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Former FBI official calls ATF choice Jones ‘atrocious’

Telemedicine for seniors; no-excuse absentee voting; gas prices jump; Capitol repairs; Franken fundraising; Dinkytown changes; first “pagan” TV show; and more.

“Atrocious,” you say? Dan Browning and Paul McEnroe of the Strib say: “A former director of the Minneapolis FBI office sent a letter this week to members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee denouncing B. Todd Jones’ performance as U.S. Attorney in Minnesota as they prepare to consider his nomination to director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Donald E. Oswald, 54, a self-declared Democrat and supporter of President Barack Obama, said he felt ‘morally compelled’ to alert the committee about what he describes as Jones’ ‘atrocious professional reputation within the federal law enforcement community’ in Minnesota. ‘He was, and still remains, a significant impediment for federal law enforcement to effectively protect the citizens of Minnesota from violent gang, drug, and gun activities,’ Oswald wrote in an eight-page, single-spaced letter.” This sounds like an episode of “The Wire.”

Pretty high-tech seniors … Elizabeth Stawicki of MPR files a piece on golden-agers having web chats with their pharmacists: “Ensuring that patients take their medicine correctly can keep chronic health problems from spiraling out of control and into emergency rooms, intensive care units or worse. Reducing preventable hospital re-admissions is a key strategy to containing costs in the federal health care law. To that end, Fairview Partners is turning to a variation of telemedicine. Telemedicine uses technology to connect doctors with patients in remote areas. Fairview Partners is using technology to link patients and providers separated not just by distance, but by difficulty or danger.”

Early voting may take a small step forward. Brian Bakst of the AP says: “Minnesota lawmakers on Thursday weighed an incremental shift toward early voting amid signs they will have a harder time enacting a broader expansion that would open polling places weeks before Election Day. Legislation to dump a requirement that people have a valid excuse to vote by absentee ballot got a favorable reception in its first airing before the House Elections Committee. No vote was taken, but no objections were voiced either. Rep. Steve Simon, the committee’s chairman and the bill’s sponsor, said allowing no-excuse absentee voting would ease voting and legitimize an exercise that is taking place already. Minnesota now requires people to attest to one of a handful of justifications spelled out in law to obtain an absentee ballot, but enforcement is lax.”

Yeah, when did gas get back to $3.50 a gallon? Edward Moody at WCCO-TV says: “The average price of gas in the Twin Cities is around $3.45 per gallon, which is nearly 40 cents higher than it was a month ago. So, why did prices jump so high so quickly? Crude Oil prices factor into the increase. In the last few weeks, barrels went from $92 each to $98. However, Minnesotans in January saw their price at the pump grow even more than any other state. That’s because several Midwest states are buying fuel from Canada, where it costs more. They have to until two Chicago area refineries — closed for maintenance — reopen. That could take days or weeks. That being said, Minnesota isn’t really paying more than other states. ‘Keep in mind, that just brings us up to the national average,’ said Gail Weinholzer with AAA Minnesota.”

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Don Davis of the Forum papers takes a look at progress on the Capitol renovation bill: “If renovation does not happen now, he added, Minnesota will be paying for continual expensive repair. ‘The mechanical systems are really worn out’ [renovation manager David] Hart said. [Administration Commissioner Spencer] Cronk said Gov. Mark Dayton will propose the $109 million project, to be funded by the state selling bonds. The outlook improved this year when a key lawmaker who has questioned the project jumped on board. ‘I have been kind of a prickly mosquito for a number of years,’ Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said.  On Thursday, she told the Capital Investment Committee she leads that she now supports the plan. ‘If inflation returns, these costs change dramatically and quickly,’ Hausman said.”

It’s a pleasant situation. Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Strib tells us: “Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken is starting his re-election bid with $1.3 million in the bank, according to new campaign finance reports, and a powerful fundraising reach. While Republicans have been itching to take him on in 2014, the cushion he had at the end of last year could give them a renewed reason to fret that Franken currently does not have a high-profile challenger. The freshman senator raised more than $20 million for his first run against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and eked out an exceedingly close win after a prolonged recount battle. This time, Franken will have the power of the office on his side. ‘He isn’t a pushover,’ said Jennifer Duffy, Senate race analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. ‘You are going to need someone really strong and pretty well known to run against him.’ ” Ooo, ooo. I know someone!

So, with that in mind … Brett Neely of MPR says: “One of the most deep-pocketed Democratic outside spending groups of the 2012 campaign has put out a new list of House Republican lawmakers it plans to target in 2014, and Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann and John Kline are both on it. The House Majority PAC spent $35.4 million in the 2012 election cycle, mostly running negative ads against Republican House members, according the Center for Responsive Politics. The group spent nearly $1.5 million in Minnesota’s 8th District in the successful effort to unseat U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack. … Bachmann’s district is far more conservative, having voted for Romney 56-41 percent, but her personal popularity in the area appears to have taken a hit. She only narrowly eked out a win against DFL challenger Jim Graves with a margin of a little more than 4,000 votes.” You know the Dems have been kicking themselves over that one.

The Strib editorial board is … pro-bigger, -taller Dinkytown: “But how classic is this village, really? What would the new Opus project replace? In architectural terms, the House of Hanson building is a bleak, one-story fortress that adds nothing to the neighborhood’s aesthetic character. A surface parking lot occupies most of the rest of the footprint. Indeed, to study an aerial photo of the district is to realize that a third of Dinkytown’s four-block core is devoted to surface parking, something anathema to the classic village form. (A suburban-style McDonald’s and the six-story Purple Onion mixed-use building, as well as the 20-story Chateau housing cooperative are all within or bordering the four-block core.) By refilling a surface lot, the Opus project could conceivably add to, not detract from, Dinkytown’s ambience. In an urban setting, the village is defined not by height but by activity at the sidewalk level.”

Pagan power! Frederick Melo of the PiPress has news on a fledgling TV show: “Todd Berntson’s 58-minute television show has been picked up by a handful of cable access stations around the country, from the St. Paul Neighborhood Network to stations in Spokane, Wash., and East Hampton, Mass. It’s a modest start for the ‘Pagan Voice,’ which is billed as the first weekly program of its kind aimed at the little-understood Pagan community. ‘What’s kind of interesting about this is, this is the first time in history that the Pagan spiritual community has had its own television show,’ said Berntson, a chiropractor from Apple Valley. … his show has covered a wide range of topics, including December’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and a nonprofit that teaches yoga to Kenyan tribes. ‘We don’t just do stuff that’s specifically related to the Pagan community,’ he said. ‘Really, what we’re trying to do is bring a different perspective, the Pagan world perspective, to some of the more challenging issues in the world today.’ Berntson hopes to debunk a few myths about modern Paganism, which is sometimes mistaken for darker witchcraft. His faith has no central dogma, but it centers on the belief that everyone is a spiritual being and that spirituality can be found in nature.” Why, that’s just crazy talk!