December 9, 2008

Gas Price Hit 5-year Low

Gasoline prices have hit a five-year low nationally, as well as in California, the LA Times reported. Analysts are predicting that gas prices could get as low as $1 per gallon.

Crude oil for January delivery increased $2.90 to $43.71 a barrel Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Experts don't see a significant jump in momentum from consumers because of the suffering job market and lower demand for oil.

"The world has changed. I don't see any reason why $1 gasoline isn't possible, and $25-a-barrel oil is not out of the question," Phil Flynn, vice president and senior market analyst for the Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago told the LA Times. "I don't think the downside is over. There is a lot of surplus oil out there."

In contrast, Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst for Oppenheimer and Co., is one of the analysts saying that oil won't stay down, even if the historic price drop isn't quite over yet.

He told the LA Times, "Some of the same clowns who were predicting $200-a-barrel oil a few months ago are in the crowd predicting $25 a barrel. But just as we believed that oil above $100 was not sustainable by market fundamentals, oil below $30 isn't sustainable either."

"Even in the midst of this global recession, the world is still using 80 million barrels of oil a day. If production is cut back sharply and the oil companies keep reining in capital spending, it will come back to haunt us," Gheit added, explaining that the global economy would eventually improve and place higher demands on supplies.

Nationally, the average price of self-serve regular gasoline dropped from 11.2 cents to $1.699 a gallon. That was $1.30 below the price in the previous and was the lowest average since the $1.688 the Energy Department recorded on Feb. 23, 2004.

Failed Bomb Attempt in Germany Leads to Life Sentence

One of the men responsible for a failed terrorist attack on commuter trains in Berlin received a life sentence from a German court on Tuesday, the NY Times reported.

Youssef Muhammad el-Hajdib, was convicted on several counts of attempted murder for leaving two suitcase bombs on the trains in Cologne in July 2006 that failed to explode. The attempted but unsuccessful attack, similar to the train bombing that took the lives of 191 people in Madrid in 2004, shook Germany, which had just finished hosting roughly two million visitors for the World Cup soccer tournament.

Hajdib, 24, and his lawyers said that the propane gas devices were not supposed to explode and the accident was staged to induce fear.

The regional superior court in Düsseldorf sided instead with prosecutors that Germany “never stood closer to an Islamist attack.?

“The fact that it did not result in a devastating bloodbath with a multitude of dead was only thanks to a construction error by the culprit and his accomplice in building the detonation devices,? said Ottmar Breidling, the presiding judge in the case. “It was their explicit aim to kill as many nonbelievers as possible.?

Germany has not yet experienced an Islamist terrorist attack as several surrounding countries have, but security officials believe there have been several close calls. Part of the planning in the 9/11 attacks happened in Hamburg,

Police discovered the two unexploded suitcase bombs on trains in Dortmund and Koblenz. Hajdib was detained in Kiel several weeks after the incident when police revealed a video from surveillance cameras showing Mr. el-Hajdib and the second suspect, Jihad Hamad, boarding trains with suitcases at a Cologne train station.

German security officials gave credit to Lebanon's military officials for intercepting a frightened phone call Hajdib placed to his family after the video of him was broadcast in Berlin. Hamad was arrented in Tripoli.

November 23, 2008

Washington State schools suffering big from economy

As recently as this past summer, the University of Washington was celebrating the closing of a major fundraising campaign that would allow it to double enrollment on the branch campuses, the Seattle Times reported.

As a result of the economy, the school has suffered a major hit within the last two weeks and is hurting.

UW and other education institutions are brainstorming how to plug a yawning budget gap. Officials at several higher-education schools are talking about raising tuition by 10 to 15 percent next year — possibly $1,000 per student.

This would force lawmakers to raise the current limit on schools of 7 percent in tuition increases annually.

Another option the UW is considering is differential tuitions, in which juniors and seniors would pay more for school than the underclassmen. At Western Washington University, budget experts are in the process of calculating how much they could save by having some full-time staff work 80 percent instead.

This would increase class sizes, as well as the amount of teaching assistants rather than faculty members leading the courses.

"In the end, 20 percent is far too big of a number to comprehend for higher education without having the state abandon its mission," said Paul Jenny, the UW's vice provost for planning and budgeting.

