News Day: Senate race ends! / Fletcher vs. investigators on Strike Force / PiPress layoffs / 100 torture deaths? / more

Senator Al Franken It’s all over – the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Al Franken won the election. Then Norm Coleman conceded. Within a few hours, both Governor Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had signed the election certificate. A veritable tornado of tweets followed every minute of the events. By my count, Minnesota Independent and MinnPost each have 19 articles, and that’s where I stop counting.

In the immediate future, Franken is looking forward to swearing in next week, and to committee assignments that include Judiciary – where hearings on the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court will soon begin – and the Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee, one of the committees currently working on health reform. In addition, Franken will serve on the Indian Affairs Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.

Franken will bring the number of Democratic senators to 60 — enough to stop a filibuster. (That, of course, assumes that all Democrats vote together, which is not always the case.) Reaching the magic number gives Senate Democrats more clout and more ability to move Obama administration priorities forward. Those priorities include Senate passage of the energy bill approved by the House last week.

Metro Gang Strike Force investigation continues “Things aren’t getting better,” said Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion. “They’re getting worse.” Campion was speaking to police agencies about the two on-going investigations into the suspended Metro Gang Strike Force, one investigation by state officials and the other by the FBI. MPR reports that state officials have “banned all current members of the strike force from working for the unit, at least through the end of this year.” Authorities are planning to set up a new, temporary unit by July 9, though it’s not clear who would participate in the unit.

According to the Strib, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher has strongly criticized Chris Omodt, who took over as Strike Force commander in January and who has cooperated with the investigations and criticized the former regime of Fletcher deputy Ron Ryan, who commanded the Strike Force the preceding 11 years. Fletcher and St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said Omodt should not lead the new unit, while Campion and others participating in the investigation said they were comfortable with his leadership. At the end of the meeting, Omodt remained as commander, though without a vote by the group. It was not clear whether Minneapolils would participate in the new unit, or whether there would be sufficient commitment by police departments to go forward with the new unit, whose mission was described as “gang saturation, reactive enforcement and the dissemination of gang intelligence for response by local agencies.”

PiPress workers “blindsided” The Pioneer Press laid off 11 people yesterday, including nine from the newsroom. Workers had been considering concessions in order to save jobs. MinnPost quotes the union communication about the terminations:

This didn’t have to happen. Today, we Guild members were prepared to vote on talking to the company about contract concessions. Instead, late last week, Guild members — including Guild leaders — were blindsided by the company’s withdrawal of its request for concessions. …

We Guild leaders asked the company what else we could have done to avoid today’s layoffs, and we were told nothing would have made a difference. We are disappointed and frustrated that the company used an ax instead of a scalpel to achieve cost savings and completely cut Guild members out of participating in a solution that would have been less painful.

Stopping MN foreclosures A new state law allows homeowners to delay foreclosure sales for up to five months. The Strib reports that the new law, which took effect June 15, has a trade-off: The borrower gets five months to get current on the mortgage. If the borrower is unable to do so, instead of having six months after sale to redeem the home, the redemption period shrinks to five weeks.

The law takes effect as bad economic news continues. AP reports that all major metropolitan areas had higher jobless rates in May 2009 than in May 2008. U.S. unemployment in May was at a 25-year record high of 9.4 percent.

World/National Headlines

100+ U.S. torture deaths Glenn Greenwald once again shines the spotlight on a dark and dirty corner of U.S. foreign policy, previewing the release of a CIA report:

The interrogation and detention regime implemented by the U.S. resulted in the deaths of over 100 detainees in U.S. custody — at least. While some of those detass were the result of “rogue” interrogators and agents, many were caused by the methods authorized at the highest levels of the Bush White House, including extreme stress positions, hypothermia, sleep deprivation and others. That’s why we’ve always considered those tactics to be “torture” when used by others — because they inflict serious harm, and can even kill people.

His article is not easy or pleasant reading, but reading it is the least that we owe to those who were killed in our name. A Daily Kos diarist adds more detailed medical analysis of individual cases, describing pulmonary embolism causing death in prisoners who were immobilized – in at least one case, by being shackled to the ceiling as part of sleep deprivation techniques.

And lest anyone think this is mere left-wing ranting, Greenwald quotes U.S. General Barry McCaffrey:

We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.

Honduras President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a military coup over the weekend, said he will return to Honduras tomorrow, with the support of the United Nations and the OAS. In the meantime, the Weekly News Update on the Americas provides ongoing reporting of events on the ground, with international press and individuals reporting protests against the coup around the country, with protest marches toward the capital being stopped by military roadblocks. Reporting and communication remained difficult as the military shut down media outlets. Weekly News Update also described the background of President Zelaya, a conservative who has made friends among workers and grassroots organizations, consequently antagonizing the army and far right. NACLA reports that even the army is not solidly behind the coup, and that protesters are calling on the army for support, chanting “Soldiers, you are part of the people.” (See my Latin American News and Views for a somewhat more extended update.)

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