December 2010 Archives

Too much to bear

Mark David Madoff, son of Bernard L. Madoff and publisher of a popular real estate newsletter called Sonar Report hung himself in his Manhattan apartment earlier this week.

According to The New York Times, Mark Madoff, who had four children, has been named in nine or more lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages after his father was imprisoned for defrauding thousands of investors. Madoff's professional reputation was muddied said friends to The New York Times.

Mark Madoff and his brother Andrew reported their father to authorities in 2009 when he told them of the multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme he had been running. Bernard Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence after having plead guilty.

This year was the two-year anniversary of Bernerd Maddoff's arrest, reported the times. According to friends, Mark Madoff had expressed anger and frustration after being subjected to extensive media coverage suggesting that he was still under investigation by federal prosecutors.

Mark Madoff sent an e-mail asking someone to come take care of his son before he hung himself, reported The New York Times. His young son and the family's dog were found safe in the apartment

Death penalty tinged with racism

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once supported the death penalty but now says he believes it to be unconstitutional.

According to The New York Times, Justice Stevens criticized the court, saying that personnel changes and "regrettable judicial activism" has lead to a system of capital punishment that is plagued by racism and skewed towards conviction.

In a critical essay published in The New York Review of Books, Stevens claimed that the system of capital punishment has been infected with politics. Stevens offers many critiques of the death penalty and said that he believes local elections influence whether or not prosecutors and judges seek and impose the death penalty.

Stevens also defended the Supreme Court's 1976 decision to reinstate the death penalty but says that their promise for fair, unbiased convictions has been betrayed and that the court has not looked carefully enough into racial disparities that may effect the outcome of death penalty cases.

Stevens review of the book "Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition" includes a blow by blow critique of America's death penalty. The book, written by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University, says that American enthusiasm for capital punishment stems form modern day politics and a cultural fascination with violence and death.

Beside offering his opinions on the death penalty in his essay, Stevens seems to be establishing a new template for what Supreme Court justices may be expected to do when leaving the bench. Stevens has weighed in on a few different controversies since his retirement, including the one over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero and has also appeared on "60 Minutes."

In Cartagena, Columbia the country's uneven distribution of wealth is put on open display when it hosts its annual beauty pageants.

According to The New York Times, Miss Columbia positions Cartagena as a playground for the global elite with its expensive hotels and boutiques. The dozen or so candidates competing in the pageant are fair skinned and well-traveled, many of them the daughters of prominent families.

Outside Cartagena, in the slums, Miss Independence, a pageant celebrating the city's declaration of independence from Spain in 1811, reflects a slightly different image.

"One pageant portrays Cartagena as its elite wants it to be seen: rich, white and glamorous," said Elisabeth Cunin, a French sociologist who studies Cartagena told The New York Times. "The other reflects the reality of the city as the majority of its inhabitants know it: poor and neglected, a complex mix between racial domination and an emerging current of black consciousness."

Miss Columbia attracts quite a bit of attention for the city, wrote Simon Romero of The New York Times. Paparazzi and gossip columnists flock to the city to cover the event. However, Miss Independence draws just as much notoriety for itself and shop owners on the streets of Caregena shut down their shops, fearful of assaults before a bawdy parade celebrating the event passes through.

Raimundo Angulo, the director of Miss Columbia said he thinks his pageant could improve the lives of the residents by making the city more appealing to outsiders, likening it to Monte Carlo.

"It is democratically elitist," he told The New York Times, speaking of Miss Columbia. "I simply want what is beautiful, wherever it comes from, according to certain principles, certain values."

When asked whether or not he thinks the event may be racist or excluding, Angulo pointed out that an Afro-Colombian had been named Miss Columbia in 2001. This has happened once in the pageant's 76 years of existence.

This year, Miss Independence was Ivonne Palencia, a 19-year-old preschool teacher living in the slum Boston, named after a red-light district once frequented by foreign sailors, reported the Times. Though the smaller local pageant is considered a poor imitation of the national one,it tends to elicit more excitement throughout the streets and slums of Cartagena.

Breaking down barriers

As Columbia Heights becomes even more diverse, police make efforts to break down cultural and language barriers.

