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Strike countdown: Nurses and hospitals getting nowhere fast

ALSO: ‘sex party’ headlines, happy cows and a real display of chutzpah.

“Inevitability” is a word that hangs over negotiations with Minnesota’s nurses. A strike seems ever more likely after the union soundly rejected the hospitals’ latest counter-offer, which pointedly avoided the staffing issue the nurses argue is key to their dispute. MPR’s Lorna Benson reports: “Both sides say they came to the table with significant concessions. Hospitals offered to dump their plan to cut nurses’ pension contributions. They also said they were willing to collaborate with nurses on a plan to address their patient workloads. Nurses say they too eased up on some of their wage and staffing proposals, but the union said it wouldn’t change its demand that hospitals agree to firm nurse-to-patient ratios.” Of particular interest, as both sides prepare for next Tuesday’s strike deadline, is the hospitals’ heavily quoted Maureen Schriner saying that “employers will focus now on getting their contingency plans in place, so they will be prepared for a strike. She said some hospitals have heard that they may not need to replace as many nurses as they initially thought. ‘We are getting more indication from nurses that they are willing to cross the picket line and they are willing to resign from the MNA,’ she said.” That, of course, is what she would say.

Moody’s Investors Services may have horribly bungled its credit ratings during the economic collapse of ’08, but it still has enough credibility to lead a PiPress story by Jeremy Olson on the likely economic fallout of an all-out nurses strike. Writes Olson: “[M]etro hospitals could be caught in a double whammy of rising expenses — because of the high cost of replacement nurses — and declining revenues as nervous patients cancel medical procedures or seek them elsewhere, [a Moody’s report] stated. ‘Even the non-unionized hospitals in the Twin Cities could be pressured,’ the report stated, ‘as they may need to hire additional temporary nurses to adjust to capacity challenges as patients seek health care at these hospitals.’ ” The report also “points out the fragile finances of the hospital systems and how a prolonged strike would lower their operating margins and harm the credit ratings that they use to finance expansion and construction projects. It also predicts that hospitals will see their revenue growth ‘stagnate’ in the future as public and private health insurers reduce their payment rates. Hospitals will need flexible staffing and limited salary increases to hold down expenses, the report states.” Hmmm, so the nurses are overworked for what they’re paid, and the hospitals will barely get by if there’s a strike, yet there are hundreds of billions of dollars floating around the health care industry. Where, oh where, is all that money pooling up?

If every story included the words “sex party” in the headline, we’d all read a lot more about budget hearings and zoning issues. The tale of the Cottage Grove coach — “ex-coach,” to be clear — now on trial for a “sex party” with two 16-year-old players on his girls’ hockey team, will get plenty of attention, but the presence of heavyweight defense attorney Earl Grey will add a bit of frosting. Kevin Giles’ Strib story has Grey conceding, “Make no mistake, my client’s not proud of this.” “This” involves a kinky fling with two players two days after the defendant, Eric Darwitz, resigned as their coach. Giles explains that, “In Minnesota, 16 is the age of consent for consensual sex in most circumstances. However, anybody in a position of authority over a person between the ages of 16 and 18 and is at least four years older is prohibited from having sexual intercourse with that person. Darwitz is charged with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.” Grey’s argument is that Darwitz was no longer in a position of authority. Just guessing here, but the instructions to the jury might be key to Grey’s chances.

Rochelle Olson of the Strib has drawn duty on the I-35 bridge case being brought against URS Corp. of San Francisco. Today’s story involves a memo from attorneys representing some of the victims of the collapse. Olson writes: “URS has claimed that it isn’t liable for the collapse … because the bridge’s initial design was flawed. To seek punitive damages, the plaintiffs must show the judge by ‘clear and convincing evidence’ that there was a ‘deliberate disregard’ for the safety of the people of Minnesota. URS documented that the bridge was ‘clearly overstressed’ and that ‘collapse could be imminent’ if a crack developed in a critical bridge structure, the memo said. The memo accuses the firm of lying and cutting corners to lure the state into retrofitting the old bridge and thereby ensuring the firm more monitoring work. Despite URS photographs from 2003 of ‘bowed gusset plates, an engineering red flag,’ the firm declined to thoroughly analyze the plates, claiming it was ‘too much work.’

The cows are happy, I guess. An AP story says Wisconsin cows produced 6 percent more milk last month than a year ago, and we weren’t far behind. “Wisconsin produced 2.3 billion pounds of milk last month. That was an increase of 6 percent over the same month last year, marking the greatest rate of increase in the nation. Michigan and Minnesota had the next highest rate, with each producing 4 percent more milk than they did last year. Minnesota had 818 million pounds of milk.” Is this because the grass has been growing so well?

