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Minnesota's Somali Population Rises, So Do Concerns Over Autism

A recent study released by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows that nearly one in three people in the United States with Somali ancestry now live in Minnesota. However, along with a growing population, a growing problem concerns Somali residents in the Twin Cities.

As the Star Tribune reported, of the 85,700 Somalis living in the U.S., about 25,000 live in Minnesota, more than twice the 11,164 figured in the 2000 Census. Seattle, San Diego, and Columbus, OH also have large Somali populations, but none more that 10,500, according to the survey.

Among Somali residents in Minneapolis, concern is mounting about over autism rates among their children.

Controversial autism researcher Andrew Wakefield was recently invited to talk at a Somali community meeting, according to MPR.

Wakefield published a paper in the late 1990s linking autism with measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations. Other studies have subsequently discredited Wakefield's theory, but the hypothesis has seen vocal resurgence among celebrities like former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy.

"We cannot accept the damage that is being done to all of these children," Wakefield said to a crowd of about a hundred people. "It is completely unacceptable and the suffering you're going through."

A study published last year by the Minnesota Health Department looking at school records for 3 to 4 year-olds found that from 2005 to 2008 the proportion of Somali kids receiving autism services was as much as seven times higher than non-Somali children.

Though MPR noted that these numbers might be due to Somalis seeking more help from schools than the general population.

Wakefield, who lost his medical license in England, and has asked audience members to take part in a study that would involve collecting genetic information from local Somalis to be analyzed in a database. He said his only role in the study was raising funding.

Stephen Miles, a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota said that Wakefield has a track record of fraud.

"He's just not trustworthy," Miles said. "And it does not surprise me that he would seek out a population which is unsophisticated and desperate."

One of those who pledged to participate in the study, Shukri Osman, who has a 12 year-old son with autism, knows about Wakefield's past, but wants a solution.
"I know he's either some kind of controversial -- there [are] a lot of people are saying bad things about him," Osman said. "At least he's trying to give us answers and he's listening to us. We need doctors to listen to us."

Through the cold and snow last week, members Crow Creek tribal council and other local Dakota tribes gathered on horseback for a ride in eastern South Dakota in remembrance of the largest execution in U.S. history.

As the Daily Republic of Mitchell, SD reports, Jim Miller first started the ride in 2005 after he dreamt of riding 330 miles on horseback to a river in Mankato, Minn. where 38 Dakota warriors were hanged for their part in the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862. The violence had left around 500 white settlers and soldiers dead before numerous Dakota forces surrendered after the Battle of Wood Lake.

Initially, military tribunals had sentenced 303 Dakota tribesmen to death before President Lincoln intervened and had the sentences of 265 commuted. A massive scaffold was constructed in Mankato for the 38 who were to be hanged at one Dec. 26, 1862.

On the ride this year Peter Lengkeek said the pain from that day still runs deep.

You've heard Yosemite Sam say 'I'll hit you so hard your grandchildren will feel it'," he said. "That's what happened to us."

Yet he also carries an air of reconciliation. ""Let's move forward and come together and embrace each other."

While there may be a tone of among some of the riders, the execution has all but been forgotten by many people in the area.

A statue of a Dakota warrior and a plaque outside the Mankato library are the only reminders of the largest execution in U.S. history. The site where the scaffold stood is now known as Reconciliation Park.

One person in particular is now believed to have been forgotten as well. As the New York Times reports, records show a Dakota warrior named We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee, but known as Chaska, had had his sentence commuted by President Lincoln, but was executed with the other on Dec. 26.

With the 150th anniversary of the execution coming in 2012, movements going all the way up to Capitol Hill are taking hold to award Chaska (unlike the city, pronounced chas-KAY) a posthumous pardon.

Representative James Oberstar, before his defeat in November, had supported a federal pardon, calling it, "a grand gesture and one I think our Congressional delegation should support."

Sen. Al Franken issued a statement last week indicating he might move the matter forward in the next Congress.

Why Chaska was executed has brought about two theories: one is that he was mistaken for another convicted Dakota with a similar name.

The other sounds like the stuff of lusty romance novels. Chaska had taken a woman, Sarah Wakefield, and her son captive, however, at Chaska's trial Wakefield defended her captor, saying he protected her and her son from death at the hands of other tribesmen.

Her vehement defense of Chaska lead to rumors that the two had been lovers, with Col. Sibley even referring to Chaska as Wakefield's "dusky paramour."

Either way, Leonard Wabasha, a local Dakota leader, believes granting the pardon is the right thing for the federal government to do

"It would cause people to read and research into it a little deeper," Wabasha said. "It would be a step in the right direction."

WCCO, and The Feds That Stole Christmas

With Christmas almost here, and a new year following shortly after, people tend to get reflective. For journalists why not reflect upon a newsroom ethics issue 24 years ago when a local drug bust became a First-Amendment clash.

