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September 30, 2007

Free-Speech Issue in Colorado

Colorado State University's newspaper editor is causing mixed opinions over a firsrt amendment issue, as stated on the New York Times' website. On Sept. 21,
the paper ran an editorial that read, "Taser this: Fuck Bush," directed at President Bush in response to the Sept. 18
incident at the University of Florida, where a student was shocked with a Taser gun after asking too many questions to Sen. John Kerry at a public meeting.

This week, a school supervisory board will decide whether or not to fire the editor in chief, J. David McSwane, for allowing this to be printed.

In an A.P. article, David Lane, McSwane's attorney, said that he had "absolute protection" under the First Amendment, continuing with
"The government, through a CSU body, cannot censor you for your comments nor may they retaliate against you for your op-ed piece regardless of whether they believe you have used 'offensive' language."

Ten Peacekeepers Killed in Darfur

A group of 1,000 rebels attacked an African Union peacekeeping base in the Darfur region of Sudan over Saturday night and early Sunday morning, as it stated on CNN's website.
It was the deadliest attack in the AU's three-year mission. At least eight people were injured, and about 25 AU peacekeepers were reported missing, said AU spokesman Assane Ba.

"There is a war going on between the rebels and the government, and the AU is crunched in the middle," an AU spokesperson said.

This is currently the largest peacekeeping operation in the world.

For extensive background information on the Darfur conflict, Wikipedia does a good job explaining it in detail.

Statewide Smoking Ban Starts Monday

Starting Monday, the entire state goes smoke-free in accordance with the "Clean Indoor Air Act," as you can read about on the Star Tribune's website. This includes all bars, restaurants and public gathering areas, including some outdoor areas according to local ordinances. This law does not affect Native American
reservations, private homes and hotel rooms.

Minnesota is the 17th (20th, according to The Washington Post?) state to pass a statewide smoking ban after years of debate and local support from anti-smoking groups.

Penalties for breaking this law include a misdemeanor charge with a $300 fine, and suspension of liquor licenses for bar owners that do not enforce it.

I found The Washington Post's website more balanced because it included the viewpoints of people that do not support the law, unlike the Strib.
"I for one don't like you putting your nose in my business," he told backers. "That's my air in that cafe, not yours. If you don't want to come, don't come," said Rep. Bud Heidgerken, who runs Charlie's Cafe in Freeport. This issue is definitely not as one-sided as the the Tribune makes it appear.

September 27, 2007

Update on Birthday Party Shooting

Two Minneapolis teens are charged in the shooting of Vernice Hall, Thursday's Star Tribune webpage said. Tywin Marcell Bender, 17 and Semaj Marquise Magee, 16, were allegedly firing shots outside a birthday party near Vernice's home last weekend. They were arrested Monday, and police believe them to be members of the gang, the "Stick Up Boys." They were both charged Thursday with attempted first degree murder. The charges include witness testimony that says the boys fired 20 rounds with a handgun, and two rounds with a shotgun.

Bender allegedly made threats that he was going to bring a gun to the party and shoot people after exchanging words with a rival gang.

Vernice Hall remains in the Hennepin County Medical Center in critical condition and the suspects are still in custody.

For an itemized list of charges against Bender and Magee, see http://mplscrimewatch.blogspot.com/2007/09/charges-filed-in-vernice-hall-shooting.html

September 23, 2007

Middle-East Peace Talks May Be in the Future

According to BBC News' website,representatives from The United States, Europe, Russia and The United Nations met in New York on Sunday to discuss a US-led peace summit plan. The plan would include inviting an Arab League panel. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Syria and Saudi Arabia would be the "natural invitees," adding that 'those taking part must be committed to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.'

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus said, "'With the Palestinians divided and with Israel designating the Gaza Strip as hostile territory, the climate is not encouraging."

Yahoo! News said Saudi Arabia will likely skip the conference, scheduled for November, if it does not deal with the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, based on what Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said on Wednesday. He continues with, "the kingdom sees no benefit in any peace meeting or conference if it is not comprehensive and if it doesn't tackle major issues."

Also mentioned on the Yahoo! story was a quote from an unnamed western diplomat: "The conference's only chance of success is for it to be an endorsement of a deal accepted by both parties," who continued by saying that anything less than that would result in the conference being canceled.

