Bad economic times and Thanksgiving blues

So Thanksgiving weekend ends, as it must, in post-game armchair quarterbacking, post-Black Friday financial regrets, and a slow-shaking off of the supposed tryptophan-induced coma that turkeys bring on. For some, however, Thanksgiving was a scramble to piece together a meal, as two stories from Minnesota Public Radio reminds us: The first, from Madeleine Baran , explains that demand for the Union Gospel Mission’s free Thanksgiving meal program is up 50 percent from two years ago.

The second story, by Cathy Mayfield, looks at local food shelves, which have experienced an even more noticeable jump. The Salvation Army, as an example, was planning for a 30 percent increase in demand for their Christmas Assistance program; the actual increase has been 130 percent, which a Salvation Army representative calls “staggering.” In the Twin Cities, food shelves have seen an average uptick of 43 percent.

Speaking of charity, the Vikings are quite unhappy with the Metrodome and want somebody to do something about it. Specifically, taxpayers, according to Janel Klein of KARE11. She quotes Vikings owner Zygi Wilf: “We need to get everybody who makes the decisions up on the hill and the governor’s office to be more engaged and discuss these things more openly.” But what happens if legislators don’t want to pony up the money? Well, Wilf ain’t saying he might pack up his team and head somewhere where there is a stadium more to his liking, but he ain’t exactly saying he ain’t either. Some fans have been quick to respond, according to FOX9: They’ve set up a site called Save the Vikes, which actually currently opens with an essay arguing that the 400-some odd million tax dollars required for a new stadium isn’t so much corporate welfare as it is a cultural investment. Presumably this case is being made by people who did not have to scramble for Thanksgiving dinner.

For that matter, we can probably fairly assume that the people who want tax dollars put into a new home for the Vikings are probably not the same people looking at losing their own homes. Those people are still out there and still struggling, as detailed by MPR’s Jessica Mador in a story about housing advocates who are seeking loan modifications in an attempt to help homeowners who are facing foreclosure. That’s the sort of thing that might also be described as a cultural investment, as foreclosed homes can becomes quite a nuisance, as Mary Jane Smetanka of the Star Tribune describes, in part because they must be patrolled to make sure people aren’t squatting on the property or just dumping their trash there; this fact will come as no surprise to anybody who has lived by a foreclosed home and watched its alarmingly fast decline, with the property almost seeming to turn brown and dilapidated as you watch, as would happen in floundering sections of town in the old Sim City game.

This is a bad time to be in need of a helping hand from tax dollars, though, as Minnesota might not have much to go around. The headline for an Associated Press story sums it up: Grim budget news expected from Minn. officials. The story describes state leaders as “bracing for bad news,” which makes it sound like they have assumed the crash position recommended in the safety instructions on an airplane, and maybe they would be wise to. As the story points out, “Minnesota tax collections have lagged expectations by more than $200 million since the last forecast was released in March.”

But, then, a new Vikings stadium would be cheap compared to the proposed Minneapolis-to-Duluth rail line, at least according to MnDOT’s “worst case scenario” prediction, which, according to Paul Levy of the Star Tribune, is almost a billion dollars. Don’t panic, though: Federal money might pay as much as 80 percent of the project, and we can pretty much expect that, if there is a new Vikings stadium, you’ll be able to get there via the new train system, as you can currently ride both the lightrail and the Northstar rail line directly to the new Twins Stadium. If you need to go to a food shelf, however, you’re probably going to have to transfer to a bus.

Maybe it’s the bad news, or maybe it’s just that the holiday seasons are stressful, but people seem awfully fighty lately. There was, for instance, the Wisconsin woman who was arrested in Duluth for assaulting an abortion protester, which the AP reported on: She held a knife to the protester’s neck and then, at her arraignment, shouted out “I know what I did was wrong,” apparently hoping to make the prosecutor’s job easier. At least she offered up a good reason for her behavior: “I am certified crazy.”

Speaking of which: the Minnesota Independent’s Paul Schmelzer looks at another season fight, this one concerning Best Buy’s decision to wish Muslims a “Happy Eid al-Adha” in a circular. This tiny act of inclusiveness has driven commenters on the right wing Free Republic website into a rage; they, or like-minded individuals, have flooded the Best Buy bulletin board with outraged comments, which are all relatively civil compared to the anti-Muslim tirades to be found on the Free Republic site (One sample: “Mpls is overrun with ragheads.”) One supposes that Muslims could now start bitterly complaining about a “War on Eid al-Adha,” but the War on Christmas probably gets more traction.

Getting back to the subject of a new Vikings stadium, the KARE11 story quotes the Vikings’ vice president of public affairs and stadium development as saying “Brett Favre’s our best lobbyist,” and, man, he wasn’t kidding: Favre led the Vikings in demolishing the Bears this weekend, completing 32 of 48 passes for 392 yards and offering up three touchdowns.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Mary Beamish on 11/30/2009 - 12:39 pm.

    Correction: The story about the woman with a knife at the Duluth abortion clinic was actually reported by the Duluth News Tribune, distributed by the AP and carried on the Star Tribune web site, which is where you saw it. Thanks!

  2. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 11/30/2009 - 02:55 pm.

    Is the Vikings stadium and versus social services really either/or? It seems if we just return state taxes to where they were in nineties before those ill-advised tax cuts, we could at least debate them purely on their own policy terms, and not wonder which we could afford. Besides, why are stadiums always thought to be up against social services? Why isn’t the Vikings stadium up against other business subsidies? Or up against upper class tax cuts? If the stadium is for billionaires, why not build it, and pay for it with an upper class income surtax?

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/30/2009 - 03:02 pm.

    Since we have already built the Vikings an expensive stadium with a dome to protect them and their fans from the weather AND let them use it rent-free, how dare they ask the State to put their desire for another stadium-paid for-by-someone-else when people are hungry, homeless and probably soon dying on the streets as soon as Pawlenty’s GMA cut goes into effect?

    If the Vikings want to update the Dome with their own money and consider it a “cultural investment” in the city and state that has given them so much, that would be acceptable.

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