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April 30, 2008

U.S. population may hit 1 billion by 2100

Experts predict that the population of the United States could hit the 1 billion mark by 2100, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The U.S. currently has about 304 million residents, compared to 1.3 billion in China, which hit the 1 billion mark in the 1980s.

The prediction, made by Arthur Nelson, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, at an urban planning meeting in Las Vegas, assumes that fertility rates will remain the same but that immigration rates will increase.

How will the U.S. absorb so many people? Nelson advoates turning parking lots into commercial and residential buildings, reducing the reliance on cars through improvements in mass transportation.

Not everyone agrees with the projection. Robert Lang, one of Nelson's colleagues, believes birthrates will decline, largely because birthrates across the world are declining. "I would rather focus on the near certainty that we will gain 100 million people by 2043. … No one plans for 100 years from now except to preserve a national park,' he said.

Population projections in most countries rarely extend beyond 2050.

April 20, 2008

Two high-ranking officers let go

Two high-ranking Minneapolis police officers were relieved of duty pending the results of a federal investigation, the Star Tribune reported.

Neither Lt. Lee Edwards, who is currently suing the police department because of alleged racial discrimination, nor officer Mike Roberts could be reached for comment.

Roberts allegedly received $200 for giving out information, sources close to the investigation said. It is unclear how Edwards is involved.

The Star Tribune reported that the FBI investigation, which began last summer, is "very serious."

Edwards was removed from his unit last summer after he allegedly drove a squad car when he had been drinking and made inappropriate comments to colleagues. Sources say that the FBI investigation may have played a role in the removal.

The investigation involves an incident last August when Roberts was given at total of $200 on two seperate occasions for assissting a robbery victim. Police guidlines dictate that officers should not accept money offered to them for their help.

Two U professors accused of "double-dipping"

Georgia Tech has accused two University of Minnesota professors of "double-dipping" on salaries and expense payments, the Star Tribune reported.

The U recruited Profs. Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko away from Georgia Tech last fall. They are national leaders in the "health informatics" field, the discipline of analyzing computer-generated health data.

Georgia Tech contends that it renewed Sainfort's contract in October and Jacko's in January.

The professors are eager to have the situation reviewed by the Georgia attorney general and the U hopes that the situation is just an employment dispute.

"The faculty members are suspected of dual employment and double billing their time to [Georgia Tech], falsifying travel reimbursement documents and other potentially illegal actions,'' Georgia Tech said in an official statement made Wednesday. "To date, the investigation has revealed approximately $100,000 in questionable activity.''

The couple have a reputation for winning large research grants. The pair, husband and wife, will have a combined salary of more than $500,000 at the U.

Jacko was named director of the Institute for Health Informatics at the U of M in December 2007 and is a professor in the School of Nursing and School of Public Health.

April 16, 2008

France outlaws media promoting eating disorders

French legislators adopted a bill on Tuesday that would levy a $700,000 fine against any website promoting eating disorders and offering starvation tips, the New York Times reported.

The bill has passed in the Parliament and now faces a Senate vote.

The measure comes in the wake of the 2006 anorexia death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston.

“We have noticed,? Valérie Boyer, the bill's sponsor, told The Associated Press, “that the sociocultural and media environment seems to favor the emergence of troubled nutritional behavior, and that is why I think it necessary to act.?

The French Federation of Couture has criticized the bill, saying that is unreasonble to legislate a person's body weight.

The French Socialist Party, which has also criticized the legislation, claims the bill was rushed too quickly through Parliament and that the wording is vague.

Eating disorder officials worried that news of the bill would publicize the eating disorder Web sites, worsening the problem.

The law does not specify whether the site creator or the Internet service provider would be responsible for any fine that would be levied on its provisions.

Supreme Court: Lethal injections constitutional

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 on Wednesday to reject a claim that lethal executions do not offend the constitution, USA Today reported.

The decision ended a moratorium on injections that began last fall.

