News Day: Carstarphen going to Texas – and in other news: Getting rid of environmental watchdog; First Dog; Pig brains; Workers’ comp abuses–by insurers; Cartel crackdown; Smoking in cars; Around the world in 90 seconds, and more

Carstarphen going to Texas The Austin school trustees >voted unanimously to hire Meria Carstarphen as superintendent on Thursday morning, ending the suspense over her future plans.

“She’s been spotted at the airport!” With SPPS superintendent refusing to talk to reporters about her future plans, they are scrambling for every clue, including the PiPress Wednesday-night sighting of Meria Carstarphen at the airport, with luggage “an hour before a flight was to depart for Austin, Texas.” Since only ticketed passengers can get through security, reporters could not determine where the Supe actually went. More on Thursday morning after Austin’s 9 a.m. press conference.

Ditch that Marlboro–the cops are coming! Smoking in a car when kids are present would be become a misdemeanor under a bill proposed by Sen. Sandy Pappas, reports Tim Pugmire on MPR. Cops could issue citations only if they stop the car for a moving violation, but Pappas thinks Minnesotans would still pay attention to the law, saving kids’ health. Four other states have similar laws.

Pig brains: At least they don’t kill you According to an AP report, the 24 pork plant workers who developed neurological disorders after being exposed to mist from liquefied pig brains are recovering, albeit slowly, from symptoms including difficulty walking, weakness, numbness, tingling in the arms and legs, pain and fatigue. The pig brain tie to the workers’ illness was first identified in 2007 at Quality Pork Processors in Austin, MN.

First Dog update C’mon, you know you want to read it! Every news organization from People mag to Politico is reporting on the First Family flip-flops over what kind of dog to bring to the White House. The latest — Michelle likes a rescued Portuguese water dog, but her press secretary says she’s only one of four votes, and the Labradoodle option is still in the running. Stay tuned.

Stop shivering sooner More Minnesotans can turn up the heat this winter. With both requests for heating assistance and federal funding up, AP says more Minnesotans will get heating assistance, and the money probably won’t run out this year.

Getting rid of EQB? Here’s a way to save money: abolish the Environmental Quality Board. Gov. Pawlenty plans to fold the watchdog EQB into the industry-dominated MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Ron Way reports in MinnPost that DFLers have their own ideas for shifting and reassigning environmental responsibilities — Sen. Mary Olson (DFL-Bemidji) is working on plans to combine the Department of Natural Resources and other legislators are thinking about other fixes. Some environmental advocates point out that, even in its present form, EQB has limited effectiveness because of self-interest of state agency heads who sit on its board.

Libraries on the line Seeing red and wearing red, library supporters turned out for a city budget forum in St. Paul, reports Dave Orrick in the PiPress. St. Paul’s proposed budget cuts include closing the Hamline library, one of 13 city libraries, reducing library hours at all locations and slashing acquisition budgets. Library use has risen during the recession, reports Jessica Fleming in the PiPress, as libraries offer entertainment, education, and a free place to go for families with already-stressed budgets. Libraries also offer lifelines to job seekers:

Patrons routinely wait in line for libraries to open, said Washington County Library Director Pat Conley. Conley, whose libraries’ circulation in 2008 increased 11 percent over 2007, said most are waiting to use the computers — often to search for jobs.

“People are working on résumés during a recession,” Conley said. “And today, very few places even take job applications on paper. Everything is done online.”

“In society, libraries are the places that are bridging the digital divide,” [Ramsey County library director Susan] Nemitz said. “There’s a whole sector of society who can’t do this alone. Not only do they need computers, but they need assistance.”

Around the world in 90 seconds Border guards in Bangladesh staged an armed mutiny yesterday, reports BBC, and nearly 50 people were killed before the mutiny ended. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina offered a general amnesty to troops who rebelled over pay and conditions, but conditions remained tense.

In Afghanistan, BBC reports that that the “energetic and reform-minded” Governor Gulab Mangel of Helmand province believes reconciliation with the Taliban and better governance are key to ending the war. Mangel said the Taliban fall into three categories: those with international links to al-Qaeda, who cannot be reconciled; jihadists who want to expel foreign forces, who can eventually be brought into government; and Afghans who joined the insurgency because of resentment of weak government or abuse at the hands of authorities, who can be reconciled with.

Rwandan troops are withdrawing from DR Congo five weeks after they crossed the border to join Congo troops in attacking Hutu rebels, reports BBC. Some of the leaders of the Hutu FDLR rebels are accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The U.S. ban on travel to Cuba would be eased under legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, reports BBC. The bill would allow Cuban-Americans to visit once a year rather than once every three years, and would allow them to spend $170/day rather than the current limit of $50/day. Americans selling food and medical supplies to Cuba would also be allowed to travel there.

Cartel crackdown U.S. agents arrested 750 people across the country in a crackdown on Mexican drug cartels, according to Attorney General Eric Holder. Mara Gottfried reports in the PiPress that 36 people were named in MN indictments, and 27 were arrested yesterday. Other arrests took place in California and Maryland, all part of the 21-month Operation Xcellerator, which targeted the Sinaloa Cartel. The cartel is part of a ferocious drug war in Mexico that killed more than 5,000 people last year, reports NPR. The cartels have killed 450 police officers and soldiers, and corrupted others.

Workers Comp abuses–insurers underpaying injured workers The Legislative Auditor’s report on MN workers’ comp showed that insurers are paying injured workers less than they are entitled to — about $3 million a year less. The report faulted the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) for inadequate investigation and tracking, and recommended establishment of an ombudsperson for workers comp. DLI Commissioner Steve Sviggum says the department is working on reforms, but at last report, his priority was keeping immigrants from getting workers’ comp, not getting full payment for injured workers.

Coleman setback As Coleman’s attorneys admitted that they did not furnish a witness’s written statement to Al Franken’s legal team, as required by civil trial procedures, judges threw out the testimony of that witness. The Coleman team is also asking judges to accept e-mail testimony from county election officials, and a ruling is expected in the next few days.

Early school start in Minneapolis MPR reports that the Minneapolis School Board voted to start classes on September 1 in the fall, well before the September 7 Labor Day.

Modernize with less Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants Minnesota courts to modernize, switching over to an all-electronic system to eliminate paperwork. to help with the transition, he proposes slashing court budgets. Makes sense, right?

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