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Daily Glean: Worker-sickening pig plant wins Orwell Award

By David BrauerThursday, April 17, 2008 In Thursday’s local news roundup, it’s doublespeak time in Austin, Minn. — the plant where 18 workers had their nervous systems shattered receives a national safety award.

Some stories just blow my mind, and here’s one: the Austin, Minn., plant that sickened workers with aerosolized pig brains won the meat industry’s highest safety award. This on the day when researchers identified the uniquely devastating disease. Writes AP: “An institute spokesman said the awards measure the effectiveness of a plant’s total health and safety program, not its response to a single situation.” Even if that single situation equals 18 workers with melted nervous systems.

Someone should send the meat schlubs this perfectly timed WCCO interview with a sickened plant worker who must gobble down anti-seizure medicine and an anti-depressant. She just got free of her walker. But I guess she still has her thumbs, so it’s a great safety victory for the packers.

In a big victory for Minneapolis, a judge lets a neutral receiver take over 141 homes tied up in alleged mortgage fraud. All are on the North Side and most are vacant, the Strib reports. The city will work with a lawyer and the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corp. to get the homes filled and fixed. A story on lawyer Gary Hansen might be in order; he’s handling a bigger group of fraud cases in the south metro.

A second man accused in 14-year-old Charez Jones’ killing goes free, according to the Strib. Prosecutors dropped charges because a “new” defense witness surprised them and needed more time to investigate. The judge said prosecutors knew of the person months in advance, and only gave them a day and a half to do more checking. The Strib quotes prosecutors saying it’s “too soon” to know if they will refile charges, but MPR says they will.

Both daily editorial pages come out squarely for legalized medical marijuana. The Strib observes that Minnesota’s law is more carefully drafted than California’s oft-criticized version. The PiPress all but mocks the double standard given America’s bulging legal medicine chest. WCCO’s Reality Check offers a nice issue explainer, replete with goofy ’60s video and a reminder that a gubernatorial veto remains the big buzzkill.

Today’s talker may make you want to smoke a bowl: GOP State Rep. Tony Cornish commemorates the Virginia Tech shooting anniversary with a bill letting college students carry guns on campus. The theory: sane people shoot insane people instead of running. Nick Coleman imagines a more common scenario: “Have you ever been to a kegger at Mankato or St. Cloud or the U of M and thought, ‘Cool! I hope these dudes have guns!'” KARE says students are appalled.

When you’re done with that, read Josephine Marcotty’s Strib piece on the Dalai Lama’s annual Mayo checkup. He asked stressed-out clinicians to remember the joy of their service. Yet there was this tough-love notion: “Compassion, the Dalai Lama said, doesn’t mean pity or pure empathy. Sometimes, nurses just have to be stern with difficult patients.” Two small protester groups showed up, one pro-Tibet and the other pro-China. WCCO plays up the conflict.

The Minnesota River is the nation’s fifth-most endangered waterway
, according to the enviro group American Rivers. A big water-draw down for a proposed coal-fired plant near the headwaters could kill lots of fish and degrade the environment, AP says.

It may be harder to achieve Edina, if you’re a nonresident minority schoolkid. The Strib reports that the district has tweaked its diversity policy; it will no longer “encourage” nonresident minority students, but will instead “maintain” a diverse population. Some residents have complained of “unchecked admissions” following class-size rises, and open enrollment was stopped at two schools last fall. However, the same reforms gave Minneapolis kids preference over other nonresidents.

Nice localization of the inflation issue: Finance and Commerce notes that the Consumer Price Index for the Midwest rose 0.9 percent in March — triple the national 0.3 percent rate. Transportation, housing and apparel were the culprits. However, in a year, prices have gone up less in the Midwest (3.7 percent) than nationally (4 percent). Both rates are higher than experts like.

It’s an obvious but nicely told story: with high gas prices, local scooter sales are up 250 percent, Bob at Scooterville tells WCCO’s Esme Murphy. Nice rundown of scooter velocities (30 mph, no motorcycle license needed, on up) and gas mileage (100 mpg in some cases). Low-go scooters can park at bike racks. Prices start at $1,800. If you drove 4,000 miles between the snows, and ditch your 20 mpg car for a 100 mpg scooter, you’ll save $550 in gas this year.

The scooter saga dovetails nicely with this Strib story about Minneapolis becoming bike-friendlier. Nine hundred grand from the feds will restripe 33 miles of lanes, extend four city bikeways and add a Midtown bike storage-repair center and lots of racks. Some will complain the near-million doesn’t go to roads, but non-oil transportation options are looking kinda smart these days.

Today’s animal story: St. Paul will expand a catch-neuter-release pilot program for feral cats throughout the city. The PiPress says the program’s fixer and three assistants can handle 30-40 cats a day. (Imagine that assembly line.) Some folks would rather see the wild cats killed, given songbird deaths and fouled-up sandboxes.

Everyone features budget talks between the guv and DFL legislative leaders. Participants say the closed-door talks went well, but in open doors, there’s confusion. DFLers say a $250 million heath care access surplus won’t be used as budget balancer; gubernatorial reps disagree. Tax hikes may be dead, the PiPress reports, but loophole-closing might not be considered a tax hike. Favorite part: they flipped a coin to see who would make the first proposal.

If Central Corridor LRT is revived, there may be some bummed out St. Paul business owners and neighborhood types. MPR’s Laura Yuen reports that grassroots folks were surprised — and mad — at the Met Council’s latest parking stats: up to 85 percent of University Avenue spots will disappear. That could leave 200 spots for the length of the boulevard.

House DFLers slap down a GOP plan to ladle tax breaks on Delta by ruling it out of order on the House floor. DFL House Majority Tony Sertich shows Seifert-like quippery by labeling the plan “fools gold” for Northwest workers, AP reports. The bill gets a committee hearing next week.

The PiPress’s Ruben Rosario details his personal grudge against Northwest.

The U is giving away 10,000 energy-sipping fluorescent bulbs today at noon, the PiPress reports. For the “campus community” only.

Nort spews: Twins win on Carl Crawford’s brain fart. He caught a foul ball that let the winning run score. Here are two Sore Losers: St. Pete and Tampa editions.