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December 7, 2008

Recount Almost Finished

All 2.9 million ballots have been examined in the recount between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken in the U.S. senate election, reports MPR.

Currently, Coleman holds a 192 vote lead, but there are still 5,300 ballots up for dispute.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie hopes that the campaigns will continue to withdraw challenges before the State Canvassing Board meets on Dec. 16 to rule on the ballots.

The recount is still open in one Minneapolis precinct where 133 ballots are missing. The ballot count in the Dinkytown precinct came up short Wednesday.

It is unclear what officials will do if the missing ballots are not found.

3M Cutting Jobs

Minnesota Public Radio is reporting that 3M is cutting 1,800 jobs from its worldwide operations in the fourth quarter.

In the third quarter this year there were 1000 layoffs.

"Given current global market conditions, we are expecting about 1,800 jobs to be eliminated worldwide," said Jackie Berry, the company spokeswoman. "Several hundred of those job eliminations would be in the United States."

It is expected that several hundred jobs will be cut in the United States, including the Twin Cities.

There are no specifics on where the cuts will come from or how much the cuts will save the company.

Berry says that employees who are let go will receive severance pay and other assistance.

"Affected employees will have the opportunity to apply for other jobs within the company," said Berry. "They are also eligible for transition assistance, including severance pay and outplacement services."

November 23, 2008

Oil Pipeline Proposal

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will meet on Tuesday to consider a proposal for a new oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, according to MPR and Kare 11.

The pipeline would go from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wis. and is being sought by Enbridge Energy.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy opposes the project saying that the process of extracting oil from Canadian tar sands is too energy-intensive and runs counter to the energy efficiency goals of the state.

Enbridge said the project has cleared an extensive environmental permitting process.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission must sign off for the project to move forward.

Senate Recount Continues

The Minnesota U.S. Senate recount continues, with 73 percent of precincts reporting, reports MPR.

The results so far show that Republican Sen. Norm Coleman is leading Democrat Al Franken by 167 votes, with more than a quarter of the precincts yet to be counted.

The number of challenged ballots has grown to 1,900 which outnumbers the margin between the two candidates.

Several Twin Cities sites have completed their recount and others are one pace to finish before Thanksgiving, according to the Pioneer Press.

The challenged ballots will head to the state canvassing board next month, which will do a final tally and declare a winner.

November 12, 2008

Recount Panel Named

Four judges and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will make up the 2008 Minnesota General Election Canvassing Board, reports MPR and the Pioneer Press.

These people could determine who wins the race between Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

Ritche announced that Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, Justice G. Barry Anderson, Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin and Assistant Chief Judge Edward Cleary will be the board members.

The five will meet next Tuesday to certify the election, said Ritchie. The board will then order the recount, which will begin the next day and take place in 120 different sites across the state.

"You got the Coleman pile, you got the Franken pile and you got 'all others,'" said Ritchie. "The 'all other' piles are the ones where you can't tell the intent of they've invalidated themselves by marking."

The panel is politically diverse, and this is pleasing to Larry Jacobs, Director of the Center for Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute.

"These are some of our very best judges," said Jacobs. "I look at that and say, 'This is going to be fair.'"

NTSB Bridge Report

The National Transportation Safety Board has finished its investigation of the I-35 W bridge, sighting under designed gusset plates and the weight of the bridge deck as the primary reason for the collapse reports MPR.

The under sized gusset plate was first revealed in a preliminary report last January. The role of weight isa new finding.

MPR was told that the two inches of pavement added to the bridge deck in the 1990s and the presence of 270 tons of construction equipment and materials on the day of the collapse triggered a "cascading effect" that led to the failure of the span, in effect pushing the structure beyond its capacity.

NSTB has also concluded that the bridge engineers and inspectors did not have a system in place to double and triple-check all factors and safety features.

The gusset plate was noticed by a MNDOT inspector but was not a part of an analysis by MnDOT and URS Corp., the consulting firm hired to help with bridge inspections.

These findings and others will be presented at an NTSB hearing in Washington D.C. that will last through Friday.

The Pioneer Press is reporting that four bridge victims are suing URS Corp. and the contracting company that was repaving the bridge when it fell.

Minneapolis attorney Jim Schwebel said that the timing was not related to the NTSB report.

November 9, 2008

NWA-Delta Hearing

Minnesota lawmakers will be holding a hearing on the new combining of Northwest Airlines and Delta, reports MPR.

The merger, creating the world's biggest airline, was signed off last month by federal regulators. Delta has acquired Northwest, which is based in Eagan. The new company will be based in Atlanta.

The new airline will have 75,000 employees and 800 jets, reports the Pioneer Press.

