Minnesota is the top turkey state, according to National Geographic. Together with North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, and California, we produced two out of three of the 46 million turkeys that landed on Thanksgiving tables across the country last week. The great national pig-out (bird-out?) segued naturally into Black Friday’s over-consumption, with some stores opening on Thanksgiving Day and others in the wee hours of the morning on Friday. Online sales started on Thanksgiving Day, too, with Reuters reporting big increases over last year. In-store sales rose about 0.5% on Black Friday. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Africa
NEWS DAY | Elections tomorrow / FBI in MN / Psychologist crosses the line / Afghan presidency / more
Election day tomorrow For Minneapolis voters, it will be a first experience with the new Ranked Choice Voting system, which is part of the reason for a plethora of candidates from across the political spectrum — and beyond. (That’s especially true in the mayor’s race, which includes the Edgertonite (“Laura Ingalls Wilder is God”) and “Is Awesome” candidates.) Continue reading
The flu or the weather? Everybody’s talking about them, and nobody seems able to do much about the course that either will take. This week’s forecast: rising flu saturation throughout the state, with a continuing shortage of flu shots.
Crookston schools closed Wednesday, as 15 percent of the districts 1,270 students were out with the flu, according to Minnesota 2020. Some 210 schools across the state reported flu outbreaks October 4-10, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent figures, up 72 percent over the preceding week. The MN 2020 article has more recent reports from a dozen schools across the state.
A 54-year-old Waseca hospital administrator died Saturday night, after an H1N1 diagnosis, reports MPR. It’s not yet clear whether H1N1 was the cause of death. The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed 10 deaths due to H1N1 and others are under investigation.
The Star Tribune reports that H1N1 is keeping lawyers busy. That doesn’t sound like a logical connection, but the story is that employment lawyers are getting queries from businesses about what kind of workplace rules they can establish — Can they require vaccination? Do they have to pay people who are sick but have no sick days? And so on.
President Obama declared a national state of emergency Saturday, in regard to the H1N1 flu. According to the Washington Post, the declaration will allow greater flexibility for hospitals to respond:
The president granted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to lift some federal regulations for medical providers, including allowing hospitals to set up off-site facilities to increase the number of available beds and protect patients who are not infected.
Oh, and that weather forecast? WCCO says rain possible by Wednesday, staying through Friday, with temps above freezing until Saturday.
God’s bank closed, others on watch list Riverview Community Bank failed Friday, becoming the fifth Minnesota bank and the 106th U.S. bank to be closed this year. MPR reports that the bank’s owner had claimed divine backing:
When Riverview opened in March 2003, co-founder Chuck Ripka told the Pioneer Press that God told him to get the bank going.
“He said, ‘Chuck, if you do all the things I told you to do, I promise you I will take care of the bottom line,”‘ Ripka said in 2004.
The bank was cited by the FDIC in June for “unsafe and unsound” banking practices, according to the Minnesota Independent. Former MN secretary of state Mary Kiffmeyer was on the bank’s board of directors.
According to MPR, bank regulators from the MN Department of Commerce said in October that 71 of the state’s banks, some 22 percent of the total, are on a watch list. That’s up from 65 on the watch list in the spring. Riverview’s two branches were set to reopen on Saturday as branches of Stillwater-based Central Bank.
The City Miracles blog wrote about the bank in 2004:
One of the key indicators of the success of the Elk River prototype, and a component of the detonation process, has been Riverview Community Bank. This bank, founded in March, 2003, has accumulated $100 million in deposits in 28 months, making it one of the fasted growing start-up banks in the history of the State of Minnesota. During this period 100 people have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord during banking hours. Additionally, 70 people have been healed when they received prayer at the bank. The New York Times wrote a ten-page article about this bank in their Sunday Magazine published on October 31, 2004.
Under the radar and off the web In a print-edition-only article Sunday, the Star Tribune reported the latest on a fraudulent currency investment program promoted by Twin Cities money managers that swindled investors across the United States, Europe and Latin America. According to the Strib, “complaints have flowed into federal authorities” since at least last November. In July, nine people from Ohio filed suit in Minneapolis federal court, and since then the feds have been investigating through the SEC and a grand jury. At that time, the Star Tribune reported:
Two Ohio families and their pastor filed a federal lawsuit in Minneapolis this week accusing some “confusingly intertwined” Twin Cities investment advisers and a dozen business entities of fraud, misrepresentation and other breaches in the handling of their life savings.
