inhaled aerosolized pig brains will get workers’ comp after all. Quality Pork Processors’ insurance company, AIG, apparently rolled over after 10 of the 18 nerve-damaged workers hired attorneys. Some folks have been out of work — and workers’ comp payments — since February 2007. One attorney says claims will be paid retroactively; one worker has a $13,000 bill waiting at Mayo. As per state law, payments cover medical expenses and two-thirds of lost salary.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency must regulate Lake Superior ships’ ballast water, the PiPress’s Dennis Lien says. A Ramsey County judge is doing the ordering. Ballast water is considered pollution because it can spread a fish-killing virus. Ships must have permits by Oct. 1 and treat their ballast water by — gulp — 2013.

A Strib front-pager says utilities are getting tougher on people who can’t pay their bills. However, that angle’s significance diminishes as you read it. It’s shutoff season, but despite the tough economy, cutoff numbers aren’t up relative to the past three years. The piece is still valuable: The new thing is Xcel’s requirement that customers pay any bill over 60 days old before getting a payment plan, pushing more middle-class families into the abyss.

Michele Bachmann’s likely DFL opponent, El Tinklenberg, is in hot water with former federal judge Miles Lord, the Strib’s Kevin Duchschere reports. Lord accuses Tinklenberg of helping spread “deadly taconite tailings.” Tinklenberg’s consulting firm advises the U researchers on re-use. The candidate says the tailings are safe and the company’s only helping find markets. A Lord ruling 30 years ago stopped carcinogenic tailings from being dumped in Lake Superior. There’s no asbestos fiber in Tinklenberg’s rock.

The alleged knothead who sent blackmail notes to two dozen south metro teachers had an alleged accomplice, according to the PiPress’s Bao Ong. Joseph Schultz, 20, was charged with conspiracy to commit coercion yesterday; Eric Syverson had already been accused. Syverson claims he had a blackmailer to pay off, but, ahem, destroyed the evidence. He allegedly threatened teachers with false molestation charges if the educators didn’t pay up.

Hamline will announce a business school today, the Pioneer Press’s Paul Tosto reports. It will be located in St. Louis Park. The MBA market has seen several new entrants in recent years: St. Thomas, Bethel, local onliners Capella.

U President Bob Bruininks talks light rail and other issues with the Minnesota Daily. He says the U lacks “all the information we need to make a judgment” on which LRT route to take through campus, even though school regents approved a route the Met Council opposes. “I haven’t been particularly impressed with the way this project has approached the University of Minnesota,” the president adds. He’s “guardedly optimistic” U funding won’t be cut that much.

KARE follows the Strib’s linking of Mall of America subsidies to the Vikings stadium. John Croman nicely frames the union lobbying versus a tart, skeptical State Rep. Ann Lenczewski.

Scott County may not phase out farmland
that could support locally marketed food, the Strib’s David Peterson notes. Farmers objected to a farm-unfriendly plan and seem to have gotten county commissioners to reconsider. Demand for such food is going up, and advocates say the best soils should be identified for possible farming.

The PiPress says Ramsey County voted 4-3 to end a decade-old public housing fund. “The fund never got that big,” says the paper, though it did lend $6 million over eight years. Some question the need for it in the foreclosure era — supply must not be a big problem, I guess.

Olga Franco, accused of driving a van that killed four Minnesota school kids, has been charged with 17 counts of criminal vehicular injury, on top of four counts of criminal vehicular homicide, the Pioneer Press’s Frederick Melo reports. Her lawyer still says she wasn’t driving the van and claims two witnesses saw a man running from it.

We love a great photo, and the Strib’s Jerry Holt has a sweetly composed one of a St. Paul jazzman today. But does it need to nearly fill the Metro front page? Does seem like a slow news day there.

Nort spews:
Previously moribund Craig Monroe leads the Twins over Oakland 5-4. Today’s Sore Loser comes from the San Francisco Chronicle.