According to The Star Tribune, Al Kordiak, the former chairman of the Anoka County Board, referred to the city as a melting pot. "The ethnic groups change, but the city doesn't. We've always opened our arms to immigrants," Kordiak told Paul Levy of The Star Tribune.

The city's police department is now working in conjunction with the city's school and judicial district to help new resident's to the community connect, reported Levy. City officials will be meeting with a Hispanic church congregation to discuss concerns relating to the police.

According to Levy, routine interactions with police, like the act of getting pulled over for speeding, may seem frightening to new immigrants. The police force wants to relieve these fears.

City official hope that the city's growing Somali community can also benefit from these new programs and that the program will also help police better understand new residents dealing with language and cultural differences.

"We value other people's customs," said Police Chief Scott Nadeau. "They, in turn, want a place where they fell valued and accepted. We want to embrace diversity."

The search for diversity

The Minneapolis Charter Commission's lack of racial diversity has been noted more than once.

According to The Star Tribune, the all-white commission serves a city that has at least a 35 percent minority. This upcoming year, three slots will become open when Chairman Barry Clegg and members Thomas Jancik and Ian Stade come to an end of their appointments.

Clegg and Jancik will likely seek reappointment but Stade will step down in the hope that someone of a more diverse background will take his place, reported The Star Tribune.

The commission considers improvements for the city's charter, sometimes forwarding suggestions to change the charter based on the studies it performs. According to The Star Tribune, these changes occur by unanimous council vote or 51 percent approval by those voting in a referendum.

The commission's workload is expected to increase significantly when they take on the challenge of redistricting the city. This power was given to them in a referendum vote in November.

Whether or not the council becomes more diverse depends partially on whether or not any minority residents seek appointment and partially on whether or not Chief Judge James Swenson selects them for the appointment, reported Steve Brandt of The Star Tribune.

Pope Benedict XVI startles

When Pope Benedict said that in some cases condom use may be acceptable, he signaled a shift in the Vatican's traditional stance on contraceptives.

According to the BBC, the Church's ban on contraceptive use has been relaxed partially because of the AIDS epidemic. The pope talked about accepting the lesser of two evils and also admitted that condom use by prostitutes significantly lessens the risk of infection for both men and women.

According to The New York Times, when Benedict toured Africa the year before he said that AIDS could not be eliminated by condom use. Critics claimed that the pope was putting the church's stance on contraception over the lives of Africans infected with AIDS.

In his statement, the Pope claimed that the news media had misrepresented him and that he meant condoms are not the sole answer to ending AIDS.

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants."

The comments made by the pope mark a significant shift in the stance the Catholic church has hitherto taken towards contraception. However, though it seems like the church may be waffling morally, the decision seems to be based on a more "case-based" line of thinking where the church decides to support the lesser of two evils.

Darkha Dutt, a journalist from India, has been accused making deals with corporate lobbyists and agreeing to pass messages to the governing Congress Party.

According to The New York Times, Dutt was questioned before a jury of four of her peers after being caught on tape talking to a corporate lobbyist.

"It is an error of judgment of enormous proportions" thundered the editor of Open Magazine, Manu Joseph, one of the panelists.

According to the BBC, on the tape, Dutt offered to relay messages form the lobbyist to politicians in an effort to influence the process of forming a cabinet.

Dutt, 38, is a star reporter and anchor in India and is well known player in India's burgeoning, competitive news media market, reported The New York Times. Now she finds herself at the heart of a scandal that threatens to ruin her career.

According to The New York Times, even though Dutt denies making deals with corporate lobbyists and claims she was just stringing along a potential news source, she also acknowledges that perhaps she could have been more careful.

"I look at some of the conversations and I do feel I should have been more alert," she said in an interview on Friday with NDTV, the television station she works at.

Wal-Mart accused of discrimination

The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal on a case claiming that Wal-Mart discriminated against thousands of female employees on Monday.

According to The New York Times, the case is likely to be heard by the end of June and will not discuss whether or not Wal-Mart favors men over women but whether or not the case can be tried as a class-action suit. Wal-Mart's main objection to having the case tried in this manner is that this particular class if fairly large, due mostly to the company's size.

