Daily Glean: Norm asks for it, gets FBI probe

Be careful what you wish for: Norm Coleman has said he “welcomes” an investigation into allegations a donor tried to give him money through Texas and St. Paul companies. Now the FBI is on the Nasser Kazeminy case, the PiPress’ Dave Orrick reports. Citing a single source, Orrick terms the FBI’s actions a “review” — they are talking to people in Texas, where a lawsuit over the monetary diversions was filed. The senator’s office insists they haven’t been contacted, and neither has donor Nasser Kazeminy.

The latest ring in the recount circus: uncounted absentee ballots, and the numbers are trickling in. Minneapolis — the epicenter of election errors — has discerned that 171 votes may have been rejected in error, the PiPress’ Jason Hoppin writes. Anoka County found 25. Other places, such as Ramsey County, aren’t sorting by rejection reason at all.

More recount: Ballots doinked without one of four reasons (aka “the fifth pile”) are presumed to be rejected in error; the state Canvass Board will decide whether to count them on Friday. The courts will ultimately rule. By the way, Coleman withdrew 475 challenges, basically matching Franken. We’re down to around 4,000 challenges; Coleman held a 192-vote lead when the recount ended.

Canvass confusion? The Strib’s Pat Doyle performs excellent forensics on legal uncertainy surrounding the Canvass Board’s ballot-judging. Could 3-2 board votes determine dispositions? Can campaigns argue before the board over every ballot? A rough estimate is 960 highly disputed ballots could be reviewed in four days. But that assumes campaigns get their challenge counts that low. The counting could continue after the holidays and into the New Year.

You mean our students don’t suck? In a rare bit of educational good news, the Minnesota “micro-nation” ranks ahead of all but five countries in fourth- and eighth-grade math and science achievement. The Strib’s Emily Johns says a handful of Asian countries kick our butts (we rank second in fourth-grade science) and our math scores have leaped since 1995. Weirdly, only four of 10 state students were deemed proficient in recent state tests. Huh?

You-know-what-rolls downhill, and even DFL legislators say cities and counties will get big local-government aid cuts in ’09, the PiPress’ Bill Salisbury reports. That means future service cuts and property tax hikes. But this year is a problem, too; St. Paul could lose up to $28.4 million if a final ’08 payment is “unallocated” to make up the current biennium’s deficit. But the money is already spent, a city spokesman says.

More LGA cuts: Forum Communications’ Don Davis says Pawlenty will make a decision on the local funds by Christmas. St. Cloud officials fear a small cash balance they maintained for next year will be wiped out, the St. Cloud Times’ Lawrence Schumacher reports. KSTP notes mayors are headed to the Capitol today to beg.

The Strib’s Mark Brunswick writes that state tax policies might be reconfigured, including broadening the sales tax to clothing and Internet sales. I’m guessing there will be pressure to exempt clothing below a certain dollar amount, and the overall rate may go down rather than more revenue raised. MPR’s Tim Pugmire says DFLers are targeting Pawlenty’s economic development department as a jobs program that works only for former legislators hired there.

The PiPress editorial page says the deficit demands lawmakers keep “all the tools in the toolbox” but can’t quite utter the word “taxes.” They aren’t happy environment and arts programs are “flush” with sales-tax cash when ill-timed human service cuts loom. Umm, consider the “t” word, guys. KSTP looks at the Capitol pressure to cut the general fund’s enviro/arts spending.

The PiPress’ Julie Forster downplays the impact of Wal-Mart’s $54 million settlement with workers it screwed out of overtime and break pay. There are too few inspectors to scare other companies, and cash-pressed employers have more incentive to skirt the law. Fellow killjoy Chris Steller at Minnesota Independent notes Wal-Mart shucked a potential $2 billion liability originally calculated by a judge. Forster said the state received an undisclosed chunk of the cash; why, and can someone make them disclose it?

Just like everything else, state pension funds have plunged amid the market crash, averaging a 22 percent drop through October, the Strib’s Pat Doyle notes. That means cash-strapped taxpayers could have to pony up more or employees will receive less benefits down the road (there are legal and political limits on the latter). The investment pros say it’s too soon to panic; the Minnesota State Retirement System sounds OK for now, and the state investment board makes contented sounds.

Amid economic ruin and seat-selling governors, the Larry Craig sex sting seems so … quaint. But the soon-to-be-ex-Idaho-senator’s bid to undo his toidy charge was rejected by the state Court of Appeals Tuesday. MnIndy’s Steller gives ample examination to the legal arguments (including an ACLU brief); there are also game stories from the PiPress and Strib.

