December 9, 2007

Minnesotan among dead in Colo. shootings

A Chisholm, Minn., woman was one of two people killed around 12:30 a.m. Sunday when a gunman walked into Youth With a Mission in Arvada, Colo., and opened fire.
Tiffany Johnson, 26, was killed in the Denver suburb, along with Philip Crouse, 24, of Alaska, according to the Arvada Police Department. Two men were injured.
The gunman fled on foot and is still missing, according to police. It’s unknown yet if another shooting at a church in Colorado Springs just hours later was related to this shooting.
According to The Associated Press, Youth With a Mission has a small office on the New Life Church campus, where the other shooting took place, but police did not say whether there was a link between the two incidents.
The two injured men, ages 22 and 23, were wounded and one is in critical condition, according to police spokeswoman Susan Medina. They were also staff members.
According to a close family friend, Carla Macynski, Johnson was born in Hibbing, Minn., and raised in Chisholm. She joined Youth with a Mission after graduating from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, traveling to Egypt, Libya and South Africa as a missionary student.
Johnson became a staff member with Youth With a Mission’s Colorado office about a year and a half ago, where she was the director of hospitality.
According to its Web site, Youth With a Mission is a worldwide organization founded in 1960 that teaches youth around the world to become missionaries.
The New York Times said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were assisting in the investigation.
The Pioneer Press has The Associated Press’s article, while the Star Tribune has their own reporting.

The Pioneer Press:

The Star Tribune:

The New York Times:

December 8, 2007

Ridder resigns from Star Tribune

Star Tribune publisher Par Ridder resigned on Friday, coinciding with the settlement of a lawsuit filed against the Star Tribune by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where Ridder was formerly employed, over his hiring.
His resignation, which came nine months after he took over as the paper’s publisher and three months after he was barred from the job by a Ramsey County judge, was announced by company spokeswoman Sally Nelson.
The Star Tribune hired Ridder from the Pioneer Press, which had been run by his family for several generations. Weeks later, the Pioneer Press filed a lawsuit that accused Ridder of breaking a noncompete agreement, hiring Pioneer Press executives away from the paper in violation of other agreements and taking a laptop computer containing confidential Pioneer Press information.
After a hearing in June on a temporary injunction, Ridder was barred by court order on Sept. 18 from the Star Tribune’s offices on orders from District Court Judge David Higgs, who said Ridder could not be trusted to refrain from using the St. Paul data to hurt the paper.
Higgs, who learned recently that the papers had reached a settlement, dismissed the lawsuit Friday afternoon but upheld a one-year injunction that prevents Ridder from working for the Star Tribune.
The Star Tribune was also ordered to pay legal fees incurred by the Pioneer Press, estimated at $5 million.
Full terms of the settlement were sealed.

The Star Tribune:

The Pioneer Press:

Inquiry into destroyed C.I.A. interrogation tapes

The Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency’s internal watchdog began a joint preliminary inquiry on Saturday into the spy agency’s destruction of hundreds of hours of videotapes showing interrogations of top operatives of Al Qaeda.
The videotapes, which were destroyed in November 2005, depict severe interrogation methods used on two Qaeda suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Questions are being asked about which officials inside the C.I.A. decided to destroy the tapes. The agency operative who ordered the destruction of the tapes was Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the C.I.A.’s national clandestine service. The New York Times reported that on Saturday, a government official who had spoken recently with Rodriguez said that Rodriguez told him that he had received approval from lawyers inside the agency to destroy the tapes.
According to the New York Times: “Officials have acknowledged that the destruction of evidence like videotaped interrogations could raise questions about whether the C.I.A. was seeking to hide evidence of coercion.?
The BBC said that the C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael Hayden, told fellow C.I.A. employees in an earlier internal memo that they had begun taping interrogations as an internal check in 2002 and decided to delete the videos because they no longer had “intelligence value? and posed a security threat.
Investigators will gather information to try to determine whether a full inquiry is needed. If they determine that any agency employees broke the law, the C.I.A. inspector general, John Helgerson, would issue a criminal referral to the Justice Department, according to standard procedure.

