« September 2008 | Main | November 2008 »

October 26, 2008

I-35W Crash Victim's Name Released

The name of the driver who died after crashing through construction barricades into a closed I-35W lane was released Sunday, reported the Star Tribune.

Jose Joel Guerra, 33 from north Minneapolis , was also known as Jorge Sandoval, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner's office.

Guerra crashed his 1991 Buick Regal around 5:30 a.m. near 35W and the 46th Street bridge, reported the Pioneer Press.

The driver was heading south on the Stevens Avenue frontage road when he crashed into construction barriers and into a closed lane on 35W

Guerra died on impact.

Boston Proposes Increased Tobacco Regulations

In an effort to increase overall public health and positively influence young people, Boston legislators are promoting one of the strictest tobacco laws in the country, a measure that would keep cigarettes out of drug stores and off college campuses, reported The New York Times.

The Boston Public Health Commission will vote Nov. 13, on the measure, which would also close the city's 10 hookah and cigar bars. The commission defends the strict measure by comparing tobacco to other dangerous substances like alcohol.

“Should tobacco be treated as any other consumer good? No,? said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Board of Health. “We don’t sell guns everywhere, we don’t sell alcohol everywhere and we don’t need to be selling tobacco everywhere. They’re all dangerous products, and they all require regulation.?

But some local business owners, particularly the 10 cigar and hookah bar owners said they think the measure is discriminatory, reported The Boston Globe.

“It’s tying the hands of sellers and consumers alike, and that isn’t what government should be about,? said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents small businesses, including pharmacies.

The courts disagree.

The city of San Francisco passed a similar ban this July banning the sale of cigarettes in drug stores. The courts upheld the ban, which is set to begin Oct. 1.

Iran's President Suffering From Exhaustion

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, said Sunday that he is suffering from exhaustion, a confession some believe may be masking a larger health concern, reported The New York Times.

Suspicions arose after Ahmadinejad canceled several meetings over the week, which included a canceled speech on Wednesday, reported BBC News.

Facing reelection, Ahmadinejad is becoming increasingly unpopular. His opponents point to his unfulfilled campaign promises as well as his inability to capitalize on rising oil prices. Additionally, Ahmadinejad's refusal to cooperate with the West regarding Iran's nuclear program has resulted in three rounds of crippling economic sanctions on the country.

With oil prices plummeting, Ahmadinejad faces even greater scrutiny as he tries to repair the country's economy, a task which includes reducing the 10 percent unemployment rate and curbing the country's 30 percent inflation rate.

''Thank God, I do not have an illness. Exhaustion is possible, but no illness,'' Ahmadinejad said. "''Of course, we are also human beings, and sometimes we catch a cold."

October 19, 2008

Bachmann's Obama Criticism Aids Opponent

Minnesotan Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann's comments Friday on MSNBC's Hardball that Barack Obama held "anti-American" views have spurred campaign donations for her Democratic opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg, reported The Star Tribune.

After Bachmann's interview, Tinklenberg's campaign reported 9,000 donations from around the country totaling about $450,000. In contrast, Tinklenberg raised about $300,000 in the five weeks since Aug. 21st, reported The Pioneer Press.

Bachmann repeatedly said she was "concerned" about Obama's ties to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, and BIll Ayers, former member of the radical anti-war group the Weather Underground in the 1960s and '70s, characterizing them as anti-American leftists.

Additionally, Bachmann said she would welcome a full media investigation into all U.S. Congress members, saying she hopes the media can expose others with anti-American tendencies and beliefs.

Powell Endorses Obama, Chides McCain

Bush's former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his endorsement of Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president, on Sunday, reported The Star Tribune.

Calling Obama a "transformational figure," Powell said he believed both Obama and John McCain were well qualified, but only Obama can bring about a "generational change" in America.

"It isn't easy for me to disappoint Sen. McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press. Powell went on to criticize the negative tone of John McCain's campaign, particularly the accusations that Obama was "palling around" with terrorists.

Additionally, Powell expressed concerns about John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin.

"She’s a very distinguished woman, and she’s to be admired, but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she’s ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president,? he said.

Given his extensive foreign policy credentials, Powell's endorsement lends credibility to Obama's limited track record in diplomatic affairs.

Powell said he would not campaign for Obama but left the door open to a cabinet or advisory position in a potential Obama administration.

Former Beijing vice-mayor given suspended death sentence for bribery, bad morals

A former Beijing construction official for the Olympic games was given a suspended death sentence for accepting bribes and having bad morals, reported BBC News.

As vice mayor and the director of the agency that oversaw Beijing's citywide makeover, Liu Zhihua, 59, accepted $1,020,000 in exchange for contracts, loans and promotions.

Zhihua's death sentence will be suspended for two years, and will be commuted to a life prison sentence for good behavior, reported The New York Times

In addition to the bribery charge, Zhihua is also guilty of having bad morals, including keeping several mistresses and living lavishly.

After news of the scandal came out in 2006, Zhiuhua was removed from his post as construction director and removed from his government position and the Communist Party.

October 12, 2008

Longtime State Senator Allan Spear Dies

Allan Spear, one of the first openly gay legislators, died Sunday at the age of 71, reported the Pioneer Press.

Spear died of complications following heart surgery on Thursday.

A member of the state senate from 1972 to his retirement in 2000, Spear was a member of Minnesota's DFL party. He championed human rights and fought to amend Minnesota's Human Rights Act to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation. The legislation finally, which he started supporting in the '70s was finally passed in 1993.

Spear announced he was gay in an interview with the Minneapolis Star newspaper in 1974, becoming one of two openly gay legislators in the country, reported The Star Tribune.

