Tag Archives: torture

NEWS DAY | Profiling professors / School flu preparations / Revisiting single payer

Photo - U of M College of Continuing Education website

Photo - U of M College of Continuing Education website

Profiling professors Two University of Minnesota profs are speaking out against profiling Somali Americans, reports Laura Yuen on MPR.

Abdi Samatar chairs the U’s geography department. He’s married to Cawo Abdi, a sociology professor. Since June, the husband and wife say they’ve been pulled aside a total of six times at airports for lengthy interviews that have lasted up to two and a half hours.

Abdi was born in Somalia and Samatar in neighboring Djibouti. Both professors are U.S. citizens, but that doesn’t help them at airports. Nor does Samatar’s past consulting work with the U.S. State Department. The extensive airport interviews included inspection of academic papers, a personal diary and even a diaper bag. Agents questioned Samatar about why he was reading academic papers on Somali piracy, and he explained, “We are scholars, and we write papers and books.” Samatar recognizes the need for security:

“But they should be on high alert on an intelligent basis, rather than on a dumb basis,” he said. “It seems to me there is a sort of ‘Dumb Operating Procedure,’ which picks up people for all kinds of nefarious reasons: You have a Muslim name, you live in Minneapolis, you are a Somali, and you travel a lot. Therefore, you become a target.”

Their experience is similar to reports from many other Somali American travelers. Nor did the profiling begin this summer – other Somali Minnesotans reported similar experiences in past years. The two professors say they are following procedures to formally seek information from the U.S. government about the continuing airport stops.

School flu preparations New hand soap dispensers, extra tissue boxes, warnings about staying home from school when sick, hand sanitizers and surgical masks — Minnesota schools are preparing this fall for the expected onslaught of H1N1 novel influenza (the flu formerly known as swine.) The Star Tribune reports that, “nationwide, the largest number of swine flu cases have hit young people ages 5 to 24, and vaccines are not yet available,” though vaccines are expected by some time in October. The Washington Post lays out some of the unanswered questions about vaccine administration:

The mass immunization program, likely to be the largest of its kind since the polio vaccine was given to about 100 million Americans in the 1960s, will play out with some differences between states and local jurisdictions. For instance, still waiting to be resolved are questions about who gets the vaccine, whether schools are used as vaccination sites, whether parents are present when children are vaccinated and whether the vaccine is administered by injection or nasal spray.

In contrast to last spring’s school closings, this time around the Centers for Disease Control advises keeping schools open and sending sick students home, where they should stay until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medication. (That goes for adults, too, who should observe the same precaution in staying home from the workplace.)

World/National News

Prosecute the CIA That’s the advice of the Justice Department, according to the New York Times, as today’s release of more CIA memos reveals further torture and abuse of prisoners. The recommendation to reopen a dozen cases and prosecute the individuals involved came from the Justice Department’s ethics office:

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.

With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow…

Single payer: A reform that makes sense The Nation reports that single payer health care — abandoned before the beginnning of the current debate — resurfaced in last Tuesday’s Morning Joe show, as Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York repeatedly asked why we are paying insurance companies. Show host Joe Scarborough summarized Weiner’s argument:

The goverment would take over only the “paying mechanism” of healthcare, not the doctors or their medical decisions themselves. His ears perked up every time Weiner mentioned that the nonprofit Medicare spends 4 percent on overhead, while private insurers spend 30 percent.

Weiner pressed the point repeatedly:

“Why are we paying profits for insurance companies?” Weiner asked Scarborough. “Why are we paying overhead for insurance companies? Why,” he asked, bringing it all home, “are we paying for their TV commercials?”

And why aren’t we hearing this simple, cogent argument in town halls and in Congress?

War Reports

Afghanistan Challenger Abdullah Abdullah says that last Thursday’s elections were tainted by fraud, reports BBC, and a group of election observers agrees that fraud and intimidation were widespread. Abdullah Abdullah is the most prominent of the 30 candidates challenging incumbent president Hamid Karzai.

Meanwhile, U.S. military commanders said they do not have enough troops to do the job, according to a report in the New York Times.

