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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.

November 9, 2008

Ramsey County Denies Coleman Request to Stop Absentee Ballot Count

A Ramsey County judge denied requests from Norm Coleman's lawyers to discredit 32 unopened absentee ballots that the Coleman campaign said were in a city election official's car, reported The Pioneer Press.

In one of the tightest, and nastiest, Senate races in the country, and with a vote margin of 221 votes, 32 absentee ballots could have a huge impact on the election.

According to Election Director Cindy Reichert, the ballots could not be delivered to their designated polling place because it had closed for the day. Instead they remained sealed and were not to be opened until other election duties were complete, reported The Star Tribune.

The Franken campaign called Coleman's abrupt legal action a "Saturday morning sneak attack," and derided him for trying to stall a state-mandated recount.

Both campaigns will wait until Nov. 18 for state officials to certify the results. After that, a hand recount of all ballots will begin, meaning the election may not be decided until mid-December.

Old Cholesterol Drugs Help New Set Of Patients

Statin drugs, once reserved for patients with high cholesterol, can also benefit those with normal or low cholesterol levels revealed a new study released at an American Heart Association conference Sunday.

Nearly 18,000 men age 50 and older and women 60 and older with no history of high cholesterol or heart disease participated in the study, reported the New York Times. The participants did have elevated levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, a harbinger of inflammation.

The study revealed statin drugs can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with inflamed blood vessels in half, reported National Public Radio.

Additionally, 20 milligrams of the drug Crestor, taken daily, can reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular complications by 20 percent, according to data from the study, published in the online version of The New England Journal of Medicine.

“These are findings that are really going to impact the practice of cardiology in the country,? said Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which was not involved in the research. “It’s at a minimum an extremely important study and has the potential to be a landmark study.?

China Reveals $586 Billion Economic Package

China revealed a massive economic stimulus package on Sunday, a move that could help the global economy as well, reported the New York Times.

The plan would allow $586 billion to be spent by 2010 on bolstering infrastructure, social welfare programs and transportation projects and would include tax cuts and a loosening of credit, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Introduced by the Chinese State Council, the package would be the largest in China's history, accounting for 7 percent of its gross domestic product over the next two years.

China's economy had been growing by double digits, but with a weakening real estate market and declining exports, China has seen that number shrink.

Unlike the United States government, however, China operates with $2 trillion in foreign reserves and a significant surplus, allowing them to enact aggressive plans to stimulate their economy before things spiral out of control.

"Despite the weakening economy and slowing tax revenue in recent months," said Jing Ulrich, managing director of China equities at JP Morgan in Hong Kong, "the government has every political incentive to boost spending in priority programs."

November 2, 2008

Pioneer Press Receives "Anthrax" Package

The Pioneer Press received a package labeled "anthrax Saturday, but initial police tests said the accompanying white powder is sugar, reported The Star Tribune.

Inside the envelope is a CD with a photo Colin Powell titled "Anthrax Shock and Awe Terror." Taped to the CD is a sugar packet labeled "Anthrax" and "Biohazard," reported The Pioneer Press.

The incident was the latest in a series of such mailings to newspapers around the country.

The FBI arrested a California man, Marc M. Keyser, 66, of Sacramento, last week on suspicion of sending over 100 falsely labeled "anthrax" packages to various media outlets across the nation.

St. Paul police spokesman Pete Crum said no one was injured or arrested in connection with Friday's hoax anthrax letter.

Judge Issues Order for Wiretapping Documents

A federal judge ordered the Justice Department to release memorandums citing the legality of the Bush Administration's post-9/11wiretapping policy, which included taps without warrants, reported the Washington Post.

Washington Federal District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. required the documents be released by Nov. 17, saying he will review the information and determine if any information can be legally released to the public, reported The New York Times.

The order stemmed from a lawsuit filed by civil liberties groups in 2005 questioning the legality of Bush's order to allow the National Security Agency to listen in on calls between terrorism suspects and U.S. civilians without first obtaining a permit.

The department argued the memorandums are protected because of an attorney-client privilege, an assertion Kennedy deemed "too vague."

"The attorney-client privilege is not necessarily the means for protecting this information," the order said. "Without more information, the court cannot conclude that the attorney-client privilege applies."

Bolivia Stops US Anti-Drug Work

Bolivian President Evo Morales halted the United State's anti-drug efforts in the region on Saturday as relations between the two countries continue to sour, reported The New York Times.

Morales accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency of espionage and undermining his leftist government, but did not specify whether he would expel DEA agents from Bolivia, reported the BBC.

"Personnel from the DEA supported activities of the unsuccessful coup d'etat in Bolivia," Morales said. "“There were DEA agents who worked to conduct political espionage and to fund criminal groups."

The United States have denied Morales' accusations, saying they have played no part in conspiring against the Bolivian government. The DEA said they won't give up in the region, however.

“We will find other ways to make sure we keep abreast of the drug-trafficking situation through there,? said Garrison Courtney, a DEA spokesman.

The DEA's work largely centers on coca, the raw material used in the production of cocaine which is widely grown in Bolivia. Many Bolivians include coca in their daily lives, chewing it because of its supposed health benefits.

Relations between the United States and Bolivia have soured since Morales' election in 2006. After Morales limited DEA activities and expelled the United States ambassador for espionage, the U.S. placed Bolivia on their anti-narcotics blacklist, which decreased Bolivia's trade preferences.

Despite Morales' promises to reduce coca production, Bolivia's coca output increased 5 percent in 2007, according to United Nations report.