Barbara M. Asher Square Declared "Eyesore"

In a story by the Associated Press on the New York Times website said that plans are being made to clean up Barbara M. Asher Square in Atlanta, Ga. Recently, there have been complaints of too much litter, and an increasingly rising population of homeless persons congregating there. The square is not technically considered a park, so all the parks department can do is care for the trees and bushes, said spokeswoman Myra Reese. However, the department of public works is responsible for keeping it clean, but that is proving to be an almost impossible task. Deputy Commissioner for Public Works, Donna Owens, said “there are men and women who walk through the area all day de-littering...And as quickly as it is de-littered, it is littered again. It would be easier for us to keep it clean if people were not loitering. "

The city of Atlanta is so upset about this because the square is the first thing many tourists see when they visit, as it is on the central Five Points Marta transit system, which carries many people from the Airport to their hotels, and is
near the Georgia Aquarium, the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena and the convention center. Councilman Kwanza Hall said that there are plans under way to put police cameras in the square.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's website mentions many of the same facts as the A.P. stories, but then focuses on Barbara M. Asher, herself, who had served as an Atlanta councilwoman for 18 years, and had the park named after her three years after her death. It includes a quote from Hall: "Any place that is named for a person deserves a greater level of attention,...We have put a lot more energy around the John Wesley Dobbs [Memorial in the King Historic District]. And we will do the same for Barbara Asher Square."

This version also goes into more detail about police plans to clean up the park: 'MARTA Chief of Police Wanda Dunham said the goal of her officers is to keep people moving. If people are not catching a bus or train, they are encouraged to move from MARTA property.'

Personally, I felt that all the versions of this story were a little unfair to homeless people, as every one of them mentioned how they smelled like urine and marijuana, which I feel perpetuates the stereotypes about homeless people, and how they need to be "taken care of."

Twelve-year-old Shot

Last Friday night a 12-year old girl was shot in the head while leaving a party in the Willard-Hay neighborhood in North Minneapolis, as was reported by the Star Tribune website. She is in critical condition.

This is causing much concern that gun activity is going on with younger and younger people each year. City Council Member Don Samuels said on Saturday, "The ages of the people being shot and the ages of the shooters has gone down over the past four, five years," but Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said that 'overall criminal activity among youths has declined.'

No arrests have been made yet, but an A.P. story on the Pioneer Press reported that 'about six or seven teenage boys were seen hiding behind a fence about a block from the party,' and 'police say they have descriptions of two suspects.'

Although police have not released the girls name, the A.P. story also mentioned that the Hennepin County Medical Center said her name is Vernice Hall. As was mentioned in the Strib, the family of the girl did not want to talk to the press, and the police did not give her name, which makes me question the ethical integrity of the A.P.'s printing a name that was based on speculation rather than fact.

September 18, 2007

Education Laws Punish Schools

On the Star Tribune website today, a story about the reactions of state officials and educaters to the "No Child Left Behind" act tells how standardized testing may not be the answer. Over a third of Minnesota public schools do not meet the qualifications of math and reading. Federal funding cuts and state takeover are some possible outcomes for these schools if they don't improve. "This is a direct attack on public education, which might not recover from it in my lifetime," said Prior Lake schools Superintendent Tom Westerhaus. The purpose of the "No Child Left Behind" act was to improve test scores of students who don't speak english as their first language, students who live in low-income areas, and minority students, that have not done as well as others. Many Educators argued at a hearing Monday that using test scores to determine a student's ability is too simplistic, and that one should take into account other factors, as every student is a unique individual. There have been some proposals in congress addressing this, allowing other forms of measurement to determine a student's ability, but nothing has been passed yet.

September 16, 2007

At Least 88 Killed In Plane Crash in Thailand

On MSNBC's website there was a story about a passenger airplane carrying 130 people crashing in an attempt to land in a rain storm. Reports say that the plane split in two and burst into flames. Some survivors remember seeing people burn as they tried to save themselves. At least 88 people, mostly tourists, died. The crash happened on the island of Phuket, the destination of the plane coming from Bangkok, as it slid off the runway while attempting to land. The crash is being blamed on poor visibility due to weather.

A more recent update on CBC News' website said that there are now 101 confirmed dead with 45 survivors, which contradicts the total number of passengers that was reported by MSNBC. As this is more recent, it is probably more accurate. The official cause of the crash is still unknown,
and weather was most likely a factor. Also it said that the flight data recorder was recovered and may give insight as to exactly what happened.

O.J. Arrested, Again

According to CNN's website, O.J. Simpson was arrested and charged with six counts of robbery, assault, burglary and conspiracy at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. He is accused of stealing sports memorabilia from a collector. Simpson has been co-operative with the police, but said that the items seized belong to him. Also arrested was Walter Alexander, who was said to have had two guns related to the incident. Simpson denied Alexander's involvement, and said "the truth will come out" in his
co-operation with the police.

