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Ag secretary recommends redirecting ethanol subsidies

MORNING EDITION ALSO: More double-suicide details; Boston Globe on Pawlenty, George Will on Kline; a Facebook school threat; Wisconsin recount and recalls; and more.
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in town defending ethanol subsidies, at least to the point of arguing that some money should be redirected. David Shaffer of the Strib writes: “Vilsack said Wednesday that he endorses an ethanol industry proposal to scale back its nearly $6 billion annual federal subsidy and redirect some of the money to renewable energy research and incentives for gas stations to dispense a range of ethanol blends. Vilsack, in an interview with Star Tribune reporters and editorial writers, said it would be a mistake for Congress simply to eliminate the 45-cent-per-gallon federal ethanol credit like it did with the a bio-diesel credit in 2009. … Vilsack said such a plan should happen over four to five years. Some of the money — he didn’t say how much — should be shifted to explore alternatives to corn ethanol, efforts to increase the number of cars that run on higher ethanol blends and incentives for gas stations to add blender pumps to sell such fuel.”

Details about the double-suicide by two 14-year-old girls from the Marshall area continue to trickle out. The Daily Mail (of Britain) writes: “Police investigating the deaths believe the teenagers had been planning the hangings for some time. Haylee Fentress and her friend Paige laid out funeral arrangements in letters to their parents. They even left details about how they wanted their funerals to be carried out in their farewell notes. ‘She requested everything pink and princess and butterflies,’ said Haylee’s aunt, Robin Settle. The suicides came three days after Paige’s mother and stepfather left for a 10-day break in Hawaii. … The girls were so close that Haylee recently hyphenated her last name to include Paige’s last name on Facebook. … Haylee was reportedly expelled from Marshall Middle School for defending Paige in a fight. ‘That was really weighing on her, missing her friends and being excluded from school. She felt like she was defending herself and her friend,’ added Ms. Settle.” Other stories note that there is as yet no explanation for why Haylee was expelled, the most severe punishment possible.

Joshua Green of The Atlantic writes on the Boston Globe’s editorial page about the perils of being Tim Pawlenty: “Pawlenty isn’t rich or well-connected. He lacks other candidates’ preexisting bases of support. He doesn’t arouse social conservatives like his fellow Minnesotan, Michele Bachmann. He’ll probably have to win Iowa or New Hampshire to have a realistic shot at the nomination. So he has to make himself stand out. He has tried to do this by casting himself as a fiery populist, and here the comparisons with Romney hold up a bit better. … Hardly anyone finds Pawlenty’s transformation entirely convincing. ‘To those of us who have known him a long time, it’s like a Michael Jackson political-personality change,’ [Larry] Jacobs said. ‘He’s sacrificing his authenticity and intelligence in pursuit of some dumbed-down notion of charisma.’ That, of course, is the kind of trade-off that presidential candidates have been making from time immemorial, but one much more pronounced this cycle. That’s a reflection of how much the conservative base has changed over the last few years. Pawlenty must hope that it hasn’t changed so much that what he represents — an electable conservative — has lost its appeal altogether.”

George Will serves up a valentine to 2nd District Congressman John Kline, the new chair of the House Education Committee. The specific topic is No Child Left Behind, but Will clearly likes Kline’s attitude toward teachers unions. Says Will: “Kline promises that the current system for measuring ‘adequate yearly progress’ ‘will not exist when we are done.’ And he says ‘we have to get rid of this ‘highly qualified teacher’ thing’ in NCLB. He thinks “qualified” is shorthand for teachers processed by the normal credentialing apparatus of education schools and departments. The stress, Kline says, should be on ‘highly effective teachers.’ He favors more charter schools — public schools operating outside union restrictions. He notes that when unions say these schools are ‘unfair’ because ‘they work under different rules,’ he tersely responds: ‘Precisely.’ ” The congressman is also, of course, a leading advocate for for-profit colleges.