The eight plaintiffs claimed Trevor Cook, 37, of Burnsville and Gerald Durand, 58, of Lakeville persuaded them to invest nearly $5 million in a currency arbitrage program that guaranteed instant liquidity and promised annual returns of 10.5 to 12 percent
According to several sources, the Department of Justice simply does not have enough experienced staff members to keep up with complex financial fraud cases. Maybe they should hire the Strib’s Dan Browning, who has reported extensively on the story, following the money trail from Minnesota to California to Panama. Browning’s reporting is a textbook example of the need for full-time, salaried investigative reporters. Few if any free-lancers or bloggers could afford to devote as much investigative and reporting time to this story that he has done, and that time is needed to produce comprehensive coverage of a real public menace.
The October 25 article says that Jerry Watkins used his “Your Money matters” radio show to recruit investors for Oxford Global Advisors, and that the firm was also promoted by Minneapolis money manager Trevor Cook, Burnsville radio talk show host Pat Kiley (“Follow the Money”), and associates at “a number of Twin Cities business entities that have Oxford, Universal Brokerage or the initials UB in their names.” The investments were also promoted on the Worldwide Christian Radio shortwave network. Watkins continued to promote the schemes and take people’s money, even while awaiting sentencing in Minneapolis on “an unrelated scheme that had bilked $20 million from investors,” which was run by Forest Lake preacher Neulan Midkiff.
Christopher Bebel, a former SEC attorney and federal prosecutor, said:
“I’d have to say that this case is especially appallling because it’s an affinity fraud in the sense that it focuses on investors who have their guard down because of the trusting environment–the Christian radio network that was utilized.”
Zimbabwe Some 50 government soldiers were sent to search and ransack the offices of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, headed by Prime Minister Mogan Tsvangirai. AP notes:
The raid signals the fragility of Zimbabwe’s unity government and undoubtedly will worsen the already bitter relationship between President Robert Mugabe and the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr. Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing government with Mr. Tsvangirai, a longtime opposition leader, after disputed elections. Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the coalition government on Oct. 16.
Afghanistan Fopurteen U.S. soldiers and civilians were killed in two helicopter crashes, reports NPR. In the south, two helicopters collided. In the west, the helicopter had left an area of heavy fighting, but U.S. officials said it was not shot down. Two other U.S. troops died on Sunday, bringing the total number for October to 46 so far. August was the worst month for U.S. combat deaths, with 51.
Run-off elecdtions scheduled for November 8 have been agreed to by both President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah. But now, reports BBC, Abdullah Abdullah is demanding the removal of the head of the election commission. That commission presided over and tried to deny the massive fraud in the August 20 elections.
Iraq car bombs kill more than 150 Two car bombs in Baghdad killed at least 155 people on Sunday, and wounded at least 500 more, reports BBC. The bombs “hit the ministry of justice and a provincial government office near the heavily fortified Green Zone” during the morning rush hour, in the deadliest attack since April 2007. Analysts fear a ramping up of violence will continue as the January elections approach.
Pakistan army claims gains After a week of the offensive in South Waziristan, the Pakistan army says it has captured Kotkai. The New York Times explains:
The town, Kotkai, most of whose 5,000 residents had already fled, is the home of the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, and one of the most feared Taliban commanders, Qari Hussain.
As fighting continued in South Waziristan, NPR reported that violence still wracks the rest of the country, with Friday bombings killing 24 people, including 17 who were on their way to a wedding. The army claims a total death toll during the South Waziristan offensive of 23 soldiers and 163 militants. Because access to the area is restricted, no independent verification is possible.
According to McClatchey news service, one of Friday’s car bombs exploded outside a suspected nuclear weapons facility, the airbase at Kamra.
Al Qaida has made clear its ambitions to get hold of a nuclear bomb or knowledge of nuclear technology. Several other sites associated with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been hit previously.
What happened on that plane? Nobody knows, but the black box may tell. Pilots on Northwest Flight 188 say they were involved in a heated policy argument … that apparently distracted them so much that they didn’t see city lights below them, didn’t hear radio calls from Denver and Minneapolis, and completely lost track of the passage of time, as the plane flew over Minneapolis and continued for 100 miles off course into Wisconsin on Wednesday evening. Not everyone is buying the “heated argument” explanation, with some suspecting the pilots fell asleep. Continue reading
NEWS DAY | Hard choices in recession: Wielding budget scalpel or ax at HCMC / Closing schools in Anoka-Hennepin / Women’s health and childbearing
A scalpel or an ax at HCMC Poison control? 24/7 psych emergency services? Burn unit beds? These are among the possible cuts at Hennepin County Medical Center, according to the Business Journal, as HCMC faces next year’s budget of $550 million, down from the current $600 million. The budget cuts are caused in large part by Governor Pawlenty’s line item veto of the state’s General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) health insurance program serving the poor. While HCMC officials say that no final decisions have been made, they are considering targets that include medical care for people who are not residents of Hennepin County and a variety of other areas: Continue reading
News Day: Little clinic, big insurance / Bridge collapse, contracts / TiZA: When success isn’t enough / more
At the Anoka North Metro Pediatrics clinic, the check-ups and immunizations required for two kids to attend school cost $40, on a sliding-fee scale that takes income into account. “Private clinics wanted to charge a minimum $150 a head,” Rosario reports. “No upfront money, no exams.”