The assessments come as the top American commander in the country, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has been working to complete a major war strategy review, and as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, described a worsening situation in Afghanistan despite the recent addition of 17,000 American troops ordered by the Obama administration and the extra security efforts surrounding the presidential election.

“I think it is serious and it is deteriorating,” Admiral Mullen said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

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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.
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News Day: Looking for the (police) money / Red scare over? / Unemployment, full and partial / Hmong refugees camp closing / more

Where’s the money? “Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion told a legislative audit committee that he would temporarily shut down the Metro Gang Strike Force after a report showed poor financial practices,” reports reports The Uptake. The legislative auditor found that the Metro Gang Strike Force could not account for $18,126 of seized cash and at least 13 seized vehicles. According to MPR, the Metro Gang Strike Force includes 34 officers from 13 jurisdictions.

You mean they’re NOT socialists? Okay, it wasn’t a real, old-fashioned red scare, more like a modified pink scare, but some Republicans really, REALLY, wanted to “officially” call out the Democratic Party as socialist. But now, just as the slow news season approaches, TPM reports that the RNC has officially abandoned its “much-ridiculed proposal to call for the Democratic Party to change its name to the ‘Democrat Socialist Party.'” One of the sponsors of the proposal said they had succeeded by alerting Americans to the “socialist agenda” so that they could be “properly fearful.”

Unemployment, full and partial If your hours are cut, apply for unemployment benefits. That’s the advice from the Department of Employment and Economic Development, reports MPR. You might not qualify for benefits – rules are complicated. But you might qualify. And, yes, unpaid time off and furloughs are layoffs. And here’s another angle:

Her daughter’s hours were cut last November. And she hasn’t applied for unemployment. And that will cost her. The base benefit amount is calculated on income earned during the first four of the last five calendar quarters.

If she were to file now, one of those calendar quarters is part-time work, is only 20 hours a week instead of the 32 hours a week she had been working. So her base amount is much lower than had she known that and been able to file right away.

Complicated? You bet – so if you are losing hours or days of paid work, consult someone at the unemployment office about what applying now will do for your eligibility and payment level, now and in the future.

Meanwhile, national unemployment continues to climb. NPR reports that new claims are down slightly this week, but total unemployment, at 6.7 million, sets a record high for the sixteenth straight week. New claims were at 631,000 this week, up from a low of 605,000 earlier this month but still lower than late March’s record 674,000.

Hmong refugee camp closing Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is pulling out of a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, effectively closing the camp, according to BBC. The camp still houses 5,000 Hmong asylum seekers, whom the Thai government calls economic refugees. According to MSF head of mission Gilles Isard:

“More and more, the Thai army is trying to use coercive measure to force the people to return to Laos. Also they are pressuring MSF.

“For instance they have been trying to demand MSF stop providing food distribution to the people in order to punish them.”

Officer testifies in Fong Lee trial Officer Jason Anderson testified in the second day of the Fong Lee trial, maintaining that when he shot the teenager, Lee had a gun. Anderson acknowledged that he could not see a gun in the photos from surveillance cameras that captured parts of the police chase, reports the PiPress.

Warsame pleads guilty After five years in solitary confinement, Mohammed Abdullah Warsame pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring to support al-Qaida. Warsame is a Canadian citizen of Somali descent who was living in Minnesota when arrested. He had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2000, and attended what are described as al-Qaida training camps before returning to Toronto in April 2001 and to his family here in 2002. Under the plea agreement, all other charges were dropped. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 5. NPR reports that Warsame’s attorney said his client pleaded guilty because that reduces the maximum prison time from 30 years to 12 1/2 years. He has also agreed to be deported to Canada after sentencing.

World/National headlines

Torture ties closer to Bush, Cheney Before the Justice Department memos, CIA officials engaging in torture were sending daily memos and getting daily approval from then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, reports NPR.

“At the very least, it’s clear that CIA headquarters was choreographing what was going on at the black site,” says Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer who sued to get the document. “But there’s still this question about the relationship between CIA headquarters and the White House and the Justice Department and the question of which senior officials were driving this process.”