T'was December 1986, and Doug Stone was assignment editor at WCCO-TV the day FBI agents and local police were scrambling around a Minneapolis convenience store where the sting had gone down, concluding a lengthy undercover investigation.

WCCO photographer Gary Feblowitz showed up on the scene for a routine twenty-second spot news piece to run that night. His reception wasn't a warm one.

Feblowitz was reportedly hassled by police, worried that his footage would blow the cover of the undercover agents. "Give up your camera, or you're going to jail," an agent eventually told Feblowitz. He complied.

For years, according to Stone, his newsroom had honored a gentleman's agreement with authorities not to reveal identities of undercover agents if it would put their lives in danger. Had the FBI informed WCCO about an apparent hit put out on one of the undercover agents, Stone says they would have agreed to mask the agents' identities.

After getting word of the seizure, Stone called around the Minneapolis Police, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. Attorney's office. There was now less than four hours before the 10 p.m. news, and Stone wanted to get that footage back.

Finally, the U.S. Attorney General's office called back with an hour and a half to air-time, and a deal was reluctantly brokered: WCCO would get their cameras and footage back, but federal agents had to oversee the editing.

All in all, three law enforcement agents, a DEA agent, a county sheriff's deputy and an assistant U. S. attorney walked into the newsroom carrying the camera and tape 20 minutes later. As Stone put it, "an unlikely mini-cam crew."

The mood in the editing room was difficult, but three minutes before 10 p.m. the story had been finished, electronically masking the undercover agents.

Looking back, Stone believes the deal may not have been worth it, as it was the foot in the door for several more law enforcement incursions into the newsroom in the following months.

Eventually, WCCO filed suit in federal court for their rights at news scenes, and won. Despite the long and expensive process, Stone feels the court battle was worth it.

Ask Governor Pawlenty about the state's financial standing and he's got glowing news: he'll be leaving office with a $399 million surplus. Ask the man in line to become the state's next governor, Mark Dayton, and he sees a formidable $6.2 billion projected budget deficit.

As WCCO TV reports, Pawlenty is right...technically. The state will be ending the current biennium budget cycle with a surplus, or "money in the bank," as Pawlenty said at the capitol Thursday. However once the new cycle starts, after Pawlenty has left office, the state is projected to be more than $6 billion (roughly 20% of the state's total budget) in the whole.

With a newfound majority in both the state House and Senate, Republicans see the stark deifcit as a go-ahead for deep budget cuts, which they say they were elected to do.

"The best remedy for this ailing economy is the growth of private sector jobs," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said, "not the growth of government spending."

Dayton says these enormous challenges make it imperative that the new governor take office Jan. 3.

On MPR, former state finance commissioner John Gunyou talked about the difficulty of actually making a budget. "It's not an easy thing to put together...its not like putting together your family budget," he said.

Gunyou explains that if lawmakers won't raise taxes, that means 20% of the budget needs to be cut.

About half the budget is spent on high prioity K-12 education, veterans programs and public safety. Off limits.

"If you feel that way, that 20% problem becomes a 40% of what's left in the budget," Gunyou concluded. Not an easy task.

Amidst the coming task of cutting spending and raising revenue, state economist Tom Stinson did have one word of advice: buy taxable items when you do your Christmas shopping.

Apple Valley Fire Raises More Questions Than Answers.

Apple Valley residents are left to wonder just what led a woman set fire to her house, after which she was seen stabbing herself with a screwdriver before leading police on a chase which finally came to an end in Eagan.

KARE 11's Mike Pomeranz reports that around 9 a.m. Apple Valley police were called out to the 47th block of 142nd St. W on a domestic call. Upon arrival police found the house in flames and a woman locked in her car, stabbing herself with a screwdriver.

When officers approached the car, the women took off, leading to a chase that ended in Eagan. When officers finally approached her car, they discovered that she now had a hammer and was pounding a screwdriver into her chest.

The woman was hospitalized for stab wounds as well as burns. The woman's husband, who was home at the time was also hospitalized for burns.

One Apple Valley man said that the whole incident surprises him. "Thiis is pretty quiet around here," he said. "We've been living here 12 or 13 years."

KSTP's Maggie Newland shed considerably more light on the situation, revealing the woman's name as Rhonda Arkley, her husband as Stuart Arkley, and interviewing Apple Valley police Sgt. John Bermel.

"A caller had reported that a woman who lives at the residence had been spreading gasoline around the residence, and had been threatening to kill herself," he said.

Interestingly, Newland's report mentions that many of Arkley's neighbors believe she is an atheist, as she and her son had prostested in 2002 the use of the word "God" in the the Boy Scout oath. Adding another layer of intrigue to the story, Arkley's sons, 22, was found dead in his bedroom several weeks ago. His death is still under investigation.

Two of Arkley's other children live at the house, but where in school at the time of the fire.

Police have reportedly been called out to the residence about half a dozen times in the last eight years for "domestic situations."

