The death of Sen. Ted Kennedy leads the news this morning, with no end of standard coverage of his long career, legendary family, frustrated presidential ambitions, scandals and remarkable record of legislative achievement. Of particular concern with Kennedy’s long advocacy for health care (insurance) reform on the front burner is who will succeed him and when. The Strib runs an AP story explaining that no decision on changing Massachusetts law to allow an appointment will happen until after Labor Day. But even then, Democrats who changed the law in 2004 to prevent Mitt Romney from appointing John Kerry’s (possible) successor seem a bit sheepish about rushing back in to re-change it now that Kennedy has passed away.
Republicans and conservatives will no doubt put up an ungodly howl if Massachusetts tries to undo the appointment business, but even NPR’s “Political Animal”, Ken Rudin, is on record as disgusted by the tactic. Rudin says, “Yes, the Democrats will probably need every vote they can get if they hope to pass a health-care bill. With all the rancor and yelling we’ve seen since Congress went on its August break, Democrats may be hard-pressed to find many Republican votes to count on. Kennedy, plus Sen. Robert Byrd (WV) — whose health is also somewhat tenuous — give the Democrats 60 votes. It’s understandable that they would not want to wait five months to fill a vacancy.”
Events like the death of the Senate’s most prominent liberal are reason to check in with the Power Line crowd, and Scott Johnson does not disappoint. He offers the perfunctory two-graph opening condolence then launches into his version of Ted Kennedy’s attack on … Robert Bork. The existential significance of the Bork nomination to the Supreme Court may be lost on even the most avid politico, but the Constitution-thumpers on the right remember Kennedy “introducing” hard-ball scare tactics to America’s otherwise genteel political arena with his ooposition to Bork. Says Johnson, “The tone set by Senator Kennedy in connection with the Bork nomination lives on in the Senate. It also lives on in the mainstream media — see, for example, John Hinderaker’s “A conspiracy so lunatic” — and on the left-wing side of the Internet. We live in Edward Kennedy’s America not only in the consequential legislation that he sponsored and saw through the Senate, but also in the afterlife of the vulgar political sham on which Senator Kennedy relied to defeat the nomination of Judge Bork.”
The whys of the stupifying criminality of the now-disbanded Metro Gang Strike Force — those rogue cops assembled from different police forces to suppress gang activity only to become apparently a crime gang themselves — gets its most thorough explanation to date in a Dave Hanners’ piece this morning in the PiPress.
Digging through the report presented last week by Andy Luger, Hanners notes, “The unit’s predecessor, the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, operated for many years with state and local funding. But in a 2003 budget-cutting move, the Legislature slashed the unit’s funding. By the time lawmakers re-created the elite unit as the Metro Gang Strike Force in 2005, it had become largely self-funding, through seizures and forfeitures. The more money and property the cops from the unit’s member agencies seized, the more fiscally sound the unit was. Not only did it put the profit motive in police work, the cops came to look at seizures as the key to the unit’s survival … .”
Hanners continues: “The abuses come as no surprise to Brenda Grantland, a Mill Valley, Calif., attorney who heads the Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR) Foundation. ‘That’s asking for trouble when you have that semi-autonomous, self-funding task force. This happens so often. The self-funding task force is kind of a scary thing, because who do they answer to? If they don’t answer to anybody and they’re allowed to fund themselves, they don’t have to justify their existence by having the Legislature see if they’re doing a good job.’ ” But at least the budget-cutting saved taxpayer money.
When Denny Hecker, who has something like two dozen law suits pending against him, filed one of his own last month accusing GMAC, the big financial operation, of screwing him over, a few people saw it as more baseless PR tactic than proof the big guys were out to ruin him. Nicole Garrison-Sprenger, the PiPress’s Hecker-watcher, has a story this morning laying out GMAC’s version of the dispute. “On April 17, GMAC’s counsel provided Hecker’s attorney with a spreadsheet detailing the names of purchasers, vehicle identification numbers and amounts that GMAC had received that were attributable to taxes and license fees. GMAC also sent checks to each of the dealerships for the amounts identified in the spreadsheet. Those checks, Boyles said, were received and cashed.” You know it’s bad when the public has more sympathy for GMAC than for your case.
