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Bachmann troubles referred to House Ethics Committee

Health program finds cost controls elusive; Xcel adds wind energy projects; Buffets remodeling planned; Hubbard buys 10 radio stations; “Submergence” novel getting good reviews; and more.

Clearly, more “politically motivated persecution.” Kevin Diaz of the Strib says: “A congressional inquiry of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has been referred to the House Ethics Committee, significantly raising the stakes in the Minnesota Republican’s efforts to fend off questions about her 2012 presidential campaign’s financial dealings. A report issued Tuesday by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) shows that its bipartisan board sent all seven cases before it last month to the House Ethics Committee, meaning they found ‘substantial reason’ to believe they all involve potential ethics violations. Among the cases known to be pending before the board was a probe of potential campaign finance violations by Bachmann as well as allegations that she took members of her campaign staff on a book tour to promote her personal political memoir, ‘Core of Conviction.’ ” Core of … what?

Actually lowering health care costs is proving elusive … . Jim Spencer and Jackie Crosby of the Strib say: “Initial results from a federal pilot program released Tuesday showed that hospitals excelled at improving the quality of medical care and in getting high marks from patients. But a majority struggled with the third goal — lowering the cost of care. After the first year of the program, just 13 of the 32 participating health systems were able to lower health care costs for such conditions as diabetes and high blood pressure. Two hospitals lost money. … Still, federal officials heralded the program’s first year, saying it saved nearly $33 million in the Medicare program primarily by reducing hospital admissions and readmissions.”

600 megawatts = 180,000 homes. Elizabeth Dunbar of MPR says: “Three new wind energy projects in Minnesota and North Dakota would help Xcel Energy boost its Midwest wind portfolio by a third, the utility said Tuesday. Xcel said it submitted paperwork to state regulators to add 600 megawatts of wind energy to its portfolio, which is enough electricity to power 180,000 homes, officials said. The utility’s Midwest presence covers parts of Minnesota, the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Michigan. Two of the new wind projects are in southern Minnesota: Odell Wind Farm near Windom and Pleasant Valley near Austin. The third, Courtenay Wind Farm, is located near Jamestown, N.D.

But will the hipster foodies show up? Steve Alexander of the Strib writes: “The new leader of the company that owns Old Country Buffet has a lot on his plate, including tamping down talk that the company might move from its headquarters in Eagan. … In the year since Buffets emerged from a bankruptcy restructuring, the perception that it might move has grown because [Anthony] Wedo, who became CEO in December, is mainly working from a second corporate office in Greer, S.C. … To underscore the company’s commitment to Minnesota, Wedo said Buffets will soon remodel and update its Twin Cities restaurants, becoming the second market in which outlets get a makeover in decor and menu. Denver was the first.”

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Raising their bet on radio … John  Ewoldt of the Strib reports: “Hubbard Radio will buy the 10 radio stations of Sandusky Radio in an $85.5 million deal, expanding Hubbard’s station count to 30 and giving it national reach by adding two West Coast markets, Seattle and Phoenix. The move comes about two years after St. Paul-based Hubbard closed a $505 million purchase of 17 stations, chiefly in big East Coast and Midwest cities, that marked a significant foray beyond the Twin Cities. Among the stations it acquired in that deal was WTOP-AM in Washington, D.C., the nation’s highest-revenue station last year. The latest transaction involves two privately held companies that are still run by the families of their founders.

The reviews have been pretty impressive. Euan Kerr of MPR writes: “Writer J.M. Ledgard’s life rarely strays far from two elements: water and danger. In “Submergence,” his new novel, they are always near. A spy thriller mixed with romance, history, philosophy and environmental concerns, ‘Submergence’ tells the stories of a British spy captured by Somali terrorists and a deep sea oceanographer about to dive to the bottom of the sea. Both characters drift back to their brief, passionate affair over Christmas at an exclusive French hotel. A New York Magazine critic recently called it the best novel she has read all year. National publishing houses reportedly passed over the book. Minneapolis-based Coffee House Press did not, finding the material exactly to its liking. … In “Submergence,” Ledgard sets individual lives next to the huge realities of nature, balances human self-importance against planetary fragility.” What? And no S&M scenes?

A local employment attorney on the privacy issues in Michael Brodkorb’s legal battle. In a Strib commentary, V. John Ella says: “Brodkorb’s lawyers recently filed pleadings electronically in U.S. District Court, which included the protected information by accident, allowing the Associated Press to obtain names and details during a brief window of access. The attorneys’ stumble highlights a major but unappreciated public-policy issue regarding individual privacy and our court system in the electronic age. As Americans become more concerned about protecting private information, especially medical records, the courts are the last bastion of unfettered transparency — providing a public window into the private lives and dirty laundry of tens of thousands of litigants and witnesses every year.