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December 7, 2008

Minnesota Faces $5.2 Billion Deficit

The Pioneer Press and The Star Tribune both reported Friday on the $5.2 billion deficit that the state of Minnesota will face over the next 2 1/2 years.

The PiPress article begins by outlining the three biggest questions people seem to have about the situation:

How did we get here?
How is the government going to help us out of this?
What does it mean for the people of Minnesota?

They posit that the main cause is the national recession and the fact that it has been worse than everyone initially thought.

They explain the conundrum in very basic terms: This recession means that taxpayers will be making less, spending less and paying less in taxes.

The state is projecting that tax revenues will fall $3.3 billion during the next two years.

To fix the problem, state government will likely have to result to a combination of raising taxes, cutting spending and restructuring state government.

Pawlenty immediately ruled out a tax increase.

The budget deficit will likely affect the people of MN in various ways:

They could affect K-12 class sizes, college tuition increases, park and library hours and other local government services. They could result in property tax and fee increases. Low-income families might have to pay more for state-subsidized health insurance. State and local government workers could lose their jobs.

The Star Trib states that many lawmakers said they feel this budget crisis is unprecedented and many government officials will be forced to consider options they have never looked at before.

"We can't tax our way out of this problem," said Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. "You cannot raise taxes by that much. You can't cut the state budget by that much, either. I would argue that everything -- every spending program, every tax -- has to be on the table. This will require a major reprioritization of programs."


November 30, 2008

Iowa Couple Cited for Having Sex in Metrodome Bathroom During Gopher Game

The Pioneer Press and the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday that an Iowa couple was caught having sex in the handicapped stall of a Metrodome restroom while a crowd of intoxicated fans cheered them on.

The Pioneer Press reported that a 38-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man from Carroll and Linden, Iowa, respectively were cited for indecent conduct, which around 8:30 p.m., late in the Hawkeyes' 55-0 defeat of the Gophers.

University of Minnesota Police Chief Greg Hestness said similar citations at the Metrodome or on campus usually involve public urination. The last time police cited anyone for a sex act at a Gopher game was six years ago.

The Des Moines Register reports that the woman, later identified as Lois Feldman of Carroll, Iowa, said that the press from the scandal has "ruined her life."

Feldman said she had so much to drink before kickoff that she doesn’t remember walking into the restroom, the man she had sex with in a stall, or when the police opened the door.

“I don’t know who this man is,? she said Sunday. “I just found out his name in the paper last night.?

Shortly after the incident, Feldman was fired from her job as an administrator at an assisted living center. She has also been the victim of prank calls and internet jokes in the week since the incident.

November 23, 2008

Denny Hecker Closes 6 Lots

The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press both reported on the closures of 6 Denny Hecker Car Lots Friday.

The Pioneer Press reports that the shutdowns mean 400 of Hecker's employees will now be out of a job.

The dealerships that closed are the Blaine Bargain Lot, Forest Lake Chrysler Jeep Dodge Mitsubishi, Monticello Dodge Ford and Mercury Suzuki Kia, Rosedale Hyundai, Shakopee Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Stillwater Ford Lincoln Mercury.

Hecker also sold 3 lots to private investors. Those lots were the Inver Grove Heights Hyundai, Inver Grove Heights Volkswagen and Peninsula Dodge in California.

Hecker still owns two Toyota dealerships, three Hyundai dealerships, one Cadillac Pontiac GMC dealership and one Chevrolet dealership.

The Star Tribune article states that some of the vehicles at Hecker's lots have been put to a different use: blocking off the entrances to the area.

The article also points out that state employment figures released last week showed that dealerships had eliminated 2,000 jobs in October alone.

November 16, 2008

Fridley High School Student Dies in Accidental Shooting Friday

The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press reported the death of Emmanuel Bartuoh, a Fridley High senior who was accidently shot by a friend Friday night.

The Pioneer Press reported that Bartuoh was a good student and a football star at Fridley High, and was being sought after by a few different division II and III teams for football scholarships.

Samuel Keleih Dennis, a 20-year-old graduate of Fridley High has been accused of shooting Bartuoh Friday night. Dennis reportedly went to Bartuoh's home Friday night, while the rest of their friends were watching the state football semifinal games at the Metrodome.

Dennis brought with him a semi-automatic weapon, which he did not know how to operate it. Authorities said he was showing Bartuoh the weapon, which he believed was not loaded, when he accidently pulled the slide back, ejecting a round, and then proceeded to pull the trigger, shooting Bartuoh.

Dennis called 911, and attempted to help Bartuoh, but the rescue was unsuccessful. Dennis turned himself in when police arrived and confessed to shooting Bartuoh accidently.

The Star Trib story describes the scene of the shooting and aftermath with more detail, and makes an emotional appeal, quoting Bartuoh's sister: "It doesn't make sense. Oh, God, could this really be happening?" said his older sister, Marthaline Bartuoh, 22. "I can't say it was his time to go, because it's not. It was not his time to go."

They reported that police "found a sobbing and blood-soaked Samuel Keleih Dennis, 20, who said he had tried in vain to revive his longtime friend."