Spear was a former history professor at the University of Minnesota and, as part of Minnesota's sesquicentennial celebration, was named one of the 150 people who shaped Minnesota.

Spear is survived by his partner, Junjiro Tsuji, and his brother, Richard Spear.

Wildfire Burns 300 Acres, 2 structures in Napa Valley

A hundred people were evacuated as firefighters worked to contain a wildfire responsible for destroying 300 acres and two structures on Saturday nearNapa Valley, Calif., reported The Star Tribune.

According to a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Nancy Carniglia, the fire threatened approximately 200 homes and two wineries in St. Helena near Napa Valley in northern California. About 100 residents voluntarily left their homes, reported The New York Times.

Investigators believe the fire started when a car struck a rock causing a spark. Strong winds exacerbated the fire, spreading embers.

More than 1,500 firefighters contained the blaze on Sunday and all evacuation orders have been lifted.

North Korea Continues Dismantling Nuclear Program

North Korea vowed to continue dismantling its nuclear program Sunday in response to the U.S.'s symbolic gesture of removing the country from its list of terrorist sponsors, reported The New York Times.

While the U.S. still imposes economic sanctions on the communist country, the gesture and North Korea's subsequent actions are a step forward for the two countries, whose diplomatic talk has stalled over the past few months.

The two countries have plenty of issues to hash out before a solid diplomatic relationship can develop, however.

The United States would like to send inspectors into North Korea to monitor progress while North Korea would like the U.S. to remove troops from South Korea, reported The Star Tribune.

Both countries would need to make major concessions before either of those things happen, which would be unlikely without considerable discussion. Additionally, the United States and North Korea have track record for not agreeing on what they had supposedly agreed upon.

Broken promises aside, this development should have positive affects for the region. South Korea praised the breakthrough and cited its vested interest in North Korea shutting down its nuclear program. Additionally, while still concerned about North Korea's new found legitimacy as a country, Japan looks forward to further meetings with North Korea in their "six-party" talks.

October 5, 2008

Gore Appears At DFL Fundraiser

Former Vice President Al Gore spoke at a DFL fund raising event on Saturday on behalf of Al Franken at Northrup Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus, reported The St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The event, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's second annual fundraiser, featured speakers from the party's major office holders, including Amy Klobuchar, reported The Star Tribune.

Gore largely worked to tie Al Franken's opponent, Norm Coleman, to the Bush administration's failed policies in hopes of boosting Franken's flagging poll numbers.

Franken, too, distanced himself from Coleman and stated his goal to end the war in Iraq. On the domestic front, Franken said he wanted to work to reform the health care system and help out the average Minnesotan.

"I know the middle class is the engine of prosperity, and I know that we all do better when we all do better," said Franken, channeling the late Paul Wellstone.

Franken went on to the tell memorable story of how Wellstone used to run along the sidelines during his son, David's, cross country meets, shouting that David could "take" his opponent. Franken used the story as a metaphor for his own campaign against Coleman.

"I'm going to take this guy," Franken said. "I need you running alongside me. I need you running alongside me for the next 31 days. I need you every step of the way. Together — together we will take this guy, and we will take back this country."

O.J. Simpson Guilty on Robbery, Kidnapping Charges

On the 13-year anniversary of his acquittal in his wife's murder case, a jury found O.J. Simpson guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping, and 10 other charges on Friday, reported The New York Times.

The incident, a confrontation in a Las Vegas hotel room in which Simpson and four other men stole hundreds of sports memorabilia items, yielded various charges which could send the 61-year-old Simpson to prison for the rest of his life.

The kidnapping charge alone is punishable by five years to life and because a weapon was present, the minimum sentence for the majority of the charges against Simpson will be increased.

Simpson's lawyer, Yale Galanter, said he believes the jury's biases played a role in Simpson's guilty verdict.

"I don’t like to use the word payback,? said Galanter. “I can tell you from the beginning my biggest concern was whether or not the jury would be able to separate their very strong feelings about Mr. Simpson and judge him fairly and honestly.?

Despite any possible "spillover effect," as Galanter called it, prosecutors presented the jury with hours of taped conversations in which Simpson and four other men planned the attack, and testimony from three of those men.

According to witnesses in the courtroom, Simpson seemed markedly more subdued as the jury read a guilty verdict on all 12 charges, reported The Star Tribune.

“There’s a loneliness, a sadness about O. J. that I never saw before,? said Dominick Dunne, a Vanity Fair columnist famous for his coverage of SImpson's 1995 murder trial. "I think he understands how wrecked his life is.?

Europe Works To Stave Off Financial Crisis

Facing an American-sized economic downturn, European leaders met Saturday to hash out a bailout plan to stave off their growing credit crisis, reported The New York Times.

“We are fully aware of the responsibility that weighs on our shoulders,? said President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. “What is of the essence is that Europe should exist and respond with one voice.?

That has been a difficult task given the lack of banking and brokerage standards among Europe's major countries. Additionally, European Union nations do not have a common budget, which makes enacting a bailout plan similar to the United State's $700 billion package challenging.

The meeting did yield a broadly outlined bailout plan and a lot of good ideas, including working with the European Investment Bank to make $21.2 billion available to struggling small and midsize business owners.

European leaders say they agree, however, that this economic crisis is a product of risky American economic practices. Many said they prefer Europe's system of setting aside savings to America's "speculative capitalism".

Individually, European countries are doing what they keep their economies stable, reported The Star Tribune.

Sunday, German leaders voted to enact a bailout plan of their own, committing 50 billion euros ($69 billion) to keep Hypo Real Estate AG, the nation's second-largest property lender, afloat.

British treasury chief Alistair Darling said Britain is willing to take "pretty big steps that we wouldn't take in ordinary times."