Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Duluth casino fight foreboding for gambling expansion efforts?

Health insurance premiums probed; “Castle Doctrine” criticized; a restaurant brawl; big-box stores’ fate; and more.

There’s a highly relevant story by Jennifer Brooks of the Strib on the pitfalls of expanded casino gambling: “Duluth ceded a crumbling square block in the middle of downtown to the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. The band put the land in trust and used it to build the state’s first true casino — the Fond-du-Luth. Both governments signed off on the deal and settled back to share the profits for 50 years. Now, the two are about to face off in court in a dispute that could provide a cautionary tale as Minnesota contemplates expanding gambling on multiple fronts. Each possibility either relies on the cooperation of the state’s Indian tribes or sets up competition that could set the two sides warring. … Without an expansion of gambling, the state has few options short of raising taxes to help pay for a new Vikings stadium or repay its sizable debt to schools. That doesn’t change the Minnesota Constitution, or the fact that casinos currently are the exclusive domain of Indian tribes in this state. But in the fraught atmosphere of the gambling debate, tribes fear that they once again have something the government wants. ‘They wanted our land and they got that; now they want our casinos,’ said Jarvis Paro, 27.” And that’s particularly “fraught” if you’re a politician who is avowedly liberal.

The high earnings off health insurance premiums for the poor has the feds asking questions in Minnesota. Jackie Crosby of the Strib writes: “The federal government has launched an investigation into whether Minnesota has set premium rates too high on health insurance coverage for low-income people, officials said Tuesday. The probe came to light at a state House committee hearing, at which one critic of the state’s nonprofit plans said they earn more on the state plans for Medical Assistance than they have on commercial plans, even as doctors and hospitals collect less reimbursement.”

The “not in a position of authority” defense is back. Emily Gurnon of the PiPress covers the story of the Elk River teacher’s affair with an ex-student. “Matthew Ellsworth, 36, of St. Paul argued through his attorney Tuesday that he did not commit criminal sexual conduct because he was not in a ‘position of authority’ over the girl during the summer of 2011, when the relationship took place. The two had sex in Ellsworth’s apartment in the 1800 block of Randolph Avenue in St. Paul. ‘He was no more than a former teacher with no intention of returning to (the high school) when the sexual activities between the two of them occurred,’ defense attorney Allan Kaplan said.” I’m also horrified at the thought of the St. Paul-to-Elk River commute.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, who probably knows of which he speaks, writes in a Strib commentary on the expansion of the so-called “Castle Doctrine: “The proposed changes would eliminate the duty to retreat before exercising the right of self-defense in all locations and permit a person to meet force with superior force, including deadly force, if the individual reasonably believes such force is needed to resist or prevent the imminent infliction of substantial bodily harm, great bodily harm or death. This proposal creates a presumption that deadly force can be used against someone who enters a dwelling by force or stealth, and it expands the definition of dwelling to include decks, porches, fenced-in areas, tents, other structures, and occupied watercraft and motor vehicles. This proposal inappropriately creates a subjective standard of reasonableness of the actions rather than the objective standard in current law. In other words, the issue becomes what was in the mind of the person using deadly force, rather than how a reasonable person would have reacted under the same circumstances.”

A brawl … at TGI Friday’s? The AP story says: “Five players on Rochester’s professional lacrosse team have been charged in connection with a brawl at a Bloomington, Minn., restaurant involving more than two dozen people. Rochester Knighthawks team officials tell local media outlets the players appeared in Hennepin County District Court in Edina on Tuesday afternoon before returning to New York. The charges include disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process. Police in Bloomington tell the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester the players got into a fight with another group of patrons at a TGI Friday’s restaurant early Monday morning. Rochester lost to the Minnesota Swarm Sunday afternoon in St. Paul. Officers say glasses and other objects were thrown during the brawl, causing about $1,600 in damage.”

And under the heading of “There but for the Grace of God … ” The AP also reports: “A Grand Forks man who shot a loud television set has pleaded guilty to a charge of putting others in danger. A court document says the incident happened last October at Daryl Lee Nikle’s home. Nikle warned three people the television was too loud. When the TV kept blaring, he shot it with a .44 Magnum pistol.”

On that first-ever media news briefing by the Minneapolis Fed president, Jennifer Bjorhus of the Strib writes: “The biggest news from the briefing, however, may be that it occurred at all. Under Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the once-secretive interest rate-setting body has been airing its views more directly about policy decisions and the direction of the economy — letting the public and market movers peek behind the curtain in Oz. Kocherlakota nudged the Fed’s new open-door policy a crack further, saying he thinks the Fed ‘should be much more clear’ about the trade-offs between unemployment and inflation — the Fed’s two mandates, which are often in conflict. Kocherlakota said his forecast is that national unemployment will fall to about 7.7 percent by the end of the year and drop to 7 percent by the end of 2013.” Brad Allen offers more analysis here on MinnPost.

At MPR, Martin Moylan takes the latest look at Best Buy and Target’s struggles with the sales of electronic gizmos: “Competing with online retailers is especially challenging for Best Buy. Those rivals don’t have the real estate and labor costs Best Buy does. And Internet-only retailers typically don’t collect sales taxes. Some analysts say Best Buy must scale back, close stores and cut staff if it is to compete long-term on prices. But Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn recently told CNBC that when a customer walks into one of his stores looking to make a purchase ‘we love our odds every time.’ At the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas this year, Dunn said his some 1,100 big-box stores and 180,000 employees are assets that drive sales as the company pursues a ‘bricks and clicks’ strategy. … Target is giving no ground on price, even as arch-rival WalMart is poised to cut prices by a combined $2 billion this year and next. In a conference call with analysts last November, Target Executive Vice President Kathee Tesija said Target’s prices have been ‘spot on.’ “

Any legislation that involves 2.5 million acres of public land might be worth watching … closely.  At the Duluth News Tribune, John Myers writes: “It’s more land than Yellowstone National Park, if you add up all the acres, and it stretches across northern Minnesota. Yet many Minnesotans have never heard of it. It’s called school trust land — about 2.5 million acres of mostly forest and swamp in square-mile plots spread across more than 20 counties. The federal government gave the land to the state more than 150 years ago to raise money for an education trust fund. That fund has grown over the years, both as land is sold and as the state earns money from mining, logging and other activities on trust land. But some say it’s not building up fast enough. And this week a battle is heating up at the Capitol in St. Paul with new legislation introduced that would strip control of the school land from the Department of Natural Resources and give it to a trust manager housed in another state agency — a move supporters say would reduce overhead costs and shift focus away from natural resource protection and toward maximizing revenue for schools.” I believe “maximizing revenue” qualifies as “Red Flag verbiage.”