The Anoke County attorney's office said it will wait until Monday to decide whether they will file charges for second degree manslaughter.

November 9, 2008

Coleman-Franken Recount Drags On

Both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune have detailed ongoing coverage of the recount in the race between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

The Star Trib reports that Coleman's initial lead of 725 votes on Tuesday night shrank to 477 and then to 438 by Thursday morning.

Coleman declared victory of Franken on Tuesday night, but the margin of less than .5 percent means that state law requires a recount.

Coleman has called for Franken to forego the recount and concede the race, but Franken insists that the recount is necessary.

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

The Pioneer press reports that the final recount results will be available in six weeks--maybe.

On Friday, they showed Coleman's lead to be only 238 votes, almost 500 less than the initial count.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says he is unsure how long the entire official process will take.

Coleman's office remains suspicious of the drastic changes in the margin of votes between teh two candidates.

Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, said the changing totals are "troubling to us that instead of the normal slight changes in vote totals one would expect during this process, we are now seeing huge chunks of votes appearing and disappearing — statistically dubious and improbable shifts that are overwhelmingly accruing to the benefit of Al Franken."

November 2, 2008

Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment

In a detailed article Saturday, the The Pioneer Press outlines the major pros and cons of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

Among the cons on the list are the following points:

The amendment locks up state funding and gives lawmakers less flexibility.

The money may be spent to pad the Deparment of Natural Resources and to pay off special interest groups.

Many people oppose the additional arts funding included in the bill, saying that the two are too unrelated to push together in this amendment.

A few of the pros listed are as follows:

There will be oversight in how the money is spent. A council of four legislators and eight citizens will have a say in where the money goes.

Although many plans have been attempted in the past several years, no long-term plan for the protection of our state's natural resources has been made, and this amendment would provide for that plan.

The Star Tribune also posted a story on the amendment this weekend, reporting that support for it has slipped in recent weeks.

In early October, 59 percent of those polled were in favor of the amendment were in favor of it, verses 32 percent against. A new poll, conducted over three days ending Oct. 31st, shows that 53 percent were in favor verses 42 percent against.

Ken Martin, campaign manager for Vote Yes Minnesota says he believes the result may come down to whether voters who cast ballots on other races will also vote for the amendment. He points out that not checking a box on the amendment issue will be counted as a "no" vote, which may dramatically effect the outcome.

October 26, 2008

6 MN Politicians' Homes Vandalized


The Pioneer Press reported that the homes of six Minnesota politicians were vandalized overnight Wednesday.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman, Reps. John Kline, Michele Bachmann, Jim Ramstad and Keith Ellison were all reported to have had messages spray-painted on their homes.

All the messages instructed the targeted politicians to resign. Some messages read "scum" or "Psalm 2."

Psalm 2 includes a warning: "Serve and honor the Lord; be glad and tremble," according to the Contemporary English version. "Show respect to his son because if you don't, the Lord might become furious and suddenly destroy you. But he blesses and protects everyone who runs to him."

The spray-painted message on Rep. Michelle Bachmann's driveway read, "Still a target."

Local police said patrols would be stepped up around the victimized congressional members' homes.

U.S. Capitol Police are working with local police departments on the cases, said Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider.

The Star Tribune also reported on Wednesday's vandalism.

"We're looking at this as an actual threat," Peter Panos, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police said. "We're taking it quite seriously. Vandalism threats are pretty rare in this city."

None of the other four Minnesota Congresspeople have had their homes vandalized, but police said they may still be a target.

October 18, 2008

Bachmann's comments boost fundraising for opponent

In a 13-minute interview on MSNBC Friday, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann said she was concerned Barack Obama may have anti-American views, The Star Tribune reported.

9,000 people across the country have donated more than $450,000 to Democratic challenger El Tinklenberg's campaign in the 24 hours since Bachmann's interview.

Bachmann said she is "very concerned that [Obama] may have anti-American views." This comment comes after accusations by the McCain campaign that Obama has ties to 1960s radical William Ayers.

The Pioneer Press points out that the Tinklenberg campaign raised about $313,000 in donations in a period of about five weeks beginning Aug. 21.

"Remember it was Michelle Obama who said she's only recently proud of her country. These are really anti-American views," Bachmann said. "That's not the way most Americans feel about their country."

Bachmann's campaign spokesman is encouraging people to watch the whole interview and not judge the quotes out of context. She claims Bachmann never called Obama anti-American, she would just like people to further examine his past relationships.

A spokesman also said that Tinklenberg's campaign had received about 600 e-mails since Bachmann's interview aired.

October 12, 2008

McCain Visits Lakeville

Republican presidential candidate John McCain traveled to Lakeville Friday to hold a town hall meeting at Lakeville South High School, The Star Tribune reported.

Tempers flared during the rally as McCain was forced to spend much of his time calming supporters' growing anger toward Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

McCain ended up in the uncomfortable position of defending his rival after Gayle Quinnell of Shakopee called Obama "an Arab."

"No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues," McCain responded.

After the rally, Quinnell continued her statements:

"You can't trust Barack Hussein Obama because he is a Muslim and a terrorist," she said.

