Posted at 7:32 AM on May 4, 2009
by Bob Collins
I've missed you so, Monday morning rouser:
Nonetheless, Google Flu Trends is getting high marks for reflecting the illness's intensity based on search terms. As of this morning, Alaska seems to be the only state basket case. Google, by the way, just started a Flu Trends for Mexico, nearly two weeks after the old-fashioned method alerted the world to the problem.
Meanwhile, have you noticed the Save the Strib Web site -- set up to rally public support for the paper -- has profiled only three staffers so far and its "Comments of Support" section is headlined by a post comparing the paper to Pravda? (Update: @vtuss reports there are 11 profiles available.)
Tangentially-related blog recommendation of the day: this flight attendant's blog.
WHAT WE'RE DOING
Midmorning (9-11) - Getting a credit card bill of rights has been a tough sell no matter what party is in control of Congress. The financial/banking lobby is pretty powerful, which is a nice way of saying it throws a lot of campaign cash around. In the first hour, Rep. Keith Ellison joins Kerri Miller for a discussion on consumer credit legislation. The second hour discussion is with Simon Winchester, author of The Man Who Loved China.
Midday (11-1) - A tradition continues. The new Minnesota Teacher of the Year is in the studio with Gary Eichten at 11. Find out why she thinks middle-school kids are cool. Second hour: Jane Mayer's Humphrey Institute speech, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals." Can't wait? It's posted online at the school's Web site.
Talk of the Nation (1-3): A former Bush campaign official discusses the future of the Republican Party and says the problem is tapping into "vibrant parts of the country." Wait. There are "vibrant parts of the country"? In the second hour: The secret lives of boys, an exotic journey into the mind of creatures who only answer parental attempts at conversation with one-word answers.
All Things Considered: (3-6:30) Now that the flood in the Red River Valley is over, are people interested in selling and moving? Dan Gunderson has that story. The show will also look at the question of whether surgical masks do anything to filter out the flu bug.
And is the end near for Detroit's famed Baker's Keyboard Lounge, the world's oldest jazz nightclub? Probably. Nothing is going right in Detroit.
The Pixar folks are hosting a publicity event in the Twin Cities today to promote the upcoming animated movie "Up", about a curmudgeon who ties balloons to his house and goes for a ride. Promoters have tied balloons to a chair at the Metrodome and are giving people rides. The Star Tribune's James Lileks posted a picture.
I wonder, though, how many people remember Lawn Chair Larry, and whether history will treat him more kindly than reality did.
Lawn Chair Larry -- Larry Walters -- tied helium balloons to this lawn chair in 1982...
... with the idea that he'd go for a short flight, just to see what it was like. He miscalculated things, though, and ended up soaring to 16,000 feet, where the pilot of an airliner uttered -- for the first time in history -- the words, "I've just passed a guy flying in a lawn chair."
Lawn Chair Larry's plan was to shoot out the balloons with a pellet gun when it was time to descend, but he dropped the gun. He eventually landed in Long Beach. (If you've got RealPlayer, listen to the audio of conversations during the flight here.)
For the adventure, Walter received honorable mention for the 1982 Darwin Awards, and generally was ridiculed until he walked into the woods in 1993 and shot himself to death.
"Up" will probably rake in a fortune when it opens later this month. Larry wasn't so lucky. Had he just used his chair to sit and watch TV, he'd have been considered normal.(6 Comments)
The Minnesota Senate today has passed the bill legalizing the medical use of marijuana, but not without a brief rehash of arguments that haven't changed on either side over the last 10 years.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, says the bill is the first step in legalizing drugs, and says it'll be "a law enforcement nightmare."
The bill passed 35-to-29, picking up two more votes in the Senate than in 2007, the first time a medical marijuana bill survived a full vote in either the Senate or House, and one vote fewer than a preliminary vote last week.(11 Comments)
If all of Minnesota were to get together and sing a song, (a) where would we do it and (b) what would we sing?
(h/t: Open Culture)
And as long as I'm on the subject of musical viral videos, try this one on for "sighs."(6 Comments)
Isn't the nation's banking system a chicken-and-egg situation?
The housing crisis which started the economic meltdown was partially due to banks making loans to people who shouldn't have had them to buy things they couldn't afford. When the house of cards collapsed, banks stopped making loans, which led to the U.S. government to throw billions of dollars at them to try to get them to start issuing credit again.