The New York Times:


December 7, 2007

Loons dying across Great Lakes

Minnesota’s state bird, the loon, is dying by the thousands across a growing portion of the Great Lakes because of a bacterial disease that starts from the lake floor.
The Star Tribune is following developments in the story, noting that officials are concerned about the potential for deaths around the Duluth-Superior harbor.
While the issue was first noticed in the eastern portion of the Great Lakes chain eight years ago, loon deaths are now spreading west; Lake Superior hasn’t been affected yet, however.
This year the area of dead loons has spread to hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
It can’t be determined how many of the birds have died during the past several years because no one knows how large their populations are in northern Canada, according to Helen Domske, an extension specialist for the New York Sea Grant.
Domske guesses that thousands have either died and sank or washed up in remote areas and never counted. Based on those that are collected and bagged, Michigan, Ontario, New York and Pennsylvania have had “substantial? die-offs this year.
Scientists think that the loons are killed by Type E botulism that makes its way up the food chain from the bottom of the lake.
Toxic bacterial cells work their way to loons through quagga mussels and round gobies, a type of fish. Because these mussels and gobies are not native to the Great Lakes, the issue has been called another unseen threat from invasive species.
Research is also being done to determine whether higher lake temperatures and lower water levels in recent years have stimulated plant growth and therefore increased plant growth.

AP releases details from Omaha shooter's suicide note

The gunman who killed eight people in a mall shooting wrote that he “just snapped? in his hand-written suicide note released Friday.
Nineteen-year-old Robert Hawkins left the note at the Bellevue house where he lived before randomly opening fire at Omaha’s Westroads Mall on Wednesday. He fatally wounded eight people before taking his own life.
Police released the three-page note, in which he shows love for his family and friends but contempt for his random victims, after The Associated Press made a Freedom of Information Act request.
Hawkins became a ward of the state and spent four years in a series of treatment centers, group homes and foster care after threatening to kill his stepmother in 2002.
People who knew Hawkins said he was a drug user and had a history of depression. According to court records, he underwent psychiatric evaluations.
About an hour before Wednesday’s shootings, Hawkins called Debora Maruca-Kovac, a woman who had taken him into her home, and told her he had written the suicide note, Maruca-Kovac said.
The Associated Press article has more details from the note and the names of the shoppers killed.
The Associated Press:

December 2, 2007


CBS released a report on Nov. 13 about their investigation that found a suicide “epidemic? among veterans. They discovered that veterans have a suicide rate twice that of other Americans. This required a great deal of work on their part to find the information they needed about rates, though, since their way no national study of the cumulative number of suicides in the U.S. They asked all 50 states for their suicide data for veterans and non-veterans, dating back to 1995. CBS received a “mountain of information? from forty-five states, and computer analysis programs had to be used to crunch the numbers. They didn't do it themselves, however; they had someone from who works with biostatistics run a "detailed analysis of the raw numbers" that CBS got from authorities for 2004 and 2005, from which they determined the suicide rates for veterans vs. non-vets. They also broke percentages into sub-groups such as ages.
At least some of this data likely came from Internet databases and documents decimated online. Analytical programs, which required basic computer usage skills on the part of reporters. It looks like they had the bulk of their data crunched by someone else, though.