The two condemned Kentucky prisoners who brought the case before the court said that the common three-drug mix method of lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment, and thus violating the Eighth Amendment.

They claimed that the second drug used, pancuronium bromide, masks signs of distress and creates a risk that inmates may be suffering excruciating pain.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that the prisoners failed to show that the improper injections of the drugs could cause sufficient pain.

The Court outlined a new test for determining whether a method of execution is constitutional. In that test, a petitioner would have to show that the method presented an "objectively intolerable" risk of pain.

In a concurring opinion, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia argued that a method of execution would be unconstitutional only if it were specifically designed to cause pain. An alternative would have to significantly reduce the risk of pain.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, saying that Kentucky's lethal injection procedure lacked "basic safeguards" that would make sure the inmate were unconscious and unable to feel pain.

Minnesota is not one of the 36 states that has the death penalty.

April 15, 2008

Pope visits U.S.

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the United States on Tuesday, the beginning of a six-day trip that includes visits to Washington, D.C., the United Nations, Ground Zero and two baseball stadiums.

The Pope, who is clebrating his 81st birthday on Wednesday, was greeted by a group of schoolchildren singing "Happy Birthday."

Neither the Pope nor President Bush, who met the Pope as he disembarked his plane at Andrew Air Force Base, made any remarks.

USA Today reported that on the flight to America, Benedict said that he was "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

Benedict is only the third pope to come to the United States. Paul VI stopped in New York for one day in 1965, and John Paul II made seven trips during his reign.

Benedict will visit the White House and address Catholic bishops on Wednesday, will celebrate Mass at the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium on Thursday, and will move on to New York on Friday morning.

April 13, 2008

Analysis: Diversity

Take a look at the article Questions remain after fatal police chase in Minneapolis from Tuesday's Star Tribune.

The article is about a police chase that ended in the death of Hanna Abukar, a member of Minneapolis' Somali community. A 15-year-old boy was fleeing the police when he crashed his car into Abukar's, killing her and injuring her son and another boy.

The report does not use stereotypes about Somalis or immigrants. Terry Collins, the reproter, actually goes and talks to several Somalis, including Abukar's husband, in order to get all the information correct. He also uses police information to get the facts straight.

I learned several things from this article. Before reading this story I did not know very much about Somali or Islamic traditions. Collins' article taught me that Muslims do not speak for three days after the death of a loved one out of respect, something I didn't know before.

This article just goes to show that even crime reports can give valuable information about the customs and traditions of culturally or racially diverse groups.

Power-sharing deal ends Kenyan vote crisis

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki named rival Raila Odinga as prime minister on Sunday, ending months of power struggles that began with the national presidential elections in December, CNN reported.

More than 1,000 people died and 300,000 more were displaced during violence caused by the disputed results of December's election.

The two men are expected to create a power-sharing government as soon as parliament passes laws to legalize their actions.

Kibaki also nominated 40 people to the nation's Cabinet. The posts are divided equally between Kibaki's Pary of National Unity and allies, Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement.

The Kenyan public is growing impatient. Scuffles broke out several days this week in Kenyan's slums between police and citizens protesting the delays.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the two leaders Monday, pressuring them to reach an agreement this week.

April 12, 2008

Jones acquitted of rape

Former University of Minnesota football player Dominic Jones was acquitted Friday on charges of rape but was convicted of unwanted sexual contact, the Star Tribune reported.

Jones, 21, declined to comment on the verdict, saying he needed to focus on his studies. Jones has missed school since March 31, but is still on track to graduate this fall with a sociology degree.

Jones had been charged with third-degree sexual assault with a woman who was reportedly too drunk to give consent. If he had been convicted of that charge, Jones could have faced at least four years in prison.

Jones will be sentenced on May 29. He will likely get 24 months of a "stayed" sentence, meaning he would not have to serve time unless he breaks his probation.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Martha Holton Dimick waswas "extremely pleased" with the verdict.

The key evidence for the prosecution was a 30-second cell phone video that showed Jones masturbating over an unresponive victim. The incident happend last April.

