December 2009 Archives

Analysis: Computer-assisted reporting

by Greta Kaul           

            Computer-assisted reporting gave legitimacy to claims made by a NICAR report conducted by USA Today that found the Army hiring retired generals and admirals with ties to defense contractors.

            Rather than making claims without concrete support, the investigation accessed Army records that found financial records of ties to defense contractors by 80 percent of 158 retired senior mentor generals and admirals.  Where computer skills are concerned, this reporting would require considerable knowledge of the organization of databases, as well as an understanding of how to find connections between things like senior mentors and their financial ties.  The ability to interpret these facts to come to the conclusion is what the credibility of this story depends on, at which the investigation excels.

Minnesota-Wisconsin income tax reciprocity to expire

by Greta Kaul

            Minnesota lawmakers rejected a Wisconsin tax reciprocity plan for 2010 Wednesday, according to the Star Tribune.

            Formerly, 80,000 commuting Wisconsin residents been able to file one tax return form for both states, the Winona Daily News said.  The states reimbursed one another afterward.

            Wisconsin offered to pay Minnesota $90 million, but Minnesota rejected the offer, calculating a $131 million boost in revenue by directly taxing Wisconsin residents who work in Minnesota, the Star Tribune said.

            Minnesota is currently in the midst of a $1.2 billion deficit.

            The current reciprocity arrangement will expire on Dec. 31.  Lawmakers are unlikely to agree upon a new plan by the time the old one expires, the Winona Daily News said.

            Interstate commuters are likely to pay income taxes in both states in 2010, according to the Winona Daily News.


Swiss minaret ban prompts criticism of Sarkozy

            The Swiss decision to ban minarets has sparked criticism of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's attitude toward Muslims.

            Sarkozy responded to accusations that a government-sponsored debate on French national identity sparked the ban of minarets in Switzerland on Nov. 29, the Washington Post said.

            Sarkozy called for tolerance of Muslims among native French, but suggested that arriving Muslims adapt to a "French Islam," the Washington Post said.

            Last summer, Sarkozy said that burkas are not welcome in France, according to the Los Angeles Times.  After three months of debate, a parliamentary panel is studying whether or not the burka should be banned in public.

            The conversations about Islam in Europe reflect a growing concern about its visibility, especially in France, according to the Washington Post.


Palin urges Obama to stay home from Copenhagen

by Greta Kaul

            Sarah Palin published an op-ed piece in the Washinton Post that urged President Barack Obama to boycott the climate change talks in Copenhangen Wednesday.

            The former governor of Alaska accused scientists at the University of East Anglia in Britain of manipulating data and destroying records in order to hide a global temperature decline.

            She said the "Climate-gate" e-mail scandal undermines the science behind the Copenhagen climate summit.

            "Policy should be based sound science, not politics," Palin said.

            Obama's withdrawal from the conference would be shocking, the Los Angeles Times said, as he has been in favor of the United States' re-entry into global climate change talks.

            Obama is expected to make an appearance at the Copenhagen conference's  end next week, the LA Times said.


by Greta Kaul

            A Twin Cities Quaker congregation will stop signing marriage certificates for heterosexual couples until Minnesota legalizes gay marriage, Minnesota Public Radio said.

            The Twin Cities Friends Meeting is associated with a larger Quaker group that fully supports LGBT equality, the Minnesota Independent said.

            The group will continue to hold both same-sex and heterosexual marriage ceremonies in its meeting house, but heterosexual couples will now have to get certificates signed by a justice of the peace, MPR said.

             Paul Landskroener, a clerk, said that the Twin Cities Friends Meeting has decided that only signing heterosexual marriage certificates when they support same-sex unions to be "unjust and inconsistent with our religious testimony," according to the Minnesota Independent.

             A handful of other Quaker congregations in the United States have also stopped signing heterosexual marriage certificates until their states legalize gay marriage, MPR said.

            Still, more conservative Quaker groups have opposed gay marriage, according to the Minnesota Independent.


First commercial spaceship to be unveiled

by Greta Kaul

            The world's first commercial spaceship will be unveiled to the public Monday.

            SpaceShipTwo, soon to be christened The V.S.S. Enterprise, (short for Virgin Space Ship), has been under secret development by Virgin Galactic for two years, according to National Geographic.

            After more than a year of ground and flight tests, the business-jet-sized Enterprise will carry six passengers and two pilots at a time, National Geographic said.

            Around 300 clients have made deposits or bought $200,000 tickets to ride on Enterprise for 2.5 hours, which includes five minutes of weightlessness, the Associated Press said.

            Virgin Galactic plans to spend over $400 million on a fleet of five commercial spacecrafts and launch vehicles in the coming years, according to the AP.

Study finds no link between cancer and cell phone use

by Greta Kaul

            A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Thursday found no correlation between cell phone use and brain tumors, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

            The study, conducted by the Danish Cancer Society, analyzed adult brain tumors from 1974 to 2003.   It found no significant change in the number of tumors since cell phones have been widely used, the U.S. News & World Report said.

            Analysts studied the brain tumors of 60,000 adults in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden; countries that keep strict citizen medical records, Reuters said. 

            A small increase in tumors (about 0.5 percent) may be due to better detection methods since 1974, Reuters said.

New York Senate votes against gay marriage

by Greta Kaul

            The New York Senate shot down legislation that would allow gay marriage  38-24 after two hours of emotional debate Wednesday, according to the New York Daily News.

            Activists hoped that New York would become the sixth U.S. state to allow gay marriage, according to Reuters. 

            Five U.S. states have approved same-sex civil unions, and 31 have explicitly voted down gay marriage, The New York Daily News said

            New York Governor David Paterson said he would have signed the legislation had it appeared on his desk, Reuters said.  In New York's Democrat-controlled Assembly, legislation to allow gay marriage has passed three times.  Wednesday was the first time the vote was put to the Senate.

             As politically-liberal voters, polls show that a majority of New Yorkers have been found in favor of legalizing gay marriage, according to Reuters.

Thieves steal copper wiring at Midway Stadium

by Greta Kaul

            Thieves left an estimated $10,000 in damage at the St. Paul Saints stadium when they forced open breaker boxes to steal copper wiring, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

            Officials believe that the break-in happened Sunday or Monday, but was not reported to police until Monday, the Star Tribune said.  The thieves clipped a chain-link fence to get access to the wiring, but left little evidence behind to help police solve the crime.

            As of now, police have no suspects, the Star Tribune said.

            Wiring was stolen from the city-owned stadium two years ago, prompting officials to consider installing surveillance cameras for more of the property or night patrols in order to revamp its security, MPR News said.

            Because the stadium is unused in the off-season, the wiring may not be repaired until closer to baseball season, MPR News said.

            The city of St. Paul has considered building a new stadium, which would be rented by the Saints, the Star Tribune said.

EU enacts Lisbon Treaty

by Greta Kaul

            After a lengthy ratification process, the European Union's Lisbon Treaty came into effect Tuesday, uniting the 27-state bloc in the hopes of systematizing EU decision-making, according to VOA News.

            The treaty also formally changed the name of the former World Trade Organization (WTO) to the EU, according to Xinhua News Agency.

            Former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy will take office as the first permanent EU president in January under the treaty, according to VOA News.  Catherine Ashton, the former EU trade commissioner, has been appointed to EU foreign policy chief.  Both are relatively little-known in European and international spheres.

            Van Rompuy declined lengthy commentary, but emphasized the importance of a strong agreement on climate change at the Copenhagen climate summit this month, VOA News said.

            The Lisbon Treaty will allow the bloc to speak as a unified entity on the international stage, Xinhua said.

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