Venezuela votes on Chavez's proposals for more power

Venezuelan voters cast their ballots Sunday on a referendum over constitutional changes that woud significantly enhance the power of President Hugo Chávez.
Meanwhile, tension has heightened between Chávez’s supporters and antigovernment groups.
The constitutional changes would end presidential term limits, lengthen Chávez’s term to seven years from six and raise the threshold for recalling him.
Such changes would speed the president’s efforts to formally establish a socialist state in Venezuela, coming after moves by Chavez this year to nationalize large companies and create a single Socialist party for his followers.
Among the other proposals: giving control over the central bank to the president, the creation of new provinces governed by centrally-appointed officials, a change in the voting age from 18 to 16, as well proposals that would expand presidential powers during natural disasters or political “emergencies.?
Chávez called the proposed changes a move to return power to the people, but opponents accuse him of a “power grab,? said the BBC.
While the opposition in typically split among several small political parties, they jointly called for members to vote against the amendments. An “increasingly defiant? student movement also protested in Caracas and other large interior cities against the proposed changes, according to The New York Times.
Voter turnout was reported to be high in the capital, Caracas, a BBC correspondent there reported, while The New York Times added that turnout in some areas was “unexpectedly low,? especially in poor districts that are typically loyal to Chávez.
The BBC’s Americas editor, Emilio San Pedro, said these elections are believed to be as fair and free as every other election that has taken place since Chávez came to power in 1998.
According to The New York Times: “In recent days, Mr. Chávez has lashed out at his critics here and abroad, describing them as ‘little Yankees.’ He ordered troops to occupy oil installations over the weekend, threatening to cut off oil exports to the United States in the event of American interference in the referendum.?

The New York Times:


December 1, 2007

Latest forecast: Minnesota economy "sick"

Minnesota is looking at a projected $373 million deficit over the next 19 months, according to a budget forecast released Friday.
This gap, which Gov. Tim Pawlenty called “manageable,? comes after several years of surpluses.
If the present economic situation continues, lawmakers and the governor will need to seek out ways to fill in the shortfall – either through cutbacks, other sources of revenue or the use of reserves.
Pawlenty said the deficit, which barely over 1 percent of the state’s $34 billion budget, reflects an economic slowdown affecting the entire country. Economists blame high energy prices, break-even job growth, a deflated housing market and credit market trouble for decreasing Minnesota’s tax collections. Sales tax, corporate tax and taxes paid on mortgages and home deeds are all down, according to the forecast.
But Minnesota’s projected shortfall isn’t the worst we’ve had – consider 2003, when Minnesota lawmakers had to bail out a budget deficit of $4.6 billion.
The state also has about $1 billion in a cash account and reserves to depend on.
Even so, the forecast calls Minnesota’s economic outlook “very fragile,? with state economists adding that there is 35 percent change of a recession.
Capitol officials reacted to the deficit prediction with diverging proposals, with lawmakers and the governor calling for everything from an immediate special session to a tax-cut plan.
Since the state must have the budget balanced by mid-2009, lawmakers and the governor could technically wait to see where the economy turns before acting.
But policy-makers note the budget forecast’s prediction that the gap between revenue and spending is expected to stay around until at least 2011; they suggest quicker fixes.

The Pioneer Press:

The Star Tribune:

Estimate of H.I.V. rate likely to rise

The United States government’s estimate of the number of Americans who become infected with the AIDs virus each year is likely to rise as much as 50 percent, according to patient advocates. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that new technologies and statistical analyses show that 50,000 to 60,000 people were infected with the virus in 2005, said Walt Senterfitt, an epidemiologist with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and a former adviser for the centers. The agency has used an estimate of about 40,000 new HIV infections each year for the past decade.
The higher estimate is a result of a new method testing blood samples that can identify those who were infected within the previous five months. This enables epidemiologists to estimate how many new infections are appearing nationwide each month or year.
The newest estimate is based on data from 19 states and large cities that have been
Researchers are still uncertain whether the American H.I.V. epidemic is growing or is simply larger than anyone thought – it will take at least two more years to spot a trend and find the answer.
According to the Washington Post: “There is evidence, however, that at least some of the higher number may reflect an uptick in infections in recent years. Information from 33 states with the most precise form of reporting showed a 13 percent increase in HIV infections in homosexual men from 2001 to 2005.?
This newest estimate comes after world health officials last month decreased their estimate of the number of people infected with H.I.V. by about 16 percent, from 39.5 million to 33.2 million. The Washington Post said the “drastically reduced? estimate was a result of crude methods of counting being replaced by better ones.
Jennifer Ruth, a spokeswoman for the centers, said the data on H.I.V. infections was undergoing a review process for publication in a medical journal. Until that process is complete, the estimate of annual infections will remain unchanged, she said.
Patient advocates have been aiming for new figure since 2005, believing that it shows the need for stronger H.I.V. prevention measures, according to David Munar, the vice chairman of the National Association of People with AIDS, based in Silver Spring, Md.