With a national event happening in a local setting, it is interesting to examine how national vs. local media outlets cover the same story.

"Minnesota Nice: McCain Calls for Calm" reads the headline of an ABC News Online story covering the Lakeville rally.

The ABC News story details how supporters at the rally encouraged McCain to be more aggressive in the upcoming final debate.

"The people here in Minnesota want to see a real fight this next time you debate," a man said. "We want a strong president to lead us for the next four years."

The story also noted Obama's response to McCain's efforts to tone down the rally.

"I want to acknowledge that Sen. McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric in his town hall meeting yesterday," Obama told a crowd in Philadelphia, "and I appreciated his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other."

Asked if he was disappointed McCain's tone at town hall, Kevin Grubey, of Oak Park, Minn., said no, but added, "You know it's Minnesota Nice, and McCain would fit right here, but the gloves have to come off, and he's got to do more to let people know about that."


October 5, 2008

Petters Arrested

Tom Petters, founder and former CEO of the Minnetonka based Petters Group Worldwide was arrested Friday on federal fraud charges, The Pioneer Press reports.

Petters, 51, was charged Thursday with mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The criminal complaint goes on to allege that Petters was attempting to defraud investors of more than $1 billion.

Petters is being held without bail after officials cited secretly recorded conversations in which Petters spoke of fleeing the country by the time of the presidential debates.

Petters Group has 3,200 employees and includes companies such as Sun Country Airlines, Polaroid and Fingerhut, none of which have been implicated in the investigation.

Petters resigned as CEO Monday, saying he did not want to interfere with company operations.

The Star Tribune cites two others who were arrested in connection with the fraud charges. Michael Catain, 52, of Shorewood, Minn., and Larry Reynolds, 65, of Las Vegas, Nev. were charged Friday. The two were business associates of Petters who are believed to be directly involved in the scheme.

September 28, 2008

Bicyclist dies after being hit by car on Summit Ave.

A 51-year-old St. Paul woman died Saturday after being hit by an SUV while riding her bike. The Pioneer Press reports.

According to a St. Paul Police Department spokesman, Peter Panos, Virginia Marie Heuer-Bowar was riding her bike near the intersection of Snelling and Summit Avenues around 8 a.m. Saturday when she collided with an SUV.

Heuer-Bowar sustained head injuries, though she was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. She was taken to Regions hospital and died there around 3 p.m.

The Star Tribune reported that Heuer-Bowar was traveling east on Summit Avenue when she was struck by an SUV.

The driver is, a 39-year-old Minneapolis man, was released pending an investigation. He told police he had stopped at a stop sign where a service road merges onto Summit avenue.

"He stopped and accelerated, and all of a sudden she was in front of him," Panos said the driver told police.

September 21, 2008

Franken Sparks Idea for SNL Skit Mocking McCain

Al Franken proposed the idea for Saturday Night Live's opening skit mocking John McCain, the Pioneer Press Reports.

Although his campaign initially denied he had anything to do with conceiving the skit, a spokeswoman for the campaign, Colleen Murray, said Franken does keep in touch with old friends at the show, and his personal experiences may have been an inspiration for the skit.

Sources at Saturday night live say that Franken phoned in the suggestion to write a skit about McCain recording TV ads.

Many are viewing this move by an NBC show to base its content around suggestions from a democratic senate nominee as partisan.

A spokesman for Norm Coleman's campaign staff says that it is ironic to hear Franken had a hand in spoofing negative campaign ads saying, ""Angry Al has run one of the nastiest, most negative attack campaigns in Minnesota history."

While his campaign acknowledges that Franken has had conversations with SNL producer Lorne Michaels, he had no knowledge of the skit and did not write any of it himself, the Star Tribune reports.

September 14, 2008

35W Bridge Construction Nearly Complete

The Star Tribune reviews the construction process of the 35W bridge as it is set to reopen as early as this week. http://www.startribune.com/local/28339529.html?page=2&c=y

On November 1st, 2007, construction workers began to dig, beginning the process of rebuilding the fallen bridge.
Workers encountered many complications along the way, including asbestos contamination and the removal of a former creosote plant.
The construction continued through the winter as workers faced cold January temperatures, using diesel heaters to warm the concrete as it was being poured.
Many temporary buildings and support structures needed to be built to shelter the workers and aid in the construction process.
When the weather improved, tourists began observing the final months of the construction process.
In early July, the two sides of the northbound bridge were connected.
As the construction process is nearly completed, the number of workers at the bridge slowly dwindles.

Most people will never notice the complex technology behind the bridge, the Duluth News Tribune Reports. http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/articles/index.cfm?id=73917§ion=homepage&freebie_check&CFID=86576474&CFTOKEN=55281923&jsessionid=8830a9553b20657a136b

The bridge's concrete enclosures contain 323 sensors to monitor the conditions of the bridge. These will measure the swaying of the bridge, and monitor stress points and bending.
The bridge will also have an electronic weather monitor, which is connected to an anti-icing system.
An aesthetic lighting system was also built into the bridge, and can project any color onto the bridge's surface.