How's that going? Not so well, the quarterly report from the Federal Reserve says today. Its quarterly survey says about 50 percent of U.S. banks tightened their lending standards on prime mortgages, up from about 45 percent in the survey issued in early February. Sixty-five percent of the banks tightened lending standards on "non-traditional" mortgages, such as ARMs.
This comes at a time when demand for mortgages is starting to increase, helped along by lower mortgage rates.
We don't usually see traffic jams outside the World Headquarters of News Cut, but we had one this afternoon for about 10 minutes.
The problem? Falling glass from the Wells Fargo building at Seventh and Cedar in St. Paul.
MPR's Tom Weber was the Tommy-on-the-spot photographer.
Pat Skinner, the general manager of the building, said the window, which cracked over the weekend, fell while workers were attempting to remove it today.
Weber's picture reminded us of Boston's Hancock Tower by architect I.M. Pei, which was bedeviled by its inability to retain glass in its all-glass structure when it was built in the '70s, earning the nickname "the plywood palace."
Whether the fill-in-the-name-you-wish-to-use-here flu outbreak is overstated is a matter of some conjecture, but perhaps we can agree that attempts to graphically represent the outbreak generally fail miserably.
Take the government's PandemicFlu.gov Web site's map above. We're a red state now and it looks bad -- real bad. Severe, even. An epidemic, perhaps.
Reality: Minnesota has had but one confirmed case of the flu-that-must-not-be-named as of 11 this morning. In the great flu pandemic of 1918, it took only a week for the state to go from one confirmed case of the flu, to 1,000.(3 Comments)
At the Capitol today, some health care advocates pushed for a higher "provider tax" to avoid health care cuts proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The 2 percent tax -- known as a "sick tax" in health care provider circles -- is part of the funding mechanism for the Health Care Access Fund, which also uses premiums paid by enrollees of MinnesotaCare, the state-subsidized health care plan for low-income Minnesotans. The tax is levied on doctors, dentists, and other health care providers.
"MinnesotaCare is an excellent program providing coverage for the working poor in Minnesota and if it requires some additional tax on health care providers to keep those services in place, our members as a whole are willing to step forward and do that," said Lawrence Massa with the Minnesota Hospitals Association.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think the HCAF had run out of money, so the governor is imposing the cuts. You'd be wrong.
The Health Care Access Fund is one of the few dedicated taxes in Minnesota that actually works for the limited goal that spawned it. It works so well, in fact, that it often runs a surplus, which is why the governor and Legislature have regularly used it as a "slush fund" to balance shortfalls in the state budget, over the objection of the health care providers.
Last year, for example, the governor proposed pulling $149 million from the fund. Over his term, he's diverted more than $400 million from the fund.
Writing in the Spokesman Recorder last month, Rep. Bobby Joe Champion criticized the governor for proposing the HCAF money go directly into the General Fund.
The governor wants to keep collecting the Provider Tax while diverting it away from the people it was created to help. That's on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars that his administration has already shifted out of the fund to balance previous deficits. Those shifts have resulted in fewer people able to access MinnesotaCare and other programs.
Such a move would have allowed Pawlenty to spend the health care tax on anything but health care, and avoid the annual attention of raiding the fund. Tax bills emerging in the House and Senate, however, did not include Pawlenty's plan.
The people Massa represents -- hospitals -- have a serious problem, to be sure. The Bemidji Pioneer's Brad Swenson admirably describes the health care mess (registration required), partially created by years of shifting money from areas for which it was intended.
The situation is the underpinning of the coming showdown between the governor and Legislature. But its core is simple.
1. Health care providers pay a tax to provide health insurance for low-income Minnesotans.
2. The fund that provides the insurance often runs a surplus.
3. The governor diverts the surplus -- and more -- to other uses and notes the spiraling cost of health care, while cutting reimbursements to hospitals who end up providing care to those who can't afford to pay for it.
4. Pressure builds to remove more people from health insurance coverage.
5. Proposals surface to increase the tax to provide health insurance for low-income Minnesotans, even though it ends up being used for something else.
The problem, of course, is exacerbated by the reality of the economy and the state budget which -- even if the health care fund were used for other things -- is still going to lead to major cuts in Minnesota health care.
Does anybody see a solution here?(5 Comments)