The New York Times:

Washington Post:

Police accused of racist demotions

Some black community, religious and educational leaders are calling disciplinary action against a black homicide detective the latest example of racial bias in the Minneapolis Police Department.
But The Star Tribune reports that the most recent incident, involving the transfer of “well-respected? black homicide detective Charlie Adams, appeared late Friday to possibly undergo reconsideration.
Adams, a 22-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, was transferred after he contradicted statements made by his commanding officer regarding the investigation into the killing of bicyclist Mark Loesch.
The Star Tribune said Adams was transferred to a less prominent unit Wednesday after multiple incidents of insubordination, with the latest contradictory comments being the “last straw,? according to Chief Tim Dolan.
Critics of the decision to transfer Adams to a less prominent section of the department call it a setback for relations between the police and community.
Activists Spike Moss and Ron Edwards voiced concern at a news conference at the Minneapolis Urban League about what they consider to be ongoing rights violations of black officers in the department. Edwards and others noted Dolan’s demotion of three other high-ranking black officers during his first year as chief.
Dolan, meanwhile, denies that personnel choices were motivated by race.
When Minnesota Public Radio asked Dolan about charges against him that he’s negatively affected relations between the black community and his department, he pointed out city figures stating that minority recruitment in the department is at an all time high.
Adams latest alleged act of insubordination occurred after homicide unit commander Lt. Amelia Huffman stated that one of the suspects in the killing told investigators that the victim was seeking out marijuana when he was killed.
Adams spoke out against her comment and said there was no evidence that the victim had been looking for drugs. He also apologized to Loesch’s family for the announcement made by Huffman.
Minnesota Public Radio was unable to reach Sgt. Adams for comment Friday afternoon but said community activists plan to hold a press conference next week with an update on Adams’ status with the police department.
Adams is scheduled to start his reassignment next week.

The Star Tribune:

Minnesota Public Radio:

November 26, 2007

Bullet hits girl’s pillow

Authorities in Stearns County were searching Monday for whoever fired the shot that pierced a 16-year-old girl’s bedroom wall and hit her pillow.
The Associated Press reported on the incident, which hit “close to home? for me (it happened about 5 miles away from where my family lives), using information from The St. Cloud Times.
The shot happened between 11 a.m. and noon Sunday at the home between Clearwater and St Augusta in central Minnesota. No one had permission to hunt in the area near the home.
According to the girl’s father, Tony Studer, Johanna Armstrong returned to her room after taking a shower to find her pillow damaged and feathers scattered around her room.
He said they thought it was the family cat, but then they found the black-powder bullet in the bed covers and found the bullet hole in the house.
The St. Cloud Times reported that the girl had been sleeping in the bed less than an hour before the bullet was fired.
Stearns County Sgt. Ken Friday said the shot came from a .50-caliber muzzleloader, which he said is powerful enough to kill both deer and people.
The muzzleloader deer hunting season started over the weekend in Minnesota.

