December 3, 2007

Man missing in oil refinery explosion is found dead

The search for Nicholas Gunter, 29, of Hastings, who went missing when a 10,000-barrel tank at Marathon Petroleum Co. caught fire, ended when he was found dead in the tank Sunday afternoon.

Gunter was most likely checking gauges on top of the tank of the St. Paul Park site when it burst into flames at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, spokesman Robert Calmus said.

The search for Gunter who had been working at the refinery since 2006 included 70 people, dogs and helicopters.

"We're going to work with local officials and people like OSHA and our own internal investigators to do everything we can to establish the cause," Calmus said.

The refinery is capable of processing 70,0000 barrels of crude oil from the U.S. and Canada a day, according to Marathon's website.

5 Mpls. police officers sue dept. for racial discrimination

Five black officers, each with an average of 20 years working for the force, have filed suit against the Minneapolis Police Department for racial allegations and complaints that the department has failed to diversify its force.

Lt. Medaria Arradondo, Lt. Donald Harris, Lt. Lee Edwards, Sgt. Charles Adams and Sgt. Dennis Hamilton are the plaintiffs in a 42-page suit that cites a series of racial comments made by individual officers and that the force is a hostile working environment.

The complaint filed states that the Minneapolis Police Department "has systematically and continuously discriminated in favor of white persons and against persons of color, including African American police officers."

Recently Lt. Robert Kroll referred to black Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison as a "terrorist" according to the suit.

Spike Moss. member of the Minneapolis Police Community Relations Council, called Minneapolis the most racist city in America.

The fact that recently three of the highest ranking black officers were demoted by Chief Tim Dolan is also mentioned in the complaint.

Sgt. Charlie Adams was reassigned for "insubordination" referring to a disagreement with supervisor Lt. Amelia Huffman in a recent homicide case, and Adams' white partner, Richard Zimmerman, who also disagreed with Huffman was not reassigned.

November 26, 2007

Second chance at Israeli-Palestinian peace summit includes Arab world

One of the major criticisms of the Israeli-Palestinian 2000 Camp David summit was that it did not include representation from the Arab World, but representatives from Syria and Saudi Arabia have agreed to attend this Tuesday's U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' delegation and the Israeli delegation lead by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet President Bush and Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice Tuesday for a full day of meetings along with delegations from Syria, Saudi Arabia and other arab states.

Syria finally announced it would attend after the U.S. agreed to put the issue of Golan Heights on the agenda.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Mideast war. The Arab league has said that if Israel gives up all land taken in the 1967 war and offers a solution for the Palestinians that lost their homes from Israel's creation, then there could be "normalized ties" with Israel and the rest of the Arab world through a sweeping peace proposal.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said that his delegation is open to "land swaps, meaning that if Israel takes parts of the West Bank, then the Palestinian Authority could take parts of Israel for a future state," according to CNN.com.

Malibu fire possibly started by campfire

The Corral Canyon fire that destroyed several homes in Malibu on Saturday was possibly started from the campfire of a group partying in the woods, according to CNN.com.

The officials hope parties responsible will come forward for the fire that was 40 percent contained by Sunday afternoon.

The fire grew quickly Saturday morning due to the low humidity and Santa Ana winds forcing thousands to evacuate and burning more than 49 homes in Malibu, according to the LA Times.

By the time the 60-mph Santa Ana winds died down 4,700 acres had been burned.

Residents in the Malibu area are required to clear brush 100 feet from the house, but the strong winds made the 75 to 100 feet high flames burn horizontally easily jumping that barrier and burning the houses of many, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Bob Goldman said.

"Basically, we were caught in a firestorm," Goldman said. "It was remarkable. At one point I was very concerned about our safety."

Deadly flight in Faribault

Four people were killed in an unscheduled flight that crashed near the Faribault Municipal Airport Sunday afternoon, according to wcco.com.

The pilot of the Cirrus SR 22 that crashed did not register a flight plan, the FAA said. The plane was registered to Mayo Aviation out of Aberdeen, S.D.

The small single-engine plane went down shortly before 3 p.m.

"There's very little left," Faribault Police Chief Dan Collins said from the scene, according to StarTribune.com.

The Cirrus SR 22 is built by Cirrus Design Corp. of Duluth, and it is the same plane that New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle was in when he and his instructor flew into a New York high-rise on Oct. 11, 2006.

The Cirrus SR 22 has been involved in 17 accidents resulting in 35 deaths since 2002, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

States fight Silver Bay Mining Co. attempt to change pollution standard

Northshore Mining Co.’s attempt to change the air-borne fibers standard for its taconite plant in Silver Bay, Minn. has met strong opposition in federal court from environmental groups and state attorneys general from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A court-ordered pollution standard regarding asbestos-like fibers set in 1974 required Northshore to keep fibers in the air near Silver Bay at or below the levels of the air in St. Paul.

