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Keith Ellison rips Obama administration over drone use

Winter weather perspective; landmark Cottage Grove sign; clothing sales-tax pushback; Duluth’s casino fight; anti-Bachmann petition; and more.

Congressman Keith Ellison goes after the Obama administration over its use of drones. In a Strib commentary, he writes: “Weaponized drones have produced results. They have eliminated 22 of Al-Qaida’s top 30 leaders and just last week took out a Taliban leader. Critically, they lessen the need to send our troops into harm’s way, reducing the number of U.S. casualties. Yet the costs of drone strikes have been ignored or inadequately acknowledged. The number of innocent civilian casualties may be greater than people realize. A recent study by human rights experts at Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law found that the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes is much higher than what the U.S. government has reported: approximately 700 since 2004, including almost 200 children. This is unacceptable.”

With loose talk of actual 20-below temperatures next week, MPR’s weather guy, Paul Huttner applies some perspective:
• “1,461 consecutive days (4 years) with high temperatures of 0°F or greater at MSP
• January 15th, 2009 last time MSP high temp was below zero (-6F)
• 22.5 days below zero at MSP in an “average” winter
• 2008-2009 last time MSP exceed that number with 34 sub-zero days
• Siberian Express? Models more confident on significant arctic outbreak next week
-20F European model cranking out -20F at MSP next Tuesday morning
• -25F latest GFS runs cranking out -25F next Tuesday morning.”

Oh, come on. Somebody’ll buy that thing. The Strib’s Jim Anderson says: “In red-orange buzzing neon that grew brighter as the sun slipped past the horizon, the big sign along Hwy. 61 beckoned moviegoers to the Cottage View Drive-In for 46 summers. Now, the red steel design shaped like a cottage — replete with a colorful curlicue of metallic smoke popping from its roof — has grown faded, and a closer look reveals a scattering of rust. What will soon be the remnant of one of the last drive-in movie theaters in Minnesota awaits an uncertain fate. Planning maps show the sign is earmarked for demolition as part of the site’s transformation into a retail development called the Shoppes at Cottage View anchored by a 180,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter.” Insult to injury …

A little sales tax perspective from MPR’s Paul Tosto in the wake of fresh talk of adding clothing to taxable items: “Among the states that impose a sales tax, eight (Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts) provide some exemption for clothing, according to The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. Minnesota’s high end clothing retailers are pushing back at the prospect of a clothing sales tax. The Mall of America, where apparel accounts for more than half of all sales, says the current clothing sales tax exemption is one of the main reasons tourists around the world travel to the mall. While the clothing fight will take center stage in the coming weeks, the larger problem with the sales tax is that consumers are shifting more of their purchases away from goods and toward services, which largely go untaxed.” How much could we cover with a, say, 50-fold increase in lobbyist licensing fees?

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Duluth is going to have to keep its legal tab open to fight for that casino money. Dan Browning of the Strib says, “Fond-du-Luth — the first urban tribal casino in the nation — will not have to honor an agreement to pay rent to the city of Duluth, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an opinion issued Monday. ‘From our standpoint, this is devastating news to the residents and taxpayers of the city of Duluth’, said Mayor Don Ness. The city, with a general fund budget of about $75 million a year, was counting on about $6 million a year from the casino, he said. ‘That’s the primary source of revenue to do our street reconstruction.’ … Fond-du-Luth was built for $3 million at a time when tribal casinos were unregulated. The band, with the city’s enthusiastic support, persuaded the federal government in 1986 to convert city land into an Indian reservation for a casino. The city approved the arrangement as part of a deal that initially gave it and the band each a quarter of the revenues. The rest funded a joint economic development program.” Perhaps some city-owned competition is in order.

Further proof that liberals are mean people … Kevin Diaz of the Strib reports: “The liberal group People For the American Way delivered 178,000 petitions to House Speaker John Boehner Monday urging him to remove Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann from the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The group says that 4,500 of the signers are from Minnesota, about 400 of them from Bachmann’s district. If the move is largely a piece of political theater, it follows another bit of Washington dramatics: Bachmann’s 2012 request for investigations into alleged Islamic ‘influence operations’ inside the Pentagon, the State Department, and other government agencies. … ‘Michele Bachmann has used her position on the Intelligence Committee to spread baseless conspiracy theories and smear the reputations of honorable public servants,’ said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way.” But that’s what she was elected to do …

Job opening! Madeleine Baran of MPR says: “The city of St. Paul is looking for a new manager to run the troubled St. Paul police crime lab. The job opening, posted on the city’s website, says applicants must have seven years of work experience in an accredited lab and be certified in either fingerprint or drug analysis. The unaccredited St. Paul crime lab shut down drug testing last summer amid allegations of shoddy work and contaminated equipment. The closure threw thousands of drug cases into question. Police Chief Thomas Smith reassigned the head of the lab, Sgt. Shay Shackle, and hired independent consultants to review the lab’s work. The police department plans to release a report soon that will describe the consultants’ recommendations. The job description says the new crime lab manager will provide ‘short and long-term planning strategies to Police Administration based on Forensic standards and best practices.’ ” And no, having seen a couple of episodes of “CSI: Miami” doesn’t meet the criteria.

The punch line to the latest lawyer joke is in the first line of Marino Eccher’s PiPress story: “An Eagan lawyer is suspended indefinitely after having an affair with a client whom he represented in a divorce, then billing her for time they spent having sex. Thomas P. Lowe, 58, won’t have a chance for reinstatement for at least a year and three months following the decision, filed Thursday, Jan. 10, by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Lowe, an attorney since 1985, had known the client for many years. Both are from Valley City, N.D. The woman met with Lowe in August 2011 to discuss pursuing a divorce from her husband. He agreed to represent her. During a phone call days later, Lowe asked about her sexual relationship with her husband, commented on her appearance and asked if she was interested in sex with him. … At various points, Lowe billed the woman for legal services on the dates of their sexual encounters, coding the time as meetings or drafting memos.” No word if 90 seconds counts as a billable hour.

It’ll be fall … or later … before Amtrak actual starts its run at Union Depot.  Says Frederick Melo in the PiPress: “The rail carrier says it will not move into the restored transit hub until a spur connection from the passenger loading platform to the mainline freight track is complete, likely in the fourth quarter of 2013. … Amtrak is the second major tenant whose absence from the depot has been palpable. The Greyhound bus line decided last year against moving into the Union Depot and instead permanently shut down its St. Paul station on University Avenue during light rail construction. The bus line said it would focus on operating higher-end express services from Minneapolis, without a stop in St. Paul.” … And then Macy’s closed.