More than 70 percent of the families the clinic serves have no health insurance. About 20 percent have partial insurance through a state-subsidized plan. Roughly 10 percent have insurance but are grappling with high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Roughly 60 percent are minorities.
The clinic scrapes by, with private and corporate donations and a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. Nurse practitioner Connie Blackwell, who doesn’t draw a full salary and left a good-paying job to found the clnic, worries about funding cuts and the needs of the families she serves. Their stories, eloquently told by Rosario, should be read by every lawmaker and by everyone who has not yet managed to call/write/email their congressional reps about health care reform.
Meanwhile, the Star Tribune reports, “insurers worried that an overhaul could hurt their bottom line are funneling a wave of cash to members of Congress.” Insurers have funneled more than $40 million in direct contributions to members of Congress over the past decade, and spent more than half a billion in lobbying.
Bridge collapse – yesterday’s news for MnDOT? Although the state is suing URS and Progressive Contractors Inc., and “holds the companies responsible” for the 35W bridge collapse two years ago, the MN Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has also given the two companies more than $55 million of “contracts for projects across the state in those two years, including work to predesign other bridges,” reports the Star Tribune.
While PCI company officials said this shows the state does not really believe that is to blame for the 35W collapse, the Star Tribune points to a “complicated relationship” that includes contracts given to URS for its work on the I-35W bridge after URS hired MnDOT’s longtime bridge engineer, Don Flemming, and MnDOT’s refusal — a year before the bridge collapse — to follow a URS recommendation to “reinforce the aging bridge with $2 million in steel plating.”
TiZA – When success isn’t enough Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) has consistently posted high student test scores, especially remarkable for a school where more than 85 percent of the children live in poverty and a high percentage speak English as a second language. TiZA has also been the target of high-profile attacks by Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, which also triggered an ACLU lawsuit accusing the school of illegally promoting Islam. The campaign against TiZA has resulted in especially close and prolonged scrutiny by the MN Department of Education.
The state department is withholding millions of dollars in state and federal aid to TiZA, alleging that the school had 14 unlicensed teachers, reports the Star Tribune. The school received $4.7 million in state aid (based on per-pupil funding for charter school students) last year, and the MN Department of Education is withholding $1.3 million of state aid this year, based on the teacher licensure charges. TiZA executive director Asad Zaman says that amount “is enough to cripple just about any charter school in the entire state.”
According to a Ramsey County judge, the state also withheld the information that TiZA needs to defend itself on the teacher licensure charges. After TiZA went to court last month, the judge’s order finally resulted in the release of 10,000 pages of documents last week.
The documents disclosed a previously-secret investigation, this one by a private contractor hired by the Department of Education to look at TiZA’s high test scores. The test score investigation, by a private contractor paid by the state, turned up no wrong-doing.
“The silver lining of this cloud is that it is absolutely clear that our test results are valid,” said Asad Zaman, executive director of the K-8 school, which has campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine.
The Education Department has visited the school more than a dozen times since January 2008, Zaman said, reviewing the school’s special education services, after-school programming and more.
The MN Department of Education is still holding up federal aid for TiZA, including “$375,000 to help other schools replicate TiZA’s learning program,” and $500,000 for renovations to the school’s physical plant.
Minnesota connections to Americans arrested in Iran, Israel Israel arrested two Americans who arrived by plane Saturday, planning to visit Palestinian activists in Ramallah, reports the TC Daily Planet. According to press releases by the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, a third woman was deported immediately and the two who were arrested were put on a plane and deported on Sunday.
Iran announced the arrest of three American hikers near the Iraq border Friday, reports the New York Times. Kurdish officials said the hikers apparently lost their way. According to the Star Tribune, one of the hikers is a Minnesota native, a freelance journalist who now lives in San Francisco.