Mortgage rescue scams have proliferated in the recession, writes Scott Carlson at Finance and Commerce. “Although no central repository collects all mortgage fraud complaints, the FBI has said mortgage fraud is an escalating problem. The agency reported this month there were 67,190 mortgage fraud suspicious activity reports referred to law enforcement in fiscal 2009 with an estimated loss of $14 billion in fraudulent loans. That is a dramatic increase from 2007, when the FBI said there were 46,717 suspicious activity reports with fraudulent loans estimated at more than $813 million.” The hook to the story is a new public awareness campaign called “Look Before You Leap.” It will “focus its outreach efforts in the Minnesota communities hardest hit by mortgage scams and foreclosures. That includes communities with high unemployment rates; senior citizens and people within the Latino, Hmong and African-American communities.’ “

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OK, points for raw chutzpah. City Pages’ Andy Mannix writes about Jordan Kavoosi, a 24-year-old, and a couple buddies, who have set up shop … in a storefront, no less … to write essays for lazy/not-too-bright college kids, or whomever, for whatever reason. $23 a page. Says Mannix: “To be sure, there are ethical implications to running a business that traffics in academic fraud. The services Kavoosi offers are the same as those exposed in the University of Minnesota’s 1999 basketball scandal, during which an office manager admitted to doing homework for players. ‘Sure it’s unethical, but it’s just a business,’ Kavoosi explains. ‘I mean, what about strip clubs or porn shops? Those are unethical, and city-approved.’ ” The guy has a knack for the money quote. At least he didn’t roll health maintenance organizations in with porn shops.

With her millionaire rivals chewing up so much airtime, the DFL’s endorsed candidate, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, has seemed more than AWOL from TV sets. Betsy Sundquist of Politics in Minnesota says Team Kelliher has plans to launch TV advertising after the Fourth of July holiday. ” ‘We’re going to have the resources to win this race in August and the resources to win in November,’ Matt Swenson, Kelliher’s communications director, said [bravely?], although he acknowledged that the ads haven’t yet been placed.’ “

Jim Oberstar might consider making a grant or low-interest loan to his congressional colleague, Keith Ellison. Andy Birkey’s Minnesota Independent story, off financial disclosure statements submitted by the state’s eight Congress people, shows a large swing from the wealthiest, Oberstar, to the least well off, Ellison. Writes Birkey: “Rep. Oberstar has the most wealth of any member of the delegation, somewhere between $4.773 and $8.222 million, an average of around $6.5 million. He owns stock in numerous corporations including Apple, Exxon Mobil, Disney, General Electric, Home Depot and Microsoft. He accepted two trips to the Aspen Institute in 2009.” Apple, hmm? Shrewd play, Jim. Naturally, Birkey dials in on Michele Bachmann. He notes: “Bachmann’s net worth is between $512,000 and $2.055 million, an average of $1.283 million (Note: The congressional disclosure forms only record very broad estimates of assets and liabilities for each member). Bachmann’s assets are in the form of mutual funds, property, her family business and family farm. Bachmann has accepted seven trips from interest groups including Concerned Women for America, Pat Robertson’s Regent University, and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.” Concerned Women of America was founded by Beverly LaHaye, wife of the author, Tim, of the mega best-selling “Left Behind” rapture books.

As head of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar maybe could take a closer look at our sort-of-hometown airline, Delta, leading the industry in nickel-and-diming fees. A story out of the Atlanta Business Chronicle says: “Atlanta-based Delta collected $217.8 million in baggage fees in the first quarter of 2010, up 111.9 percent from $102.8 million in the first quarter of 2009. Its closest competition was American Airlines, which collected $128.5 million in first-quarter baggage fees. The industry as a whole generated $768.5 million in baggage fees in the period. As previously reported, Delta took in $2.7 billion in baggage fees in 2009, which was more than any other airline.” Are you kidding me? “$2.7 billion”? I guess the chances of them backing out of that annoying schtick are zero.

You owe it to yourself to click on the story by Dan Nienaber in the Mankato Free Press just for the photo of the guy who was busted on child porn charges after a mattress delivery guy saw photos of a naked boy on his computer screen. As the story goes, “Adam Glynn, was delivering the mattress to [Michael John] Immel’s apartment for Rooms and Rest on May 25 when he saw an image of a nude boy on a computer screen. Glynn estimated the boy was about 10 years old. He also reported the photo was one of three pictures of nude children that were part of a slide show on the computer monitor. Glynn called Mankato Police Department detectives two days later to report what he saw, according to the criminal complaint.”