USA Today reported that Wal-Mart sought to have the class action suit reversed, claiming that it could potentially cover more than 1 million employees company wide.

Judge Susan B. Graber countered this, writing in a concurrence, "If the employer had 500 female employees, I doubt that any of my colleagues would question the certification of such a class. Certification does not become an abuse of discretion merely because the class has 500,000 members."

Judge Alex Kozinski did not agree with Judge Graber however. "Maybe there'd be no difference between 500 employees and 500,000 employees if they all had similar jobs, worked at the same half-billion-square-foot store and were supervised by the same managers," he wrote. "They (the women) have little in common but their sex and this lawsuit."

According to both The New York Times and USA Today, this case could could significantly affect class-actions and job-discrimination cases nationwide.

Realtors face case on ethics

When a Minneapolis couple offered $8,000 more than the asking price for a home in Brooklyn Park, they were sure they would get it.

According to The Star Tribune, Erica and Mike Lenzen were surprised and a little suspicious when the home was sold to someone else for $2,000 less than what they offered.

When the Lenzens approached the bank representative in charge of selling the foreclosed twin home, she claimed to have no record of the couple's offer, said the Star Tribune. The Lenzens now believe that their offer was withheld by the bank's agents at EXIT Realty Metro, perhaps because the winning bidder had no agent, meaning that the bank earned a larger commission on the final sale.

According to Star Tribune's James Shiffer,the Minnesota Association of Realtors will hear the Lenzen's complaints in a panel hearing on Dec. 17. Though the agents at EXIT Realty deny intentionally withholding the offer and that the extra commission was minimal the embarrassment of being called before the ethics panel has already moved the office to change its procedure for keeping track of the offers they recieve on various properties.

Though EXIT Realty claimed that they never received the couple's offer, they did inform the couple when the bank chose to accept "the highest offer on the table." The couple filed a complaint with the Minnesota Association of Realtor's after investigating the transaction for themselves. The association hears between 75 and 85 ethics hearings a year, reported The Star Tribune.

The University of Minnesota's Center of Bioethics requested on Monday that the Board of Regents investigate the suicide of a former clinical trial patient.

According to The Minnesota Daily, the patient, Dan Markingson, took part in a clinical trial for an anti-psychotic drug and one year later committed suicide. Eight professors from the university's Center for Bioethics would like the incident to be formally investigated by a more impartial panel of experts.

In 2003, Markingson was committed to the psychiatric wing of the university's Fairview Medical Center and subsequently entered into the clinical trial. According to Pioneer Press the study, which was funded by AstraZeneca, a drug maker, compared the effectiveness of three different anti-psychotic drugs. The research group was comprised of schizophrenic patients experiencing the first sign of symptoms.

The Pioneer Press also said that Markingson was not actually diagnosed with schizophrenia until after he was enrolled in the study. His mother told Pioneer Press that she did not see any marked improvement in her son's condition while he was enrolled in the study and that she actually wrote to Dr. Stephen Olson, Markingson's psychiatrist and the study's director, asking him to consider different courses of treatment which would have effectively disqualified him from the trial.

A question of bias could be raised at this point. According to Pioneer Press, Markingson's disqualification from the program would have resulted in a cut in funding for the study. Olson, as Markinson consulting physiatrist and the one who had originally committed him also had a financial incentive to enroll suitable patients for the study. Olson dismissed the conflict of interest claiming that Markingon would have been receiving one or more of the drugs anyway, even if he had not been enrolled in the trial.

The Minnesota Daily said that the incident has already been investigated and cleared by an internal review board as well as by the FDA. Bioethics professor Carl Elliot does not believe the university's response was adequate however, and would like to see further investigation done.

"It looks as if some very serious ethical problems occurred in this trial and we'd like the university to look into that," Elliot told the Daily.

US Rep. Greg Walden Talks About Tax Cuts

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said that House Democrats should not pass job-killing tax increases during the lame-duck session.

Walden, a Republican from Oregon, told CNN that tax cuts need to be extended because the worst thing to do during a recession is pass tax increases that could kill jobs and hurt small business owners.

