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TCF cites sanctions for dropping Iranian student customers

Costly water system upgrades; “waiting” on gay marriage; legislative per diems top $1 million; Target expands price match; price comparison complaints; and more.

TCF Bank is culling Iranian students from its customer list. Says Jenna Ross at the Strib: “The [U of M’s] agreement with TCF Financial Corp. grants the Wayzata-based company the exclusive right to offer checking accounts linked to the university’s photo ID cards. Nearly 30,700 students and employees have signed up, worth about $1 million a year in royalties, which the university puts toward student programming and scholarships. A TCF Bank spokesman said the letters — sent to other customers and ‘not just foreign students’ — were triggered by its investigations into transactions that might have violated federal sanctions. … The university’s Twin Cities campus has 67 students from Iran. Most are working on Ph.D.s, Mattern said. The National Iranian American Council has increasingly heard reports from Iranians and Iranian-Americans who’ve had their bank accounts closed or were blocked from opening them, said policy director Jamal Abdi.”

How does $6 billion strike you? Dan Kraker at MPR writes: “[I]n recent days, major water main breaks in Minneapolis, Duluth and Sioux Falls, S.D. have highlighted the massive labyrinth of underground pipes that delivers water to homes and businesses. In many Minnesota cities, that system is old and in need of replacement. … across Minnesota, cities are struggling to maintain their current infrastructure while trying to come up with the money needed to replace it. The costs are staggering. A 2007 federal study estimated Minnesota’s drinking water system needs $6 billion in repairs and upgrades. That doesn’t even include the fixes sewer systems need, which state officials estimate at another $4.5 billion.”

Although the official word is that “it must wait,” the issue of same-sex marriage gets another look, legislatively speaking, from MPR’s Sasha Aslainian: “DFL state Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis will be the chief sponsor of that effort, but like [Rep. Erin] Murphy, he said the issue is part of a larger conversation about helping Minnesota families care for each other. ‘We’re trying to avoid though, having this take over the session and becoming the only thing that we talk about,’ Dibble said. ‘And so I think properly situating it and taking it up in due time is the prudent course of action.’ Opponents of same-sex marriage say they are not giving up the fight. Minnesota for Marriage, the group that tried to pass the amendment, recently held a closed-door strategy meeting with legislators and religious leaders to discuss ways to block same-sex marriage. Republican Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville, who voted to put the marriage amendment on the ballot two years ago, cautions Democrats not to overreach.” And that — overreaching — is something the senator knows something about.

Talk about spoiling the fun … Pat Kessler at WCCO-TV revisits per diem payments as the Legislature returns to work. He says: “New numbers from the Minnesota legislature show state lawmakers paid themselves more than a $1 million last year in per diem payments — out of the public eye. … Now, for the first time in many years, the top 10 House per diem-takers are all in the Republican party. Leading the pack is Education Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo from Northfield. He received $11,418 in per diem during 2012. The top 10 per diems in the Senate went to a mix of Democrats and Republicans. No. 1 is the Majority Leader, David Senjem. The Republican Senator from Rochester got per diem totaling $11,438. Minnesota lawmakers have not had a raise in more than a decade and their middle-of-the-pack salaries rank above Iowa and the Dakotas, but below Wisconsin. In Minnesota, however, per diem is a kind of back door pay hike. Also, because most of it is added to their pensions, there’s an incentive to get as much as possible.” See if anybody buys you a drink, pal.

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The GleanTarget’s online price-match strategy is going full time. Anne D’Innocenzio of the AP says: “The nation’s second-largest discounter behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it will match prices that customers find on identical products at top online retailers, all the time. The online list includes Amazon.com as well as the websites of Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Toys R Us and Babies R Us. Target’s holiday price match program with online retailers began Nov. 1 and ended Dec. 16. Target is also making permanent its holiday offer of matching prices of items found at its stores with those on its website. And for the first time it will include products that are out of stock on Target.com. The moves follow a disappointing holiday shopping season for the Minneapolis-based retailer, hurt by stiffer competition from online rivals and stores like Wal-Mart that have hammered its low prices.”

