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March 26, 2007

British Arrests Refocus Glare on Muslim Area

Last week British police arrested three Muslim men from Beeston, an enclave of Leeds, England. Two of the men were stopped at Manchester airport before boarding a plane to Pakistan; the third was arrested at his home. The men of Pakistani descent were arrested on suspicion of having been accomplices of the London suicide bombers from July 2005.

Mohammed Miah, the owner of a “Hot “n? Krispy? shop, said he has no sympathy for the suicide bombers and feels they give everybody a bad name.

A white resident, Cliff Heard, described one of the arrested men, Mohammed Shakil, his next-door neighbor, in glowing terms. The nephew of one of the 2005 suicide bombers said he was convinced his nephew was inspired to act due to British participation in the Iraq war.

A criminal lawyer, Tariq Rehman said Muslims understand certain violent actions because they see American troops involved in an illegal war in Iraq killing Muslims illegally.

The New York Times article tells of DIVERSITY explaining that the British neighborhood of Beeston is a working class section of the more prosperous city, Leeds. It is a mixed-race neighborhood of whites, Asians and Africans. Bad feelings are back in the city that originated after the July 2005 suicide bombings in London. That’s because 3 of the 4 bombers came from Beeston and now 3 more people from the neighborhood have been arrested.

March 25, 2007

Two new racial graffiti incidents jar St. Thomas campus

Friday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press back page Metro Briefing section reported two recent incidences of racial graffiti have resurfaced at the University of St. Thomas. On Feb. 9 and again on March 16 racial slurs were found on separate posters displayed in the school’s lounges.

The last report of racial graffiti at the campus was about a year ago. A university spokesman said racial graffiti is condemned by the university and not tolerated. A reward of up to $500 is being offered. No other local coverage can be found.

YouTube a good deal for local techie

Friday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that 1997 St. Paul Central High School graduate Jawed Karim, 28, is back in town from Silicon Valley to speak Monday at the University of St. Thomas about his life after YouTube. When Google bought out YouTube last year, Karim and his two former partners in YouTube reaped big monetary rewards. Now $64.6 million richer, the Stanford University graduate student is on the lookout for the next big thing as a venture capitalist with a new Web site, Youniversity Ventures. Along with appearing with Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens, Karim is in town to visit his mom and dad during his spring break.

Sunday’s New York Times reported financial details on the sale of YouTube to Google last year, breaking out the figures for each of the three YouTube partners, including Karim. Accusations of copyright infringement by movie studios and other media are clouding Google’s acquisition of YouTube. Viacom demanded last week that YouTube remove over 100,000 video clips it said it owned.

Egypt’s Mubarak rebuffs U.N. chief about Darfur

In Cairo the New York Times reported Saturday that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked for help from President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to convince Sudan’s leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to add U.N. peacekeeper troops in order to relieve the beleaguered, overwhelmed and outnumbered African Union troops in Darfur. Maged Abdelaziz, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.N. said rather than reneging on the peace accord, they want to take their time to find a solution with the Sudanese.

An online UPI report Saturday recapped the meeting in Cairo between Ban and Mubarak. About Darfur all that was said was they discussed the situation in Darfur and that the international community is working hard to deal with the tough humanitarian conditions in Darfur.

Wal-Mart fired its 2 top ad stars for improper behavior

A front-page business section New York Times article Tuesday stated two top ad executives from Wal-Mart were fired and are being sued by Wal-Mart. Mr. Sean Womack and Ms. Julie Roehm joined the agency in 2005 and worked together to select a new ad agency for the Arkansas company. Wal-Mart accused them of having a sexual relationship and with engaging in improper dealings with DraftFCB, the ad agency they eventually chose as their new $580 million account and which Wal-Mart also eventually fired. Each executive is married and are self-described East Coast urbanites who quickly bonded in the foreign world of Arkansas. Both executives deny the accusations and contend the incriminating email Womack’s wife provided Wal-Mart has been misinterpreted.

A New York Magazine profile about the situation provided this update with Roehm saying the email in evidence proves she and Womack are really good friends. Here we learn that Womack was Roehm’s subordinate and we learn the nature of the ethics violations: they are accused of showing favoritism by accepting gifts from and discussing potential jobs from their ultimate ad agency choice, DraftFCB.