CNN asked Walden if he would vote on a bill to support extending unemployment benefits to which he answered that he would if they were payed for. As to the topic of how things will be paid for and how to decrease the overall federal deficit Walden said that National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has put forward some bold ideas in the past week in form of its final report. The proposed blueprint budget looks to slash the federal deficit by $828 billion by 2015.

At the same time, Walden acknowledged that he had not had time to fully read the report. He went on to say that when the Republicans take control of the house in November they will the opportunity to show how they will govern and that they are currently being shut out of some of these decisions.

According to The New York Times the report released by the commission was met with opposition form both the Democrats and the Republicans. Democrats disliked the idea of proposed reduction in health care and Social Security and the Republicans resisted tax increases for upper-income Americans.

To reach President Obama's goal of balancing the federal budget by 2015 the commission may force the president into deciding whether or not he will set aside his campaign promise not to raise federal taxes for 95 percent of Americans during his term.

Republicans promise to cut the budget soon after they take over the house but what is less clear is where the cuts will take place. There will likely be major political repercussions to any cuts they make.

WikiLeaks: James Rubin

James Rubin, former U.S. assistant Secretary of State said that recently released WikiLeaks document are a broad based attack on U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. government.

CNN talked to Rubin after talking to WikiLeaks' spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson. Hrafnsson said that the public has the 'right to know' but Rubin disagreed with the organization's decision to release certain leaked documents and said that despite WikiLeaks' claim that they these documents pose no threat to U.S. security, they very well might.

"Americans may die because of the irresponsibilities of these people," Rubin told CNN.

Rubin explained to CNN that the government needs to be able to have private conversations with foreign leaders or those leaders may not want to talk to them at all. Rubin says that WikiLeaks threatens the government's ability to operate in the world and destroys their ability to have these conversations.

"These people don't have any idea how the real world works," Rubin told CNN, critiquing WikiLeaks.

Southwest Airline told a Chicago teenager that he was too big for one seat.

According to KARE 11, 18-year-old Tim White was told he was too big for one seat and would have to purchase another to ride the plane.

The airline then refused to sell the seat over the phone saying that there was a risk for fraud and even though the seat next to him was empty and the plane was not full, White was not allowed to board the plane, said KARE 11.

Janel Klein of KARE 11 said that White and his twin brother were forced to change their plans and buy tickets on an overnight bus instead.

White's aunt said that having to buy another ticket was not an issue but that she disliked the way the airline treated her nephew.

"I just think their employee was rude to him and he didn't have to handle it that way. If they're comfortable enough to have the poilcy, they need to be comfortable enough to disclose it."

Southwest later apologized to the family and refunded both tickets.

In Powderhorn Park, four teenage boys were charged with sexually assaulting three women last week.

According to KARE 11 the boys were charged in juvenile court and according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, all of them may still be certified to be tried as adults.

"In this case because of the seriousness of the crimes, we will be seeking to certify all four of the juveniles," Freeman told Jana Shortal of KARE 11.

Shortal also said that though one of the suspect's names had previously been released and his age was confirmed as 16 years old, he may actually be 15 years old.

"That was an error. It doesn't matter who made the error but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle," Freeman told KARE 11.

One of the other boys in the case is 14 years old and the other two are 15 years old.

See also:
Victim speaks online about sexual assault at Powderhorn Park

Con man steals $6400

A con man used Craigslist and a Fridley pizza shop to steal $6400.

According to KSTP the police doubt that the man, who may or may not be named "Gary," will ever be caught. The man broke into a closed Godfathers Pizza on University Avenue in Fridley, changed the locks and sold the pizza ovens for $64,000, said KSTP.

KSTP said the police are referring to this as an "ingenious scam." The man sold the pizza ovens using Craigslist, met with buyers in the store, and got away with their money before anyone became suspicious, said Chris Keating of KSTP.

Property Manager Greg Fricke became suspicious after seeing property movers pull up to restaurant and called police. Though the movers had a bill of sale it turned out to be faked.

The police hit a dead end after trying to trace the original Craigslist listing and the cell phone number the thief had given to the buyers. "We're finding it harder and harder to track the criminals, yes," Lt. Mike Monsrud of the Fridley police told KSTP.

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