Although the taconite fibers produced from the company’s plant on the shore of lake Superior have not specifically been found to be damaging to human health, some say that the fibers can cause health problems including the lung ailment mesothelioma.

Recent reports from the Minnesota Department of Health show high levels of mesothelioma in the region near Northshore’s plant in Silver Bay, said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Mesothelioma has been found to be caused only by asbestos, and although the amphibole mineral fragments from east Iron Range taconite has a similar shape to asbestos, it is not the same.

Still some researchers, activists and state officials believe the resemblance is close enough for public health concern.

The company is trying to get the standard changed because they believe it is outdated.

The company’s attorneys noted in court that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency changed its stance on the Silver Bay and St. Paul comparison referring to it as “an undefined, constantly shifting, retroactive ambient air standard devoid of any scientific basis.?

November 19, 2007

New York Times finally reveals US secret program after three years

The Bush administration has given almost $100 million over the past six years on a program devoted to aiding Pakistan in securing their nuclear weapons, and the New York Times has known details about the program for more than three years according to the Times' website.

"The newspaper agreed to delay publication of the article after considering a request from the Bush administration, which argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons," the article states.
But the Times does not describe in what way knowledge of the program could be damaging to the program's objectives.

The Times informs the Bush Administration that that they plan on reopening their examination of the program after Pakistani media reported on the program.

"Early this week, the White House withdrew its request that publication be withheld, though it was unwilling to discuss details of the program," the Times' story states. Even after Pakistani media reveal the program it seems like the Times was waiting for permission from the Bush administration.

How much influence are some major news networks allowing the White House to have on what is reported on and what is not?

Although the program's $100 million in funding accounts for less than one percent of the $10 billion in aid given to Pakistan since 9/11, it still raises some questions on the Bush administration's effect on US media.

November 18, 2007

Hundreds convicted from FBI 'junk science'

For the past 40 years the FBI crime laboratory has been using a science called bullet lead analysis in thousands of cases as evidence in criminal trials. The science claims that the lead used for bullets can be broken down and analyzed to reveal a unique chemical signature specific to each individual box of bullets.

The forensics tool was first used in the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy to tie bullet fragments found in Dealey plaza to bullets in Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle. The science since than had been used in numerous cases until 2004 when the National Academy of Science found that the science was "unreliable and potentially misleading."

Despite the scientific body's findings the FBI released a statement on Sept. 1, 2005 defending the science saying that although they would not use bullet lead analysis anymore the FBI "still firmly supports the scientific foundation of bullet lead analysis." Additionally the government has refused to release the list of more than 2,500 people convicted in cases where the debunked science was used in court.

William Tobin, a former chief metallurgist for the FBI, conducted his own study on how well bullet lead analysis could be supported scientifically.
"It hadn't been based on science at all, but rather had been based on subjective belief for over four decades," Tobin said.

The two-to-four-year window that convicted persons have to appeal their case with the finding of new evidence is closing soon, and the FBI has remained inactive in informing the affected, their lawyers and the courts that convicted them.

Dwight Adams, the former FBI lab director that put the technique to rest, said the government is obligated to make sure no one was wrongfully accused.

"It troubles me that anyone would be in prison for any reason that wasn't justified. And that's why these reviews should be done in order to determine whether or not our testimony led to the conviction of a wrongly accused individual," Adams said.

Unexpected turnout causes electronics recycling event to close early

The Great Minnesota E-cycling event at the Mall of America was scheduled to last all weekend, but organizers canceled the remainder of the recycling effort after collecting more unwanted electronics on the first day than they expected to collect for the entire event.
Materials Processing Corporation of Eagan, organizers for the electronics collection, received 1.5 million pounds of old electronics including computers, monitors, television sets and printers.
The electronics recycling effort is a result of a law that requires that manufacturers recycle three-quarters of a pound of electronics for every pound they sell. Anoka county commissioner, Jim Kordiak, who helped architect the law was pleased with the event's turnout.
"I'm grossly excited that we have more evidence that the public recognizes the need to dispose of electronics safely, but I'm sorry there aren't more locations for people," said Kordiak.
There has been problems, however, with electronics collected by recyclers just being dumped in third-world countries.
David Kutoff, chief executive of Materials Processing Corporation that organized the event affirmed that his company makes sure that such third world dumping does not take happen with the items they collect.
"We are certified to the standards that apply to electronics recycling and we audit everyone that we do business with to be sure that material is being recycled properly," Kutoff said.

