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Minnesota politicians join Obama in Cuba

Plus: more on Wednesday snow; rising pay among low-income jobs; Real ID gets a vote; Minneapolis City Council moves forward on plastic bag ban; and more.

For the Pioneer Press, David Montgomery reports, “Klobuchar, Emmer and Nolan were all in Cuba as part of the president’s official visit, which will also include an exhibition game between Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team. Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Klobuchar and Emmer said ending the Cuban embargo could be a bonanza for Minnesota farmers and other businesses. ‘There are some major markets for us to build on what is already a $20 million market out of Minnesota,’ said Klobuchar, a Democrat, of agricultural exports to Cuba, which imports most of its food. ‘Agriculture Commissioner (Dave) Frederickson estimates we could double or triple that if the embargo was lifted.’

An editorial by the not always so progressive Forum News syndicate says, “Critics of the president’s Cuba initiative say he is “rewarding” the communist leadership of a regime known for human rights violations and espionage against the U.S. There is no question the Castro government is oppressive and undemocratic. But if those factors were criteria for denying U.S. relations with nations, the U.S. would not be trading or talking with China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Burma, Indonesia or any number of countries that routinely violate human rights or challenge U.S. foreign policy.”

70 miles per hour? Britain’s The Daily Mail has a story from Jessica Chia on the 11 year-old with a cement truck. “A young boy stole a ready-mix concrete truck and smashed two police cars as he led officers on a high speed chase in Minnesota at speeds up to 70 mph, according to the sheriff’s office. The boy, whose name has not been released, stole the cement mixer around 3pm on Sunday from a contractor who had left the keys in the vehicle, police said. … [Troy] Flatness compared the chase to a parade as residents stepped outside to watch the spectacle. He said: ‘I betcha he drove around town 6 or 7 times. He was smiling, hooting and hollering…he was having a good time.’”

On that Wednesday snow, Mary Lynn Smith of the Strib says, “Southern Minnesota and south central Wisconsin likely will get several inches to up to a foot of snow, said Andy Lahr, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. South metro residents also might be digging out from the spring snowstorm, he said, although he cautioned that it’s still too early to tell where the cutoff will be between those who will have to shovel and those who won’t.”

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Oh, and on the subject of spring, MPR says, “State conservation officials say they’re already getting bear calls because of the early spring. They’re urging Minnesotans who live near bear territory to check their property for food sources that could attract the creatures.”

The low are getting higher pay. Says Adam Belz for the Strib, “Median wages for new retail salespeople, cooks, hotel clerks, home health aides, switchboard operators and security guards all edged across the $10 mark in 2015, according to the latest Job Vacancy Survey, the state’s twice-annual report on the jobs that are available and what they pay. Employers’ modest sweetening of job offers will be cold comfort to most low-wage workers in the state. Three in five job openings still pays less than $15 per hour, a share of openings that has not changed for five years.”

I love a good vote … to study. Says MPR’s Brian Bakst, “The Minnesota Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to direct the Department of Public Safety to study how to bring the state in compliance with the federal Real ID law. House members could act on the companion bill as soon as Thursday, giving the agency that issues millions of state licenses until March 31 to report back on timelines, costs and other logistics. There’s urgency involved because lawmakers expect to consider a second bill later this session to allow distribution of the security-enhanced licenses, which will one day be required for domestic air travel in the absence of a passport.” Can’t we roll TSA Precheck into this somehow?

The horror stories about Highway 12 just keep on coming. Don Davis of the Forum News Service writes, “Victims’ families testified about U.S. 12’s dangers as the committee examined a rising number of traffic fatalities statewide last year and so far this year. Senators heard that problems across Minnesota go far beyond what was described as an antiquated highway.”

It’s so California. Says Erin Golden in the Strib, “A proposal to ban Minneapolis stores from handing out plastic bags — and require them to charge customers for paper bags — has cleared an important hurdle at City Hall. Monday, following a lengthy public hearing, the City Council’s Health, Environment and Community Engagement committee voted 4-0 to forward the plan to the full council.”

At this point what’s another $40,000? Also in the Strib, Libor Jany reports, “Minneapolis officials last week agreed to pay $40,000 to settle a federal lawsuit by a man who said that three police officers beat him and detained him in his home on Aug. 6, 2014. The settlement closed the book on a 16-month-old lawsuit that alleges that after the beating, one of the officers asked the man, Jesse McLemore, whether he had ‘anything else to say, smartass?’ … All three of the officers named in the suit — Jer ‘James’ Yang, Christopher Steward and Shawn Brandt — are still with the department.” Because if they were fired, it wouldn’t be safe to walk the streets.

Who said, “Never trust anyone”? At KMSP-TV Tom Lyden says, “Two years ago, Margaret Jean Brezina contacted a Vikings super fan group called ‘Viking World Order’ and told them she had terminal brain cancer. Wanting to help, the group sprang into action. They arranged a front row seat and field access for the game against the Green Bay Packers and raised over $20,000 from a GoFundMe site they created and jersey sales. Now, they believe they fell for a con artist who prayed on their sympathies. Eventually, David Garza, vice-president of Viking World Order, asked for proof. Brezina simply texted him a brain scan with a picture cropped from Google Images. … Brezina is an Edina High School graduate currently living in Ft. Lauderdale. She has a rap sheet in both Florida and Minnesota for theft and fraud, and a half-dozen aliases. She also allegedly told the same cancer story to a Miami Dolphin fan group.” 

For Midwest Energy News, Frank Jossi says, “A group of more than 125 Minnesota physicians last week delivered a letter to legislators supporting the state’s efforts to prepare for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Formed in January, Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate called for continued meetings and planning by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for the federal legislation. The doctors were joined by several health organizations, the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, the American Lung Association in Minnesota, the Minnesota Public Health Association and others. The letter comes at a time of contention for the Clean Power Plan, which imposes limits on greenhouse gas emissions in every state. The rule has been challenged by more than two dozen states, and the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay in February.”