The Minnesota House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee will examine whether Northwest remains true to its 1992 loan deal. Northwest is required to maintain a Minn. hub, reach job benchmarks and keep corporate headquarters in the state.

A failure to meet those obligations would lead to a call on Northwest's outstanding loan debt, which is $220 million.

Coleman-Franken Recount

The campaigns of Senator Norm Coleman and Al Franken are preparing for a recount, as there is currently a 221 vote difference between the two candidates, reports MPR and the Star Tribune.

Coleman's campaign manager sent a letter to election officials to keep a close eye on ballots in the Minnesota senate race, asking to "seal, secure and guard" all ballots.

Franken supports the recount and said that his campaign was investigating voting irregularities.

"Let me be clear: Our Goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted," said Franken.

2.9 million ballots were cast, and the difference between the candidates is about one one-hundredth of a percentage point.

The Minnesota Canvassing Board will meet on Nov. 18 and is expected to order a recount. It is expected to be the states biggest recount and could stretch into next month.


November 2, 2008

Bill Clinton Rallies for Obama and Franken in Minneapolis

Former President Bill Clinton spoke to a crowd of 4,000 at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Thursday night, the Star Tribune reports.

Clinton stressed the importance of a down-ticket victory to help a President Obama govern.

"It's never too late to get more votes for Al Franken and Barack Obama," Clinton said. "You should never give up on that."

Franken also spoke, telling the crowd that it is crucial to elect a Senate with 60 Democrats, enough for an Obama administration to effectively overcome a Republican opposition.

"Barack Obama can lead us in changing the way Americans think about America, the role of government and the way we work together," Clinton said. [WCCO]

Pioneer Press Receives Envelope Labeled Anthrax

The St. Paul Pioneer Press was mailed an envelope this weekend that contained a suspicious white powder labeled "anthrax", MPR reports.

The envelope that also contained a CD with a photo of Colin Powell labeled "Anthrax Shock and Awe Terror" and a white, sugar-like package taped to the top labeled "anthrax" and "biohazard" is being investigated by the St. Paul police and the FBI.

The incident comes with a string of anthrax scares at other newspapers, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Police report that the Star Tribune received a package labeled "anthrax" on Thursday.

The police department is working with the FBI, the Postal Inspector and the Minnesota Department of Health to test the powder, said Pete Crum of the St. Paul Police department.

Initial tests have determined that the white substance was sugar, said Crum.

The Pioneer Press reports that the FBI arrested a California man on Wednesday on suspicion of sending hoax letters labeled anthrax to media outlets.

Marc M. Keyser of Sacramento sent more than 120 envelopes containing a compact disc that had a packet of sugar labeled anthrax.

October 26, 2008

Minnesota Senate Candidates Debate

MPR reported on the debate between Minn. senate candidates Dean Barkley, Norm Coleman and Al Franken Friday night.

The candidates debated in the studio of Twin Cities Public Television, in a less formal style. There were no opening or closing statements and no time limits. This allowed candidates to really engage with one another.

Coleman accused Franken and Democrats of misleading voters about how Congress ended up approving billions of dollars in incentives for energy companies.

"The tax breaks for big oil were contained in the Energy Act of 2005. Eighty-five senators voted for that. The reason this senator voted for it was because it contained the first renewable fuel standard which unleashed the renewable revolution in this state which we benefited from," said Coleman.

Franken accused Coleman and Republicans of wrongly trying to give voters the impression that he's against providing the elderly with help in paying for prescription drugs.

" I am for a prescription drug program in Medicare in which medicare is allowed to negotiate on Medicare Part D that will bring down the price of drugs for seniors," Franken said.

Barkley said a new ad completely misrepresents his position on Social Security.

"Now your friends in the Democratic Senate committee are saying that I'm in favor of privatizing social Security," said Barkley.

The candidates have one full week of campaigning left and will have a final debate next Sunday according to WCCO. This debate will take place at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

Mayo Clinic Buildings Bad for Birds

The Star Tribune and WCCO are both reporting that a local Audobon Society chapter is urging the Mayo Clinic to dim lights on some of its towers because they fear that they are adding to a high casualty rate for birds.

The Audobon Society of Zumbro Valley found 231 killed or injured birds on the grounds of the Mayo Clinic over a 10-month period.

The upward facing lights on some of the tallest Mayo towers are drawing the birds into downtown at night and cause them to crash into reflective windows, the Audobon told The Rochester Post-Bulletin.

The Mayo has agreed to turn off some of the lights, but Audobon volunteers are hoping they will turn off more.

October 19, 2008

Bachmann Says Obama 'May' Be Anti-American

Both MPR and the New York Times ran stories about Minnesota Republican Representative saying in an interview Friday that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama "may have anti-American views."

Bachmann was appearing on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews when he asked if she thinks Obama may have anti-American views.