This year's spending was supposed to be locked, but colleges are going back and lowering the amount for spending.

"The budget situation is extraordinarily serious," wrote WWU President Bruce Shepard to faculty and students Wednesday.

For several schools in Washington state, the cuts portray the last piece in the puzzle of declining income and increased demand. UW's endowment decreased by 14 percent in the year ending September, to $1.9 billion. UW spends around $95 million of that money annually on professorships, scholarships and other programs.

Denny Hecker closes 6 dealerships, sells 3

The Pioneer Press reported that about a third of the employees at Denny Hecker dealerships will be unemployed as the result of six dealerships closing and three of them being sold. The business owner himself announced Friday the closings are due to the poor economy.

In a written statement Hecker said that he found himself in a " 'perfect storm' of economic bad news" and ticked off a slew of catalysts for the dealership closures and sales, including "a financial crisis on Wall Street, chaos in the housing market, consumer confidence at an all-time low and the sight of the Big 3 on their knees in Washington asking for a bailout loan."

Closed Denny Hecker dealerships include 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.

The three dealerships Hecker sold are Inver Grove Heights Hyundai, Inver Grove Heights Volkswagen and Peninsula Dodge in California.

Hecker's remaining dealerships include two Toyota dealerships, three Hyundai dealerships, one Cadillac Pontiac GMC dealership and one Chevrolet dealership. In his statement he also said that his management team would focus on the remaining, higher-performing dealerships while developing a new business model.

The closings of Hecker's dealerships don't come as a shock.

He filed a federal lawsuit this month in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, accusing Chrysler Financial Services of cutting off financing the dealerships use to operate his dealerships, rental-car business and fleet-car sales division.

Board to decide whether or not to include reject absentee ballots

The Star Tribune reported that attorneys for both Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Al Franken are preparing for whether or not rejected absentee votes will be factored into the recount.

Sen Coleman stands only 180 votes above Franken, leading the issue of how absentee ballots should be counted and when.

With an election race as close as this, a challenge of Minnesota's law governing such ballots could arise. Also, the election results may be determined by clerical errors that were missed the first time.

"Campaigns over the years have challenged anything and everything," said recount expert Timothy Downs. Downs is the principal author of "The Recount Primer" and has been working on some of the biggest recounts in U.S. history, including Gore vs. Bush in 2000. Chris Sautter, Downs' co-author, arrived in Minneapolis last weekend to work the Franken portion of the recount.

The decision will be made Wednesday on whether or not to recount these particular votes at a state Canvassing Board hearing. It is hard to say whether or not these decisions will make any more than modest changes in the final results.

If the five member board decides to include these votes, the uncertainty of the results will see a steep increase.

Violent racial attacks over the President-elect

The LA Times reported that just weeks after the 2008 presidential election concluded that Barack Obama would be the first African-American president, racist attacks and statements have been present in cities and towns all over the country.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, reported there have been over 200 incidents of effigies threats and attacks such as effigies of the President-elect, as well as noose hangings and cross burnings.

After decades of little presence and organization, the Ku Klux Klan has resurfaced to add to the racial violence.

As recently as two weeks ago, a woman was murdered over allegedly trying to become a member but then changing her mind. That was in the town of Bogalusa, La., once known as the Klan capital.

In late October, two men with association to a Klan chapter with a violent reputation in Kentucky were charged in a pre-meditated plot to kill 88 black students and proceed to decapitate an additional 14 students. Police also found they planned to assassinate Obama by shooting him from a moving car while wearing white tuxedos and top hats.

"We've seen everything from cross burnings on lawns of interracial couples to effigies of Obama hanging from nooses to unpleasant exchanges in schoolyards," said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama. "I think we're in a worrying situation right now, a perfect storm of conditions coming together that could easily favor the continued growth of these groups."

As of yet, the FBI has not released any hate crime statistics for 2008.

Experts say there are about 6,000 Klan members worldwide, a significant decrease from the 4 million members in the early 1900s.

Vatican City church forgives John Lennon

The New York Times reported that after over 40 years of grudge holding, the Vatican's newspaper announced it has forgiven John Lennson for declaring the Beatles as more famous than Jesus Christ.

