November 2010 Archives

Storm Sewers

Minneapolis prepares to double what it has been spending to repair storm tunnel outlets.

The 128-year-old horseshoe-shaped storm tunnel outlet on 10th Avenue with its tan and red brick floor isn't in horrible shape, reported The Star Tribune however, it and others like it are in danger of cracking and blowing-out if left in their current condition.

According to The Star Tribune, the city will double the $3.5 million it is spending annually on repairing the tunnels to widen tunnels like the one on 10th Avenue. This means that Minneapolis homeowners, currently paying $11.09 a month towards maintain the drainage system will find themselves paying $12.41 monthly by 2015.

The 14.7-mile tunnel system was constructed in an era of pre-urbanization, when unpaved streets and yards soaked up most of the rain that fell on the city, wrote Steve Brandt of The Star Tribune. Now the tunnels must deal with a lot more water than they were originally built to withstand.

Inspectors periodically look for new cracks and monitor old ones in an attempt to gauge whether or not escaping water is wearing down the supporting sandstone. According to Kevin Danen, an engineer heading up city sanitary and storm sewer construction and maintenance, damage can happen quickly, forcing repairs.

Analysis: Though temporary repairs are made on a regular basis, the tunnels are in dire need of refurbishment. If left unchecked, eroding storm sewers could potentially pose a threat to Minneapolis' infrastructure. The money will come out of homeowner's pockets in a plan that not only increases its baseline fee but will steadily increase by a nickel or so per month. By 2015, homeowners can expect to be paying at least $12.41 monthly. The increase will be a gradual one however, and will likely go unnoticed unless cost rise above initial estimates.

Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient of several human rights prizes and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has spent 15 of the last 21 years in detention by Myanmar's military rulers.

Suu Kyi, a 65-year-old pro-democratic activist and leader of the Myanmar's National League for Democracy, won the 1990 elections by a landside but was rejected by the military regime that has been in control over Myanmar since 1962, said CNN.

According to CNN, Suu Kyi has since then been declared ineligible for election forcing the National League for Democracy to choose between having her as leader and being declared as an illegal party.

Her interview took place a week after she was released from detention in the headquarters of the league, a small, stark and stifling hot building, reported CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

Suu Kyi wore a Burmese sarong known as a lyongi and her hair was adorned with flowers, a symbol of her defiance against the tyrannical military regime, said CNN.

In her interview, Suu Kyi admitted that she thinks she may be arrested again at any moment.

"It's always a possibility," she told Pleitgen. "After all they've arrested me several times in the past.

Suu Kyi said she envisions a Myanmar where progress and accountability will go hand in hand and whose citizens feel empowered to help shape the course of its future.

"I want them to feel that it is they who will decide what the destiny of the country is; that they will have the proper means to shape the destiny of the country," Suu Kyi said.

Heroin: a growing problem

Dana Smith sat in her living room for five hours, shocked by the fact that her oldest son, Arthur Eisel, had just died from a heroin overdose.

According to The New York Times, Smith, whose other two sons also struggle with heroin addiction, received the phone call that every mother dreads while she was at work.

Arthur Eisel, as well has his two other brothers Robby Eisel and Ryan Eisel, became addicted to heroin after becoming addicted to OxyContin, a prescription drug often taken for chronic pain, said The New York Times. When OxyContin supplies ran out, their dealer recommended the switch to heroin.

Smith struggled watching her three sons try to break their addictions. She provided Arthur a place to stay, food, and occasionally even money that he likely used to buy more heroin.

"I was an enabler," she told The New York Times. "I was his mother."

Arthur went through a series of drug rehabilitation centers in the months leading up to his death. He broke free from his addiction and relapsed several times before taking the overdose that finally killed him, said The New York Times.

Investigators had been following the ring that sold Arthur the heroin that killed him long before his death, said The New York Times. Finally the lethal dose was tracked backed to Manuel Cazeras-Contreras, 30, and Vicotor Delgadillo Parra, 23, two immigrants that turned to drug trafficking when they failed to find jobs in the United States.

"I was living a hard life here in the United States," Parra told The New York Times.

Holes in the fabric

An exhibit themed "Sacred Spaces" brings together Jewish artists in the Twin Cities Area to create pieces of artwork which will be featured at the Sabes Jewish Community Center this December.

According to The Star Tribune Rachel Breen, an art professor at Anoka Ramsey Community College, as well as nine other artists will each work in a temporary art gallery at the community center two days during mid-November preparing pieces for the an exhibit to be held later this year.

The artists who are participating in the center's "10 artists in 30 days" exhibit work with the door open, amid the clamor of young children and elderly guests and encourage the visitors to watch and ask questions. Their work, which they will later finish in their own studios, will be featured in December's exhibit, "Sacred Spaces."

Breen tells The Star Tribune that she hopes her work will prompt critical thinking. The theme of her piece addresses the ability to find the sacred in the mundane. She creates holes with a machine typically meant to bring fabric together and asks the question, "How far can things go before they fall apart?"

Love of the ride

"Funemployment" is what Freddy Jackson, once a St. Paul concierge, calls his own personal world of unemployment.

This past fall, Jackson has been spending his spare time driving around Minneapolis and St. Paul randomly picking up people waiting at MTC bus stops, wrote TD Mischke of City Pages.

According to City Pages, when Jackson's grandfather died last February, leaving him a small inheritance Jackson bought an old MTC bus from a Hastings junkyard for $2,000.

"I'm on the road," Jackson told City Pages with a grin. "I drove 26 people around the city today. No charge"

According to City Pages, Jackson said he has been driving around on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for about six hours each day, picking up random people waiting for their regular buses.

"I tell them I'll get them where they're going faster, plus they can grab something cold from the cooler. I have hot coffee on hand, too," Jackson said.

