October 2012 Archives

Voters in deadlock over marriage amendment

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The Pioneer Press reported on Sunday that Minnesotans are split down the middle when it comes to the proposed marriage amendment on this fall's ballot.
When a vote to define a marriage as only between opposite sex couples in its constitution has been held in 30 states, it has passed, according to the Pioneer Press.

However, in a poll by the Star Tribune only 48 percent of Minnesota voters support the amendment while another 47 percent of Minnesotans oppose the change with 5 percent of voters still undecided.

In this case, the vote has to capture a majority of all ballots cast in order to amend the state Constitution, which means a ballot in which the voter skips the question is counted as a no vote, according to the Tribune.

"Minnesotans have stepped back and come to understand marriage is actually when two people who love each other commit themselves to one another and take responsibility for each other's lives," said Richard Carlbom, who is running the anti-amendment campaign for Minnesotans United for All Families, to the Pioneer Press. "That is essentially Minnesota's definition of marriage."

US sues Bank of America over mortgage loan fraud

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The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors sued Bank of America on Wednesday for $1 billion dollars for a mortgage scheme that defrauded the government during the financial crisis.

The Justice Department is focusing at a home loan program known as the "hustle," started by Countrywide Financial in 2007 and continued by Bank of America through 2009 after buying Countrywide, that rapidly created mortgage loans without properly checking for wrongdoings. They then sold the loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were left with huge losses and left to pay for the defaulted loans, according to the Times.

According to the Washington Post, Countrywide executives were aware of how harmful the scheme was. A 2008 quality review showed that 57 percent of Hustle loans went into default.

The Post says Fannie and Freddie rely on banks' statements that the loans meet certain qualifications and don't review the loans before purchasing them. Countrywide chose to conceal the quality of the loans, according to the suit, instead of properly notifying Fannie and Freddie.

This is the first civil fraud suite brought by the Justice Department over the loans sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, according to news sources.

15-year-old boy to be tried as adult in murder trial

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A 15-year-old Minneapolis boy will be tried as an adult for the death of 5-year-old Nizzel George, according to an announcement by the Hennepin County attorney's office Thursday.

The Pioneer Press reports Julian Kijuan Lamar Anderson was indicted in August on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder connected to the June 26 death of Nizzel George.

Standing trial with Anderson is Stephon Shannon, 17, also of Minneapolis, who faces the same charges.

Investigators report that the shooting was tied to a months-long dispute between two North Side gangs: the Skitz Squad and the Y.N.T. According to the Star Tribune, that night, someone shot several .40-caliber rounds into a house known to be a Skitz Squad hangout. Hours later, Anderson and Shannon allegedly stood on the street and fired shots into Nizzel's house where one Y.N.T member and an associate were staying.

5-year-old Nizzel was asleep on his grandmother's couch when he was hit. No one else was injured.

Kare 11 reports that a fourth Minnesota resident has been diagnosed with meningitis linked to tainted steroids on Saturday.

The Minnesota Department of Health said that two of the three Minnesota women who developed meningitis had been released from the hospital with the third soon to follow.

More than 800 Minnesotans may have been exposed to the tainted steroids, recalled by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., when they received spinal injections at two Twin Cities clinics, according to health officials.

Fourteen deaths have resulted nationwide from the outbreak.

The CDC is urgently working to fight the fungal meningitis, according to the Star Tribune, but the strain isn't contagious and doesn't spread between people. Instead, it is mostly isolated to the contaminated steroid.

Officials believed they had reached about 90 percent of those who were potentially affected and researchers are working around the clock developing new tests and analyzing hundreds of samples to prevent further deaths.

An Austrian daredevil jumped from 128,100 feet above the Earth, breaking the record for the highest jump and also succeeded in breaking the sound barrier on Sunday, according to a CNN report.

After five years of preparation, The New York Times reports the NASA-style operation called Red Bull Stratos launched 43-year-old Felix Baumgartner up 24 miles above the Earth in a helium hot air balloon with no guarantee he would safely return to the ground.

Baumgartner, who had previously parachuted from landmarks such as the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, reached a speed of 833.9 mph smashing the sound barrier and about five minutes later landed safely in southeastern New Mexico.

Col. Joe Kittinger, who held the previous record falling 102,800 feet in 1960, talked Baumgartner through the whole mission, guiding him through the minor slip ups and the claustrophobia of Baumgartner's space suit.

Viewers watched a live feed of the jump breaking yet another record, reaching a peak of eight million watching at the same time. This was higher than YouTube's previous record for concurrent viewership around half a million during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

European Union awarded 2012 Nobel peace prize

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In an unconventional move, the Norwegian Nobel Committee named the European Union as the recipient of the 2012 peace prize on Friday.

The committee made the decision to praise six decades of reconciliation between historically vicious enemies while also warning against the threat of discord among the nations today according to the New York Times.

Yet many feel that such use of the award is too politically based and strays from the original prestigious principles of peace and democracy and that the E.U. is undeserving of the peace prize, reports the Washington Post.

International opinion accuses the E.U. of wreaking havoc in global financial markets and crippling the domestic economies of its most indebted members such as Greece and Spain.

However, news of the award -- which both articles like to point out was given by a nation who has steadfastly refused to join the E.U. - was received with appreciation in Germany where, according to the Washington Post, the majority of residents are still committed to European unity.

The New York Times reports that the E.U. plans to use the $1.2 million prize money to help solve the multibillion-euro crisis.

CNN reports a Texas mother who super-glued her daughter's hands to a wall and beat her over potty training issues was sentenced to 99 years in prison on Friday, according to a Dallas County felony records department district clerk.

Elizabeth Escalona, age 23, of Dallas, and mother of five, pleaded guilty in July to a charge of first-degree injury to a child, which according to the CNN article, is a crime punishable by anywhere between probation and life in prison.

Escalona's mother, Oefelia Escalona, testified that she found the child, named Jocelyn, and took her to the hospital where medical authorities noticed severe bruises to her face and head, and also a severe brain injury that lead to a temporary coma. The incident occurred in September 2011.

In the broadcast report, Escalona said on the stand that she repeatedly beat and kicked Jocelyn and that "she didn't deserve it."

Escalona will be eligible to ask for parole in 30 years, according to the Associated Press, although her attorney plans to appeal the sentence in order to get it reduced. All of Escalona's children are now in the custody of their grandmother, Oefelia Escalona.

4 charged with death of Floodwood woman

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Police have arrested and charged four individuals for the murder of 25-year-old Floodwood resident, Cristyna L. Watson on Thursday, according to the Star Tribune.

The Tribune reports that 22-year-old drug dealer, Michael W. Siewert and Joseph A. Yellow, 17, of Duluth, bludgeoned and strangled Watson, stealing her car and cellphone to trade for drugs in the Twin Cities.

Watson, who hadn't been seen by family since Sept. 8, was found Oct. 4 on the property of accomplice, Clifford James Thompson, 56, who reportedly helped the conspirators bury the body on his property and allowed them to stash drugs in his home.

Police report Watson last contacted family on Sept. 23, and they issued a missing person report on Sept. 28. Siewert and girlfriend Alyssa Rae Peterson, 24, are spotted with Watson's car just after midnight on Sept. 29, according to a police timeline reported by the Duluth News Tribune.

Yellow told police that Siewert hit Watson on the head with a hammer and both proceeded to strangle her before they hid the body.

The Star Tribune reports the defendants knew Watson through drug-related activities and plotted the robbery and attack.

Police also charged Siewert's girlfriend, Peterson, of Cloquet, as an accessory for concealing evidence, specifically having Watson's cellphone, and helping Siewert avoid arrest.

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