Jones testifed he did not have sex with the woman but did masturbate over her, an act he said was consensual.

April 10, 2008

Bush halts troop withdrawals

President Bush announced on Thursday that the senior commander in Iraq may have "all the time he needs" before reducing the number of troops serving there, the New York Times reported.

Bush said that reducing troops further would be "catastrophic" to national interests and that the number of troops in Iraq would remain the same at least through the end of his presidency.

Congress Democrats, however, sharply disagreed with Bush's plans. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the president "refuses to face reality."

Calling last year's "surge" a success, Bush highlighted the importance of staying in Iraq in order to continue the broader struggle against Muslim extremism.

Bush also noted that the Iraqi government is increasingly taking matters into its own hands, paying for reconstruction and security more and more with its own revenues.

In accordance with recommendations from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the length of a tour for American soldiers will be shortened from 15 months to 12 months.

Putting the war in a historical context, Bush said the war spending is 4 percent of the gross national product, as opposed to 13 percent under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

“And while this war is difficult,? he said, “it is not endless.?

Airline cancellations worsen

The chief executive of American Airlines accepted "full responsibility" on Thursday for the cancellation of 2,500 flights over the past three days, CNN reported.

American Airlines had to cancel an additional 952 flights on Thursday because of potential problems with the landing gear on its jets.

The airline has offered to compensate the 140,000 passengers whose flights have been cancelled by giving out vouchers.

The cancellations come during a campaign started by the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure that airlines actually perform their mandatory safety inspections.

Other airlines, including Southwest, United, Delta Air, and Alaska Airlines were also forced to cancel flights in order to check the safety of their airplanes.

Airports have been trying to assuage the frustrations of passengers by leaving their restaurants open 24 hours and handing out free coffee, pastries and even diapers.

April 8, 2008

Pawlenty's line-item vetoes slash $200 million

Governor Pawlenty used line-item vetoes on Monday to slash more than $200 million from the bonding bill that was presented to him last week, the Star Tribune reported.

He reduced the budget by 13 percent to $717 million, using 52 line-item vetoes.

Many of the the high-profile items cut out of the bill were in St. Paul: $11 million for a Como Zoo expansion, $24 million for a new Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, and $5 for a new Asian Pacific Cultural Center.

Pawlenty said he did not make the cuts for personal reasons, but rather wanted to set "the right priorties for the state" and "live within our means."

Several Democratic senators saw the move as pay-back for the Democrat-controlled legislature's override of Pawlenty's veto last week on the transportation bill.

Pawlenty also cut $400,000 for a planned sheet music library in Chatfield that he saw as a symbol of the legislature's profligate spending.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said that no decision had been made yet about whether or not the legislature would attempt to override the vetoes.

Democrats, who have a majority in the Senate, could override the veto, but would need at least five Republicans in the House to join them for the move to be successful.

April 6, 2008

Analysis: Numbers

Let's take a closer look at the Minneapolis graduation rates story I blogged about on Tuesday. This story is full of numbers. Numbers can be a pretty confusing element of news stories for readers, so it's the journalists job to break them down and make them easy to understand.

One of the elements in the story is the graduation rate for the city of Minneapolis. The reporter gives the city's rate (43.7 percent) and then compares it the 50-city average (51.8 percent). He then does the math for you, telling you that Minneapolis's rate is 8 points below the average. This comparison makes the figures easy to grasp.

It's important to give comparisons between figures when reporting on numbers. Minneapolis's graduation rate is 43.7 percent. So what? Is that high? Is that low? The reader just doesn't know unless you give him something to compare it to.

Further along in the article the journalist compares the city's graduation rate to the surrounding suburbs' graduation rate, making it easy for the reader to see the difference between the two.

You may have heard the adage that "figures lie and liars figure." That's why it's important to say where you get your information. In this article, the numbers came from the NGO America's Promise Alliance, a reputable organization, as well as from the Minneapolis School District, another reputable source. The reader is more likely to believe the numbers presented if they come from a trustworthy source.