According to Mischke, Jackson is currently living off of unemployment and is looking for work, but will lament the day he has to park his bus and move on.

"I've had people try and pay me for this, but I won't take it," he says. "One guy tried to stick a hundred-dollar bill in my shirt pocket just to help cover the gas. I told him Grandpa is covering the gas."

Jackson offers all the services a concierge would to his riders. Sally Sundeen told City Pages that once Jackson picked her up and drove her straight to her job at the University of Minnesota. Not only did she get a cup of coffee with sugar and cream, but when they arrived he walked her to the door and held it open for her.

Often, new arrivals to the bus are greeted with music, either played over the sound system, or sung to by other passengers.

"I was driving through Dinkytown during homecoming week, and I had five or six students on the bus singing 'My Girl' right along with the stereo. The sun was shining so bright, and the air was crisp and cool, and I said to myself, life is just a series of moments, you know, some better, some worse, and this one is as good as any I've ever known," Jackson said.

Don't Ask

The Supreme Court decided that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military will continue to be enforced while it is being challenged in a federal appeals court.

According to The New York Times, the justices denied the request to have the enforcement banned during the appeal in an unsigned, two-paragraph order.

The order did not discuss the merits of the case and provided no explanation or indication of dissent but did note that Justice Elena Kagan has opted to recuse herself from the case, reported The Washington Post.

Kagan, who has openly criticized the policy, may have based her decision to recuse herself on her service as President Obama's solicitor general which called for her to make key decisions regarding the administration's response to the suit.

Of course this raises the possibility of a 4 to 4 tie should the Supreme Court be called to rule on the case. Whatever Kagan's reasoning, her decision and the potential for a tie, lends more importance the circuit court's ruling. If there is a tie, the lower court's decision will stand but will not set the same kind of national precedent.

President Obama criticized China for what he called unfair trade practices after the Group of 20 economies made the decision to put off most of the work needed to monitor and address global economic imbalances for future meetings, reported The New York Times.

According to USA Today G-20 leaders agreed to set guidelines that could be used to measure economical imbalances between themselves but left discussion of the larger details for next year's summit.

Obama's efforts to persuade China to act either independently or as a member of a collective community to address trade imbalances, has not yielded significant results, said The New York Times.

"Precisely because of China's success, it's very important that it act in a responsible fashion internationally," Obama said at a news conference at the conclusion of the economic summit, reported The New York Times.

Obama also accused Beijing of taking aggressive measures to keep its currency, the renminbi, below market value in an effort to promote exports, reported The New York Times.

China and Germany both rejected Obama's call for action saying that the United States has also undermined the dollar in an effort to bolster its own economy, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Obama will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington this January to further discuss currency issues, said The Wall Street Journal.

The Internal Revenue Service continues to sit on data that may be helpful in tracking down thousands of missing children throughout the United States.

According to The New York Times, the government has admitted that it has access to data that could lead to finding thousands of missing children, especially those who are abducted by estranged spouses but said they cannot legally release the information due to taxpayer privacy laws.

These privacy laws, which were enacted nearly a generation ago, create several obstacles for parents and investigators and forbid the IRS from releasing any data unless the abduction is being investigated as a federal crime and a U.S. district judge demands it is released, reported the Star Tribune.

"We will do whatever we can within the confines of the law to make it easier for law enforcement to find abducted children," said Michelle Eldridge, an IRS spokeswoman to The New York Times.

A study done by the Treasury Department in 2007 looked at the Social Security numbers of 1,700 missing children found that more than a third had been used in tax returns filed after their abduction, reported the Star Tribune.

In the past, the IRS has worked with several children's advocates and has even included photographs of missing children with forms mailed to taxpayers, leading to the recovery of more than 80 children, reported the Star Tribune.

According to the Star Tribune, most of the 20,000 child abductions reported each year in the United States, involve parental abductors. A significant number of these parents later file tax returns.

"There are hundreds of cases this could help solve," said Cindy Rudometkin of the Polly Klaas Foundation told The New York Times. "And even if it helped solve one case -- imagine if that child returned home was yours."

A 13-year-old Minneapolis boy was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl on a school bus Monday afternoon, Minneapolis police told the Star Tribune on Wednesday.

Police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said that the boy was taken to juvenile detention following an investigation into whether or not the boy forced the girl to perform a sex act, reported the Star Tribune.

According to KARE 11 both children are students at Sheridan Arts Magnet School.

KSTP-TV reported that Sheridan Principal Al Pitt sent an e-mail to parents Tuesday letting them know the matter would be under investigation by Minneapolis Police.

"We take these types of allegations very seriously and the matter is currently under investigation with the Minneapolis Police Department," Pitt told KARE 11. "Maintaining a safe environment for our students is a top priority. We are committed to following our district's discipline policy concerning this incident."

Somali multi-state prostitution ring

The Star Tribune reported that a total of twenty-nine people, most of them from the Twin Cities, have been accused of running and operating an interstate sex-trafficking ring that crossed into both Tennesee and Ohio.

According to the BBC, the multi-state sex trafficking ring run by three Somalian gangs based in Minneapolis, has been in operation for 10 years.

The Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia, and the Lady Outlaws have found to be involved the recruitment of underage Somali and African-American girls for prostitution, the BBC reported.

According to MPR one member of the Somali-American community located in the Twin Cities, Abdulkadir Sharif, said that he had been approached in public and asked if he wanted to participate in the prostitution ring.

"I was very irritated, and at the same time, I was very shocked," Sharif told MPR.

John Morton, the director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the BBC that many of the girls taken advantage of were victimized repeatedly and transported to several different places for periods of several years.

"Human traffickers abuse innocent people, undermine our public safety and often use their illicit proceeds sophisticated criminal organizations," Morton told the BBC.

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