March 2010 Archives

Congress Bans Deceptive Census Mailings

Congress approved a measure Friday that limits the use of the word "census" on direct mailings that are not from the federal government

The ruling was in response to mailings from a couple of Republican organizations that were criticized for confusing individuals waiting for this year's census forms to arrive, a Washington Post blogger reported.

The mailings that were sent out before the vote were deemed legal by the Postal Service because they did not use the words "United States Census" or "Census Bureau", according to the AP.

The Census Bureau fears that confusing mailings from third parties will result in a lower census response rate, the AP said.

The bill requires that all mailings with the word "census" must contain a disclaimer stating that it is unrelated to the government, according to the AP.

Student Loan Data Stolen From St. Paul Organization

The theft of personal information of 3.3 million student loan holders was reported last weekend by the St. Paul-based ECMC.

Personal information in the data includes names, social security numbers, addresses and dates of birth, the Star Tribune reported.

The theft is though to be the largest case of student information theft in the country. ECMC believes that it affects 5 percent of students with federal student loans, the Star Tribune reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the theft was of a portable device, and hacking was not involved.

Most of the students affected by the theft have student loans in Oregon, Virginia and Connecticut, the Wall Street Journal said.

University of Minnesota Faculty Senate Approves Pay Cuts

The University of Minnesota faculty senate approved a 1.15 percent pay cut Thursday.

The pay cuts are just one piece of a budget plan introduced by University President Bob Bruiniks. Other items include a 2.3 cut for administrative salaries and three required furlough days for wage employees, the Minnesota Daily explained.

The pay cut will save the University about $18 million, MinnPost reported.

The pay cut approval is a response to a $132 million budget shortfall at the university. Much of the problem was caused by a $36 million unallotment by Gov. Pawlenty, MinnPost said.

The rest of the budget shortfall is expected to be made up through layoffs and project delays, MinnPost said.

Bush and Clinton Visit Haiti to Support Fund

Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited Haiti last week to raise awareness of their fund-raising efforts.

The pair met with the country's leaders, visited displacement camps, and toured small businesses, reported CNN.

The two were asked by President Obama to lead the US fundraising program for the earthquake-stricken country. They created the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund in response, which has since raised over $37 million, the BBC reported.

A major goal of the Clinton Bush Haii Fund is to help the country reestablish themselves in textile training, CNN reported. Clinton explained to the news outlet that Korean businesses have already expressed interest in investing in textile exportation

Government officials expect that $11.5 billion will be needed to rebuild the country, the BBC said.

Obama Signs Health Care Bill

President Obama signed the health care bill Tuesday, reforming the country's health insurance practices.

Ending a year-long partisan battle, and decades of failed efforts to launch health care reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is now the law of the land, the Washington Post reported.

"The bill I'm signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see," Obama is quoted as saying in the New York Times.

Winning with a slim majority of votes, the health care overhaul received no Republican support, the Washington Post reported.

"This is a somber day for the American people," said House Republican Leader John Boehner, as quoted by the New York Times "By signing this bill, President Obama is abandoning our founding principle that government governs best when it governs closest to the people."

According to the New York Times, the new bill will require almost all Americans to have health insurance, and will provide subsidies to low and middle-income Americans to help cover the cost.

FCC Announces Plan to Overhaul Broadband Policy

The FCC will propose a 10-year plan to rework the nation's broadband network.

The plan will be submitted to Congress on Tuesday and will introduce the Internet as the dominant form of communication in the country, the New York Times reported

The plan will include funds to bring broadband Internet access to rural areas, and will auction off part of the wireless spectrum to free up access for electronic devices, the New York Times said. The auctions would require television broadcasters to give up portions of their spectrum, and are expected to create a lot of controversy, Reuters reported.

The FCC hopes that its measure will increase the average Internet speed in the country by 25 percent, Reuters said.

European Union Considers Bail-Out Package for Greece

The E.U. is expected to reach an agreement on a potential package to help Greece recover from its economic crisis.

Finance ministers from 16 European counties will meet Monday to continue discussion of the bill, the New York Times reports.

The bill will be available if Greece asked for help. So far it has not, the BBC reported.

A majority of the aid would most likely be through loan guarantees or bilateral loans, said the New York Times. The E.U. prohibits a straight bailout.

Greece has reached a national debt of $419 billion. This deficit is about four times higher than allowed by euro zone standards, the BBC said.

Pawlenty to Line-Item Veto Bonding Bill

The Minnesota Legislature passed a billion bonding bill Thursday. Gov. Pawlenty has agreed to sign the bill, but will line-item veto projects that he doesn't approve.

This $986 million bill is a rework of the original $1 billion that Pawlenty promised to veto last week, the Daily Planet reported.

Pawlenty said originally that he would veto the entire new bill, but relented when the Legislature added funds for projects that he supports, the Minnesota Daily reported.

Pawlenty originally proposed $725 million for construction projects, the Daily Planet said.

$100 million of the bill designated for the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Daily said.

Dead Sea Scrolls Come to Science Museum of Minnesota

Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls are now on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

The exhibit opened Friday and will continue until October 24, reported MinnPost. It includes over 200 artifacts in addition to the scrolls, said Kare-11.