Protests disrupt Olympic torch relay in London

At least 35 were arrested Sunday after having successfully disrupted the Beijing Olympic torch as it traveled across London, the London Times reported.

The torch had to be detoured at least once after police announced they could no longer maintain order among the multitudes of protestors.

The New York Times reported that the protestors attempted to break through police barriers and grab the torch. Other tried to douse it with fire extinguishers.

The protestors gathered to voice concern over its recent use of force in Tibet and its human rights practices, including labor camps and crackdown on free speech.

The torch made its way across London as it travels around the world en route to the Beijing Olympic games being held from Aug. 8-24.

Police estimated 80,000 spectators came to watch the torch relay across the city.

Several British celebrities intentionally avoided the torch relay as sign of solidarity with Tibetan independence activists.

April 5, 2008

U signs contract with Coke

The University of Minnesota board of regents will vote next week on $143.7 million deal that will make Coca-Cola the exclusive on-campus beverage provider for the next ten years, the Star Tribune reported.

The deal would also give Coca-Cola "significant signage" at the under-construction TCF Bank football stadium, set to open in 2010.

Much of the money made from the deal will go toward funding student groups and student programs.

Coca-Cola has come under fire in recent years for supposed human rights violations at its operation in India and Colombia. A university-led committee, however, found that evidence for claims of imporoper practices by the soft drink giant were "inconclusive."

Coca-Cola must also help promote recycling practices as part of the contract.

April 3, 2008

NATO backs U.S. missile defense system

Members of NATO have agreed to back U.S. plans for a missile defense system based in Europe, the BBC reported Thursday.

The member nations will endorse the creation of missle defense bases in countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic.

Documents circulated by U.S. officials cited "an increasing threat to allied forces, territory and populations," as the reason the bases should be allowed to be built, and said the new plan would "make a substantial contribution to the protection of allies."

The BBC's diplomatic correspondant, Jonathan Marcus, called the plan a "significant" achievement for George W. Bush, who hoped to get the project started before he leaves office early next year.

Russia is opposed to the new system, believing it to be designed to weaken its military power and upset the balance of power in Europe, the Associated Press reported.

The United States has agreed to allow Russia to monitor the new missile defense sites.

Census Bureau to go low-tech in 2010

In the wake of a multi-billion dollar electronic census-taking snafu, the government is going back to old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots for the 2010 census, MSNBC reported Thursday.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutteriez told Congress on Thursday that the Census Bureau is shelving plans to use handheld computers to collect census information.

Consequently, the government will have to hire 600,000 more workers to count the ballots, driving up the cost of the 2010 census to more than $14 billion.

Workers will no longer use the devices, which MSNBC described as "fancy cell phones," to go door to door and collect information from the citizens who don't send in their census data via postal service.

Gutierrez blamed the problems on "a lack of effective communication with one of our key contractors."

Government reports show that the agency was unprepared to manage such a large contract for the handheld devices, reportedly $217 million.

The constitution requires a census to be taken every 10 years. It is used to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

April 1, 2008

Study: Minneapolis graduation rates among worst in nation

Minneapolis' graduation rate ranks 45th out of the 50 largest U.S. cities, according to a drop-out prevention group.

America's Promice Alliance, founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, found Minneapolis four-year graduation rate to be 43.7 percent, 8 points below the 50-city average of 51.8.

The Star Tribune reported that, like many U.S. cities, Minneapolis' graduation rate is far behind the 80 percent rate in the suburbs.

Minneapolis school officials dispute the findings, saying that some of the data was used was several years old and the city's school have vastly improved since then.

In fact, the Minneapolis schools report a graduation rate 67.2 percent, a discrepancy of almost 25 points.

St. Paul, which is not one of the nation's 50 largest cities, was not included in the study.

The study found also that graduation rates were lowest in cities with high minority and low-income population, a finding consistent with the demographics and graduation rates of Minneapolis