December 14, 2008

Winter Storm Complicates Driving Conditions

As a winter storm moves through the state, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is reporting difficult driving conditions, reported the Pioneer Press.

While a few spinouts have been reported Lt. Mark Peterson, a spokesman with the State Patrol, said the lack of any serious accidents have been "a pleasant surprise." Sunday conditions are particularly important as college students drive home for the holidays, reported the Star Tribune.

In the western and some northwestern parts of the state, major roads have been closed including Interstate 94 between Moorhead and Alexandria and Highway 10 between Moorhead and Detroit Lakes.

Temperatures in the metro area are expected to drop as the storm passes through.

With bad weather expected into Monday, authorities are advising people to stay inside and avoid traveling.

Blagojevich Only The Latest Chapter In Corrupt Illinois Politics

Illinoisans are used to politicians like Rod Blagojevich who was indicted on Tuesday for attempting to sell Barack Obama's vacant senate seat, among other political "prizes" at his disposal, according to The New York Times.

The Illinois governor is the current face of a political machine based on a "pay to play" political philosophy in which everything is for sale, reported the Chicago Tribune.

Because of the state's particularly lax rules regarding campaign donation limits--there are none--many politicians are enticed to sell their political favor to the highest bidder. Because some donors contribute considerably more than others, it is in most politician's best interest in Illinois to appease them with jobs, state contracts or, in Blagojevich's case, senate seats.

"When you look at the countless scandals that have plagued Illinois politics over the last several years, while they have differed in facts and scope, the one common denominator has been a drive to obtain an abundance of campaign contributions," said state Rep. John Fritchey (D- Chicago).

Indian Planes 'Accidentally' Entered Pakistani Airspace

According to Pakistani officials, Indian warplanes entered Pakistani airforce near the alleged location of the group responsible for the Mumbai attacks last week, reported The New York Times.

Pakistan's Information Minister Sherry Rehman said Pakistan's airforce were on the alert, but did not believe the airspace infraction would lead to a conflict, reported BBC News.

Relations between the two countries, which have always been strained, are particularly shaky after the attack in Mumbai which led to the deaths of 170 people. Pakistan's intelligence agency has openly aided Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the November attacks.

Pakistan reported that they had already contacted Indian officials about the airspace crossover and were assured the incident was accidental.

India denied any wrongdoing in the incident, saying they did not fly into Pakistani airspace.

December 7, 2008

Gov. Pawlenty To Travel To Israel

Gov. Tim Pawlenty will travel to Israel on Thursday on a mission to promote Minnesota businesses in the region, reported The Pioneer Press.

Following in Arne Carlson's footsteps, who 15 years earlier made this same trip as governor to promote trade with the region, Pawlenty will lead a team of business leaders, reported The Star Tribune.

Israel is Minnesota's 22nd largest export market, shipping over $121 million of goods--largely computer products and machinery--to the country.

Pawlenty will make stops in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and will speak at an economic conference.

Pawlenty is no stranger to trade missions. He has made stops this year in Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Poland and India.

Channeling Eisenhower, Obama Proposes Major Public Works Projects

Inheriting a major economic crisis, President-elect Barack Obama unveiled plans Saturday for the largest public works construction program since Dwight D. Eisenhower's interstate highway system over 50 years ago, reported The New York Times.

To bolster a weak and shrinking job market, Obama's public works plan will include new jobs to make buildings more energy efficient, repair aging highways, implement electronic medical record systems in hospitals, and install new computers in schools, reported The Washington Post.

Adopting a "New Deal" attitude, Obama said more government intervention is necessary in order to reverse the economic downturn, create more jobs for middle- and low-income workers, and modernize the United States.

Conservatives, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), strongly oppose throwing the government's weight around, however, saying strong government presence in the economy is the wrong direction.

"Anyone who has talked to the American people knows that while they are hurting, they don't believe that more Washington spending is the answer," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.

While conservatives support lowering taxes to promote consumer spending, Obama's plan reveals he is not afraid to spend money to fix the economy.

“I think he understands if you’re trying to reverse the economy and turn it around," Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association, said in an interview Saturday, "this is not the time to do it on the cheap. This is not the time to do it in small doses.?

Teenager's Death Sparks Riots In Greece

Hundreds of students, angry over the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy, rioted Saturday and into Sunday, reported The New York Times.

"It's not the first time. They always kill people - immigrants, innocent people - and without any excuse," a protester said. "They murdered him in cold blood."

The riots began just hours after police shot 15-year-old Andreas Grigoropoulos in the Exarchia district in Athens, an area rife with conflicts between police and far-left youth.

In the worst riots Greece has seen in 15 years, hundreds of rioters smashed store fronts, damaged parked cars, and even set a car showroom on fire. As riot police fired tear gas at the group, the youth returned fire with petrol bombs, reported BBC News.

