News Day: Swine flu / MN taxes / Naked hikers / more

Swine flu: Emergency? Epidemic? Pandemic? A new kind of flu — H1N1 –has fearmongers topping the headlines everywhere else, so we may as well follow suit. For actual information, check the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the University of Minnesota Center for Infections Disease Research and Policy. As the story progresses, these will be good links to keep on hand. And now for the facts: A new strain of flu, caused by a virus with genetic components from pigs, birds and humans, emerged in Mexico. This virus is different from previous swine flu because it can spread from human to human.

No one knows how many people in Mexico have the virus, but Mexico has reported more than a hundred deaths from this flu and hundreds of other people who are sick. The government has closed schools and daycare centers in Mexico City to try to stop the spread of the flu. Far smaller numbers of cases have been reported in at least five U.S. states (CA, TX, KS, NY, OH) and in Canada and Spain. (No cases in MN yet.)

Most people who get swine flu get better. That’s one reason that the extent of the outbreak is hard to track. Tracking the begins with a throat culture, and most people who have flu do not visit a doctor.

An epidemic is “an outbreak of a contagious disease that spreads rapidly and widely.” A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread across a wide geographic area and is affecting a large portion of the population, typically millions, according to MPR’s Morning Edition. There is no way to know how far or how fast the swine flu will spread. The federal government has declared a public health emergency.the NYT quoted DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano: ““It’s like declaring one for a hurricane. It means we can release funds and take other measures. The hurricane may not actually hit.”

The best prescription, however, is simple: wash your hands, cover your coughs, and stay home if you are sick.

Is the RNC back in town? Police dodged rocks and bottles thrown at them by the crowd, which also set a fire in the street, tried to overturn cars, and reportedly damaged nearby homes. No, it’s just an annual spring celebration at the U of M, which necessitated calling out police in riot gear who used smoke grenades to subdue the unruly mob and arrested six or seven or twelve people, according to various news accounts. The Minnesota Daily has a timelilne of events.

Civil rights? What civil rights? Although a civil rights complaint in the Fong Lee shooting was filed with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, no investigation was ever conducted, reports the PiPress. Investigation seems to have been delayed, ignored and eventually dismissed. The Minneapolis Police Department was required to file an answer within 30 days of the July 2006 filing of the complaint: they took more than a year to respond. Then the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department did nothing, sitting on the complaint for more than another year. In February of this year, the Civil Rights Department contacted the complainant to demand a rebuttal — not legally required — giving him ten days to respond or have the case dismissed. With lawyers involved and a civil case pending, the original complainant (Lee Pao Xiong, who was with the Hmong Advocacy Coalition back in 2006) was not able to get a response from the family, and the case was dismissed.

Richard Hechter, who represents the family in the current civil case, said that someone from the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department also contacted him this year.

“She confirmed for me that no witnesses were ever interviewed, no discovery was ever obtained,” Hechter said. “I said, ‘How could that be? The city has had this complaint for over 2 1/2 years.’ She had no explanation.”

Taxes, taxes and veto threats The MN House passed the DFL omnibus tax bill by a narrow margin, and the Senate passed its quite different tax bill by a similarly narrow margin. Now the two tax plans go to conference committee. But wait — T-Paw says he would veto the House bill or the Senate bill, so it seems pretty certain that he will veto whatever comes out of committee. Governor Just-Say-No is “in the catbird seat” according to Politics in Minnesota’s weekly report. What the two bills have in common — higher taxes for the very highest-income Minnesotans. That makes sense, if you think that taxes should be paid by people who have the money to pay them. Currently, Minnesotans earning more than $250,000 per year pay a lower percentage of their income in state taxes than those earning less than $250,000.

Watch Rep. Ann Lenczewski’s explanation of the House tax bill, read the list of DFL defecters in the House and in the Senate.

Naked news If you’re tired of serious news, read about Switzerland’s ban on naked hikers. Seems Germans clad only in socks and hiking boots have been scaring the birds — or something like that.

National and world headlines
BBC: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said that a U.S. raid in southern Iraq violated the security pact governing US military actions in the country, and was a crime and those responsible should be tried.
BBC: Twelve children have been killed in north-western Pakistan after playing with a bomb they mistook for a toy.
BBC: The Ethiopian government arrested 35 opposition leaders, charging them with plotting a coup.
• The ANC won “a sweeping victory,” according to the NYT, but was “denied a two-thirds majority,” according to BBC.

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