Iran The government put more than 100 dissidents on trial, reports the New York Times. Two of the figures recanted their past beliefs on the stand, saying they had changed since being arrested, and said they had not been tortured. People close to the two men, including the wife of one, said that the phrasing of their testimony was not characteristic and that they did not believe the denial of torture.
In addition, “a Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, who is running the trials, released a statement warning that anyone criticizing the trial as illegitimate, as many opposition figures have done, would also be prosecuted.” Even as former President Mohammad Khatami denounced the trials, hardline political leaders warned of more arrests and hinted that defeated opposition presidential Mir Hossein Moussavi could be targeted.
Nigeria The death toll mounted to 700 after a week of battles between government forces and an extremist religious sect called Boko Haram, reports the New York Times.
The Nigerian authorities disregarded dozens of warnings about a violent Islamist sect until it attacked police stations and government buildings last week in a blood bath that killed more than 700 people, Muslim clerics and an army official said.
Uganda The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is on the move again, reports BBC. They recently attacked people in the south Sudanese town of Ezo and killed civilians in several towns in the Central African Republic. The LRA is a Ugandan group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Afghanistan The Taliban killed nine U.S. and NATO soldiers over the weekend, reports the New York Times. The NYT cited two factors contributing to higher death tolls – more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and more sophistication by rebels in use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Iraq A car bomb in a crowded market in Haditha killed at least six people, reports the BBC.
News Day: Gangs of St. Paul? / Coleman: Not yet / Peltier parole hearing today / Sectarian violence in Nigeria
The Pioneer Press quoted Cryer:
“I’m a college student,” he said. “I don’t have a tattoo on my body. I don’t meet any of the criteria. It really doesn’t make sense.” Asked how it made him feel to be called a gang member, Cryer said, “Horrible.”
“I believe some people out there are gang banging and police need to take drastic measures, but there are others out there like myself that are being labeled,” he said. “They’re singling out everybody. If they get the wrong person, it doesn’t matter to them.”
Coleman: Not yet A spokesperson for former Senator Norm Coleman announced that he is not currently running for governor, and that he probably will wait until March or April to announce any future political plans. That would be too late for a run for governor under most scenarios. Republicans are taking a straw poll in October, precinct caucuses are in February, and the party convention will be April 30 and May 1, according to the Star Tribune.
Peltier parole date Leonard Peltier is up for parole, with a hearing scheduled for July 28. Peltier is serving two life sentences, after conviction in 1977 of killing two FBI agents in 1975. Democracy Now reports:
The Parole Commission originally denied Peltier parole in 1993 based on their finding that he, quote, “participated in the premeditated and cold blooded execution of those two officers.” However, the Parole Commission has since said it, quote, “recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Peltier] personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents.”
Peltier’s defenders say the conviction was a product of FBI persecution of the American Indian Movement, with pitched battles between the AIM and federal agents at places including the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. The FBI cracked down on AIM, violently. That was the context for the 1975 gun battle and the Peltier prosecution. Two others accused of killing the agents were acquitted in a separate trial.
The FBI adamantly opposes parole, saying Peltier was guilty of executing two FBI agents. Other groups, including Amnesty International, have called for his release, and say he did not receive a fair trial.
Sectarian violence in northern Nigeria A small Islamist sect opposed to “Western education” attacked police stations in two states in mostly-Muslim northern Nigeria on Sunday and Monday. About 55 people, including 39 of the attackers, and at least one police officer and one fire officer, have been killed, according to the New York Times. The region has frequently seen outbreaks of religious violence, often between Muslims and Christians.
BBC puts the death toll at more than 100, and reports that a group of the militants is barricaded inside part of the city of Maiduguri, and shooting at anyone who approaches. The militants are known locally as the “Taliban,” but are not believed to have any ties to Taliban groups elsewhere in the world, and some say the “Taliban” label was applied as a term of derision by other Muslims who consider the group “crazy.”
Reich on health care reform Robert Reich warns that health care reform is in danger, and says action before the August recess is vital:
First, the House must enact a bill before August recess even if the Senate is unable to — and the House bill should include the four key elements that have already emerged from House committees: (1) a public plan option, (2) a mandate on all but the smallest employers to provide their employees with health insurance or else pay a tax or fee (so-called “pay or play”), (3) a requirement that every individual and family buy health insurance, coupled with subsidies for families up to 300 or 400 times the poverty level in order to make sure it’s affordable to them; and (4) a small surtax on the top 1 percent of earners or families to help pay for this subsidy (“tax the wealthy so all Americans can stay healthy.”)