The rioters retreated to the Polytechnic campus for the night where police are not allowed entrance.

At least 34 people have been injured as riots resumed in Athens and in neighboring cities on Sunday.

Greece's minister of the interior, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, condemned the shooting and offered Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis his resignation who promptly rejected it. Pavlopoulos also called for peace in the cities.

"It is everyone's right to demonstrate and to advocate for their rights," Pavlopoulos said. "But I stress, not by destroying the property of others, not turning against people who are not to blame for anything."

November 30, 2008

Sauk Rapids Man Rescued From River

A 62-year old man from Sauk Rapids was pulled from the Mississippi River after falling through thin ice while ice skating, reported the Pioneer Press.

James Christensen was in the water for over an hour, according to the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Rescuers pulled Chirstensen out of the river just north of St. Cloud.

A resident near the river reported hearing cries of help and called authorities to investigate.

Rescuers used a rope to pull Christensen in after he floated over 100 feet from shore.

Christensen is at St. Cloud Hospital and is listed in good condition, reported the Star Tribune.

Space Shuttle Endeavour Forced To Land In California

Bad weather in Florida forced the space shuttle Endeavour to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California, wrapping up a 16-day mission at the International Space Station, reported the Star Tribune.

Low clouds and high crosswinds forced the flight director, Bryan Lunney, to direct Endeavour to land in California instead of at the Kennedy Space Center where friends and family members of the seven-member crew were waiting.

The 6.6 million-mile voyage lasting 16 days brought the space station over eight tons of equipment and supplies including a new water-recycling system, which the astronauts tested on board, reported the New York Times.

The water-recycling system is part of NASA's plan to increase the crew size aboard the space station from three to six next May.

Additionally, two astronauts carried out four spacewalks to repair the space station's exterior and lubricate rotary mechanisms.

Pirates Continue Control of Somali Waters

Despite efforts from a German military helicopter, Somali pirates hijacked another ship off the Gulf of Aden on Friday, reported the New York Times.

Even with trained security personnel on board the ship, pirates were able to capture a Liberian chemical tanker using small boats and daring tactics, seizing the ship before German forces arrived on the scene.

Pirates in the area are also responsible for capturing a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million in cargo a month ago. They also captured a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 tanks and other weapons in September.

Negotiations are in progress for the release of both ships, reported BBC News.

A pirate spokesman said it would only be "a matter of time" before the Ukrainian vessel would be released, adding that a payment amount for the ship was agreed upon.

Pirates continue to hold over a dozen ships in a secluded bay near Somalia, controlling waters near the Gulf of Aden.

November 23, 2008

Amid Recount, Rejected Absentee Ballots Could Be Key

With 65 percent of the votes recounted and a margin of less than 200 votes separating Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, thousands of rejected absentee ballots could decide the election, reported The Star Tribune.

Regardless of the recount's outcome, the losing candidate will likely challenge the thousands of rejected absentee ballots, which could span the ever-shrinking vote margin betwen the two candidates. The Pioneer Press reported that Al Franken had already started that challenge.

The Al Franken for Senate campaign won a decision in a Ramsey Court on Sunday to obtain the names of those rejected ballots. The judge, Dale Lindman, said the county's refusal to make the information public was in violation of the Data Practices Act.

The Franken campaign will use that information to help identify voters and determine their intended vote.

"They did everything right, and yet their votes were not counted," said David Lillehaug, an attorney for the Franken campaign. "It's clear to us that mistakes have been made."

Some feel, however, that the information would be used to determine exactly who those absentee voters cast their ballot for.

"The fact is, they're going to get the names and addresses, and they're going to pound on people's doors and ask, 'How did you vote?' " said Fritz Knaak, an attorney with the Norm Coleman campaign.

From Opponent to Ally, Clinton Obama's Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama's opponent in the Democratic primaries, accepted the president-elect's offer on Friday to become his Secretary of State, giving up her Senate seat to do so, reported The New York Times.

After a particularly fierce battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama's choice of Clinton to such a powerful position in his cabinet is rather odd. Obama often criticized Clinton for her vote to send US troops into Iraq and yet appointed her the voice of his administration's foreign policy efforts, reported The Star Tribune.

With Hillary, comes Bill, who will no doubt insert his opinion into the debate. This also seems to run contrary to Obama's desire to avoid a sideshow, focusing instead on presenting the issues simply and clearly.

Obama, however, is sticking with Clinton, calling her on Thursday to discuss the logistics of her position. The phone call, Clinton aides said, helped Clinton make the decision to step down from her Senate seat into Obama's administration.

While many applaud Obama for putting aside the bitterness of the primary campaign, others are disappointed in his choice, saying Clinton is powerful enough in her own right to undermine Obama's authority.