The St. Cloud Times:

The Associated Press:

November 18, 2007

"Idols" victorious at American Music Awards

The 35th year of the American Music Awards resembled an episode of “American Idol,? with show veterans Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood winning on Sunday.
The wins of the “Idol? stars over superstars like Justin Timberlake and Beyonce may possibly have come with some help from new voting rules, according to Reuters. The ceremony, the kickoff to Hollywood’s award season, featured public online voting for the first time.
Daughtry’s rock band won awards for favorite breakthrough artist, favorite pop-rock album for “Daughtry,? and favorite adult contemporary artist – winning all three of their nominations and beating out artists like Timberlake and Linkin Park.
Underwood won all three of the categories she was nominated for as well – favorite female country artist, favorite country album for “Some Hearts,? and the T-Mobile text-in award.
Daughtry was a finalist on the fifth season in 2006, while Underwood took the top honor during the fourth season of “Idol.?
Underwood followed her win with the best new artist award at the Grammy Awards this year.
Timberlake was a double winner, receiving male pop-rock artist honors and the soul/R&B album award for his “FutureSex/LoveSounds.?
The Associated Press has a short article about Beyonce’s surprise performance with country band Sugarland, in which they played her hit “Irreplaceable.? Later on in the show, Beyonce accepted the international artist award, which has been given to only a handful of artists, including Michael Jackson, Rod Steward, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.
The lengthy list of performers included Rihanna, Chris Brown, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, Lenny Kravitz, Duran Duran, Celine Dion, Queen Latifah, Avril Lavigne, Rascal Flatts and the Jonas Brothers.
Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie opened the show with songs from her solo debut album.
The awards show, which honors many of the genres in American music today, was hosted for the fourth time by Jimmy Kimmel. In the three-hour ceremony, broadcast live on ABC, joked about the lack of jokes about current events due to the writer’s strike in Hollywood.
“It may not look like it, but I’m striking right now in my heart,? he said.
Not affected by the strike: the show’s basic strike, which The Associated Press said was written before the strike began last week.
The producers of the awards show changed the voting procedures this year.
Winners were decided by a poll of 20,000 music buyers in the past, while about 1.2 million people voted online this year at a Web site made by ABC, a spokesperson told Reuters.
Nominees were still selected in the traditional way, based on national sales and radio play.
The ceremony also changed venues. Traditionally held at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles, this year’s winners were announced at the brand new Nokia Theatre nearby.
While the night’s show may have resembled an episode of “Idol,? it doesn’t have nearly as many viewers as the ratings powerhouse: last year’s ceremony hit a record low of 10.8 million viewer, according to Nielsen Media Research.
That was half the number who tuned in for the “more prestigious? Grammy Awards this past February.

The Associated Press:


Hundreds off students protest Iraq war

About 500 students skipped school Friday to protest the war in Iraq at a rally in downtown Minneapolis.
The students from schools all around the Twin Cities held signs and sang songs of protest in the plaza outside the Hennepin County Government Center.
The Pioneer Press, which called the event “peaceful,? said that on-site officers who watched from the sidelines estimated a group of about 200 protesters. Organizers put the number at 1,000.
Kesh Gabyalla, a student at Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, said he didn’t know how much of an impact the protesters had.
“But if we don’t go out and express our First Amendment rights,? he told the Pioneer Press, “then we will lose our power and our country will go down the tubes. We have to stand up and say ‘No.’?
The protest attracted more than just high school students, with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak making an appearance.
“I was up in my office when I saw people out peacefully protesting the war and I came down and said thank you. Because many of us were out protesting this before this war started. More people should,? Rybak told Minnesota Public Radio.
After the rally, the students marched through downtown streets on their way to Augsburg College for a teach-in on the war.
The protest was sponsored by Youth Against War and Racism, a student-led initiative formed about three years ago after three Kennedy High School students fought against having military recruiters in their Bloomington school.
Now, the group has activists at about 40 schools in the Twin Cities, according to Ty Moore, an organizer with Socialist Alternative, along with chapters in Boston, Seattle, and Tacoma and Olympia, Wash.
MPR said Socialist Alternative, an international activist group with a local chapter, also sponsored the protest.


