Saving skyways, MNsure’s reluctance, and why our weather person is better than your weather person (5×8 – 2/4/14)

1) IN DEFENSE OF SKYWAYS
Nothing roils the winter news waters like a suggestion to tear down the skyways over Nicollet Mall, apparently. Last week, Sam Newberg — via streets.mn — said that would do a lot to get the street back to something livelier (He was on MPR’s Daily Circuit yesterday). But Minnesota, apparently, loves it petri dish/skyways in the winter.

Writing on MinnPost, Iric Nathanson, author of “Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century: The Growth of an American City,” today presents a spirited defense.

Today, we have a pedestrian system that connects 80 downtown blocks. It may be confusing and somewhat intimidating for first-time users, but it is a system without breaks. To sever the links between downtown’s west end, past Hennepin, and its east end, beyond Nicollet, would do irreparable harm to the system as a whole.

Newberg never fully explains the benefits that would be gained from cutting back the current system. He declares that “skyways continue to keep people off the street.”

If so, why is the mall thronging with pedestrians on Thursdays during the spring, summer and fall, when a farmers’ market pulls all those downtown workers out of their office cubicles? And what about the string of outdoor cafes that are filled with customers once the wind chills are no longer part of the daily weather reports? Newberg acknowledges the market and outdoor restaurants in an offhand way, but quickly resumes his criticisms of those skyway links that connect the east and west ends of downtown.

“We need to acknowledge that Minneapolis is not a year-around outdoor place,” Nathanson writes.

More transportation: Feds Will Require All New Vehicles to Talk to Each Other (Wired).

St Paul: Ripe For Ruin (streets.mn).

2) MNSURE’S RELUCTANCE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE OBVIOUS (CONT’D)
Though it’s taken some steps to confront the botched rollout of the health care law shopping site, MNsure continues to confound with its slow reaction to obvious problems.

The Star Tribune reports today that people who seem to know what they’re doing in the call-center industry are having a difficult time figuring out why MNsure has taken so long to respond to the woes.

“Anybody could get it wrong up front, but what was everybody [at MNsure] doing while all of these people were on hold?” said Fred Weiner, president of a call center company tells the Star Tribune.

In response to long waits on hold for customers, MNsure said in a statement that it is hiring more workers. This is after a scathing report with recommendations was issued a couple of weeks ago, recommendations MNsure wasn’t following. The Strib called them on it.

In a written statement on Sunday, MNsure told the Star Tribune that it decided to boost staffing beyond 50 operators “after looking more strategically” at the call center’s needs.

Which followed a question from the local newspaper about why people last week were waiting on hold for 40 minutes.

Last summer, call center firms warned members of the MNsure board of directors that problems were ahead.

“They made it clear they had all of the infrastructure they needed,” said Hainey at Customer Elation. “The government went in with an arrogant attitude of, ‘We know how to do this better than business.’ And clearly they don’t. … This is one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve seen executed in my career.”

And your money quote:

MNsure officials said they are confident their call center strategy will work because other technical problems are decreasing, and more applicants are enrolling successfully. “We are reacting right,” said Brian Beutner, MNsure’s board chairman. “Would we have liked to have done it sooner and more timely? Maybe.”

Maybe?

3) MINNESOTA SUPERIORITY COMPLEX: METEOROLOGISTS
With today’s 0 and below temperature, Minnesota has dropped to zero for the 36th time this winter, well off the record.

The winter has been “interesting” (in a Minnesota way), but it hasn’t been surprising and for that we have to thank — however reluctantly — the meteorologists who have gotten winter forecasts right almost every day.

That, alone, should give us the ammunition we need to get through the winter in our usual way: lording over the rest of the country in matters of weather.

Consider this forecast map — posted on Gawker — for the weekend storm in New York.

Good luck, New York. Let us know if you need any advice. We’re here to help.
(h/t: Ted Canova)

4) THE FALLACY OF RETIREMENT
It will be generally impossible for you to save enough money to retire with the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed, this Guardian blog post makes clear. This is not the fault of people failing to save enough money, it says:

The other major issue: the retirement issue in this country is less due to personal failure than structural failures. Saving enough is not the primary problem with our retirement system. The primary problem is that wages have been dropping for decades, leaving people with much less to save – especially people who live on far, far less than $150,000 a year. That’s largely because corporations are hoarding profits, raising CEO salaries and skimping on what they pay employees. Corporate executives have been the big beneficiaries of this trend, with a jump of 876% in pay between 1978 and 2011, as the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki pointed out. At the same time, corporations – and the goverment – have largely reduced or eliminated pension plans that provided a retirement backstop to millions of middle-class employees.

5) FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”
A professor at a university in Canada has apologized for his class assignment: creating a program predicting whether a rape victim would kill herself.

Says the CBC:

Students were asked to consider what should happen to a fictional student named Heather, particularly whether she has the will to live after being ridiculed online.

​”You wonder why this example, in particular, was used — an example of rape and a victim. It’s pretty irresponsible of the instructor and definitely insensitive when you think about how many students this is impacting,” said Simms.

Simms said Shieh’s students deserve an apology, and the instructor should receive training around why the assignment was inappropriate.

Bonus I: Art on Ice in Minneapolis (Boing Boing).

Bonus II: The untold story of Keystone. How a farmer in Nebraska almost killed the oil pipeline (Macleans).

Bonus III:

TODAY’S QUESTION
Should cars be required to “talk”?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Immigration reform.

Second hour: The doctor’s office seems like a natural place for teens to talk about sex, sexual development and sexual health, but new research shows that doctors spent less than 35 seconds talking about it during annual physical exams – if the topic was even brought up at all. What steps can doctors, parents and teens take to better open the lines of communication on this traditionally-uncomfortable topic?