University President Finalist Faces Public For The First Time

In his first meeting on the University of Minnesota campus since being announced as the sole finalist in the selection of the next university president, Eric Kaler fielded questions Thursday before an audience of mostly faculty, staff and administrators, according to a story by The Minnesota Daily.

In a discussion ranging from research to athletics to the liberal arts, Kaler, wearing a maroon and gold tie, started the forum with a touch of humor.

"Let me start by telling you something I am not ... I flat out cannot coach football. I'm here for the other job," he said.

Because of his decorated chemical engineering degree from the U, many questions centered on how Kaler would support the liberal arts.

"[Liberal arts] are an essential element of a university and it's required for the public good for us to have that as a central part of our mission," he said before the audience of 200, with another 400 watching online.

Improvements to student advising and more student-friendly class scheduling were among Kaler's recommendations to enrich the undergraduate experience.

He also said the University needs to improve its graduation rates and make education more affordable through financial aid and scholarships.

Students at the forum appeared receptive to Kaler's responses.

"I think he would be a good step forward for the University," Aara Johnson, a second-year graduate student, said.

Paul Strain, a student representative to the Board of Regents, said Kaler did a good job answering questions.

"I think it is really easy to speak jargon when addressing an audience like this," Strain said. "He was very straightforward and he actually answered the tough questions, which is something the University has struggled with in the past."

At Walker Art Center, 'Naked' Is More Work Than It Seems

Walking into the darkened space, one can see two pale, naked figures spread over a nest of feathers and straw, their movements hardly perceptible.

Since Nov. 2, for six hours a day, six days a week Eiko and her husband Koma have been putting on their "Naked" exhibit at the Walker Art Center. However, simply being naked isn't as easy as one might think, as MPR reports.

"We are part of a picture where people can project something ancient, something weak, something fragile," Eiko said. "And that takes a physical strength in a very strange way because we are not moving in a normal way."

Spectators sit just a few feet from the performing couple, and can come and go as they please; a good thing, since the performance may not be for everyone, including one man quite taken aback by what he saw.

"'What's this? This is crazy,'" says Eiko, mimicking his reaction

"'Insane!'" adds Koma.

"'This is INSANE!,'" she echoes. "And then they left," she laughs. "And I kind of agreed."

Even when no one is watching, the show still goes on.

"I feel like a dog, waiting for someone to come and pet me," Eiko laughs. "Very lonely."

"Sometimes I feel like an animal in the zoo, before they open the gate," Koma said.

After the show at The Walker ends Nov. 30, Eiko and Koma will remount their performance in Chicago and New York.

First Snowstorm: Fun for Some, Vexing for Many

As Minnesotans, winter weather should be nothing new, but the first major snow system of the season is always reason for celebrating by some, and grumbling by many.

As The Pioneer Press reports, the weekend was good for Kent Eernisse. As manager of Frattallone's Ace Hardware on Grand Avenue near Dale Street in St. Paul, he saw a steady stream of customers coming in to buy everything from scapers and ice melt, to shovels and snow blowers. "We've been working hard for the past 2 1/2 weeks to get ready for the season, and it finally came," he said.

While the heavy snow was a boon for kids fashioning snowmen and building snow forts, it was also ideal for downing power lines.

Overall, an estimated 200,000 Twin Cities residents lost power at some point during the weekend, with 21,000 metro residents still without power at the time of publication, according to The Star Tribune.

Another Star Tribune article highlights the more dire outcomes of the snowy salvo. Throughout Minnesota the State Patrol responded to around 400 crashes, with 45 of those involving minor injuries. No one in the state was killed, but bad road conditions in northern Wisconsin are blamed for the death of 2 people.

Greg Spoden at the State Climatology Office guesses that this is the biggest pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm for the Twin Cities since 1991, the year of the Halloween monster.


Vote-Reporting Error Ruffles GOP Feathers

According to State GOP Chairman Tony Sutton, "something doesn't smell right" about a vote reporting error by a Hennepin County election employee on Tuesday night, the Star Tribune reported.

On Election Night, around 11 p.m., Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith got a call from Tony Trimble, a Republican Party lawyer involved in the 2008 U.S. Senate seat recount

In a reportedly cordial discussion, Smith told Trimble what had happened: a staffer had mistakenly clicked "Add" instead of "Replace" when transmitting a large file of returns, thus adding updated returns to those already entered. The error was discovered 45 minutes later, and the results then corrected by the secretary of state.

The next morning Trimble appeared next to Sutton at a news conference declaring, "we are going to be very, very aggressive through this recount process that we anticipate."

According to the party chair, the error resulted in a 60,000 vote swing in the governor's race.

However, according to Smith this was an error in reporting results, not in counting results.

Now that a recount will be underway all of the county's ballots are being guarded 24-7 by a sheriff's deputy, according to MPR.

Unlike the 2008 Senate recount, the 470,000 ballots will be kept in one room until the gubernatorial election is resolved.

Smith said that her office will look into new measures to ensure that something like Tuesday night's mistake never happens again.


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