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Times must be bad: UnitedHealth’s profits are down

It’s tough all over, even in Minnetonka, where, according to the Strib’s Chen May Yee, UnitedHealth posted a “slightly smaller profit” amid crashing employment numbers and general economic misery. Yee quotes UnitedHealth’s CEO cautioning that the giant insurer may suffer more as companies shed thousands more workers…and their health insurance. How bad was it for United Health in the first quarter of ’09? Profits fell to a mere $984 million, from $985 million last year. No word if they’re chopping up the teak furniture for firewood.

Block E, once upon a time a grimey but well-trafficked collection of theaters, cheap restaurants, dirty book stores, tough bars and sleazy hotels, is getting emptier, says the Strib’s Susan Feyder. The latest glitzy entertainment attrraction to close will be Gameworks on the corner of Seventh and Hennepin. The departure will leave a third of the space vacant with dismal hopes for anything in the way of a similar business. Perhaps owners will consider re-introducing Moby Dick’s to the Block. That place was never empty. Also, the old Rand Hotel charged less for rooms by the hour than anything currently on the site.

Chris Serres reports for the Strib that TCF chief Bill Cooper, as resistant a character to government regulation as you will ever meet, has finally figured out a way to get out from under the onerous TARP restrictions accompanying the $360-million taxpayer subsidy he was required to take by the Bush administration last November. To do it TCF Financial had to cut its dividend 80 percent, but Cooper was chafing. He tells Serres, “We took it because word was that only institutions that were sound would get it. We were strongly encouraged to take it to be good corporate citizens. … Now, if you’ve still got it, you’re stigmatized as evil people stealing money from taxpayers.”

A day after House Democrats floated their ideas for raising taxes to cover deficits, their Senate brethren unveiled their plan, which comes with tax increases for just about everyone but with the upper bracket delivering 60 percent of the $2.2 billion in revenue. Mike Kaszuba files the story. Reaction was of course predictable, even though the proposal only restores rates to 1998 levels. Sen. Mee Moua is quoted saying, “This is the year where the mantra of ‘No New Taxes’ no longer is viable. Some people have to be grownups around here.” As you might expect, the comment boards are on fire. MPR’s Tom Scheck gets Edina Republican Geoff Michel saying, “The only jobs that this kind of tax bill is going to grow are real estate agents in Florida and Arizona,” referring to every six-month-and-a-day snowbird’s favorite low-tax havens.

Brandt Williams reports for MPR that most categories of crime in Minneapolis have declined in recent years, with murder off 80 percent. Burglaries of big-screen TVs is still a solid business for local crooks in Uptown and southwest Minneapolis. Randy Furst and Bob Von Sternberg deploy the word “dramatically” in their piece, but comb the territory for a little nay-saying. Ex-chief Tony Bouza is quoted saying he doubts the drop has much to do with the expanded street operations the mayor and current police chief are crediting. Come on, man! We’re just trying to enjoy one little moment here.

Chris Steller, writing for Minnesota Independent, roots around in video archives and comes up with Norm Coleman (and former George W. Bush ) recount attorney Ben Ginsberg, the guy arguing all that vital, fundamental “equal protection” stuff, talking to the Duke University Law School and saying, “Just like, really, with the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have some fundamental philosophical difficulties with the whole notion of Equal Protection.” Apparently they’ve resolved those fundamental thingies in the years since.

City Pages’ annual “best of” list, which is designed to flatter every other business in town and now runs long enough to do just that, declares Nick Coleman the Cities’ “Best Columnist,” even though as most of us know current Strib management so detested Coleman they’ve never even bothered to tell their readers that he’s left the paper.

Well! I doubt the Jacobs and Ackmans will be boating together any tme soon. Investor Irwin Jacobs unloads on Target Corp’s. bete noire, William Ackman, in a commentary on the Strib’s op-ed pages. The piece could have used the hand of a good copy-editor to comb out a few repetitive tics, but Jacobs hides no amount of contempt for Ackman’s investment chops. Get this: Writes Jacobs, “Ackman’s investment was just poor timing, but his ego won’t let him admit it. If he continues his present nonsense and poor judgment, I predict that he’ll not only lose his proxy battle, big-time, but also that his future prospects in the investment community will be substantially diminished for the rest of his career. I further believe that if he continues his proxy battle against Target, the thing he’ll be best remembered for will be the ridiculously poor judgment and business decisions that he is making as part of that contest.” Boys, we’re going have to ask you to take this outside.

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