Ok, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is a polarizing character. That is, after all, how he makes his money. Lefties love him, (although occasionally embarrassed by his over-the-top righteous outrage) and righties despise him like the spawn of Satan. But last night he gathered up current reporting on Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth — that recent memo urging employees to attend town hall forums and parrot talking points, the size of current CEO Stephen Hemsley’s “compensation,” his, uh, interesting, previous association with Anderson Accounting, UnitedHealth’s astonishing profit-flows, etc. — and delivered an unusual eight-minute-plus “investigation”/smackdown of the insurance giant. Here’s the YouTube version. Whether Keith is a “polarizing” cable jock or not, UnitedHealth is free to refute any and all “mis”-information in the piece. (Special bonus link. “Compensation” numbers for top health insurance CEOs.)
The Sun Country plane that sat at JFK in New York for six hours waiting to take off has already set off a fresh round of “by Gods” and “there oughta be a laws” from legislators. Martin Moylan filed a piece Tuesday with another round, including fresh (but familiar) quotes from Sen. Amy Klobuchar vowing to do … something. Moylan does offer some important perspective right at the top, when he says, “From January to June this year, a little more than 600 flights out of over 3.2 million, about 0.019 percent, were stuck on runways for more than three hours.” Later though, he adds this. ” ‘If it’s your 85-year old mother in an aluminum tube in August in Florida, it’s lost on you that it’s statistically insignificant,’ said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition group usually opposed to government regulation.”
The AP has a story about a couple of Wisconsin radio jocks running a clothing drive for the homeless. And what, you ask, are the homeless going to be wearing this season? Answer: A lot of ragged Brett Favre Green Bay Packers jerseys. “They say burning, shredding and running over Favre gear are all ‘pretty good ideas.’ But they say a better idea is donating the ‘useless’ clothes to a Twin Cities homeless shelter so they don’t go to waste.” It’s diabolical isn’t it? Clothes for Twin Cities homeless … not Milwaukee’s. Panhandlers on our streets and at the top of freeway ramps … in tattered Favre jerseys. Thanks, dudes.
With everyone in the media girding themselves for Fair duty, either outright on foot, or variations-on-the-fair from the newsroom, Brian Johnson of Finance and Commerce has a piece on infrastructure repairs and plans out at the old Carnival of Cholesterol. “At the Grandstand, fair officials would like to restore a series of huge, three-story windows that were visible in the early days of the building. Shortly after the Grandstand was built, the windows were painted over for shade; they were eventually covered with plywood, and then brick. Modern reflective glass would make the windows practical again: drawing more light into the building and bringing it closer to its original appearance.” Also, “Earlier this year, crews re-wired and re-lamped the iconic Grandstand marquee. In the process, they replaced 5,200 inefficient light bulbs with modern, energy-stingy LED lighting. ‘It literally cut operating costs to 1 percent of what it was before,’ [State Fair GM Jerry] Hammer said. ‘A 100-year-old building is going green’.” Green … as in the color of so many faces after six hours of crowds, dust and trans fat.
Be advised: Attendance at the recently wrapped Iowa and Illinois State Fairs was down roughly 10 percent from ’08.
Burnsville has seen the error of its ways. That law about the proximity of competing liquor stores? Not such a good idea anymore. One mile is suddenly too far, and three-quarters of a mile is juuuuust right … if the change allows Costco to build a warehouse in the Burnsville Center area. The PiPress’s Jessica Fleming has this story. “The current ordinance has been an obstacle for retail giant Costco, which has been searching for a suitable site in the area. Costco wants to locate in the Burnsville Center area and generally builds stores with attached liquor stores. City liquor-store owners rallied against the changes at previous meetings, arguing that they had invested in freestanding buildings and would be hurt by increased competition.” Maybe if those city liquor store owners had 10 acres of parking and sold pressure washers three aisles over, they’d have a little more pull at City Hall.
And the Twins, written off for dead five times in the past month alone? They won again, beating Baltimore in the ninth inning on the fourth hit by Delmon Young, who has waited until late August to start playing. Brian Murphy of the PiPress files on the nearly interminable — but eventually satisfying — 3-hour, 30-minute game. The Twins are now at .500. The Yankees? Thirty one games OVER .500.