The Chicago Tribune's website
said that charges against Simpson are still being determined. I found this article easier to read and organized better than the CNN story. It doesn't include as much information, but a lot of the information on the CNN story is about Simpson's prior criminal record, and is not transitioned into smoothly.

Shooting At Target Center

On the Star Tribune's website there is a story about
a fight in the Target Center during a martial arts event that lead to one person shooting at another. The article is very vague. It says no one was injured, but said the victim was a 27-year-old Minneapolis man. How can there be a victim of a shooting if no one was injured? Was someone killed? You'd think they say so if that is the case. They said there was a suspect name, but never said if anyone was arrested or not. This really makes me wonder because the artice also said it was the first shooting in the Target Center during the 20-year career of police spokeswoman Sgt. Tammy Diedrich, who commented to the press. If this is such a unique occurance, then why is there not more coverage and information about it? This article poses more questions than it answers, which is kind of counter-intuitive for a news publication.

Nothing but the same on KSTP's website. They put it into some perspective by mentioning specific times, but all they say about those involved is that no one was immediately taken into custody, without ever mentioning if anyone was taken in at all.

Most of the information on this story is apperently not available yet, but the local news companies want to run them anyway. I see this as yet another example how the industry is so concerned with being the first, that they don't care if the story is incomplete and full of holes. I feel many news companies are so focused on getting the information out as early as possible, that they don't stop to realize they don't actually have any.

Heavy Trucks on Minnesota Roads Lead Crituque

The lead for today's Star Tribune article, Heavy trucks escaping road limits, was rather long and unneccesarily wordy: "Renegade truckers who pack illegally heavy loads and haulers who don't understand Minnesota's complex truck-weight laws inflict an estimated $30 million a year in damage to state roads, bridges and railroad crossings." Although it is close to 25 words,
the subject of the sentence is too long and awkward and has too many adjectives. Also, the word "renegade" has a harsh connotation associated with it, and is probably the wrong word to use because of the opinionated tone it creates.

It does, however, do a good job of setting up the story and giving the relevant information up-front, but maybe it should have mentioned how only two citations have been given out in the last 10 years on I-35 for carrying too much weight instead of the long, clunky bit about "renegade truckers."

September 10, 2007

Bomb threat and protesters on campus

An anonymous email sent last friday morning to University of Minnesota's information technology help desk said that a bomb had been placed in Weaver-Densford hall. According to the Pioneer Press' website, the Minneapolis bomb squad came around noon; however, late enough in the day to not interrpupt many classes. It was not disclosed by U of M police chief Greg Hestness as to why the threat was serious enough for such a search, though he does not suspect that it was related to the group of protesters that disrupted a meeting the same morning.

The Star Tribune website goes into more detail about this. Over 100 protesters in support of the striking clerical workers interrupted a Board of Regents meeting, five of which were arrested. They were arrested for interfering with public property by blocking the exit of the room the meeting was being held in. This delay caused the meeting to adjourn early as the protestors chanted "shame on you."

University President Robert Bruininks said on the matter "We believe we have a fair offer out there, and we believe we have to run the university in a way that is responsible to all of its employees," adding "it will continue to be our position no matter what the level of noise is on the university campus."

For more information about the strike, visit www.uworkers.org or www.workdayminnesota.org

September 9, 2007

Minnesota school districts relying on voters

A levy that that gives funding to Minnesota public schools will be expiring this fall if voters
do not agree to an increase in property tax. It was reported in today's Star Tribune and on M.P.R.'s site on Sept. 4th that the owner of a $250,000 house would pay an extra $330. Also the Strib said that last year only 42% of the voters were in support of tax increases for schools, the lowest in over twenty-five years.

White Bear Lake Superintendent Ted Blaesing is very worried for his district. If the referendum does not pass, he says to M.P.R., he will have to close five schools and eliminate one hundred teaching positions. He continues by saying he feels like a "professional begger" by having to persuade voters, especially when "gas prices are high and the stock market is volatile."

For an Adobe guide to Minnesota school finance go to
www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/mnschfin.pdf

Hate groups on Facebook

On today's New York Times website there was a story about an anti-islamic group on Facebook with over 750 members. For those who do not know, Facebook is an online social networking site used predominantly by college students. The group's leader, a man calling himself Variable, says "The Quran contains many lies and threats. Islam is false, no god exists, and someone should say that loud and clear.‚Ä? He argues he has first amendment rights and that his group is peaceful.

In response to the hate group, a group, which now has over 58,000 members, was made that professes to quit Facebook if it is not removed. Facebook has declined any comment on has been done or what they plan on doing, though one day last week the website was inacessible.

To see either of these two group's pages, sign in at Facebook.com.