March 24, 2007

Blurry Shriner Finances

The New York Times front-page story on Monday was an investigative report about Shriners Hospitals for Children financial controversy. The 135-year-old fraternal organization founded and controls the Shriners hospitals. Only 2 percent of the Shrine hospitals’ operating income comes from money raised by Shrine temples and member’s dues. The hospitals are really financially run by a $9 billion endowment.

This in-depth article detailed several whistle-blowers and their findings and retributions. John C. Goline was helped as a child with polio at a Shriners hospital and became a leader with the Shriners who discovered inconsistencies with the internal accounting procedures. When he reported his findings he was pushed out of the leadership.

The only other article that wasn’t a wire story of the original New York Times version was a type of watchdog Web site citing an AP article, Orlando byline, although on closer examination I found that this article was from 1986, not this week or this century. This article began with a clear statistic, that only 1 percent of Shrine circus profits in 1984 went to care for injured children in hospitals.


The New York Times did a good job explaining the complex accounting details, starting with paragraph bullet points carefully not using more than 2 numbers in each point.

A graphic depicting 2005 operating expenses by source, millions of dollars and percentage told the story meaningfully.

March 11, 2007

Gopher Spot nabs interior design award

The newly redesigned Gopher Spot bowling alley on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus won the prestigious 2007 Interiors Award in the Sports and Entertainment category from the interior design national magazine, Contract. Studio Hive, the interior architecture design firm responsible for the refurbishment, will next tackle the premium level seats and suites for the new Gopher football stadium.

Sunday’s Star Tribune “artcetera? section highlighted the successful redesign, including several striking photos. A February article in the Minnesota Daily also featured the Gopher Spot redesign. Goldy’s Gameroom in Coffman Union sees more activity from students, and the St. Paul campus bowling alley attracts more non-university members. The U of M said it hopes that the Gopher Spot bowling alley redesign will attract more students to the St. Paul campus.

March 10, 2007

St. Paul fire chief in union dispute

St. Paul Fire Department Chief Doug Holton was handed no confidence vote this week by Local 21 union. Pat Flanagan, president of the union, said the problems have to do with Holton’s style of leadership rather than race. Holton, who is the city’s first black fire chief, said he view the no-confidence vote as an opportunity to get his department back on track.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ front-page Saturday coverage added a picture of Holton and showed 2 informative sidebars including pertinent fire department statistics, the firefighter department’s racial breakdown and Holton’s personal vital statistics. This was the paper’s 4th day of detailed articles. Friday’s Star Tribune talked about the vote in its Metro section on page 3; Saturday’s Star Tribune buried the follow-up story beside the obituaries.

New Afghan heroin chief sold heroin in Vegas in 1987

Afghanistan’s new anticorruption chief in charge of rooting out graft in the world’s opium capital spent 4 years in a Nevada prison for selling heroin to an undercover cop. Mr. E, or Izzatullah Wasifi, as he is known today, admits to the New York Times that he served a prison sentence for a drug offense in 1987 but downplayed the reason for his conviction. Washifi’s account puts the blame on his wife’s personal cocaine use celebrating their honeymoon in Vegas. Court records said Wasifi exchanged a pound-and-a-half bag of heroin with a street value of $2 million for $65,000 cash in an undercover sting. The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, a childhood friend of Wasifi, appointed him to head the anticorruption bureau in Kabul two months ago. Antinarcotics officials in Afghanistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there is no evidence to prove that Wasifi is involved in Afghanistan’s current heroin trade.

MSNBC’s online AP version includes more background information than does the New York Times newspaper version. We learn that accusations of corruption and immorality swirl around Wasifi despite his vow to tackle graft “from the top down.? MSNBC also provides details of his family’s exile in 1979 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

March 8, 2007

Obama involved in political donor investment speculation

Wednesday’s front page of the New York Times reported that in 2005 Sen. Obama invested in two companies whose backers happened to include generous contributors to his political committees. One of those donors, Jared Abbruzzeses is being investigated by the F.B.I. Obama has since sold his shares in the two companies involved in speculative investing. One company was a biotech concern involved with avian flu drug research; the other was a satellite communications business. Obama not only invested in these two obscure companies, he lobbied the Senate to increase federal financing to fight the avian flu only weeks after he invested in the biotech stocks. Despite this connection, Obama said he didn’t know that he had invested in either company and that his broker bought the stocks without consulting him, so there was no conflict of interest. The article said these stock purchases raise ethical questions for the presidential candidate.

