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Oberstar knocks Obama, wants big transportation bill ‘now’

Jim Oberstar, arguably Minnesota single most influential legislator, is not happy with the Obama administration and he’s not being shy about telling people so.

Jim Oberstar, arguably Minnesota single most influential legislator, is not happy with the Obama administration, and he’s not being shy about telling people so. As Mark Zdechlik reports for MPR, Oberstar, the House’s transportation guru, has waited long enough for a wholesale streamlining of transportation agencies and is not at all happy that the Obama crew wants to push this back until 2011 at the earliest. Says Oberstar, “It is disappointing that after eight years of a Bush administration that said no to robust investment in transportation now the Democratic administration says ‘well not now … 18 months,” Oberstar said. “The nation doesn’t have 18 months for a head-start program in transportation for the planners at the White House. People need jobs now.” Besides the administration’s intense focus on health-care reform, Oberstar’s plan requires a $450 billion federal investment financed by a new federal gas tax. And you thought the deficit cranks were howling about “Cash for Clunkers.”

Briana Bierschbach, writing for the Minnesota Daily about a Humphrey Institute symposium with Oberstar yesterday, gives a bit more on Oberstar’s plans. She writes, “Oberstar also wants to change the way the Federal Transit Administration is run, citing the 14-year time line of planning and building the slated Central Corridor light rail line. Oberstar said they will put in place a new system that could cut these projects down to three years from planning to operation.” Looking at it one way, this, an energy program and health “insurance” reform (as the Obama team is calling it lately) give some idea of how much was NOT done in the preceding years.

Bill Salisbury of the PiPress, following Oberstar, spins out a piece on the 2,100 jobs created in Minnesota by the stimulus program. “This part of the recovery act is working,” said Oberstar. “It’s not bogged down by paperwork and red tape.”

Unemployment is expensive. Don’t believe it? Ask Lee Nelson, chief attorney for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The Strib’s Dee DePass, on hiatus from Denny Hecker duty, has Nelson laying out some pretty stunning numbers on the outflow of unemployment insurance and recurring deficits. “The last figures that I saw predict a deficit on March 31, 2011, of $1.6 billion,” says Nelson. “That is the problem. Our [unemployment insurance tax] receipts will not match our payouts until something like 2012.” DePass adds, “Last year, Minnesota paid out $1 billion in unemployment insurance benefits and started 2009 with a $500,000 surplus. Now, officials expect to take in $1 billion in unemployment taxes this year but pay out $1.8 billion in unemployment checks.”

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In a similar vein, The Strib’s Kara McGuire has a not exactly surprising story about personal bankruptcies on the rise, both here in Minnesota and across the country. She makes note of the heightened difficulties of such filings built into 2005’s so-called bankruptcy reform act. The numbers now are sobering. She writes, “In Minnesota, bankruptcies jumped 30 percent last month compared with July 2008, with 1,857 consumers filing for bankruptcy. The highest monthly state total year-to-date was 1,916 in April, and every month has seen higher numbers when compared with the same period a year ago. In Minnesota, consumer bankruptcies for the first seven months of 2009 are running 35 percent ahead of the same period in 2008.”

And while we’re all feeling good, Scott Carlson of Finance and Commerce has a good piece about the glut of empty big boxes squatting around the metro area. The nut of the story is that almost no one sees a return to the days when consumer spending required so many gargantuan retail outlets (if one ever existed in the first place). Jim McComb, the local consultant, tells Carlson, “Many of these stores that grew and expanded their concepts during excessive consumer spending need to rethink where they fit into the new consumer value position,” McComb said. “The potential to take a category of stores and explode them into a number of large boxes may have run its course.” The “new consumer value position”? You mean like not blowing so much money you don’t have? Still we’ll miss the days of 100,000 sq. ft. warehouses of hair-care products.

Don’t even pretend you haven’t followed the story of the Wisconsin man who had his, um, male appendage  superglued to his stomach by his wife and two angry girlfriends (and a not-so-innocent onlooker). The women have their own legal problems, what with false imprisonment charges (you know they’ll be looking for an all-female jury), but the 36-year-old love machine has a pretty impressive rap sheet of his own. According to an AP story in the PiPress, the guy is in jail based on allegations of child abuse, theft, unlawful phone use and harassment with a death threat in a domestic-abuse investigation. We are of course shocked to hear such accusations. Oh, and if you missed earlier details, a previous AP story reported that, “Criminal complaints filed Friday allege the man agreed to be bound with “sheer sheets” and blindfolded with a pillowcase for a “rub down” by [one of the women]. She instead cut off his underwear with scissors and summoned the others to the room with a text message.” We’re still shocked.

Other than Minnesota Democrats Exposed and MinnPost’s Doug Grow, no one is taking much interest in the now confirmed story about the messy financial condition of the Minnesota DFL. MDE, predictably, is treating the episode like the second coming of Watergate. (It claims to have been tipped by a DFL official.) After Grow filed his piece, DFL chairman Brian Melendez filed a complaint with the Minnesota News Council, essentially asserting that Grow ran with dubious information from an anonymous source. (Grow has updated his original post with a categorical denial from a lawyer representing the DFL in Federal Elections Commission matters denying any ethics investigation regarding “co-mingling” of cash was afoot.) The “can’t make it up” moment in Grow’s reporting was trying to get a straight answer from party mouthpiece Melendez — the guy who has a quote ready for every occasion and ending up with … this: “Melendez directed inquiries about his memo [detailing money troubles] and other financial questions to the party’s communications staff. The questions were passed to Andy O’Leary, executive director of the party. O’Leary refused to comment on the Melendez memo. And he would only issue vague statements regarding other financial questions.” That’s not exactly what we call “deft,” is it?

Tad Vezner of the PiPress has one of those stories we all dream of at some point. This is the one where deep in the slew of old LPs and 45s is a priceless gem that we’ll sell and vacation on in Biarritz. “St. Paul music collector Tim Schloe stumbled upon his gold record: A rare, Sun Records disc — bought for about a quarter and sold Wednesday in an eBay auction for $10,323.” This gives me hope for my (sort of) pristine collection of Tijuana Brass LPs.

Strib NBA beat writer Jerry Zgoda follows up a Los Angeles Times story about the Timberwolves closing in on Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis as the guy to take over from Kevin McHale. He says, “Wolves basketball boss David Kahn last week said he hoped to have a contract offer firmed up with a candidate — Rambis and former NBA point guard and TV analyst Mark Jackson are considered the two finalists — before having him meet with team owner Glen Taylor.” Zgoda remembers Rambis earning the nickname “Superman” during his playing days, as much for his gritty playing style as his Clark Kent glasses. But we still think it’ll take someone with powers greater than The Man of Steel to restore the Wolves to destination entertainment in the Twin Cities.

The Twins? Don’t ask. Playing what is essentially a AA Cleveland Indians team of Grady Sizemore and eight guys you’ve never heard of, they were obliterated 8-1, with soon to be bullpen-bound Francisco Liriano throwing 100 pitches in five innings and R.A. Dickey getting rocked in relief. “Ugly” doesn’t begin to describe it. Maybe the Wolves will draw some interest, if only as a much-needed diversion. Kelsie Smith files for the PiPress.