Crime beat: The Minneapolis cops’ first Taser-related death involves an ex-KMOJ disc jockey they tried to subdue; no word yet on why the weapon caused the fatality, the Strib’s Lora Pabst writes. And Minneapolis Chief Tim Dolan won’t be disciplined for kenneling his dog on a city site or disclosing info about a disciplined officer, the PiPress’ Frederick Melo says.

Happy news: Edina will recycle household food waste and other organics throughout the winter, “piggybacking” on a successful Carver County program, the Strib’s Mary Jane Smetanka writes. It’s the next frontier in raising recycling percentages. The stuff goes to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the town of Mayer. Hope this is even more scalable.

RIP, MPR’s “Morning Show.” The Strib’s Kim Ode offers a nice eulogy to Dale and Jim Ed; their final broadcast is Thursday.

Coffee mistaken for gun in Stillwater, AP reports. Too much caffeine for someone!

Nort spews: Kevin Love’s free-throw chokes cost the Wolves a game they were in a position to win, but the 99-96 home loss to Utah was at least entertaining after 20-point-plus blowouts. The team looked much, much happier under new coach Kevin McHale.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/10/2008 - 11:14 am.

    “Weirdly, only four of 10 state students were deemed proficient in recent state tests. Huh?”

    The MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) and TIMSS are apple and oranges.

    One big difference was pointed out in the article:

    “the international study didn’t analyze Minnesota’s high school students”

    If you look at the Minnesota Department of Education statistics, you’ll see that student performance degrades as the student progresses through the public system. In some of the better districts, the decrease is slight, in the worst (MPLS, SPPS) the decrease is harrowing.

    http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Accountability_Programs/Assessment_and_Testing/Assessments/MCA/Reports/index.html

    (It’s interesting to note that from district to district, the amount spent per pupil is inversly proportional to student performance…but I digress.)

    I was once mocked at a public meeting after having used Singapore as an example of an efficient, successful public school system…sure wish I could gather up the will to gloat, but somehow the reality of the second rate education so many US kids continue to receive dampens my appetite for schadenfreude.

  2. Submitted by David Cater on 12/10/2008 - 11:28 am.

    Thanks for the term Minnesota “micro-nation.” I’ll have the occasional educational debate with someone trying to compare education of a small country to that of the US.

    My response is typically, “Do you realize that your country is smaller than the state I live in?”

    Also, they tend to be homogenized societies that don’t have much in the way of immigration.

  3. Submitted by Keith Ford on 12/10/2008 - 12:15 pm.

    In the meantime, congrats to Patrick Henry High in Minneapolis for being named one of the top 2% of high schools in the nation by US News & World Report. Yes, there were other Minesota high schools with Silve ratings but letthem toot their own horns.

    Keith Ford

  4. Submitted by Reggie McGurt on 12/10/2008 - 12:26 pm.

    “The Minneapolis cops’ first Taser-related death….”

    The article actually only says it was the first death by taser this year, and that none were reported last year. A man in police custody died after being tasered right outside my old apartment in the 24th and Lyndale area back in 2004. Meth use (on the part of the suspect) was deemed a contributing factor.

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/10/2008 - 12:58 pm.

    Re: the Wal-Mart settlement, this month’s Harper’s index has this stat:

    Percentage change since 1977 in the size of the US labor force: +61

    Percentage change since then in the number of federal wage and hour inspectors: -21

  6. Submitted by Dale Carlton on 12/10/2008 - 02:18 pm.

    Norm asking for an FBI investigation is like Blagojevich asking for someone to wiretap him.

  7. Submitted by Christine Richardson on 12/10/2008 - 05:13 pm.

    Regarding the end of the MPR Morning Show: As a college student in Mpls during the ’70’s, I woke up every morning to the show. The voices of Garrison and Jim Ed Poole became as familiar as family, the wonderful silly stories and ads had me chuckling, and the traditional and folk music was soothing and fun, altogether a great way to start the day. I learned to love so many of my still- favorite performers during this time, Stan Rogers, Mary Black, Greg Brown, the McGarrigles, Sally Rogers, Kate Wolf, Tom Paxton, Jean Redpath, Christine Lavin, and many, many more. When I left the city for Washington, DC, I was fortunate to find Mary Cliff, who had a show called “Traditions” on an affiliate public radio station, with a similar approach to music. I have thought fondly about the Morning Show often over the years, and I’m sorry it will end for those who continued to appreciate this special Minn institution.

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