Wednesday’s Washington Post headline stated Obama faces questions on his blind trust. Obama said he did nothing to aid his political donors’ businesses with the government. The article said Senate ethics rules don’t prohibit lawmakers from owning stock in companies that do business with the government. After holding stock in these two companies for 8 months Obama sold these stocks at a loss and decided not to hold individual stocks because it raises ethical questions.

March 7, 2007

Ridder exits Pioneer Press; crosses river to Star Tribune

Tuesday’s Pioneer Press reported in a surprise move Monday that the publisher of the Pioneer Press left to become publisher of the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune. Par Ridder, 38, is the son of former Knight Ridder CEO Tony Ridder, part of the family who owned the Pioneer Press for decades until late last year. Ridder said he’s not interested in destabilizing the Pioneer Press by taking top executives with him. MediaNews CEO William Dean Singleton named Frederick Mott as interim publisher of the Pioneer Press. Singleton owns competing newspapers in other big-city markets and has consolidated certain business operations in some cases to save money, but denies he is thinking of a joint operating agreement between the Twin Cities papers.

Newspaper scion Par Ridder joins Star Tribune

Tuesday’s Star Tribune included the fact that Par Ridder crossed the river to work for his former rival as new publisher and CEO on the same day that the Star Tribune completed its sale to new owner Avista Capital partners. Ridder told his new employees that he hopes to capitalize on the Star Tribune’s growing website and will work to produce more relevant and local stories.

March 3, 2007

Picasso works stolen

Two important paintings by Picasso were stolen from the home of his granddaughter in Paris. The New York Times Thursday front-page Arts section dateline Paris includes photos of each painting; New York Times online shows them in color. The police estimate the stolen paintings to be worth $66 million. The family lawyer provides a chronology of the theft starting in paragraph four.

The Pioneer Press uses an AP wire and shows one painting in color. The story is written in conversational style. One of the paintings was cut out of its frame; the other taken in tact. Information is given about the difficulty of trying to fence well-known art such as these pieces on the black market.

March 2, 2007

Cop accused of slur against Rep. Ellison

Friday’s Star Tribune reports that a Minneapolis police lieutenant denies implying that U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is a terrorist. Rep. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress. Mayor R.T. Rybak said Lt. Bob Kroll allegedly made these comments this week during a required police ethics training class. According to two officers present at the training class, who spoke on condition of anonymity, when Kroll made the inflammatory comments, classmates challenged Kroll’s comments. Kroll is the vice president of the Police Federation. Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan denounced the comments and demanded that the Police Federation do the same. Dolan issued a company-wide e-mail denouncing the comments and issued a public apology to Ellison. Kroll will remain on duty during the internal investigation.

Friday’s edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press didn’t run the story, but the AP version ran online. There is quite a bit less information here. Ellison issuing thanks to Dolan and Rybak for setting the right tone stands out as a new point not included in the Star Tribune.

Scared silent due to witness intimidation

Three specific cases of witness intimidation in Newark, N.J. begin this front-page New York Times article from Thursday. All three “slam-dunk? cases featured witnesses who positively identified murder suspects yet none of the suspects have been arrested. A new un-written rule forces Essex County prosecutors not to pursue so-called “single witness? cases because so many of these cases fall through when the witnesses become “scared silent.? A lot of statistics are included in this story proving that the situation of witnesses receiving overt threats not to testify is a serious, nationwide problem.

In an archived article from the New Jersey Star Ledger online edition I found a complementary story that starts out similarly to the New York Times article, listing the same victims as above. The focus of this article though is the despair and hopelessness that surviving classmates feel in the violent city of Newark. This article ends with a hopeful story about Sharita Williams, 16, who is trying to raise awareness of the devastation and stupidity of violence in their city by organizing a student group “Enough is Enough.? The murders of two of her childhood friends spurred her into action.

Walter Reed scandal fallout

On Friday Yahoo News reports that Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey resigned as the latest fallout of the Walter Reed army hospital scandal first reported by the Washington Post. Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Harvey’s abrupt resignation, senior defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Gates had privately demanded he leave. On Thursday, Harvey fired Maj. Gen. George Weightman for, as the Washington Post reported it, squalid living conditions for outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed.

Last week’s Washington Post series documented tattered conditions at the military hospital including mold, rot, mice and cockroaches. It also brought to light bureaucratic indifference causing the wounded to wait too long for help. President Bush said he first learned about these troubling issues at Walter Reed through these same articles in the Washington Post. Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, said that Bush is deeply concerned and would like any problems identified and fixed.