Third hour: Local author Nicole Helget joins us in studio to talk about her latest novel, “Stillwater,” which follows two fraternal twins in Minnesota in the years leading up to the civil-war.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – Legislative preview: Speaker Thissen and Minority Leader Daudt.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – Is the United States’ approach to Syria failing?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – A growing body of research identifies a strong link between health and housing. If your home is unaffordable or your living situation unstable, your health could suffer. Health insurers are taking note. Some are even committing substantial funding to connect low-income folks to better housing options. MPR’s Annie Baxter will have the story.

MPR’s Mark Zdechlik will stop by the program to talk about tonite’s precinct caucuses.

A busboy in San Jose pursued a long-shot dream. Inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, he started a business importing the local liquor from his native village in Mexico. But this immigrant did much more: He put a global trade deal to work in his favor. NPR will have his story.

  • AndyBriebart

    If we give all the illegals voting rights, that means they can legally own firearms, too. Right?

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    2. I’ve said since we found out the MNsure team named rooms after DFLers that it’s not a state agency, it’s a fan club. It is becoming increasingly clear that it’s a poorly run fan club, too.

    4. Sounds like a bunch of excuses. When we’re crushed by the wave of people with no savings begging for the government to help them maybe we’ll look back and admit that, yeah, we could have saved if we tried.

  • Eric Chandler

    4. Concur with Kevin. I own the second car of my life and I’m in my mid-40′s. Brown bagged my lunch my whole life. Meanwhile, people half my age with half my salary buy houses twice as expensive as mine and get new cars because they’re tired of the color of their old one. The same people bitch because the DNR raises fees to hunt, but somehow still manage to buy a new fleet of ATVs each year. I’m unimpressed by people’s saving habits.

    • tboom

      True, some people dont know how to save, but Mid-40′s?? Get back to me in a couple of decades and after a couple of lay-offs in your 50′s.

      • Eric Chandler

        Okay. I was laid off from my job 7 out of the last 14 years. I had to go to Iraq three times and Afghanistan once to pay the mortgage since 9/11. I guess I’ll remain unimpressed at how other people save and what they’re willing to do when times get tough.

        • tboom

          At the risk of sounding trite, thank you for serving our country.

          My point is that a layoff in your 50’s is different than a layoff earlier in life. Employers don’t hire 55 year olds when younger workers are available. I was laid-off at 48, after two and a half years of spending down savings I managed to get work at a one-third my old wage (still using our savings to keep the house and put food on the table), twelve years later I’m at two-thirds my old wage and no longer spending down our much depleted savings.

          Would you have the option to go back into the military at 55 years of age? Do you believe you will be as able to find a good paying job at age 55 as you are now? Do you think you will be in the same physical condition in a couple decades?

          I am also GENERALLY unimpressed with people’s savings habits. But don’t paint with a broad brush, circumstances (sometimes health, sometimes age related job loss) wipe out substantial savings and leave very few options.

          • Eric Chandler

            Fair enough.

  • jon

    @#1) I have to agree, skyways make Minneapolis different from most other cities… Though if you really want people on nicollet mall, then lets get rid of the buses and taxis, and make it a place for pedestrians… lets allow bicycles on there at all times of the day…

    @#2) I’ve worked on and with call centers for the last 13 years. 40 minute hold times happen… usually it’s a funding issue, but there is also a method to long hold times… verizon knows it, at&t knows it, every call center I’ve worked with knows it.
    Abandon rate is the measure of how many people hang up before reaching a person. If 10% of people are hanging up, and not calling back, for something that they need, then they are finding another way to get it. High wait times can drive behavior. AT&T and verizon use wait times as time to advertise their services, including occasionally their support websites. If there is another point of contact you’d prefer people go through (say a website) high call times can be used to drive the behavior of people from calling to a cheaper (for mnsure) point of contact (the website). Not saying if that was what was happening or not, but it sure seems like it had to be at least some what intentional…

    @#4) I’ve read a lot of fire and brimstone about my generation never being able to retire… all the math I do suggests I shouldn’t have a problem retiring at 60 when I can get access to the 401k money… Maybe even sooner (basically as soon as the house is paid off) but frankly now I’m starting to worry that maybe I’m not dramatically above average, and I’m just bad at math… or making false assumptions (because retirement planning 20-40 years out has a lot of assumptions)
    That being said, the gap between the wealthy and the middle class is growing, and you’d have to be a fool not to see it… trickle down economics has failed us, “job creators” don’t create jobs… millionaires don’t spend 100% of their income, poor people do… spending is what creates jobs, not earnings.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    #3 – I’ve got family north and west of NYC. Four inches looks better than two and half feet, so I’m hoping the GFS model is closer to the actual result.

    #4 – One of the problems with getting people with limited extra money to save is that we’ve removed the incentive. At some point the Fed decided that cheap credit was more important than the savings rate. Until the interest rates go back up to where you can get 4%-5% on a savings instrument like a 36-72 month Certificate of deposit the bank is nothing more than an insured mattress. You put your money in the bank so it won’t get stolen, and if it is its insured.

    I personally believe that part of the incentive was to push money into the equity markets. Since the average saver doesn’t have enough money to invest “properly” they do so via mutual funds and other types of investment accounts. This becomes “stupid money” that takes the brunt of the losses when the market tanks. If you want to improve the savings rate, bring back the savings bank.

    • Diane Hull

      #3 — Yup, New York is getting dumped with snow at the moment. But their NOT getting hit with record low temps and dangerous windchill warnings week after week! And in spite of the record breaking cold this year, I already have a few feet of snow in my yard (accumulated on ‘warmer’ days) and the mid-March blizzards are still to come. Hope it all melts by sometime in May!