The paper referred to Lennon's comment as a "boast" by a young man dealing with sudden fame. The comment, "We'more more popular than Jesus now," made in 1996 to a London newspaper infuriated many Christians all over the world.

Vatican Daily newspaper made a statement about Lennon's comment.

"The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a ‘boast’ by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll,? the paper said.

The article continued on by complimenting the band for their success. This is the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' "The White Album".

“The fact remains that 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians,? it said.

November 16, 2008

Analysis on diversity

In an article in the NY Times, the reporter writes about two men who beat an African-American teenager on election night. While they beat him the suspects yelled "Obama!" The report does not dwell on the stereotype, although the suspects yelling "Obama!" clearly indicates the presence of a stereotype. I didn't know about this story before, there this story did tell me something new. It did not tell me anything new about a particular stereotype, but it informed me of people's reactions to Obama's victory.

Obama may need to say goodbye to beloved blackberry

The NY Times reported that President-elect Obama may need to give up one of the most important tools of communication in his life, his blackberry.

For years now, Obama has been relying on his blackberry for e-mail and keeping in touch.

On top of concerns about e-mail security, Obama faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. No decisions have been whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that is highly unlikely.

With all of the many privileges and perks of being the United State president, the chief executive of the United States is deprived by law of some of the other chief executives could not possibly work without. With that said, Obama plans on trying to bring the office into the 21st century; aides said he'd like to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.

“His BlackBerry was constantly crackling with e-mails,? said David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist. “People were generous with their advice — much of it conflicting.?

Obama is not the first president to find himself in this predicament.

Three days before his first inauguration, George W. Bush sent a message to 42 friends and relatives that explained his situation.

“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace,? Bush wrote from his old address, G94B@aol.com. “This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.?

Election volunteers get ready for recount

MPR reported that the race for senate between Democratic candidate Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman continues as volunteers get ready for the official recount. The difference in votes is currently 206, although that figure is scheduled to change.

The votes will be counted by hand, all 2.9 ballots from the 89 counties in Minnesota. The recount make last through December.

Univ. of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said he doesn't think the recount will be easy for election officials.

"This is hard work. Counting, by hand, 2.9 million ballots is not a picnic," said Jacobs. "It's a lot of daily drudgery of holding up the ballots and putting them into piles: the Coleman pile and the Franken pile, the disputed pile and then votes for other candidates."

Volunteers from both parties will participate in the counting, which Jacobs says ensures accuracy. Disputed ballots go before the State Canvassing Board, which will then decide whether the ballots are included in the final tally.

Both campaigns are having no trouble finding loyal supporters to help them with the recount. The Franken campaign had hundreds of people show up this weekend for training.

Neither campaign allowed the media to cover their training sessions.

Officials hope for the recount to be done by mid-December, but with potential legal challenges after the recount, it could go long after that.

Developers of old jail in St. Paul back out

The developer in charge of turning the old jail in downtown St. Paul into prime $10 million real estate is backing down, and using the economy as his reason, the Pioneer Press reported.

Opus Northwest told Ramsey County officials it was stepping down from its exclusive rights to sell several parcels of county-owned land along Kellogg Boulevard overlooking the Mississippi River, said Tim Murnane, Opus' point person on the project.

The building site is housing about 600 county workers in the shuttered Ramsey County Jail and the former West Publishing building. Opus had plans to take down the structures and build high-rises with residential condos and offices.

"Our plan was really dependent on securing an anchor tenant, and obviously, in this economy, that proved to be impossible," Murnane said.

Opus will still market the site in the mean time, but the current contrat to purchase it from Ramsey County meant that to independently sell it, Opus would need to pay nearly $900,000 this month, and Murnane said that didn't make sense, given the economy.

"We still think it's a great site," he said.

Rallies against Prop. 8 continue nationally

People in cities all over the country are not giving up the fight to legalize gay marriage. Seattle was one of those cities on Saturday, where thousands of people joined to rally for equal marriage rights, the Seattle Times reported.

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, one of Washington state's only openly gay legislators and a longtime activist of the effort to get equal marriage rights in Olympia, said that during the upcoming session of the Legislature he will continue to fight for a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

"The challenge is to march by the thousands not just here, but in Olympia. Are you willing to do that?" he said to the crowd, which gathered for a rally at Volunteer Park before continuing on to Westlake Park.