While the decision will not be finalized until after Thanksgiving, both parties are working to frame Clinton's position in Obama's administration, given her status as a political heavyweight.

"Hillary Clinton is a demonstrably able, tough, brilliant person who can help ... advance the interests of this administration and this country," Obama strategist David Axelrod said Sunday in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

Chavez, Allies Face Challenges in Elections

Voters headed to the polls in Venezuela to elect governors and mayors on Sunday as President Hugo Chavez said he would accept the victories of his political opponents, reported BBC News.

Chavez's willingness to concede the potential defeats of his political allies is a departure from his earlier, more hostile responses to opposition, threatening earlier in the year to send troops to Carabobo, a state where political opposition to the president is gaining power, reported The New York Times.

Chavez is facing a growing opposition because of high murder rates and food inflation, both of which were hot campaign issues. Additionally, Chavez's proclivity for blaming past governments and the United States for Venezuela's problems have turned some voters off.

However, Chavez and his allies do enjoy majority popular support largely because Venezuela's huge oil profits are spent on schools, subsidizing food and other social welfare programs.

"I know in my heart that Chávez cares about the poor,? said Miroslava Toro, 35, a resident of Petare, who voted for Chavez's allies.

Experts are not expecting Chavez to all but sweep the elections the way he did in 2004, but his United Socialist Party of Venezuela is expected to carry the majority of the country's 23 states.

While voting went smoothly for the most part, a few states did report minor technical glitches with electronic voting machines.

November 16, 2008

Rallies in Minneapolis, Across Nation Protest Gay Marriage Bans

In Minneapolis, a group of 700 people protested newly passed gay marriage bans in California, Florida and Arizona, reported The Star Tribune.

In addition to the rally at the Hennepin County Government Center, protesters gathered outside the Capitol in St. Paul and in Duluth on Saturday, and larger cities across the nation drew even larger crowds.

"From Golden Gate Park to Loring Park, we will step together until this battle is won," Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff told the crowd at the government center. "We will not forget the tens of thousands of gay couples who had their loves erased in California."

Protesters in New York proclaimed the gay rights battle, “the greatest civil rights battle of our generation,? while protesters in Washington state endured nasty weather, which included a tornado watch, marching to the beat “Gay, straight, black, white; marriage is a civil right,? reported the New York Times.

"It's really sad that this is even an issue at all," said Kendra Atkins, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota student from Eau Claire, Wisc, who attended the Minneapolis rally. "Love is something we all experience in our own way and it's very unfortunate that certain people think there should be a right way and a wrong way to love."

Firefighters Work to Contain California Forest Fires

Firefighters are working to contain forest fires in three California counties, but have shifted their focus to a new outbreak in northern Orange County, reported the Los Angeles Times.

More than 26,000 people were evacuated in the Triangle Complex fire and 3,500 structures remain in danger as firefighters focus in on the area.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the three affected counties--Los Angeles, Orange, and Santa Barbara--reported the New York Times.

High winds have exacerbated fires that have devoured homes in upscale neighborhoods like Anaheim Hills. Rapper Snoop Dogg was among the evacuees in Diamond Bar as homes in his gated community, The Country, were threatened.

Officials predict winds will die down on Sunday, which will aid over 2,200 firefighters working across the area. The Tea fire, which broke out on Thursday in Montecito near Santa Barbara, was 75 percent contained and northwest of San Fernando Valley in the Sylmar area the Sayre fire was 40 percent contained.

Officials report a myriad of injuries but only one casualty--a 98-year-old man died as he was being evacuated.

Exlied Tibetan Leaders Meet to Discuss China

Hundreds of exiled Tibetan leaders descended on northern India on Sunday for a meeting to discuss their campaign for autonomy from China, reported BBC News.

The week long meeting in Dharamsala in northern India was called by the Dalai Lama in order to evaluate the current Tibetan autonomy effort, but, he said, the group had no specific goals in mind for the meeting.

''It must be clear to all that this special meeting does not have any agenda for reaching a particular predetermined outcome,'' the Dalai Lama said. ''We can be proud at this moment when the Tibetan people themselves are ready and able to take responsibility for Tibet.''

The meeting is on the heels of China's rejection of the envoy's detailed coexistence plan, in which Tibetan leaders explain how Tibet can live autonomously within the structure of the Chinese constitution, reported the New York Times.

This is not the first time talks between China and Tibet have stalled, however.

''The Chinese leadership keeps on saying that the doors to a dialogue are always open but they haven't shown any willingness to take any step, however small, forward,'' said Lodi Gyari, one of two of the Dalai Lama's envoys.

The Dalai Lama said he doubts whether Tibet will ever gain autonomy from China, a nation they have tangled with for over 700 years.

''As far as I'm concerned I have given up,'' he said.