Hold that interest rate New credit card regulations passed by Congress, as described by NPR, would:

• prohibit card companies from raising interest rates on existing balances unless the borrower is at least 60 days late paying a bill;
• require restoration of the original rate if the cardholder pays on time for the following six months;
• mandate that card issuers apply payments to the debts with the highest interest rates first, on cards with more than one interest rate;
• give 45 days notice before increasing rates on future purchases;
• bar fees for paying by phone, mail, or electronic transfer, “except when it requires someone’s help to expedite the payment;”
• places some restrictions on aggressive marketing of credit cards to people under 21;
• bans double cycle billing and delayed crediting of payments.

Also in the bill – a provision allowing the carrying of loaded weapons in national parks. That provision comes courtesy of the National Rifle Association, in a show of its power over Congress. Though supporters of the credit card reform wanted nothing to do with the gun law, they had to agree or send the credit card bill back to the starting gate.

Diplomats barred from Aung San Suu Kyi trial Diplomats were allowed to attend the closed trial of Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for a single day, but then barred again. She is charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest, after a US man swam across a lake to her home, where she has been held under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. Her latest house arrest was scheduled to end May 27, and the current trial is seen as a way to extend some kind of imprisonement of the ailing opposition leader past the 2010 elections scheduled by the military dictatorship. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the 1990 elections, but was never allowed to take office.

War Report

Iraq At least 34 people were killed and 72 injured by a car bomb in Baghdad, reports BBC. The bomb went off in a poor, mostly Shia, neighborhood, adding to fears of increasing sectarian violence as the U.S. prepares to pull out. Although the final pullout date is not until August 2010, the agreement between Iraqi and U.S. governments calls for earlier stages of withdrawal from civilian areas.

Somalia Somalia’s neighbors, acting in concert in the Igad group, have called for an air and sea blockade to prevent arms from being supplied to the Al-Shabab rebels, and to prevent the entry of more foreign fighters, reports BBC.

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News Day: MN Budget Watch / A few laughs / Trying hard for a MN-pirate connection (and headlines) / more

MN Budget Watch The House tax bill passed out of committee by a narrow margin, with Rep. Tom Rukavina providing the last necessary vote, but Rukavina says he may not support the plan on the House floor. Meanwhile, reports Steve Perry in Politics in Minnesota, the Senate omnibus bill would work “by essentially reinstating the tax rates that existed in the state in 1998, before the first of a pair of extensive income tax cuts during the Jesse Ventura adminstration,” and adding a new top bracket of 9.25 percent for adjusted gross incomes over $250,000. The increases would be spread over 85% of all taxpayers, and would revert to today’s levels in 2014.

And over at MinnPost, Doug Grow says it is “virtually impossible to create reform,” despite hard work and careful analysis put into the House bill.

In coming days, amendments will be loaded up on both the House and Senate bills. Then, somehow, the House and Senate majorities will have to come together with a single bill, which almost certainly will be vetoed by the governor, who has pledged no new taxes.

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News Day: Torture – again / Crime and taxes / Principal suspended for talking in school / more

Torture – again I am sick of reading about torture. I am not going to stop reading about it, because this is what my country did in my name. It makes me sick, but that is not a sufficient reason to “walk away” as Peggy Noonan recommends. The United States tortured prisoners and that was official government policy. Someone must be held accountable. MORE

Crime and taxes The legislature is hard at work on the budget, which means fiddling with tax and crime laws.
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News Day: Un-real tax values / MN Stimulus /Closed U /Jail bust, not break /CIA torture /Pakistan protests /more

Un-real estate tax values So you paid $155,000 for your house just two months ago — and now the tax man says it is worth $189,000? That’s the story for one south Minneapolis homeowner, reports the Strib, and homeowners throughout the metro area are girding to do battle over assessed valuations this spring. Though home values have fallen swiftly, the taxable values set by metro-area tax authorities have not. All seven metro counties predict declines in assessed valuation of two to ten percent, although the average home sales price has fallen by one-third since September 2007. Tax assessors say the problem is the lag time in estimating values. They expect an avalanche of appeals from assessed valuations this year.

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