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Minnesota’s senators fumble on the Patriot Act?

ALSO: The stimulus package creates or saves almost 12,000 jobs, but is it enough? In other news, the Bachmann doll is not doing well.

Both Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar voted to renew the Patriot Act last week. As far as the Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned, the senators managed to distinguish themselves primarily by embarrassing themselves, or, as Chris Steller from the Minnesota Independent puts it, “Minnesota’s senators committed the legislative equivalent of calling a plainly fair ball foul or overrunning third base.”

Why? Well, according to the EFF, Franken just plumb forgot about the Fourth Amendment he was so concerned about a few weeks ago (“He was right, then; he was wrong, yesterday,” the site says). And Klobuchar? Well, let’s let Irregular Times explain her blunder, which came when she decided to rise and explain her objection to Sen. Dick Durbin’s amendment that constrained the FBI’s use of National Security Letters: “[I]n explaining why she was going to vote against the Durbin Amendment, Amy Klobuchar read the text of the Durbin Amendment, thinking that she was reading the bill unamended, and praised the Durbin Amendment for having a reasonable standard that wasn’t ‘pie in the sky.’ ” It’s sort of hard to vote against an amendment when you have just accidentally lauded it, but Klobuchar found a way.

Let’s bring up an old sound bite from the ever-reliable Michele Bachmann. Back in February, the congresswoman had the following to say about the stimulus bill: “We hear about fantasy football games. This is fantasy economics.” She wasn’t alone in her criticisms of the package; support for the bill was pretty well split on party lines, as Minnesota Public Radio reported back then. It’s eight months later, and what the heck good did the bill do us? Well, it saved or created almost 12,000 jobs, according to state officials, although, as reported by Jason Hoppin of the Pioneer Press, Tim Pawlenty still feels the cost is too high: The governor “pointed out that the $1.6 billion in stimulus funds spent so far created 11,800 jobs — or about $135,000 per job.”

Of course, this is an early report, and the total benefits of the stimulus package haven’t been determined yet, but the Associated Press is pessimistic that the benefits will be as great as those the White House promised. They figure, based on where we are now, that the package will end up saving or creating 35,000 jobs; the White House predicted 65,000.

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In the meanwhile, the ongoing losers in this economic climate are the poor; if you see the word “homeless” in a story, you can pretty much predict that it isn’t going to be a tale of well-funded organizations providing prompt and effective services to people on society’s margins. Just looking at the headline for Mary Lynn Smith’s story for the Star Tribune about sums things up: For the homeless, lines are long and beds are scarce. A spokesperson for Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis ads additional pathos to the story: “We were full before the economy went sour. Now we’re beyond full.

While the homeless are struggling just to find shelter, college students are struggling to stay in school, as Terence Chea and Justin Pope of the Associated Press point out: Nationally, budget cuts at colleges have forced the institutions to pare back their staffs and the courses they offer, which, in turn, means it takes students longer to graduate, which costs them more — this system is “killing me financially,” one student complains.

Al Franken is pitching a bill that he thinks will offer at least a partial solution to the rising cost of post-graduate education: giving colleges and universities direct control over government-subsidized loans. John Croman of KARE11 explains that these loans are generally now handled by banks; direct lending, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, would save as much as $87 billion over a 10-year period. To this end, Franken has co-authored a bill with the support of former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger to do just this. Rumor is that Amy Klobuchar read the bill and loved it, but then discovered that, once again, she was accidentally reading Dick Durbin’s amendment to the Patriot Act.

Remember that recent Michele Bachmann doll? Apparently, it isn’t selling especially well. Minnesota Public Radio’s Madeleine Baran checks in with the CEO of the company that manufactures the doll for an opinion as to why. The answer? “I’ll tell you this, she’s no Sarah Palin.”

If the Bachmann doll is doing poorly, perhaps the Bachmann comic book will find an audience, although Talking Points Memo has some criticisms of the second issue, which is produced, in part, by the bloggers over at Dump Michelle Bachmann. TPM’s complaints are that this issue paraphrases Bachmann too much, when just illustrating the Congresswoman and putting her own quotes in speech bubbles is damning enough. The next issue is going to be about Bachmann’s stance on homosexuality, and TPM offers this recommendation: “Bachmann’s anti-gay talk is comedy gold without editorial interference.”

The Star Tribune, in the meanwhile, has a bone to pick with a different congressperson. Columnist Jon Tevlin takes issue with Keith Ellison’s trip to Mecca, for which the Muslim American Society of Minnesota contributed $13,350. While Tevlin concedes that Ellison didn’t actually do anything wrong, he’s of the opinion that Ellison’s lack of transparency wasn’t especially laudatory either. “I am tempted to say it’s not my business because it’s not my money, but there’s more to it than that,” Tevlin says, and then mentions tax dollars that the Muslim American Society gets — although, importantly, Tevlin never establishes that any of that tax money went into Ellison’s trip. There may not be anything inherently wrong about insinuating that Ellison’s trip came out of taxpayers’ pockets, but it’s hard not to be curious if Tevlin would find that sort of innuendo laudatory.

In sports: According to FOX9, streaking across the field at football games is something of a tradition at St. Francis High School in the North Metro Area. The school is toughening penalties for streakers, and, presumably, should they get this sort of behavior to stop, preparing for the resulting drop in attendance at games.