Fire season ends but threat of 'the big one' remains

The 2007 forest fire season has passed for northern Minnesota but the conditions for a massive forest fire created by the July 4, 1999 windstorm remain, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
The drought that Minnesota experienced early in the year contributed to the Ham Lake Fire that burned nearly 76,000 acres in May. Although there were some media reports that referred to the Ham Lake Fire as 'the big one' that officials had been speaking about ever since the 1999 windstorm dubbed "the blowdown", the fire in May actually burned very little of the the vulnerable blowdown area.
"The Ham Lake fire wasn't the big blowdown fire we've been talking about for so many years. That's still out there, still a possibility," said Mark Falk, Cook County sheriff.
Of the nearly half-million acres of trees blown-down form the 1999 storm, about only 23 percent have been burned or cut to reduce fire danger.
It would be an impossible task to clean up the entire area affected by the blowdown but the plan is to intentionally burn and cut a strategic patchwork into the forest that would slow the spread of a wildfire buying time to get people out of danger.
The forest fire season ended with record-breaking in rainfall in September and October that helped diminish some of the threat of large wildfires created by the drought Minnesota has experienced the over the past two years.

November 11, 2007

Many children die in evacuation of Somalia's capitol

Over the last two weeks, 100,000 people have abandoned the capitol city of Mogadishu amid the fighting between Ethiopian-backed Somali soldiers and Islamist militants.
Fighting this past week killed at least 80 people, mostly civilians, according to Mogadishu residents. Victims included the elderly and children as young as 10.
Many neighborhoods were deserted Sunday after 17 people were killed on Saturday.

There is a growing need for humanitarian assistance with 1.5 million people in need, according to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. That is a 50 percent increase in humanitarian needed since the beginning of last year.
Mogadishu's hospitals are packed with wounded and refugees from the violence and they have reported that they are running low on food and water.
The African Union vowed to send 8,000 peacekeepers, but only 1,600 Ugandan troops ever actually showed up.

The increase in fighting occurred when Ethiopian troops launched reprisals in reaction to one of their soldiers being dragged through the street.

Visa might be granted to nondocumented Mexican student

The 13-year-old Mexican boy who fled the country with his school teacher amid a sexual abuse case between the two might be granted a visa to return to the country.
The week before the boy and his middle-school teacher Kelsey Peterson left for Mexico he applied for a visa that is granted to victims of sexual crimes. The visa will allow him to stay in the country for another four years and eventually apply for permanent residency. His parents and unmarried sibling under 18 can also apply for the visa.

The teacher is still in custody in El Centro, Calif. where she is charged with federal charges of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor, which is punishable by 10 years to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The boy can only receive the visa if he returns to the United States and cooperates with authorities investigating the sex crime.
The boy said he considered Peterson his best friend but not his girlfriend. He also said they had sex "maybe twice."

Police arrest suspect in St. Paul rape case

St. Paul police arrested a 19-year-old man Saturday night suspected of invading the home of a teen and raping her in St. Paul's East Side Wednesday night.
George Allen Walker will probably appear in court for the first time Tuesday. He is charged with sexual conduct in the first degree and for a probation violation warrant. Walker has a lengthy criminal record including felony burglary and drug possession.
Police announced the arrest because of the publics high concern related to the incident according to Sgt. Tom Walsh, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department. Walker knocked on the door of the victim at 4:50 p.m. and when the 17-year-old answered the door he assaulted her.
The victim;s home is on the 600 block of Jessamine Avenue.

Pioneer Press
Star Tribune

Wireless Minneapolis on track for 2007 completion

After a slow start and poor initial service, the Minneapolis partnership initiative with US Internet to provide citywide wireless internet is making steady progress and early subscribers to the service are pleased.
When the wireless network first became available in the downtown and eastern parts of Minneapolis customers complained of poor reception or occasional outages.
New Orleans and Philadelphia have similar citywide wireless networks.
The network here dubbed Wireless Minneapolis, however, has been progressing much better than similar plans in Chicago, Houston and San Francisco. Those cities projects have stalled because of technical problems, rising costs and problems with network provider Earthlink.
Wireless Minneapolis is six weeks behind schedule due in part to unexpected interference with the man business wireless networks downtown, but the project was also delayed when the city used the network exclusively during the emergency response effort of the I-35W bridge collapse, according to the City of Minneapolis website.

November 4, 2007

Floods in Mexico force thousands to evacuate

Massive flooding in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco leave half a million people homeless. In Chiapas rivers rose above their banks damaging thousands of homes and 16 bridges. Residents of remote parts of Tabasco still have not received aid and most likely will not for quite some time, according to the Mexican government.

The floods were a result of storms that also significantly damaged Mexico's oil industry. During the storms last week an oil platform collided with another rig killing 21 workers. The storm forced three of Mexico's main oil ports to close halting a fifth of the nation's oil production.

This is the worst flood Mexico has seen in 50 years and President Felipe Calderon said it was Mexico's worst recent natural disaster.
The flood claimed the lives of eight people and a health crisis is possible with health authorities reporting cases of eye, skin, intestinal and respiratory infections.

In the capital of Tabasco there were rumors of crocodiles in the city center's floodwaters.