"Absolutely. I'm very concerned that he might have anti-American views," Bachmann responded.

Her suspicions she said are based on Obama's past associations with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and 1960's radical Bill Ayers.

Bachmann also said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid had "far-leftist views", and she declined to characterize either group as pro- or anti-American.

"I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-American or anti-American?" Bachmann said.

Bachmann's comments are being compared with those of former Senator Joe McCarthy.

A day before these remarks, Bachmann appeared at a debate in St. Cloud wit her Democratic opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg and spoke kindly of Obama.

"If the presidency would somehow go to Barack Obama, I would welcome him to the 6th District as well," said Bachmann.

Voting is No Excuse to Miss Class

The Star Tribune is reporting that the University of Minnesota will be enforcing their attendance rule on election day.

The university policy states that voting in national elections is not considered an acceptable reason to miss class.

In a year when record turnout is expected, students have no idea how long it will take for them at the polls.

Univeristy spokesman Dan Wolter says its hard to believe that with polling places open for 13 hours, students can't find time to vote.

According to Minnesota Statute 204C.03, the only requirement for state colleges and universities on Election Day is to not schedule any events from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Class is not defined as an event, reports the Minnesota Daily.

Hamline University law Professor ED Butterfoss said he found it interesting that Minnesota law requires state colleges and universities to provide all necessary voter registration forms, but there is not statute to actually ensure that a student will get to vote.

Students with legitimate excuses are encouraged to consult with instructors, who have final say on the no-excuse policy.

October 12, 2008

U.S. Senate Candidates Debate

Minnesota's major party U.S. Senate candidates had their second debate Saturday night, where they talked about what they see as the nations biggest threat, MPR reports.

Senator Norm Coleman, Democrat Al Franken and Independent Party candidate Dean Barkley debated at Breck High School in Golden Valley.

Franken said the biggest threat is terrorism, and went on to blame Coleman for his support of the Iraq war. The war, Franken said, has distracted from the war on terrorism initially launched in Afghanistan.

Coleman said the biggest threat was partisan bickering and gridlock in Washington.

"If we can overcome the partisan divide, we can make a difference. That's what I have done my entire career," said Coleman.

Barkley said the growing national debt poses the biggest threat to the nation. He blamed Coleman for taking part in making that debt larger.

The Pioneer Press reported that this is the first televised debate for the candidates, and all three candidates are going to express the styles they want to sell voters.

All three candidates will debate for third time next week in Dulut.

October 11, 2008

Seat Belt Crackdown

Both MPR and the Pioneer Press are reporting on the 10-day seat belt crackdown beginning in Minnesota on Friday.

The crackdown will run until October 19.

More than half of the 1,200 vehicle occupants killed in Minnesota from 2005 to 2007 were not wearing seat belts. Close to 1,300 were injured not wearing seat belts.

The effort is being coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is coordinating the effort and includes another 400 law enforcement agencies.

There will be special night time seat belt patrols.

October 5, 2008

Gore Campaigns for Al Franken

The Pionner Press reported that 1,500 showed up at Northrup Auditorium on Saturday to hear former Vice President Al Gore speak on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken.

Franken, a former 'Saturday Night Live' comedian, is running against incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman. Gore told the crowd that a vote for Coleman would be a reward for those that backed the Bush administration.

"But if you think that it is time to bring about a change in the course that our nation is following, it's time to elect Al Franken to the United States Senate," said Gore.

The Coleman campaign Spokesman Mark Drake has said Minnesotans are looking for someone who can reach across the aisle and work with members of the opposite party, and that Franken isn't that guy.

Gore criticized the Bush administrations foreign policy, torture, wiretaps, and the economy.

MPR reports that the Coleman campaign responded to the event by pointing out that in the past Gore did not find any of Franken's jokes funny

October 2, 2008

Midwest High-Speed Rail Gets Approval

MPR is reporting that Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar says a high-speed rail line between Chicago and the Twin Cities could be a reality in five years.

The U.S. House and Senate passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act which authorizes $680 million for five years for high speed rail projects.

Oberstar is the chair of the House Transportation committee and says that one of the possible projects is a line from Chicago to the Twin Cities.

The bill also increases automated safety features on passenger rail cars. The Amtrak operation budge would see a boost from this bill.

MNDoT has been awarded a federal matching grant of $1.1 million to begin studying the impact of a high-speed rail line between Duluth and the Twin Cities.

September 26, 2008

RNC Protester to File Lawsuit

An anti-war protester is holding a news conference Friday afternoon to announce plans to sue the city of St. Paul, according to MPR.

This is the first major lawsuit coming after the Republican National Convention.

Mick Kelly was an organizer of an anti-war march. According to WCCO he was carrying the lead banner in a march to the Xcel Center on the last day of the convention.

