News Day 2/18/09: Criminal charges for FBI snitch / 46 St. Paul teachers reassigned / Principals dis NCLB / more …

FBI RNC snitch charged in attack Andrew Darst, who spied on the RNC Welcoming Committee for the FBI, faces felony charges of first- and second-degree burglary and a misdemeanor assault charge, reports Randy Furst in the Strib. Court documents say that Minnetrista police responding to a call to a home at 2:18 a.m. on January 11 found the door ripped off its hinges, and that Darst “appeared to be full of rage and anger” and said he “wasn’t comfortable with the people his wife was with” in the home.

The FBI, of course, won’t confirm that Darst is an informant, but he was listed as a potential prosecution witness in a previous RNC trial, and RNC 8 lawyer Bruce Nestor confirms that he is listed as such in FBI documents. Although mug shots are usually public, a Hennepin County clerk said that Darst’s mug shot would not be released, on instructions from the FBI.

NCLB forces reassignment of 46 St. Paul teachers As part of forced restructuring at Humboldt Junior High and Arlington High School, 46 teachers were ordered to different assignments last week, with letters from the district saying that “this assignment change is not related to any issue of misconduct, nor should it be construed as a failure on your part.” Emily Johns writes in the Strib that dozens of teachers rallied outside district HQ on Tuesday, protesting lack of input into the restructuring process as a whole. District plans include the already-in-place transformation of Arlington into a sciene, technology and math magnet school, funded by a $6 million federal grant, and future plans to combine Humboldt junior and senior high schools into a single small 7-12 school and to extend the school day at both schools.

The restructuring is mandated by NCLB, but most MN principals think that NCLB itself is destructive, according to a report released yesterday by Minnesota 2020.

There are about 1,800 principals in Minnesota. Each oversees a school that has been affected by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. While NCLB was created in Washington D.C., it has permeated education down into each classroom. NCLB has forced principals to make draconian choices to meet NCLB requirements, choices made more difficult in Minnesota’s atmosphere of declining funding and diminished results.

Some 97% of the 740 principals responding to the survey said that “NCLB’s main goal – 100 percent proficiency in tests by 2014 – is unattainable.” In addition, principals said that NCLB has forced them to spend more time and resources on “teaching to the test” and to divert resources away from arts and other subjects. They feel that NCLB has affected community perception of schools, and that its requirements for special education students and ELL students are particularly unrealistic.

The NCLB test, MCA-II, is an ineffective measure of student development. Only 15.5 percent of principals say the MCA-II is an effective assessment of student achievement. More than 96 percent said that an assessment that measures student growth over many years is more useful than the MCA-II.

“The job of an educator is difficult enough without having to work with a program that has dubious results,” concludes MN 2020.

T-Paw backtracks on carbon Are MN legislators actually surprised by the Pawlenty administration’s abandonment of green principles? Ron Way in MinnPost reports that they are, as T-Paw administration officials waffle on carbon emissions, green jobs, and clean car legislation.

David Thornton, assistant commissioner for air quality at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) told legislators no further action is needed to reduce carbon emissions and that millions of tons of carbon emissions from coal-fired Big Stone II and Excelsior Energy could actually reduce greenhouse gases. His assertions fly in the face of not only common sense but also other reports by previously Pawlenty-approved expert Bill Grant of the Walton League and the MN Climate Change Advisory Group. Thornton said the new plants would replace older, more polluting ones — but Thornton said the utilities told MCCAG that the opposite was true.

Fur, feathers and fins report What is it with all of the animal news? From the horrific chimp attack in Connecticut to discovery of 26,000-year-old saber-toothed cat bones in southeastern MN, animals are in the news this week. In the Twin Cities, the Animal Humane Society euthanized more than 120 cats found in a St. Anthony mobile home, deciding they were too sick to survive, though Animal Ark takes issue with that assertion. In Alaska, a BBC team used underwater cameras to film grizzly bears catching salmon, and reports that “Most bears will do anything to avoid getting their ears wet.” In Scotland, reports BBC, a lamb head-butted a golden eagle.

In MN, the MPCA found mercury levels in fish increasing since the mid-1990s, reversing a previous, and healthier, downward trend, reports Dennis Lien in the PiPress. The pollution probably comes from outside MN, as mercury travels thousands of miles after being produced by coal-fired power plants.

MN Job Watch As Minnesotans get laid off at a rate of about a thousand a day, many are being pushed to sign documents waiving their right to sue their employers, reports Martin Moylan at MPR. The waivers are required in exchange for some kind of severance benefits, and prevent future lawsuits about anything from work-related disability to discrimination. Attorney Stephen Cooper warns:

“An employee often thinks, ‘Oh this is something that serves both our interests. This is just a mutual way to both agree we’re both protected. That is very seldom the case. Usually the only person being protected in those documents is the employer.”

Saving drowning homeowners President Barack Obama will announce a housing bailout plan today in Phoenix. Two groups of homeowners are in trouble, reports the New York Times: about three million who are already behind in monthly payments and also about ten million whose houses are “underwater” — worth less than they owe on their mortgages. The Obama plan will target the first group, with $50 billion from the already-allotted financial bailout money going to reduce their monthly payments. The NYT analysis is that the Obama plan bets on underwater homeowners staying with their homes and mortgages rather than walking away, at the risk of wrecking their credit ratings. – your turn! The new White House website,, ” features cool graphs, interactive maps, projected timelines of when the money will start pumping into the economy, and a place to share your stories and offer comments,” according to the Daily Kos. And if you feel the need for a little more information before telling the government what to do, check out Baseline Scenario’s Financial Crisis for Beginners.

Afghanistan: Civilian deaths up, more troops On the heels of a U.N. report of a 39% increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan last year, President Obama cited “a deteriorating situation” and authorized deployment of up to 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, reports the BBC. The troops will add to 19,000 U.S. troops under U.S. command and another 14,000 serving under NATO command. U.S. commanders in Afghanistan asked for 30,000 additional troops.

The U.N found militants to blame for 55% of 2,118 civilian deaths in 2008, and documented Taliban assassination and intimidation campaigns against anyone associating with the government and against schools. The New York Times reported that, while most of the 39% of civilian deaths attributable to U.S., NATO and Afghan forces come from air strikes, there are other significant problems:

The newly released United Nations report singled out Special Forces and other military units operating outside the normal chains of command, which, the survey said, frequently could not be held accountable for their actions.

Special Forces groups like Navy Seals and paramilitary units operated by the C.I.A. often conduct raids in Afghanistan, and often at night. Such groups typically operate outside the normal chains of command, which means that their presence and movements are not always known by regular field commanders.

Give us national healthcare! A New York Times-CBS poll shows that 59% of the country wants the government–not insurance companies–to provide health insurance, and 49% say the insurance should cover all medical problems.

The poll sampled attitudes on a wide variety of topics, and the report compares responses now to attitudes 30 years ago. Among the other findings:

Today, most Americans (60%) say they get most of their news from television, with newspapers a distant second (14%), followed closely by the internet (13%), and radio (7%). Thirty years ago, a Los Angeles Times Poll found Americans were equally as likely to get most of their news from newspapers (42%) as television (41%). The internet was not available as a choice in the 1979 poll.

Wal-Mart up, Wal-Mart down “Stronger Dollar Knocks Wal-Mart” said the BBC, but “Wal-Mart Profit Tops Expectations” headlined the New York Times. The different spins reported the same numbers: Wal-Mart reported an 8% drop in quarterly profits as the higher value of the U.S. dollar affected overseas earnings, but sales were still up and there still was a profit, as Wal-Mart continues to do better in the recession than almost anyone else.

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