"Are you willing to doorbell in suburbia and rural Washington, and seek the friendship of African-American evangelicals and Catholics and Mormons? If you are willing to do that, you will achieve equality."

Seattle police said the eventful was peaceful with no arrests made at that time. They estimated about 3,000 participants, although organizers estimated double that.

Organizers of Saturday's event encouraged protesters to avoid divisive rhetoric or tactics.

After the passage of California's Proposition 8 on Nov. 4, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, many protesters became angry and avoided the idea of peaceful rally, with demonstrators targeting the Mormon church and other faiths that supported the gay-marriage ban.

"Hateful or hurtful remarks do nothing but drag the conversation away from progress," march organizer Kyler Powell said to the crowd.

The crowd consisted of only protesters, with opponents standing aside.

State Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said if a gay-marriage bill is passed by the Legislature, he will work to put it on the ballot statewide and defeat it.

"For me, this is the biggest issue," Swecker said. "Marriage is something that needs to be set apart and protected."


Russia has hopes of better relations with US

The presidential administration of Russia has confidence in President-elect Barack Obama for a better future between them and the United States.

The NY Times reported that President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said Saturday he hopes Obama can improves relations that President Bush has compromised in recent years.

Medvedev, who was in Washington Saturday for the first time since last spring, went over once again Russia’s disagreement to the expansion of NATO and stated that Russia would not change its recognition of two separatist regions in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, after the war in August.

Medvedev reiterated his threat initially made on Nov. 5 to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad if the United States continued with plans to build missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. He also said he is willing to discuss this issue.

“There is no trust in the Russia-U.S. relations, the trust we need,? Medvedev said to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington after attending the summit meeting on the current financial situation Saturday that included the leaders of 20 countries. “Therefore we have great aspirations for the new administration.?

Obama has shown more support for missile defenses than President Bush, explaining that his system would be a proven system instead of proceeding with the construction of radars and other facilities while testing continues. Reversing the program now, however, after agreements had been discussed with Poland and the Czech Republic, both NATO allies, may be portrayed backing down to Russian threats.

Medvedev expressed hope that he and Mr. Obama would meet soon after Inauguration Day.

November 9, 2008

Analysis on Numbers

In an article published in the Pioneer Press, the reporter writes about the shrinking difference in votes between Sen. Norm Coleman and his opponent Al Franken. The reporter notes that Coleman has just a 221-vote advantage of the 2.9 million ballots cast in the Senate race. It's easy to read and the numbers are laid out in a non-confusing way. Someone reading this article who isn't quick with numbers would be able to still interpret the percentages and figures accurately. I would have probably written this article in a similar fashion as far as explaining the various statistics and polls.

Peaceful protests in California over Anti-Prop. 8

Over 20,000 protesters filled the streets of Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Modesto on Saturday in mainly peaceful protests over passage of Proposition 8, the statewide ballot measure that bans same-sex marriage, the LA Times reported.

The various scene Saturday portrayed the racial and religious animosity that have become increasingly prevalent since Tuesday's vote raised question of the legality of 18,000 marriages of gay and lesbian couples and foreclosed the option for any more.

Police estimated that 12,500 enthusiastic protesters began at 6 p.m. at Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards in Silver Lake near the old site of the former Black Cat bar, which the city recently determined as a historic-cultural monument for its '60s role as home of the local gay rights movement.

Police guided the protesters along the streets for over three hours without significant confrontations. No arrests were made.

At the various rallies throughout the state, participants showed their frustration and anger over the ballot item that amends the state Constitution to declare that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized" in California.

Demonstraters held signs that read messages such as "Teach tolerance, not hate."

The Silver Lake rally started with motivational speeches from the bed of a pickup truck.

One of those speakers was Robin Tyler, who with her partner was denied a marriage license in 2004 and challenged it to the California Supreme Court.

The couple married after the court cleared the way for gay marriages, but the legal status of such marriages is now under scruitiny.

"The No on 8 people didn't want us to use the word 'bigots.' But that's what they are, bigots, bigots, bigots," Tyler said. "We will never be made invisible again. Never again will we let them define who we are."