Kelly has already sued the city after he was arrested for handing out leaflets outside a Barack Obama rally.

Attorneys for Kelly contend that he was shot at close range with a foam tipped round and injured by police. They are seeking $250,000 in damages.

St.Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has appointed former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Luger to head a review of law enforcement planning and tactics.

Pawlenty to Europe

Gov. Tim Pawlenty will travel to Europe this weekend, visiting Madrid, Spain on Sunday and London on Wednesday, according to MPR and WCCO.com.

The trip will give Pawlenty an opportunity to promote trade, energy and economic cooperation.

His first stop will be Madrid, where he is scheduled to meet several government officials, including the Spanish foreign minister. He will speak at the EU-US Business Roundtable on Energy and Technology.

In London, Pawlenty will deliver the keynote address at the Atlantic Partnership event. He will also be meeting with the British foreign policy adviser and minister of state.

Exports have been one of the few bright spots in the economy, and it's more important than ever to continue to increase the state's foreign trade, Pawlenty said in a news release.

The trip expenses will be covered by the American Chamber of Commerce in Spain and the London based Atlantic Partnership.

September 21, 2008

Most Journalists Arrested During RNC won't be Prosecuted

The city of St. Paul will not prosecute many of the journalists arrested while covering the Republican National Convention. This only applies to journalists cited with a misdemeanor for unlawful assembly, MPR is reporting.

The Society of Professional Journalists identified 42 journalists arrested during the convention.

The decision should not suggest any wrongdoing by police as they tried to maintain order, said city attorney John Choi.

"At the end of the day, the police department needed to do what they had to do, which was to control the scene and ensure there was public safety," Choi said.

Mayor Chris Coleman said the city will broadly define journalists and that it is still unclear how many will no longer face charges.

With growing media outlets, it is difficult to ask police to make a distinction between an activist and a journalist, said Coleman.

"There isn't the time at the scene to sort through all those things and determine if someone has just put a Post-it on their forehead that said 'press,' or whether there's a legitimate credential," he said.

The Star Tribune talked to Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the Univeristy of Minnesota, about this situation. Kirtley said that journalists aren't abouve the law, but police shouldn't arrest journalists who are doing their jobs and not interfering with the law.

$36.6 Million in I-35W Bridge Collapse Victim Payments

Three Twin Cities personal injury lawyers have been chosen as "special masters" of the payments to victims of the I-35W bridge collapse.

The Pioneer Press reports that Susan Holden, Steven Kirsch and MIke Tewksbury will be in charge of hearing cases from victims and deciding how much of the $36.6 million each victim should get. The money is more than the $1 million per incident allowed by state law because they have to apportion to the families of the 13 who died and the 150 who were injured.

Bridge victims must fill out a claim form due by October 15 as well as sign a waiver and agree not to sue the state in order to receive any money. Victims can have his or her claim heard by one or all three special masters and may also submit to the panel any other information such as photographs, letters and videos.

"It's a very strong need for people to be able to tell their story," Holden said. "It's important to have a full and complete understanding of what they've been through."

In the Star Tribune's coverage of this story, they pointed out the definition of a survivor in the bridge collapse according to the law as "a natural person who was present on the I-35W bridge at the time of the collapse." Survivor also includes family members that survive a person who died at the bridge collapse or a parent or guardian of a survivor under 18 years old.

The victims will receive their award offers by February 28 and will have 45 days to accept or reject the award.

September 14, 2008

Xcel Temporarily Shuts down Monticello Plant

Xcel Energy temporarily shut down their nuclear plant in Monticello on Thursday the Pioneer Press reports.

According to officials at Xcel, the plant shut itself down after a breaker switch failed at a substation. The failed breaker prompted the plant to start using a backup power generator and the switch is what made the plant shut down. "It worked like it's supposed to work," spokeswoman Patti Nystuen said.

MPR reported that the incident was not related to nuclear activity and the plant is currently at zero percent power and will remain there for the next few days. Xcel may have to buy power on the open market or get help from other plants to make up for the shutdown.

September 11, 2008

I-3W Bridge Expected to be Traffic Ready Soon

MPR is reporting that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak are expected to speak Monday about the status of the I-35W bridge completion.

The bridge collapsed August 1, 2007 into the Mississipi River. Flatiron Construction has been working on the new bridge and they are expected to open the bridge to traffic next week. Pawlenty and Rybak are set to discuss a memorial for the 13 victims of the collapse on Monday.

The bridge will be opening ahead of schedule, which offers a up to a $20 million bonus for Flatiron according to the Minnesota Daily. Kevin Gutknecht, with the Minnesota Department of Transportation said "It costs the road users $400,000 every day the bridge is closed because users have to travel further and burn more fuel."