Purely coincidentally … Bloomberg’s Renee Dudley says: “Best Buy Co. (BBY) and Toys R Us Inc. (TOYS) have filed complaints in several states alleging that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) deceived consumers in price comparison advertisements. The ads aired from late November to mid-December, according to Toys R Us. Sales in November and December account for 20 percent to 40 percent of U.S. retailers’ annual revenue, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington-based trade group. … the Toys R Us spokeswoman, said that Wal-Mart misled customers about pricing on several toys including the Fisher-Price Surprise Kitchen and Table Set, which was advertised for $39.97. Third-party shoppers found the sets were being sold for as much as twice that price, according to Toys R Us. Wal-Mart said the in-store and advertised price for the set was correct at $39.97. Wal-Mart was selling Holiday Barbie dolls for $7 more than their advertised price, according to Toys R Us. The ads misstated the Toys R Us prices for both toys, Waugh said. Fisher-Price products and Barbie dolls are both made by Mattel Inc. (MAT), based in El Segundo, California.” This is the sort of thing that demands a congressional investigation, dammit.

Maybe they thought there’s too much transparency in political money … The AP also says: “A high-profile government watchdog group that maintains a database of all political donations made in Wisconsin has lost half of its funding and faces an uncertain future. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign alerted its supporters on Tuesday, Jan. 8, that the Joyce Foundation decided to no longer give the group money. Democracy Campaign director Mike McCabe says of the group’s $430,000 annual budget, $232,500 of it came from the Joyce Foundation. McCabe says the Joyce Foundation gave no explanation for the decision to stop funding the group after it had for 16 years.” They could always apply to FreedomWorks.

Hand out the torches and pitchforks … Paul Walsh of the Strib reports: “A longtime fisheries operator in west-central Minnesota built a road on his property, and for that he could go to prison. James Bosek, 48, of Garfield, was found guilty last week in federal court in Fergus Falls of building a road in 2003 on his 160 acres knowing that it went through a federally protected wetland basin. In convicting Bosek of a misdemeanor under the National Wildlife Refuge System Act, Judge Leo I. Brisbois wrote that the Douglas County property owner knew of an easement “in perpetuity” that the U.S. Interior Department bought in 1963. Bosek purchased the land in 2001, where he also lives, and the easement was still in force.

Comparing voter fraud to kids trying to scam bars for booze, Dave Thul at the conservative blog True North has a bold idea: “Opponents of the Voter ID amendment last year told us repeatedly that they didn’t disagree with the concept, just that the language as written was flawed. We needed to ‘send it back’ to the legislature to get it right. So said Governor Dayton.  SecState Mark Ritchie.  Former Governor Carlson. DFL spokesman Lori Sturdevant.  Even MPR told us to send it back in a video that blurred the line between reporting and campaigning. … Every bar and restaurant that serves alcohol in Minnesota, along with every establishment that sells tobacco products, is subject to undercover enforcement operations … City and county police departments recruit minors to go into businesses to attempt to purchase products they are not legally old enough to buy. This model of enforcement not only identifies areas of weakness in the system that need to be addressed, but provides a motivation to bartenders and gas station attendants; check those ID’s or you could end up fired or in jail. It also motivates businesses to train their employees to the letter of the law and hold them to high standards when checking for ID. So why not apply this model to our elections?  Because special elections are generally administered by county auditors, let’s call on a dozen county auditors across the state to test the election system undercover.  Just like with liquor and cigarettes, let’s send a variety of people, either the auditors themselves or people recruited by them, into the polls to see if they can cast an illegal ballot.” I say, “Great idea. As long as Thul writes the check for it.” Otherwise, let’s just wait until someone actually detects a problem.