So now Facebook is a threat-delivery vehicle? Rupa Chenoy of MPR reports: “[P]olice in central Minnesota are supervising students from Eden Valley-Watkins Schools Wednesday afternoon as they board buses for the ride home. Superintendent Larry Peterson said the district went into lockdown Wednesday morning after someone created a fraudulent Facebook page for Eden Valley-Watkins schools and then wrote ‘I see dead people’ as a status update.”

There’s something a little laissez-faire about the insurance company in Stribber James Walsh’s story of an Eden Prairie  con man: “Travis Magdalena Scott was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. From June to December of 2008, Scott allegedly submitted false insurance claims to Zurich North America. … The policy covered both the property of the business, which included supercomputers, and business interruption. If the property was damaged, Scott could either take the cash value of the damaged property, as determined by Zurich, or replace the damaged property up to his policy limit of $9.5 million. On June 1, 2008, about a year after he took out the policy, Scott reported that his business had been struck by lightning and sustained heavy damage. Scott opted to exercise the ‘replacement option’ on his policy for up to the $9.5 million policy limit, prosecutors said. Later that month, Scott told Zurich that a new computer system had been delivered. Based on that, the company delivered three checks totaling about $9.5 million to Scott. However, Scott allegedly did not use the money to buy computers but kept it for personal gain — such as buying a Beech aircraft.” OK, question. Did he fake a lightning strike?

FoxNews’ headline reads, “Failed Democrat Requests Recount in Wisconsin.” The story — which actually comes from Patrick Marley and Mike Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel — says: “Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg requested Wednesday a statewide recount — the first in 22 years — to check the results in the April 5 election for state Supreme Court race she lost to Justice David Prosser, the Government Accountability Board said. The official tally shows Kloppenburg lost to Prosser by 7,316 votes — less than 0.5% of the 1.5 million votes cast. Kloppenburg also called on the board to appoint a special investigator to probe the ‘actions and words’ of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus.” Ms. Nickolaus is, of course, the person who made a 7,500-plus vote error in her first count of the April 5 election.

Meanwhile, if you’re counting, the number of recall petitions filed against Wisconsin Republicans looks to hit five today. Greg Sargent of The Washington Post Plum Line blog writes: “Dems will file a massive amount of signatures tomorrow to trigger a recall election against a fifth Wisconsin GOP state senator, I’m told. Graeme Zielinski, the spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, confirms to me that Democrats will submit approximately 30,000 signatures for the recall of Alberta Darling — nearly 150 percent of the 20,343 required. This is the fifth time Dems have collected far more signatures than necessary for a recall — all but ensuring that all five recall elections will actually happen. … there are signs that Republicans may be able to trigger two recall elections against Dems, though in one case Republicans have apparently only collected a couple of thousand more signatures than required, which isn’t much of a cushion. Republicans have less than a week until their deadline, and they still haven’t filed anything, though that appears ready to change tomorrow.”

I’m not sure who among the “Fraters Libertas” bloggers wrote the piece ripping Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live,” who is soon to host the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. But … well … he/she writes: “Meyers is slated to host the upcoming White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. A good choice I think. As the head writer of the catastrophically unfunny Saturday Night Live, he’s well positioned to fill the shoes of past hosts like Wanda Sykes, Al Franken, and Yakov Smirnov. … It remains to be seen if Meyers even tries to make jokes ‘about’ the President. For example, the kind of vicious jokes Stephen Colbert leveled at GW Bush while hosting this dinner in 2006. Today’s liberal comedians, and shows like SNL, stay far away from anything resembling biting satire or social criticism when it comes to Obama. Instead, it’s safe ‘jokes’ about how smart he is compared to other politicians or how the American people aren’t worthy of him or attacks on his critics, the kind of thing that Wanda Sykes did on behalf of Obama when hosting in 2009. Given his track record, I’ll be shocked if anything resembling ‘jokes about Obama’ are uttered by Meyers.” I think the “Fraters” need to nominate a real comic, a true satirist, someone with whom they feel a deep kinship. Is Larry the Cable Guy free?