The science museum has worked hard to get the scrolls. Museum Senior Vice President Mike Day is quoted by Kare-11 as saying that "We have been working for seven years on getting the Dead Sea scrolls to the Science Museum of Minnesota."

The scrolls are the oldest biblical text known to exist. They were uncovered after 2,000 in the 1940's in caves near the Dead Sea, said KARE-11.

Health Care Vote Possible in the Next Week

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she believes that the House may pass health care reform within the week.

In light of speculation that a House vote is imminent, President Obama has delayed a trip to Asia until March 21, reported Business Week.

The Associated Press said that Pelosi has dismissed Republican skepticism that there will not be enough votes to pass the bill.

Pelosi is quoted by Business Week as saying that she's "delighted the president will be here for the passage of the bill."

Speech Analysis

Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave a press conference Tuesday on the state budget. His office issues a press release on the event later that day, and the Minnesota Daily reported on the budget on Wednesday.

The press release frames the press conference as a call to action for the Minnesota DFL to present a balanced budget plan by March 17. He discusses the urgent need to reduce the state's deficit, and credits his administration with improving the budget outlook by $209 million.

The article from the Minnesota Daily, on the other hand, takes a completely different approach to the budget. The article discusses Pawlenty's press conference and quotes the governor, but discusses some numbers that the speech and news release left out; the budget deficit is expected to get worse, not better, in the next two-year cycle.

The article cites federal stimulus spending as he reason for the short term budget improvement, and not the work of Pawlenty. Additionally, it attributes the future growth in deficit to Pawlenty's only temporary budget unallotments and a decrease in income tax revenue due to the high unemployment rates.

This article shows just how important it is to research a story from all angles and all sides, with the understanding that speeches and press releases do not tell the whole story.

Eating Disorder Program Battles Over Property In Orono

The Emily Program, a comprehensive eating disorder treatment center, is in the middle of a controversy over an Orono property they want to open a residential clinic on.

At the center of the dispute is Gregg Steinhafel, a CEO at Target. Steinhafel has been one of the most vocal opponents of the clinic's opening, said the Star Tribune.

Steinhafel lives across the street from the property and has said that he fears it may be used for other medical facilities if the Emily program ever leaves, said the Star Tribune.

Supports of the Emily Program say that opening up more facilities will allow the program to expand its services to better serve its patients, said the Minnesota Daily. There is currently a waiting list for the program.

Other residents of Orono claim the treatment clinic will bring down the value of the surrounding properties, said the Minnesota Daily.

The Orono City Council will vote on the property this week, said the Minnesota Daily.

Africa Launches Effort to Eradicate Polio

Heath care workers and volunteers in Africa began an effort to eradicate polio in west and central Africa over the weekend.

The joint effort between the Red Cross and the United Nations will vaccinate 85 million children when 400,000 workers go door-to-door orally vaccinating all children under the age of five, said BBC News.

The plan is modeled after efforts in Nigeria which have been successful in nearly eradicating the disease from the country, said Reuters Africa. About 80% of Nigerian children have been vaccinated, and the number of cases and since collapsed.

The virus spreads in areas with poor sanitation and affects the nervous system of the host, often causing paralysis, explained Reuters Africa.

Religious groups in Africa are supporting the mass vaccination, and analysts are optimistic that the efforts will prove to be successful in lowering the transmission of the virus, said BBC.

Obama Administration Introduces Short Sale Program

A program will take effect on April 5 that will encourage homeowners at risk of defaulting on their mortgage to short sale their homes.

The program will pay the homeowner $1,500 and the servicing bank another $1,000 to coordinated a short sale, explained the New York Times.

Short sales occur when a home is sold for less than the amount owed on a mortgage, said the New York Times. Investment pools will receive more money in a sale than in a foreclosure, and homeowners will receive less damage on their credit rating.

The Huffington Post says over a million homes were lost to foreclosure last year, many because the homeowners had two mortgages.

An existing $75 million mortgage readjustment program, the Home Affordable Modification Program, introduced by the Obama administration has failed to help a single homeowner, reported the Huffington Post.

Chilean Earthquake May Have Sped Up Earth's Rotation

NASA scientists believe that the 8.8 magnitude earthquake sped up the rotation of the earth, and shortened the length of a day.

Richard Gross from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory calculated that the quake could have cut 1.26 microseconds, about one millionth of a second, off the length of day, said BBC News.

Gross said that the shortened day is a result of the mass of the earth being knocked closer to the rotation axis. He likened the effect to that of a figure skated drawing his or her arms closer to his or her body to spin faster, said the LA Times.

Scientists at NASA explained that the earth's rotation rate actually changes all the time due to changes in wind and ocean patterns, explained BBC News.

Gross says the change isn't even worth tallying, said LA Times.

Deal Reached on GAMC

A deal was reached Friday between Gov. Pawlenty and Minnesota legislators to continue the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program.

GAMC will now continue through May, and then will switch to a scaled back version of the program, reported the Star Tribune. GAMC was set to end in April prior to the negotiation.

The cost of the program will be $164 million, Senator Linda Berglin, DFL, told MinnPost, and no current enrollees will be dropped.

The negotiation comes after a judge refused to overrule Pawlenty's veto, said MinnPost. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were patients who use the program.

The measure must still be passed by the Legislature and signed by Pawlenty, explained the Star Tribune.

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