Iran prison deaths BBC reports that Supreme Leader Ayatolla Ali Khameini has ordered the closure of a detention center at Karizhak, because of violations of detainee rights. Whether protesters held there will be transferred to other facilities or released is unclear. Many protesters are still held in the main prison:
There are also continuing reports of grim conditions inside Tehran’s main prison, Evin, which seems unable to cope with the large number of opposition supporters rounded up since the election, says the BBC Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne.
In recent days the opposition has reported almost every day new deaths of protestors held in prison.
Afghanistan After the Afghanistan government announced an election truce in the north-western province of Badghis, a Taliban spokesperson said no such truce exists, reports BBC. In fact, the run-up to next month’s presidential elections is marked by violence, with an attack on the car of the campaign manager of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah severely wounding the campaign manager and killing the driver in Laghman province, and a separate assassination attempt on President Karzai’s running mate on Sunday. In another incident in Helmand province, eight security guards were killed by a remotely detonated bomb.
CORRECTION I summarized an article from AP and the Pioneer Press regarding a 14-state federal prosecution for “modern-day slavery” of immigrant workers. The article, and my summary, erroneously said that a Mankato roofer was implicated in the case. Here is the correction from the Pioneer Press:
A headline in Thursday’s Pioneer Press should not have said that a Mankato roofer was implicated in a labor scheme involving immigrant workers. In fact, Kato Roofing was a client of a labor-leasing company that has been indicted in relation with the scheme. But Kato Roofing has not been implicated or associated in any way with the federal investigation and Kato Roofing officials emphasize that they have done nothing wrong. The Pioneer Press apologizes for the error.
I also apologize for the error. And I thank Kato Roofing for furnishing a link to the PDF file of the federal indictment.
According to AP and the Pioneer press, the 45-count indictment includes 12 individuals and three companies, charging labor racketeering, forced labor trafficking and immigration violations. According to the indictment, the defendants secured fraudulent labor leasing contracts with clients in the hotel/resort, casino, and construction industries in the 14 states.
• Afghanistan After a four-day attack targeting the town of Marja in Helmand province, U.S. and Afghan forces claim to have killed 60 Taliban and seized 92 tons of drugs, according to BBC.
From Reuters, the voices of Afghan poets speak on the war:
We have heard these anecdotes
That control will be again in the hands of the killer
Some will be chanting the slogans of death
And some will be chanting the slogans of life
The white and sacred pages of the history
Remind one of some people
In white clothes, they are the snakes in the sleeves
They capture Kabul and they capture Baghdad.
• Pakistan According to BBC, Pakistan government troops and Taliban are fighting in the streets of Mingora, the largest city in the Swat region. On Friday, a car bomb killed at least six people and injured 70 in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
• Nigeria BBC In response to a 10-day army assault that has forced thousands of people from their homes, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it had attacked pipes for a Chevron facility. MEND says it wants a larger share of resources for people in the Niger Delta region. Chevron says it has shut down part of its output because of the attacks. The conflict between MEND and the army began in 2006.
Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. writes in The Observer that “Now, at last, it’s time for Shell to atone for my father’s death.”
This week, a US court will hear a case that I and nine other plaintiffs filed against Royal Dutch Shell for its part in human rights violations committed against some Ogoni families and individuals in Nigeria in 1995. … Ken Saro-Wiwa’s real “crime” was his audacity to sensitise local and global public opinion to the ecological and human rights abuses perpetrated by Shell and a ruthless military dictatorship against the Ogoni people.
• Somalia BBC Al-Shabab leader Sheik Husein Ali Fidow said a Somali teenager carried out a suicide bombing on Sunday, killing six soldiers and a civilian in the capital of Mogadishu
• Colombia Colombia’s ELN rebels asked the larger FARC rebel gorup for a truce. “Both the Farc and the ELN have been fighting the Colombian government since the 1960s,” according to BBC.
• Sudan Two Sudan army bases in or near Darfur have been seized over the past week, reports BBC, possibly by rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), one of the competing rebel groups in Darfur.
• Iraq Steve Carlson writes of “the awful sound of silence” about the impact of the Iraq war on Iraqi people:
But what are the people of Iraq facing? What must it be like to be a survivor of the Iraqi War? …
• The website Iraq Body Count has cross documented the violent deaths of between 90,000 to 100,000 Iraqi civilians since the 2003 American led invasion and occupation. Most experts agree that this number is, in all probability, significantly below the actual death toll.
• A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated that as of July, 2006, the death toll had exceeded 600,000 people.
• A September 2007 study by the prestigious British polling firm Opinion Research Business, put the death toll at 1.2 million Iraqis.