Pioneer Press:

November 16, 2007

Metro Transit adds hybrid buses

Seventeen new hybrid Metro Transit buses, painted shades of bright green, were introduced to the metro area Thursday in a step in the transit agency’s efforts to “go greener.?
The hybrids, which cost $557,000 each, use bio-diesel fuel and are cleaner and quieter. The buses already in Metro Transit’s fleet have averaged 4.71 miles to the gallon, which is a one-mile-per-gallon difference from the 3.86 for a standard bus. This may not seem like a big difference, but in percentage terms, the Star Tribune said it’s “significant.?
Metro Transit anticipates a 22 percent or greater improvement in fuel economy, which translates to 1,965 gallons of fuel per bus saved annually, on top of the decreased production of pollutants. The Pioneer Press said the hybrids will produce about 90 percent fewer emissions than the buses they replace.
The federal government pays 80 percent of the cost of a new bus, with local sources contributing the rest. But with lower operating costs, Metro Transit hopes to recoup the local portion of the extra cost per bus in a little over six years. This is based on the agency’s assumption that once all 172 hybrids in the total fleet of more than 800 buses are running in five years, Metro Transit expects to save 338,000 gallons of fuel a year – combine that with current fuel price of $3.25 a gallon, and the investment will pay off in six years.
To persuade more people to give the buses a try, the agency announced that rides on the green hybrids (you can’t miss them – they’re the most colorful objects on Nicollet) will be free on Monday on routes 17 and 18. Route 17 serves Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Uptown, Nicollet Mall and Northeast Minneapolis, while Route 18 serves Bloomington, Richfield, South Minneapolis and Nicollet Mall.
Go to the Start Tribune article for more comprehensive coverage; The Pioneer Press only offers basic information.

The Star Tribune:

The Pioneer Press:

Bangladesh cyclone reportedly kills 1,100

A ferocious cyclone ripped across the low-laying water’s edge of southern Bangladesh late Thursday, leaving at least hundreds dead, downed trees, ruined cellphone towers and swept away mud and thatch homes.
The New York Times had reports on the “deadliest such storm in more than a decade? from New Delhi and Dhaka, Bangladesh on their Web site, while The Associated Press reported from the capital, Dhaka, as well.
As of late Thursday, the death toll of Cyclone Sidr, which blasted Bangladesh with 150 mph winds, stood at 667, according to the control room of the Disaster Management Ministry. This toll is expected to rise, with The Associated Press estimating from compiled reports from its correspondents a toll of 1,100, along with some 650,000 people fleeing their homes. Government officials have little up-to-date information, but Dalil Uddin of the Ministry of Disaster Management said the official toll would go “much higher.?
The impact in Bangladesh so far “seemed likely to be relatively low,? according to the New York Times, compared with past tropical storms like the one in 1991 that claimed about 140,000 lives. The event spurred Bangladeshi relief agencies to develop early warning systems and storm shelters to prevent disasters, and the BBC said casualties from cyclones “have been significantly reduced as a result,? according to officials.
Preliminary reports from the delta regions of the Bay of Bengal suggest that high-rising rivers washed away paddy fields and vegetable fields, wrecking the year’s earnings for the peasants who live off those lands.
Even Dhaka, the crowded capital of the “poor, desperately crowded nation of 150 million people,? though about 150 miles from the Bay of Bengal and not directly in the path of the storm, was affected. The entire country was darkened for several hours overnight after electricity towers were downed, and much of Dhaka remained without power for most of the day Friday, which also restricted the water supply.
The New York Times: “Relief and rehabilitation efforts stand to be a crucial test for the army-backed caretaker government currently in charge of Bangladesh.?
The New York Times said that the United Nations Development Program wants world leaders to address human-induced climate change. Thursday’s cyclone was just the latest case in their argue of an increased frequency of droughts, floods and storms that hit the world’s poorest the hardest in places like Bangladesh.
The BBC also has a link on this article’s page to an interesting video showing efforts to distribute food aid amid the destruction of the cyclone.
The New York Times:
The Associated Press: